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Scientific investigations of Stradivarius violins--an updated review article


Bruce Tai
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41 minutes ago, David Burgess said:

I believe those were actual measurements taken when the Cannon was used in performance, including the weight gain from the moist micro-climate of the player's body, furnished by Bruce Carlson. (I don't recall the exact numbers)

Ah yes, Carlson, the Cannon, hmm, good stuff. Lets not explain drafting to them, they'll think we're trying to draw houses ;)

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1 hour ago, l33tplaya said:

Someone told me you were a crusty old soul, but their friend, who may have been joking,  insisted you were just an out of work comedian who used to play fiddle. Still another said you were a retired violinist Which, if any, are true? 

The out of work comedian one.  And yes, I did play violin for around 11 years with some degree of competency though, as I later realized, with no particular musical talent. 

Anyway, I despise emojis - they imply the reader is dull of mind and needs help navigating the intellectual sophistication of the poster. That's most of the time non-existent, reminder being out of touch with reality.

 

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Wood ageing is not in itself enough to explain the superiority of 300 year old violins, since the majority of violins of this age are obviously not superior in any way to violins that are younger.

Therefore, if we were to attribute some "specialness" to classical Cremonese instruments that was connected with hermicellulose degradation, it would have to be in combination with something else, for example the unique use of a preservative or unique properties in the wood at the time of making. I think this is where Don is headed and I like his unfussy experimental approach.

On the subject of "warming up" ...

Mostly Strads are seen as superior because of their powers of projection in large halls. The most astounding Strad I ever heard was in a shoot-out in the Philharmonie in Berlin. I sat in the back row and listened as our soloist tried 3 Strads. One was massively superior to the others in its powers of projection - it had been sitting unplayed for a couple of decades, no-one had played it in and no-one had warmed it up for that session. Everyone in the hall agreed that it was by far the best instrument in terms of response, tonal character and audibility.

So if the phenomenon exists, it's neither useful nor necessary in all cases.

 

 

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11 hours ago, GeorgeH said:

Depends on what the advice was about.

Science is science. Statistics are statistics. Facts are facts. My disagreements are not personal. I don't care what Tai's background is, only whether or not he can he support his rather grandiose claims with defensible experiments, experimental results, and statistical analyses. He cannot. And at least for the last 2 years, apparently the editors and peer reviewers of Nature, Science, Nature Communications, Science Advances, Nature Materials and PNAS agree with me. 

But since you asked, my background includes a BS in chemistry, MSE in Engineering, over 25 years in industrial research, numerous published papers in refereed journals, and 3 U.S. patents. I know that of which I speak.

It would be off-topic to explain the peer review process at high-impact journals on a violin forum. It would still be worthwhile to point out that you are trying to mislead people who don't know the scientific publishing process by saying that the editors are agreeing with you. Self-aggrandizement at its finest. 

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13 hours ago, David Burgess said:

Oh, so you are stuck in a Trabant neighborhood? Kinda sad, but it does have the potential to build character, and refine shade-tree-mechanic skills. Even knowing no more than how to remove the wheels from your car to take them into your apartment every night so they won't get stolen  can be a huge asset. :)

I concede defeat !

This one was really smart and funny.  My admiration has grown to such an extent I will brush up my HTML skills and make you a Web Shrine, complete with quality photos, sound samples, testimonials and historical notes.

By the way, have you noticed that your comments invariably tend towards derogatory ? And that you basically take advantage of the better nature of other posters ( though the Greek one really gave it to you ... ) AND the the fact Jeff seems to pay much less attention to your .... excursions ? 

Anyway, the Trabant was an excellent car. Pure genius. Did not rust, could be overhauled in hours, a new engine would cost peanuts, started instantly in very cold weather and had excellent acceleration being very light. In most respects was a better car than an equivalent FIAT.

The people who made and bought it suffered 45 years of very hard time and might deserve a modicum of respect.  

