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Varnish qualities- related to decay?


Rue
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Reading the varnish threads, I was just thinking some more :ph34r:.

They say "we" can't recreate Strad's varnish...blah blah blah..secret ingredient...blah blah blah...

But!

What if the "secret" is related to a chemical reaction (or whatever reaction), in the form of decay (or degradation, if you prefer), over time?

 

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There's still a "secret" to the Strad varnish, right? No one has been able to ferret out exactly what it is. Chemical analysis remains ambiguous.

So...maybe that's because no one has looked to see what may be "missing" due to degradation of chemicals in the original varnish.

Maybe the secret is what isn't there anymore, or what's changed into something else, etc.

Yes. Strads are going bad. Nothing lasts for ever, especially with continuous use. But maybe the varnish has improved? 

300 years affects everything. A violin doesn't have to be left outside in the elements, for the elements to still affect the violin, exposure to light, humidity, pollution...

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Not really.  The varnish is varnish.  The colors are colors of the time.

The 'secret' is more how did the makers of Cremona make use of the common materials and methods of the time to finish instrument.

It's not so much about recipes or chemistry, but what went onto the wood first, second, etc.  And how did they combine steps to create the beautiful finishes we see.

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"So...maybe that's because no one has looked to see what may be "missing" due to degradation of chemicals in the original varnish."

Since we don't know what the recipe for the original "secret sauce" is, how could we test for what's missing?

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21 minutes ago, Rue said:

There's still a "secret" to the Strad varnish, right? No one has been able to ferret out exactly what it is. Chemical analysis remains ambiguous.

So...maybe that's because no one has looked to see what may be "missing" due to degradation of chemicals in the original varnish.

Maybe the secret is what isn't there anymore, or what's changed into something else, etc.

Yes. Strads are going bad. Nothing lasts for ever, especially with continuous use. But maybe the varnish has improved? 

300 years affects everything. A violin doesn't have to be left outside in the elements, for the elements to still affect the violin, exposure to light, humidity, pollution...

Not really decay. The best ones are still in fine working order. 

I still stand by what I told you back in 2017, but everyone here is still pussyfooting about and ignoring the issue.

The 'Secret' is in the secretiveness of what people discuss away from the message board. 

Why can't we be more open? Whose ego am I hurting?

 

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13 minutes ago, David Beard said:

Not really.  The varnish is varnish.  The colors are colors of the time.

The 'secret' is more how did the makers of Cremona make use of the common materials and methods of the time to finish instrument.

It's not so much about recipes or chemistry, but what went onto the wood first, second, etc.  And how did they combine steps to create the beautiful finishes we see.

But 'varnish' is a loaded word. Some people insist that it is a very specific thing. But how can it be, if everyone has a different method and ingredients?

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14 minutes ago, sospiri said:

Not really decay. The best ones are still in fine working order. 

...

I don't mean decay of the violin. I mean decay of the varnish.

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17 minutes ago, Rue said:

I don't mean decay of the violin. I mean decay of the varnish.

Some of the varnish or a lot has been rubbed off. The ground layer delivers most of the tonal effect. They have mostly, I believe, been finished with a thin layer of french polish to protect them from further damage.

So there are several components to discuss. I would like to work from the ground up. The ground is the sound mostly, I believe and so do many others.

The actual 'varnish' is the upper layer or layers. Even more mysterious, because we don't know the cooking time or temperature. Or even if it was low temperature and a short time?

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Yes. I realize french polishing is a huge factor.

Has only the Messiah evaded french polishing?

But, obviously,  you can't account for every variable over 300+ years either...or insanity results. :blink:

Degradation (or whatever you want to call it) of a finish occurs over time. Paint dries (looses moisture), off-gasses and  "hardens", etc. after application. The chemistry is no longer the same. The paint may affect the chemistry of the surface it is applied to too. What happens after 1 year? Twenty years? Three hundred years?

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The French polishing is a small factor in the sound, probably unnoticeable. But important for preservation.

 I don't think the Messiah has been french polished. 

After 1 year the varnish dries more. But the whole process is probably very stable after all this time. These methods were developed over thousands of years, not hundreds.

I should learn to skype shouldn't I? Give some demonstrations.

