Danube Fiddler

The ground ( sealing) of the great masters - which was it ?

Recommended Posts

12 hours ago, MANFIO said:

Don't worry about varnish. It seems that when a maker gets a good model, good archings, good scroll, f holes, corners, purfling, edge work,  good set up, personality,  sound and playability, the good varnish and ground will magically comes together with all those things.

So, don't worry about varnish and ground. At the time you solve the above mentioned problems, the varnish and ground problem will be solved too.

I'm not sure how the scroll, the corners, and the purfling have much to do with it...

But I would have thought that the good model, good archings, f-holes, good set-up, and good varnish and good ground are all inputs, and personality, sound, and playability are the outputs. So how do you get the right result, personality, sound, and playability, if you haven't worried about the varnish and ground? The sound of the violin isn't going to order the right varnish mix for you.

On the other hand, perhaps I am not reading what you have written the right way. Perhaps what you mean is this: there is no really conclusive way to determine which varnish is the right varnish, and so, try different ones, and when you get the one that makes the violin sound right, then you will have found the right varnish. That requires a lot of experimentation, but perhaps there is no short cut.

Edited by Quadibloc
Further clarification

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
19 hours ago, David Burgess said:

Have you learned yet that it can often be better to simply ask here, than to expound at great length about what you have found on the internet? There are some very knowledgeable people here, who have already waded through all that crap, and would rather not do it ad nauseum. Most of them will be very willing to help you learn, if you don't make it too exhausting for them.

You have your own website for that. ;)

Edit: Looks like Martin is having similar sentiments, and he is a very valuable resource.

 

19 hours ago, martin swan said:

You are in the company of some of the most experienced and knowledgeable professionals in the field. 

Well, I have tried. I felt I was now finally ready to ask a question.

And so I did so, starting a new thread.

But from the responses so far, apparently, in trying to supply a little background, a little context, to what I was asking, it made it look like I was just pontificating about Stradivari.

Basically, I was asking this:

One desirable characteristic of a violin, in which Stradivari's instruments have been reputed to excel, is to be responsive to the player and expressive in the qualities of tone that can be obtained.

Do modern makers also concern themselves greatly about this aspect of the violin, and do they feel they have been successful in addressing it?

What are the techniques of violin making, and the characteristics of the finished instrument, that promote this virtue?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
1 minute ago, Don Noon said:

One thing for sure, the wood in very old violins is visually nothing whatsoever like modern untreated wood.  The question then becomes:  is the difference only due to 300 years, or "something else"?  

Personally, I'm a believer in the 300 years effect.  Which (if true) means that old violins, when new, looked nothing like they  do today, and using authentic ground will take 300 years to look like we presumably want them to.

When is the darkening complete? After 50 after 100 after 150 years?

Aren't there some almost 100 year old Carl Becker instruments which should already show some darkening?

In the end I guess every violin makers belief depends on his own experience. Working with my interpretation of the Italian varnish system just made aesthetically much more sense when starting with darker wood.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
7 hours ago, Quadibloc said:

I'm not sure how the scroll, the corners, and the purfling have much to do with it...

But I would have thought that the good model, good archings, f-holes, good set-up, and good varnish and good ground are all inputs, and personality, sound, and playability are the outputs. So how do you get the right result, personality, sound, and playability, if you haven't worried about the varnish and ground? The sound of the violin isn't going to order the right varnish mix for you.

On the other hand, perhaps I am not reading what you have written the right way. Perhaps what you mean is this: there is no really conclusive way to determine which varnish is the right varnish, and so, try different ones, and when you get the one that makes the violin sound right, then you will have found the right varnish. That requires a lot of experimentation, but perhaps there is no short cut.

What I am trying to say is that all problems in violin making are not easy, the learning curve is slow, and when we see a very good instrument we see the maker solved all these problems during his "percorso liutario".

So, there is no point on worrying just about the varnish. We have to develop all things at the same time.