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I have managed to figure out what violins were used by the prize winners at the XV Tchaikovsky competition, partly through personal connections: 
 
1st Prize: none
2nd Prize Yu-Chien Tseng: Giuseppe Guarneri del Gesu 1732 Ex Castelbarco-Tarisio
3rd Prize Pavel Milyukov:  Pietro Guarneri of Mantua ex-Szigeti
3rd Prize Haik Kazazyan: Antonio Stradivari 1723
4th Prize Clara-Jumi Kang: Antonio Stradivari 1708 Ex-Strauss
5th Prize Bomsori Kim: Giovanni Battista Guadagnini 1774
 
In such a fierce competition, the contestants are motivated to win by showing musicality, agility, and great sound. 
Do the judges care about what instrument is being used? Do they even know this information? 
According to the blind tests by Fritz et al. (which I think are flawed), the judges can't even identify the Strad just by ears. 
So how do we explain that the prize winners all used Golden-Age Cremonese violins? 
Coincidence? Vanity? 
Or do they really like the Cremonese sound better and believe that such a sound can give them a competitive edge?
Self-delusion? Or is it a consensus among top musicians?
 
 
 
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Bruce, don't overlook the potential boost to investment value if an instrument is used by a Tchaikovsky competition winner, particularly if the winner goes on to have a spectacular career. Hasn't provenance (who has owned or played one of these instruments) always played a major role?

I think it's fair to say that there are multiple factors in the valuation of these instruments.

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1 hour ago, Bruce Tai said:
I have managed to figure out what violins were used by the prize winners at the XV Tchaikovsky competition, partly through personal connections: 
 
1st Prize: none
2nd Prize Yu-Chien Tseng: Giuseppe Guarneri del Gesu 1732 Ex Castelbarco-Tarisio
3rd Prize Pavel Milyukov:  Pietro Guarneri of Mantua ex-Szigeti
3rd Prize Haik Kazazyan: Antonio Stradivari 1723
4th Prize Clara-Jumi Kang: Antonio Stradivari 1708 Ex-Strauss
5th Prize Bomsori Kim: Giovanni Battista Guadagnini 1774
 
In such a fierce competition, the contestants are motivated to win by showing musicality, agility, and great sound. 
Do the judges care about what instrument is being used? Do they even know this information? 
According to the blind tests by Fritz et al. (which I think are flawed), the judges can't even identify the Strad just by ears. 
So how do we explain that the prize winners all used Golden-Age Cremonese violins? 
Coincidence? Vanity? 
Or do they really like the Cremonese sound better and believe that such a sound can give them a competitive edge?
Self-delusion? Or is it a consensus among top musicians?
 
 
 

I don't think that many contributors here understand the mechanisms by which great players end up playing extremely valuable instruments.

I have never come across a real-life situation where a promising young talent decides whether to make their career on a great Strad from a foundation or a nice new violin by Patrick Robin or whoever.  The fact that double blind experiments have been set up and have revealed interesting results doesn't mean that this ever happens "at the coalface" ie. in actual decision-making scenarios. It doesn't ....

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On 4/30/2021 at 9:31 AM, Violadamore said:

Thanks for posting this.  I see what you are doing, and applaud your improved methodology.  It looks like you're approaching a quantified description of wood degradation, but will documenting an uncontrollable process to unprecedented levels of accuracy somehow benefit the practical luthiers here, or only thrill the dealers?  :huh:  

He's trying to prove a hypothesis.

How can you applaud that?

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16 hours ago, uncle duke said:

Why do some instruments, weather they be a fiddle or classical guitar, seem to be much more alive after let's say 50 min. of playing, for example?

I'm trying to put the phenomena meaning towards a guitar but I really can't say what makes them take off and go after a while of playing either.

It's gotta be called something and whatever it is going to be called is a great thing to be around - much better than just thuddy, boring sounding wood, whichever instrument it may be.

