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Did cremona really use super "stiff" wood?


fscotte

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I'm sure experts will drop their two cents but my understanding is that the wood is so old that nobody has a complete idea of what the heck it was like when it was fresh, besides the obvious (grain spacing for example). Wood gets lighter with age, does it not? Among other changes.

The fact that the oldies also often come with a patchwork quilt of repairs on the inside doesn't help.

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8 hours ago, fscotte said:

I keep hearing about how great, light and stiff, the wood was that Strad and others used.  Has this been proven or is it assumed based on the time period and the wood available at the time? 

Obtainable data only from spruce shows two things:

Dendochronolgy shows that they used whole trunks which came supposedly from Val di Fiemme. 
 

The density of trees in that region seems to lower than in other regions. 
 

Otherwise one might assume that trees without twist in their growth have been selected because they are stronger. (And were for this reason used for ship masts.) 

———-

Note: the twist is like a super stretched corkscrew, so that if you split a wedge the surface is not flat but twisted. However there are a few trees which grow straight. 
 

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Looking at the m5, weight and stiffness of the spruce the top for sure were of lower density and on the stiff side. It is probable that stiffness to weight ratio improved over time, but unlikely to change values by a lot.

we don’t have as much data about maple stiffness, but low density seems to have been favored as well.

 

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3 hours ago, Michael Szyper said:

we don’t have as much data about maple stiffness, but low density seems to have been favored as well.

I don’t think so. Just looking at the wood structure of Cremonese instruments, this was heavy wood. Sometimes I found 3 year rings within 1mm. That’s normally super dense and therefore heavy. 

However, I think there is also data about relative weight of the used maple wood which is not so heavy. This leaves imo only one conclusion: the wood was treated before use. For example steaming wood for prolonged time washes out 7-14% of its initial weight. Though I don’t know what precisely was done.

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There are a few Strad backs that are "super" thin.  The Stratton strad maple back is down to 3.2 mm around the center and less than that everywhere else. Only 3.5mm where the sound post would be.

If we check the mode 5 on this back, if it was possible, I don't see how that could be anywhere near the normal range of M5 tap tones that were used to seeing.  My building has primarily building mandos, and I've used all sorts of maple. Getting this thin does not yield high M5 tap tone regardless of arching or wood stiffness.

That's why I question whether all these cremona era woods were super stiff for their mass.

 

 

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36 minutes ago, Andreas Preuss said:

I don’t think so. Just looking at the wood structure of Cremonese instruments, this was heavy wood. Sometimes I found 3 year rings within 1mm. That’s normally super dense and therefore heavy. 

The lightest maple in my workshop (490 kg/m3) has 2 rings per mm. There is only a very light correlation between ring spacing and density. Too little to make conclusions imo. 

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From everything I have been able to find, I don't think that old Cremonese wood started out any different from what we can get today.  From my limited data, it appears possible that Strad was using lower density during his "Golden Era" compared to other periods, and Guarneri may have selected lower density for his tops.  

That's not to say that the wood in 300-year-old Cremonese violins is the same as modern wood NOW.  I do believe there is something different, most likely damping, and perhaps a difference in the aging results between spruce and maple.  Stiffness and density don't look extraordinary.

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26 minutes ago, fscotte said:

There are a few Strad backs that are "super" thin.  The Stratton strad maple back is down to 3.2 mm around the center and less than that everywhere else. Only 3.5mm where the sound post would be.

 

 

If you have a micrometer convert mm to inches and you will notice maybe that 3.5 and 3.2 are kind of thick.  
 

Off hand I think 3.2 mm is .126 in inches and 3.5 is .148”

though I wouldn’t know if I were holding a real Stradivari violin I think there may be some smaller ones that would enable high m5 values.

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3 hours ago, Davide Sora said:

For maple it is less clear, only the sensation obtained from the weight in our hands can give some indication.

I definitely don't believe that the Cremonese used heavy wood, and that it only became low-density due to aging.

My answer was only regarding maple. 
 

 

5 hours ago, Michael Szyper said:

The lightest maple in my workshop (490 kg/m3) has 2 rings per mm. There is only a very light correlation between ring spacing and density. Too little to make conclusions imo. 