Varnish is linked to the personality of the work too. If your work is neat and clean,  in most of the cases the ground and varnish will enhance these features, as we see in a Poggi.  If your work is not all that neat and clean, you may prefer another type of varnish, and this is my case, for instance. 

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
11 hours ago, Andreas Preuss said:

Absolutely agree on this.

I would like to add that a good varnish materials are one thing, the way it is applied is often radically underestimated. If you know the ingredients of a first class chef you don't know how to prepare the dish.

I would like to make a little difference

We don´t know the ingredients of the ancient ground. Echard and Brandmeir told us about the "outcomes" after 300 years. Echard himself stated to not know anything about the concrete procedure of preparation and application. If on your plate in a first class-restaurant is a chicken, that would not mean, that I can replicate this meal - but I hope very much, it would mean, that the chef used a real chicken as a major ingredient.

So, how a dried oil could enter deeper parts of the wood without being a major component of one of the first applications ? If we would assume a later "contamination"  by restorers - this would provide that an oil-polishing could penetrate two barriers : 1) varnish ( o.k. may be worn off at some places and 2) the "original filler" of pores/vessels". However the researchers tried, if possible, to take areas very rarely touched and from a visible point of view still covered by original varnish, isn´t it ? 

What I would like to have, is a good explanation for the presence of oil in the intracellular spaces even of deeper located areas in the wood of nearly all examined samples. I.m.o. we have to look for any possibility to bring a big amount of oil into the intracellular spaces. I am also open for explanations how to reach this without use of a drying oil in one of the first applications on the wood. I am also open for explanations, how a restorer can bring it through the original sealing and about 10 rows of cells into deeper spaces.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
12 hours ago, Andreas Preuss said:

Thermal processing darkens the wood and then the whole varnish story looks diametrically different. Wood treatment might give you more answers than the tons of books written on varnish analysis.

11 hours ago, Don Noon said:

Personally, I'm a believer in the 300 years effect.  Which (if true) means that old violins, when new, looked nothing like they  do today, and using authentic ground will take 300 years to look like we presumably want them to.

 

On these pictures, I remember, interestingly there was a sharp transition between some few cell-rows near the surface( with dark coloured cell-walls ) and the following deeper cells beeing totally more bright. 

I also am a strong believer in well pronounced optical effects of 300 years of aging. However this just told cell-wall-colouring effect i.m.o. should have a different reason. I would assume, that normal ageing would produc a more soft transition of cell-wall-colours.

Wood treatments naturally could have been done. May also be only a slight thermal processing by just hanging the plates or the completed instrument in the strong sun of Cremona including the quite high humidity for some weeks ( reaching temperatures ~ 60 ° Celsius ).  This should certainly cause some alterations in the wood. 

I absolutely don´t have any idea, if the ancient ground did play any important role for sound. So the whole ground / varnish topic eventually is quite unimportant for sound. However often was heard, that white violins did sound much better than later in varnished condition. So ground and varnish should be taken quite seriously as a potential enemy of a good finally sound.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
16 minutes ago, Danube Fiddler said:

On these pictures, I remember, interestingly there was a sharp transition between some few cell-rows near the surface( with dark coloured cell-walls ) and the following deeper cells beeing totally more bright. 

I also am a strong believer in well pronounced optical effects of 300 years of aging. However this just told cell-wall-colouring effect i.m.o. should have a different reason. I would assume, that normal ageing would produc a more soft transition of cell-wall-colours.

Wood treatments naturally could have been done. May also be only a slight thermal processing by just hanging the plates or the completed instrument in the strong sun of Cremona including the quite high humidity for some weeks ( reaching temperatures ~ 60 ° Celsius ).  This should certainly cause some alterations in the wood. 

I absolutely don´t have any idea, if the ancient ground did play any important role for sound. So the whole ground / varnish topic eventually is quite unimportant for sound. However often was heard, that white violins did sound much better than later in varnished condition. So ground and varnish should be taken quite seriously as a potential enemy of a good finally sound.

The sun tanning of Violins in Cremona is only a theory supported by the fact that Stradivari had a place on the roof where this is possible. But we don't know anything from the other Cremonese makers. 