 

It's probably you, not the instrument.

Evidence for this is that sometimes you need a long warm up, and sometimes you don't. Sometimes you play well immediately. Don't you find that?

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40 minutes ago, martin swan said:

1. I don't think that many contributors here understand the mechanisms by which great players end up playing extremely valuable instruments.

2. I have never come across a real-life situation where a promising young talent decides whether to make their career on a great Strad from a foundation or a nice new violin by Patrick Robin or whoever. 

3. The fact that double blind experiments have been set up and have revealed interesting results doesn't mean that this ever happens "at the coalface" ie. in actual decision-making scenarios. It doesn't ....

1. That may be true. However, this particular situation is different. Competitiors will go to great length to use the instrument they sound best on. I know at least two situations where the winners ( both Pag and Tch ) won on indifferent violins, one being a run of the mill German factory one. The other one by a Russian ( or maybe Ukrainian ?) maker. I am very familiar with the way the jury scored in these competitions and at least up to the mid 90s it has not that much to do with artistry. I'll be hard pressed to imagine things changed much afterwards. 

2. You said "Great Strad"....  

3. I don't doubt they revealed interesting results but I doubt they revealed all the interesting results or the interesting results which matter. I've witnessed many a time how a pianist is delighted with the general preparation of a concert piano after testing it for 10-15 minutes and how after the rehearsal and playing for an hour or so with a different level of concentration and participation, decides it's not quite what it appeared to be. And not based on foggy impressions but on minute, specific issues. This is in some way related to the situation where you and I would agree something is "red" though we will never know if my red looks ( to me ! ) the same as your red. This, when it relates to sound, appears all over music in general.

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5 hours ago, l33tplaya said:

Or the one X-ray diffraction pattern from Rosalind Yarrow and Wilkins that Watson got his grimy* hands on: worth a 1 page paper in Nature that led to a Nobel prize. http://dosequis.colorado.edu/Courses/MethodsLogic/papers/WatsonCrick1953.pdf and https://www.exploratorium.edu/origins/coldspring/printit.html  One can tell a lot from one *good* X-ray diffraction pattern, assuming the crystallization is adequate, and the heavy atom integrates properly. Now with Rietveld analysis and such, combining neutron and X-ray diffraction, one can tell more from less regular structures. So @GeorgeH, your screed makes little scientific sense.

I used x-diffraction throughout my career to search for and identify polymorphs in pharmaceutical drug substances so I am quite familiar with it. The quality, composition, and purity (chemical and physical) of the samples is essential to get meaningful results. I also have deep experience in experimental design, statistical process control, and many types of analytical testing. That was my bread and butter for decades.

I don't know what part of my "screed makes little scientific sense" to you, but performing unvalidated tests on tiny numbers of samples of similar materials without regards to purity, sample origin, sampling procedures, sample handling, accuracy and precision of the tests, etc. and then proclaiming one tiny set is somehow different from the other tiny set is scientifically and statistically unsupportable. This is one of the fundamental problems with Tai's work, including his last PNAS paper.

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7 hours ago, jezzupe said:

I would classify it as a mass delusion in your case where 90 out of 100% qualified players would agree that "it sounds better" after playing it for "awhile". This in itself could be considered "scientific" much like 4 out 5 dentists. Furthermore lets say we got 100 people together that like vanilla ice cream and we gave them 2 kinds, and 90 of the 100 liked ice cream A. better than B. when asked to describe "better" we would most likely get many flowery descriptors as to the ways to which the ice cream is better, none of which would be scientific per se' yet the mere fact that 90 out of 100 people prefer A. because it's "better" ,IS scientific within the plain statistics and DOES mean something within the scientific unscientific realms of humanity 

People believe many things that science has proven are not true. 

People believe many things that science has not proven to be true. 

People make-up "facts" to suit their arguments, like you just did ("90 out of 100% qualified players").