I see. I had always problems finding light maple backs with dense grain. But it seems I was looking at the wrong sources. May I ask where your maple comes from?

 

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Going by photos and scans it seems to me that early makers like Stradivari commonly used spruce with thick and dark, fairly widely spaced growth rings. And I think those are features associated with fast growth in younger trees in areas with warm summers and very cold winters which are common in European alpine areas.

And those strong, thick rings are very dense and strong while the wood between them is the opposite. Spruce with very fine, closely spaced rings is structurally quite different.

 

 

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If there is a correlation between ring spacing and density in maple, it can't be very strong, according to the wood that I have.

I measured 3 of my lightest sets (.51 - .56 density) and 4 of my heaviest sets (.675 - .71 density), and found fractionally wider ring spacing on the heavy group.  All Euro, from 5 different sources.

Then there's the piece of Bigleaf with finger-width grain spacing at .77 density.

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On 12/3/2023 at 8:00 AM, Andreas Preuss said:

Obtainable data only from spruce shows two things:

Dendochronolgy shows that they used whole trunks which came supposedly from Val di Fiemme. 
 

Andreas, there is absolutely no evidence (dendrochronologically or otherwise) that the wood actually came from Fiemme.

 

11 hours ago, Dennis J said:

Going by photos and scans it seems to me that early makers like Stradivari commonly used spruce with thick and dark, fairly widely spaced growth rings. And I think those are features associated with fast growth in younger trees in areas with warm summers and very cold winters which are common in European alpine areas

 

Having now measured well over 300 Stradivari instruments of all periods, I can safely say that, on the whole, this is incorrect. There are, however, variations in the density proportions between early and late-wood depending on the periods.

There is however, a much higher degree of variability of these parameters on larger instruments such as cellos, and forget about basses... 

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So at this point, and reading the replies, no one really knows an answer to my original question.

I think maybe a better way, did Stradivari have the luxury of choosing which woods he selected?  In other words, was the selection of various stiffness in density really available for him to do something like that?  

I don't imagine it was like going to your favorite wood shop and browsing through all the different varieties of spruce. Maybe I'm wrong, but it seems to me that would be a very labor intensive and expensive occupation to cut down a bunch of trees to find just the right one., no matter who was tasked with that job.

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6 hours ago, Andreas Preuss said:

That’s interesting. Got the wrong information then. So what’s the hype about this wood from Fiemme? 

Don't get me wrong, Fiemme wood is really beautiful, low density, slow growth etc... but yes, there has been hype linked to "stories" ( fables?), partly because of the tonewood trade since people actually started selling instrument wood from there, for which I haven't found any evidence before the 1960s.  Also the whole tourism that has been generated in the area by all this...

I would be happy to hear any evidence to the contrary, and also would be interested to know when the "Foresta dei Violini" in Panaveggio was baptized as such.  Again I cannot find any reference to this before the 1960s.

As I said, If am wrong, please put me right!

5 hours ago, fscotte said:

So at this point, and reading the replies, no one really knows an answer to my original question.

I think maybe a better way, did Stradivari have the luxury of choosing which woods he selected?  In other words, was the selection of various stiffness in density really available for him to do something like that?  

I don't imagine it was like going to your favorite wood shop and browsing through all the different varieties of spruce. Maybe I'm wrong, but it seems to me that would be a very labor intensive and expensive occupation to cut down a bunch of trees to find just the right one., no matter who was tasked with that job.

What Andreas said about "whole trees" being acquired by Stradivari is possible, although I suspect we are talking more about billets, or sections of trees.  One "good tree" may yield infinitely more soundboards than the 25 from the same tree already identified for a specific period of Stradivari's production.

There are also several instances of a same tree association between the wood used by Stradivari and that used in other workshops in Cremona and, importantly, also in other towns. For instance, the wood on the Messiah ( I may regret mentioning the unmentionable...) is found on several other Stradivari, but also instruments made in another workshop in Cremona, Brescia, and Ferrara.