The letter of Stradivari referring to sun exposure is actually in context with the varnished instrument. Quoting from my memory Steadivari writes that this prevents the instrument (=varnish?) from cracking. 

Concerning sound influence of the varnish some makers actually say just the opposite i.e. that instruments only sound good with varnish. From my experience both statements are correct. it is all about the thickness and total mass of the top . If a top is above what I call the 'critical mass' varnish does not much and if too thick certainly does some negative (?) effects. A top below the critical mass needs the varnish to function. I have made once such an instrument and was pretty surprised how the sound improved after varnishing. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
1 hour ago, Andreas Preuss said:

 it is all about the thickness and total mass of the top . If a top is above what I call the 'critical mass' varnish does not much and if too thick certainly does some negative (?) effects. A top below the critical mass needs the varnish to function. I have made once such an instrument and was pretty surprised how the sound improved after varnishing. 

I also have this idea since a longer time, but not enough experience for a general rule.

Your "critical mass" , is it a certain weight or stiffness or more a term for a quite reasonable graduation in a senseful combination with other factors like arching and wood-properties ?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
1 hour ago, Danube Fiddler said:

I also have this idea since a longer time, but not enough experience for a general rule.

Your "critical mass" , is it a certain weight or stiffness or more a term for a quite reasonable graduation in a senseful combination with other factors like arching and wood-properties ?

This is hard to define because it depends as you say on relative weight and strength of the wood as well as arching height and maybe whether the grain is narrow or wide. Therefore no general figure can be given.  

Taking Strad as an example it seems that with the best wood and a properly designed arching the critical mass can be as low as 53g without bass bar.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
49 minutes ago, Andreas Preuss said:

Taking Strad as an example it seems that with the best wood and a properly designed arching the critical mass can be as low as 53g without bass bar.

Survival at that low weight can be managed, as my 51g top has been alive for over 7 years without any obvious distortion (lightly torrefied wood, though).  The question is if lighter weight = better sound/performance, which I don't believe is true at these low levels.  I prefer closer to 60g these days.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

, I have a violin that you could say was soaked in linseed oil to a degree that the middle area of the bouts are almost transparent. It is the deadest inst one could imagine. If you scrape these areas it peels, no dust. I'm stuck on the idea they applied whatever was convenient to protect the inst from dirty hands. Wasn't washing a no no at that time?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
3 hours ago, Don Noon said:

Survival at that low weight can be managed, as my 51g top has been alive for over 7 years without any obvious distortion (lightly torrefied wood, though).  The question is if lighter weight = better sound/performance, which I don't believe is true at these low levels.  I prefer closer to 60g these days.

I love the term "critical mass" of Andreas. 

I like as you the more thicker tops - mostly coming out in the 70g region. However here could slowly begin the referred region, where varnish can bring the top out of the green zone, because then it becomes to stiff. As Andreas said, probably many other things play in this game ( or in your words : it´s more complicated) 

A general idea could be, that a violin can change bad by varnish mostly in these cases, where the top is on the quite stiff or heavy side before. A consequence could just be, to reopen the violin after varnishing and to thin the top. Then a good sound should come back. Eventually it would be a good idea, to just remove so much wood, as the varnish - weight is on this top ( I assume ~ 2-4 g depending on the used resins )

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
4 hours ago, Andreas Preuss said:

Taking Strad as an example it seems that with the best wood and a properly designed arching the critical mass can be as low as 53g without bass bar.

At least, unlike comments about sound reflecting off of the interior curved surfaces of the back and belly - which has nothing to do with using stimulated emission to amplify light - no one here is confusing this with a large enough fraction of neutrons causing fission before they escape from the violin! It remains clear that "critical mass" is not meant in that sense!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
4 hours ago, Don Noon said:

Survival at that low weight can be managed, as my 51g top has been alive for over 7 years without any obvious distortion (lightly torrefied wood, though).  The question is if lighter weight = better sound/performance, which I don't believe is true at these low levels.  I prefer closer to 60g these days.