It is not outside the realm of controlled experimentation to determine if a 5-50 minute break-in period actually causes measurable changes in the sound or if it is mostly psychological. I don't think that study has ever been done.

And maybe someday you can explain what "within the scientific unscientific realms of humanity" means.

I will also add that the folklore about instruments "waking up" that Tai posted here is not about an instrument sounding better after 5 or 50 minutes of playing. It is about "Top players often say that it can take them as long as a year to coax the kinds of sound they want out of instrument." See that? "As long as a year." (I also don't really hear "top players" saying this "often.")

So, in typical pseudoscientific gobbledegook, Tai says, "that stress-induced deformations will redistribute water molecules in the wood. 'Although precise measurements are difficult, it is not far-fetched to attribute the awakening of old instruments to these factors'"

Actually it is "far-fetched" to the point of risible incredulity that he would even say such nonsense, but so much pseudoscience is just that. But he thinks he "gave some pretty cool answers for a topic that [he] only pretend[s] to know."  

 

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There was a movie earlier in this thread with a short interview with Perlman when he mentioned his encounter with Menuhin at 23 years of age and he was allowed to try "the Soil" Strad. He liked it already after three played notes. I have his "Bach Sonaten und Partiten" double CD which he recorded just after acquiring that violin. He play both his del Gesu and the Soil. I have analyzed all music on that recording, more or less on a routine some 10-15 years ago. 

However, I remember a Zwicker diagram chart comparison (looks somewhat like a 1/3 octave spectrum) from an article from 1968 where the Soil, sort of, stands out. It has a strong 500 Hz (B1+) and 4 kHz band which makes it a bit different from the other fine player instruments in the study. I think the analyses are on the same played piece taken from recordings. I have copied the data and have them in a spreadsheet somewhere.

Werner Lottermoser "Analysen von Geigenklängen aus solistichen Darbietungen", Instrument Zeitschrift No 22, pp 264-269. Reprinted in Benchmark papers in Acoustics ed bu Hutchins 1973.

Edited by Anders Buen
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2 hours ago, sospiri said:

It's probably you, not the instrument.

Evidence for this is that sometimes you need a long warm up, and sometimes you don't. Sometimes you play well immediately. Don't you find that?

Notice I mentioned some instruments, not all.

Most of what I have reach a certain level of "tonal, timbreness- conglomeration/togetherness" in regards to components with in the build and do their best not to help reach further heights while being put to work.  

A few others are all for it - keep playing us, things will keep getting better and they do.

Anyone could sound good on my good stuff, while the mediocre or worse would just be handed back politely, imo.   

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5 hours ago, martin swan said:

Wood ageing is not in itself enough to explain the superiority of 300 year old violins, since the majority of violins of this age are obviously not superior in any way to violins that are younger.

Definitely true.  I have been able to play and/or analyze 8 old Cremonese violins, only one of which stood out as being "superior".  However, all of them seem to have spectral response characteristics that differ from modern instruments in ways previously mentioned.

Just as you find at VSA or other competitions, some are bad, most are meh, and only a few stand out as superior.  Aging may change the tone in a certain way, but still only a few will be standouts.

BTW, the worst-sounding (IMO) violin I ever heard was a Strad.  But it sounded horrible in a unique way... not the screechy thin sound of a bad modern, but it sounded like wet cardboard.  I didn't play or analyze it to discover why it sounded that way; presumably the wood got degraded very badly during its lifetime somehow.

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6 hours ago, GeorgeH said:

So, in typical pseudoscientific gobbledegook, Tai says, "that stress-induced deformations will redistribute water molecules in the wood. 'Although precise measurements are difficult, it is not far-fetched to attribute the awakening of old instruments to these factors'"

When I wring my towel, the stress applied through my hands causes deformation of the towel and the water molecules in the towel will redistribute. My towel is made of cotton cellulose, and wood is 50% cellulose as well. Even elementary school students will understand this. This is common sense, not pseudoscience. Are you seriously saying that you cannot understand this?   