Whether Stradivari bought the entire logs, processed them into wedges and sold some to others is also possible.  I suspect, however that smaller billets, naturally far easier to transport, were circulating and sold by the dealer or dealers.  ( I suspect one main dealer only) who may have travelled to different towns.

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8 hours ago, Ratcliffiddles said:

What Andreas said about "whole trees" being acquired by Stradivari is possible, although I suspect we are talking more about billets, or sections of trees.  One "good tree" may yield infinitely more soundboards than the 25 from the same tree already identified for a specific period of Stradivari's production.

Wood transportation on land was difficult before steam power and in the old times and in many areas the wood was pre-processed in the forest as much as possible and only the rough billets were transported. Whole logs could be transported on water but AFAIK from local sources only relatively thin long logs were tied up into rafts and flown down the rivers from north of Slovakia down to Hungary. I guess the long logs were intended as construction wood in deforrested areas and would be more prized than short pieces and preferrably not sold to be cut into violin wood with lots of waste.

OTOH smaller split pieces (mostly for firewood or furnaces in metallurgy) were commonly flown down the rivers on shorter distances like this "rake" in our town.

https://www.pamatihodnosti.sk/pamatihodnost/?itemId=86

I can clearly imagine someone watching for suitable pieces and collecting them for violin makers (or other woodworkers) in the town. The rake in our town dates back to 16th century so I guess these were not uncommon in Strads time under the Alps.

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No No NO.

Let's work back from the Messiah.

And this is what I assume. I play many instruments where the tops are removed and hopefully measured. Could someone, write a paper as to where it would be best measure? Put your your right foot in, put your left in your foot in, put your right foot in and shake it all about?

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21 hours ago, Ratcliffiddles said:

...

There are also several instances of a same tree association between the wood used by Stradivari and that used in other workshops in Cremona and, importantly, also in other towns. For instance, the wood on the Messiah ( I may regret mentioning the unmentionable...) is found on several other Stradivari, but also instruments made in another workshop in Cremona, Brescia, and Ferrara.

...

Thank you Mr. Radcliff for contributing on the subject, it's very interesting to know that for example the Val de Fiemme source story is most likely hype.

Would you care to elaborate, from which makers or workshops was found the same wood as in the Messiah? This is most interesting...

Having myself on various occasions struggled with 60-70cm diameter logs of only a meter or shorter length, in fall and in winter, I can imagine better ways of doing it.

With what knowledge I have of traditional practices, I believe that it olden times it would have been normal to fell in winter, saw as short lengths as were practical for the customer base and type of wood, then sledge the logs over snow to the nearest river, and float from there to the mill. Only at the mill or after would the tonewood dealer or buyer actually likely have access to the logs, to test for twist, density, resonance, etc.

Therefore log pieces of max. 2-3 meters length, and likely rather youngish trees, as thin as possible for the use (as I believe Mr. Radcliff has previously suggested), seem most likely for one maker to obtain (if not buying individual smaller chunks or individual split billets) If anyone has a greatly differing opinion, I'm sure we're all ears ;-)

As for the density, I have understood that particularly spruce is desirable for its stiffness-to-weight ratio, as well as its resonance. However, as light wood seems usually to perform best, it would follow that the best tonewood spruce is not the stiffest or densest wood... Isn't it so, as usual, that working within the normal parameters of what has been done before, will most likely produce at least a VSO?!!

 

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This is how the wood transport was often done in our part of world for the smaller pieces. One of the last "water slides" that has been restored and maintained for several centuries is few miles north of us.

HERE IS LINK

Wood cutters would hoard wood during winter at he mountains and prepare it to approx 1 meter lengths and thicker pieces were split into quarters the wood was stacked near the upper end of the slide and in the spring when the snow started to melt and provide water to the slide as well as the creek/ river at it's end they would just throw the pieces into slide and the pieces were either caught with "hooks" at the end for local use or left to flow down the river to the large "rake".

Here is link to video that shows the work done by forrester volunteers for public every spring (I just noticed I'm in the video with my family - the guy with a black backpack 36 seconds into the video :D )

Sledges of various sizes were also used but mostly for local transport from hill to valley.

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