Do you know if anybody has ever done a stress map of a violin top plate to show where the high and low stress areas are?  It would seem logical to thin the plate where the stress was low to get rid of extra weight and make them thick where the stresses were high to prevent fatigue cracking or creep.   That's what I would do if I was designing a racing bicycle frame or the piston connecting rod of a race car engine where high performances from having low weight were important. In our case we want the plate to vibrate a lot. 

In the old days (I'm dating myself) we used to coat parts with a very brittle varnish.  It would crack and craze were the stresses were high.  Those were the areas we worried about being wrong enough.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

that was a 

Just now, Marty Kasprzyk said:

Do you know if anybody has ever done a stress map of a violin top plate to show where the high and low stress areas are?  It would seem logical to thin the plate where the stress was low to get rid of extra weight and make them thick where the stresses were high to prevent fatigue cracking or creep.   That's what I would do if I was designing a racing bicycle frame or the piston connecting rod of a race car engine where high performances from having low weight were important. In our case we want the plate to vibrate a lot. 

In the old days (I'm dating myself) we used to coat parts with a very brittle varnish.  It would crack and craze were the stresses were high.  Those were the areas we worried about being wrong enough.

That was a Freudian slip.  I meant to type "strong enough" not "wrong enough"

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
21 hours ago, Don Noon said:

One thing for sure, the wood in very old violins is visually nothing whatsoever like modern untreated wood.  The question then becomes:  is the difference only due to 300 years, or "something else"?  

Personally, I'm a believer in the 300 years effect.  Which (if true) means that old violins, when new, looked nothing like they  do today, and using authentic ground will take 300 years to look like we presumably want them to.

If it was bare, exposed wood, I wouldn't hesitate to agree, but wood that has been sealed and layered over with varnish is more or less cut off from exposure to the atmosphere.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
34 minutes ago, Bill Yacey said:

If it was bare, exposed wood, I wouldn't hesitate to agree, but wood that has been sealed and layered over with varnish is more or less cut off from exposure to the atmosphere.

If the wood was hermetically sealed in metal foil, I might agree with you.  But air and moisture can go through varnish, as well as light.  And air can come from the inside too.  There might also be aging/darkening effects that do not require a supply of air or light; I don't know.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
1 hour ago, Marty Kasprzyk said:

Do you know if anybody has ever done a stress map of a violin top plate to show where the high and low stress areas are?  It would seem logical to thin the plate where the stress was low to get rid of extra weight and make them thick where the stresses were high to prevent fatigue cracking or creep.   That's what I would do if I was designing a racing bicycle frame or the piston connecting rod of a race car engine where high performances from having low weight were important. In our case we want the plate to vibrate a lot. 

In the old days (I'm dating myself) we used to coat parts with a very brittle varnish.  It would crack and craze were the stresses were high.  Those were the areas we worried about being wrong enough.

I am not aware of a static stress map done for a violin, although I wouldn't be shocked if there was one.

While I would find such a map interesting, I doubt that I would use it for any decisions whatsoever.  It is not a racing bike, race car, or aircraft where static or quasi-static stresses are the main concern.  It's all about the acoustic/vibration behavior, as long as it doesn't fail.  Making it lighter has not been proven to be better... unless you start with a student brick of an instrument.  I made lighter, and it wasn't better.  It's not that simple.

Interestingly, my first job out of school involved stresscoating aircraft hydraulic parts for testing, and blowing them up.  Wood might move around with humidity too much for that method to be effective.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
3 hours ago, Danube Fiddler said:

 

... However here could slowly begin the referred region, where varnish can bring the top out of the green zone, because then it becomes too stiff. ....

 

1

I thought that varnish increases damping, muffling the clear tone, rather than stiffening the plate. Am I right?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
17 minutes ago, Michael_Molnar said:

I thought that varnish increases damping, muffling the clear tone, rather than stiffening the plate. Am I right?