There are short-term and long-term changes when you keep squeezing your towel. The short-term effects are easier to measure in a lab setting. The long-term effects are much harder. If you only squeeze one end of your towel, it will become structurally different from the other end after 1 year. If you squeeze clockwise vs. counterclockwise every day, the results will also be different. The violin may be a lot more complex than the towel, but basic physico-chemical principles could be similar on some levels.  

It is much harder to measure water being squeezed out of the wood or redistribute in wood. But rapid advances in neutron scattering may help us make such measurements soon. When I visited the SwissLight Synchrotron at PSI Institut last year, they had a brochure saying that neutron scattering is now very good at measuring water in soft materials. I don't know if will work well on the violin yet. It sure looks promising to me. 

BTW, our paper on wood cellulose became the cover story of the newest issue of Chemical Communications, a reputable chemistry journal published by the Royal Society of Chemistry (see attachment). It is not a big deal in our profession. But we did use the fastest-spinning magic-angle rotor (150 kHz, 9 million rpm) in the world to study cellulose nanostructure in intact wood by solid-state NMR. So I assume I am qualified to talk about wood fibers. 

For those of you who are not working scientists, let me explain how statistics really works in everyday research. Don't be misled by GeogeH colorful rhetoric. As exemplified in the attached paper, co-written by three professors after many revisions, sometimes working scientists use minimal statistics in dealing with certain issues and that is totally accepted by the community. When physicists try to demonstrate a new subatomic particle, they may need 6-sigma statistics to convince the community. In a lot of biomedical animal studies, you struggle to get even 6 mice in a treatment group. Many of the XRD experiments that GeorgeH has been doing could never meet the stringent standards of 6-sigma statistics. It does not mean all that data is worthless pseudoscience, though. Resources are limited at a practical level, so scientists often do just enough to know that they are most probably right. There is no absolute truth in science. Peer review ensures that certain communal standards are observed, not that the results are definitively true. Even 6-sigma is still imperfect and not definitive.

However, science is and should be falsifiable in the end. No one is stopping GeorgeH from collecting Stradivari wood scrapings and run ICP-MS analysis for elemental analysis; or make recordings of Strads outside the Chimei Museum and measure their formants. Trying to reproduce scientific findings is always a good thing and usually it will bring refinements. We just did some blind tests with Stradivari vs. modern vs. lesser Cremonese using commercial recordings and Harbeth speakers (highly recommend these darlings for accurate violin timbre). Not sure if our sample number is large enough to be statistically significant yet. But the preliminary results say that Stradivari gave favorable impressions. Surely we could refine the experiments and repeat more times, but I am not criticizing the live blind tests by Fritz et al. out of thin air. 

Some physicists may laugh at the statistical standards used by biomedical scientists like myself (trained in molecular neuroscience) for new discoveries. If you ask the physicists to actually handle the experimental animals, they would only make the statistics worse in most cases. When COVID hits, it is not the six-sigma physicists who can come up with a definitive cure. It is the biomedical scientists with their "fuzzy" statistics that invented new vaccines and therapeutic schemes at record speed. Although imperfect, these new vaccines and therapies are saving human societies from total collapse. But GeorgeH is trying to proclaim that only his statistical standards are golden and everything beneath is crap. This is far from the working truth in actual real-world science. Numbers don't lie, but .......

 

 2021 ChemComm wood NMR.pdf

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As far as "playing in" goes...why is no one mentioning environmental parameters? Those, plus the time it takes for a player to accustom themselves to best play/hear an instrument, would account for perceived changes in sound. I think this is very short "settling" period versus a long-drawn out "waking" period.

...and for Carl: <_<:P:D

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BTW, depending on the nature of the research, the validity of "n" can also change.

If you only have a very small sample size to work with, then that has to suffice, at least for the moment when the research is conducted.