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I believe scientific analysis has shown Strad's varnish to be mostly linseed oil and rosin, just like many modern varnishes. People still like to search for some secret spice that he must have added to give his violins that special kick.

Linseed reaches most of its polymerization in about 45 days, and will continue to harden over the years. But at some point it does begin to break down and become soft again. I vaguely recall the time being in the 100 year range, but I would have to dig up the research papers.

Rosin is stable over time if I recall correctly.

If there is tonal change over hundred of years, I suspect it is in the dampening properties of the wood. The natural decay of  hemicellulose, one of the three major components in wood, tends to decrease the dampening of the wood.

 

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1 hour ago, sospiri said:

But 'varnish' is a loaded word. Some people insist that it is a very specific thing. But how can it be, if everyone has a different method and ingredients?

This is the language issue.

Get hung up on terms if you like. Otherwise, loosen up and focus on figuring out what they did.

I prefer to use the word 'finish'.  It's my attempt to escape some of the language based preconceptions.

 

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2 minutes ago, ctanzio said:

I believe scientific analysis has shown Strad's varnish to be mostly linseed oil and rosin, just like many modern varnishes. People still like to search for some secret spice that he must have added to give his violins that special kick.

Linseed reaches most of its polymerization in about 45 days, and will continue to harden over the years. But at some point it does begin to break down and become soft again. I vaguely recall the time being in the 100 year range, but I would have to dig up the research papers.

Rosin is stable over time if I recall correctly.

If there is tonal change over hundred of years, I suspect it is in the dampening properties of the wood. The natural decay of  hemicellulose, one of the three major components in wood, tends to decrease the dampening of the wood.

 

Yes.  Strad. His varnish.  That doesn't mean his whole approach to finishing is simply to slather on a varnish.   

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I don't think you can talk about Strad varnish or ground appearance without also considering what 300 years has done to the appearance of the underlying wood, and/or its interaction with the ground/varnish over time.

Some of the most incredible-looking old violins (IMO) have no varnish or ground left... just French polished wood.

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That's true.  And for thst resson you also can't give too much tonal credit to anything being special about the varnish.  Some have lots of original varnish, and are highly valued.  Some have very little original finish remaining, and are highly valued.  So in a sense, the varnish can't be any sort of central key to value.

But, those finishes are really beautiful, both the time batttered ones and the well preserved.

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You also can't give much credit to aging.

Strad surpassed the fame of the Amati family in his own life. Even though some of their instruments have 150 years on his.  And Del Gesu violins were already revered while his instruments were rather young.

Further, age also didn't make as old and older instruments from other regions equally valued.

 

No. Age is not really the determing factor in the success of instruments.  It's alwsys a plus, but age is never a necessary or sufficient factor in which instruments are best.

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1 hour ago, Michael_Molnar said:

I suspect that the secret is largely romantic hype.

There's that (Emperor's clothes effect), and

Good lighting in a dim museum display room, and

Nobody pays attention to the many "meh" looking ones, and only focus on the nice ones.

I once had the opportunity to closely examine (i.e. in my hands for as long as I wanted) a Curtin-Alf bench copy and the original Strad that it was copied from.  Before looking at the label, I honestly could not tell which one was the original.  No magical glow, no nothing.  Sound-wise, they were completely different.  Just playing on the E string, the Strad might be preferred.  For power elsewhere, the modern would win.

And then there was the Mendelssohn (Red) Strad (also examined closely).  Memorable and semi-magical... but whatever magic there was, was also there in spots where the original varnish/ground was completely worn off.

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57 minutes ago, Michael_Molnar said:

I suspect that the secret is largely romantic hype.

True, but there are so many bad to awful finishes on violins, even otherwise well made ones. That alone is reason enough to be fussy about what one likes to see and hear.

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3 hours ago, Michael_Molnar said:

I suspect that the secret is largely romantic hype.

I don't think that at all.  Certainly hype held jack up prices.

 

But there is no other western were examples from one specific time and place held dominance from their beginning to the present.

All other instruments gave way to newer models.  But these instruments remained and remain prefered by the best players.

And, they were adopted by the likes of Tartini, Corelli, Rode, Kreutzer, Viotti, et al. BEFORE the big hype developed.

No. The idea that it is just hype is itself a myth, and contrary to the facts.

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