Varnish does both of those things.  Signature modes go up a few Hz, but not that big of a deal in my experience.  The much bigger tonal effect is damping, IMO.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
23 minutes ago, Don Noon said:

Varnish does both of those things.  Signature modes go up a few Hz, but not that big of a deal in my experience.  The much bigger tonal effect is damping, IMO.

This is a very important piece of information of which I was unaware. What I had read seemed to imply that varnish damaged the tone of a violin by stiffening the wood - and this could be minimized by preventing the varnish from soaking into the wood, with a good ground coat.

The damping effect, on the other hand, is still there even if the varnish hasn't soaked into the wood?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
On 7/1/2018 at 7:33 AM, Quadibloc said:

Unfortunately, this may well be true.

In searching for information about violins and violin-making, the most credible sources I came across provided the following information:

- it is established that Stradivari used linseed oil for his first two coats of varnsh, and pine oil in his third, on at least one violin;

- spirit varnish didn't become available until somewhat after his time;

- the Guadagnini violins on which spirit varnish was used are less well regarded;

- oil varnish tends to age well; spirit varnish tends to turn an ugly brown color and chip off after decades

- the varnish Stradivari used may not have done anything magical to the sound of his violins, but it had a rich, beautiful appearance that made it greatly admired, leading to efforts to duplicate it, if only for its visual appeal

And, as well, in a generally reputable, but old, source, spirit varnish was referred to as a "tone-destroying" thing that Stradivari would never use.

In doing a web search specifically on this last item, though, I see that indeed the situation is more complicated than I thought. Part of the issue may be that there are many different kinds of both oil varnish and spirit varnish, and some of the references to spirit varnish I saw may have been applicable only to the bad spirit varnish... used in Markneukirchen.

Since linseed oil polymerizes instead of really drying, and that slowly, it has more time to soak into the wood than spirit varnish, which dries quickly. (Walnut oil, however, does dry, for what that's worth. Since Stradivari didn't use it, I can't automatically plump for it as the miracle varnish that splits the difference; I will need to find out what results makers have had with it.)

The fact that Eastman prefers spirit varnish to drying oil varnish under UV lamps - and the fact that Don Noon had said spirit varnish was not so bad - meant that I already had some doubts.

After learning that the varnish situation was indeed far more complex than I realized, I tried doing some web searches for the varnishes on old tube radios, figuring that given the economic importance of this industry, someone there might have developed a varnish giving a similar visual effect to Stradivari's, but I haven't turned up a candidate secret Stradivari varnish with that angle.

There are many 20th century Italian violins (Fagnola, Oddone, Bisiach ...) and French (Gand Bernardel school) with spirit varnish. Their spirit varnishes are based on a mixture of resins, not just shellac (which is max 30-40%). Many of these violins sound good, at least for my taste.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Can I ask why there is consensus that the mineral ground reported by Barlow and Woodhouse does not exist on Stradivari's instruments? The finding was based on scanning electron microscopy and subsequent analyses used UV which would not detect minerals.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
6 hours ago, uguntde said:

Can I ask why there is consensus that the mineral ground reported by Barlow and Woodhouse does not exist on Stradivari's instruments? The finding was based on scanning electron microscopy and subsequent analyses used UV which would not detect minerals.

At the moment I don´t have the B/G- book in my home, it´s on loan to a collegue. If I remember right, more than one later authors had difficulties to re-find these particulates in Stradivari-grounds. 

However Brandmeir did find them in the ground of several J.B.Guadagnini - wood/varnish-samples as one can read in the book about the Parma Exhibition 2011.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
7 hours ago, Michael_Molnar said:

I thought that varnish increases damping, muffling the clear tone, rather than stiffening the plate. Am I right?

As Don tells, varnish can do both. However if I remember right an earlier chart on Schleskes website ( not any longer there), some resins even are able to reduce damping on a wood-sample.

I assume, that most varnishes will at least stiffen a top in the cross-grain direction. You can easily make an own experiment with a free plate by using the Dr. Harris- formula. Even if the M5/M2 frequencies keep the same the additional weight indicates an increase of stiffness.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    No registered users viewing this page.