From my experience, I have n=30 as a go to. However, if I was studying blue whales, an n of 2 might be the best the sample size I could manage. So, when looking at results, you need to take that into consideration.

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6 minutes ago, Rue said:

As far as "playing in" goes...why is no one mentioning environmental parameters? Those, plus the time it takes for a player to accustom themselves to best play/hear an instrument, would account for perceived changes in sound. I think this is very short "settling" period versus a long-drawn out "waking" period.

 

I don't think that either should be ignored.

I typically wait at least a month  under string tension, and some playing, before anything goes out the door. Things are too much in a rapid state of change prior to that, that I would be willing to profess much of anything to a potential buyer.

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4 hours ago, Bruce Tai said:

When I wring my towel, the stress applied through my hands causes deformation of the towel and the water molecules in the towel will redistribute. My towel is made of cotton cellulose, and wood is 50% cellulose as well. Even elementary school students will understand this. This is common sense, not pseudoscience. Are you seriously saying that you cannot understand this? 

Are you seriously suggesting a violin is equivalent to a squeezed wet towel? Well, I guess you are. 

And once again you're trying to distract, this time with nonsense about "six sigma." Nobody is talking about any sort of six-sigma standard of statistical certainty, certainly not me. You're just blowing more smoke.

Your tests are unproven and even if they were validated to show reproducible precision and accuracy, the number of samples, sample history, lack of controls, and number of tests are simply inadequate have the the statistical power necessary to prove any differences between sample groups. I am quite sure that you know this, but you can't or won't admit it. You even say about another study, "Not sure if our sample number is large enough to be statistically significant yet." A proper researcher knows in advance if the sample size and number of tests is large enough or not to provide the statistical power necessary to determine if one population is different than another population to a predetermined level of statistically significance. It is part of basic experimental design.

But you go on with cockamamie theories about water being squeezed around inside of violins and how spinning a few tiny pieces in a high-speed centrifuge and "small-angle X-ray scattering with synchrotron radiation" is somehow going to prove something like "that stress-induced deformations will redistribute water molecules in the wood" and "it is not far-fetched to attribute the awakening of old instruments to these factors" when you can't even define or prove that the "awakening of old instruments" is even a real physical phenomena. So, yeah, it is totally far-fetched. But it sounds good. Pseudoscience often does.

Carrying an violin from a humid environment to a dry environment will redistribute water molecules in the wood. I don't need small-angle X-ray scattering with synchrotron radiation to prove that.  

And squeezing water out of a towel is also a real physical phenomena. Violins are not wet towels. Even elementary school students will understand that.

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Here are the two emails I wrote to Philip Ball with regard to Mozart's violin.
In the news piece in Nature Materials, my viewpoints were condensed to just a few sentences (in a very professional way). 
My original thoughts on this subject matter are shown below. 
 
----------------------------------------------------------------
From the player's perspective, any violin that has not been played for a year needs some playing time to wake up. This would probably require a few hours or a few days. I think most players who borrows a violin from museum storage would play it for a few weeks before performing on stage. This allows the acoustics of the violin to settle, while the player gets acquainted with its response.   
 
Form the scientific perspective, it is challenging to measure the changes that occur during the first hours, days, or weeks of playing. No one has successfully conducted such experiments, to my knowledge. So I can only make some educated guesses here. First, I believe the acoustic changes are real, because most players have reported such phenomena. I think water plays a major role here. Playing is likely to cause water to redistribute at the nanometer level due to molecular friction, and the micrometer level because wood cells are put under dynamic stress. Under museum storage conditions, the strings are loosened to avoid excessive pressure. Under playing conditions, the strings exert 9 kilograms of downward force at the bridge feet. This is tremendous pressure when we consider that the soundboard (made of spruce, a low-density wood) under the bridge is only 3 mm thick. The violin is under considerable stress (from physical forces) while being played. To relieve this internal physical strain may have take some time, just like glassware that needs to be annealed before being used. In short, over the timespan of hours to weeks, water movement and internal strain may be the most important changes, I guess.
 
Conventional wisdom says that a new violin has to be played for several years before settling into a stable sound. To develop a mature sound would take 15-30 years. Nowadays, many acoustic guitar players use vibrational devices that rattle the instrument 24/7 for months to help accelerate this maturation process. We do not really know what happens during this timeframe. I think the wood slightly deforms over this period to settle into a stable state. Again, the internal strain and water molecules may play key roles. Tonewood used to build violins are generally air-dried for 5-20 years to ensure that it is fully dried (moisture equilibrium attained in the deepest cells) and that internal strain is released during slow drying. Tonewood forcefully dried in an oven in just a few days would develop internal stress and crack easily after some years of playing. Ancient Chinese zither (guqin) makers  also recommended air-drying over oven-drying around 1000 years ago. This seems of be a general consensus everywhere.  
 
Wood contains three biopolymers: lignin, hemicellulose, and cellulose. Over the course of centuries, some chemical changes can occur in the wood. The visible changes are lignin oxidation and recondensation, which darkens the color. The invisible but well-known changes are hemicellulose deacetylation and fragmentation. Some instrument makers would heat the wood or apply alkaline treatment to degrade hemicellulose to artificially age the wood. Most trials have ended in failures for violins. However, we have a manuscript being reviewed at Science Advances that suggests alkaline treatments in Stradivari and Guarneri violins. Ancient Chinese luthiers also recorded lime water treatment for wood artificial aging. We also found evidence of extensive mineral treatments in both spruce (top plate) and maple (back and ribs) in Stradivari and Guarneri instruments. 
 
I believe that, ultimately, we should be looking into cellulose-related changes in Stradivarius violins (price record: 16M USD) and millennium-old Chinese guqins (price record: 20M USD). We have some preliminary data showing cellulose rearrangements in such legendary instruments, probed by small-angle x-ray scattering with synchrotron radiation. This could occur naturally or get accelerated by artificial treatments. By the time we finish this study, we sure hope that Nature Materials would take interest in such topics and consider our submission. 
 
I am sorry that I don't have a definitive answer on why Mozart's violin sounds sleepy right out of the museum and only becomes woke after some good playing. But I am pretty confident that the phenomenon is real, and consistent with the experience of most players. Perhaps there will be new techniques to measure microscopic water distribution and internal strain in whole instruments in the future. I don't know, could it be neutron scattering with these powerful new neutron sources? 
 
Currently, there is very little understanding on how to associate changes in physical properties of wood to acoustic perceptions of real-world playing. The physics of violin vibration is extremely complex and more so for the ear-brain interpretation. Both remain rather mysterious and worthy of future research.  
 
-----------------------------------
 
To summarize my previous email, I think three key factors are at play:
 
1. Shape change (deformation)
2. Internal stress (strain)
3. Water (moisture) redistribution 
 
When one tightens the strings and starts playing, of course there will be shape change (deformation). 
With deformation there will be internal stress, and water molecules should redistribute due to pressure or friction.   
Playing would also generate heat, causing further deformation, stress, and water molecule movement. 
Although precise measurements are difficult, it is not far-fetched to attribute the awakening of old instruments to these fundamental factors. 
Wood scientists have often studied these factors by subjecting wood to extreme forces, close to the limit of breaking the wood. 
Wood in violins is never subjected to such extreme forces, but the same effects at a reduced scale should be there.  
 
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20 hours ago, Bruce Tai said:
I have managed to figure out what violins were used by the prize winners at the XV Tchaikovsky competition...
So how do we explain that the prize winners all used Golden-Age Cremonese violins?

So how do we explain that the prize winners all dressed in concert attire?

So how do we explain that the prize winners all played the standard rep?

So how do we explain that the prize winners all showed up on time?

Umm, because it is expected of them?

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