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posted by janrinok on Monday August 23 2021, @03:45PM   Printer-friendly
from the I'm-thinkin'-of-good-vibrations dept.

Stradivari and Guarneri Treated Soundboards With Various Chemicals, Study Shows

Stradivari and Guarneri Treated Soundboards with Various Chemicals, Study Shows:

Two renowned violin makers from Cremona, Italy, Antonio Stradivari and Giuseppe Guarneri 'del Gesù,' treated their instruments with various chemicals that produced their unique sound, and several of these chemicals have been identified for the first time: borax and metal sulfates for fungal suppression, table salt for moisture control, alum for molecular crosslinking, and potash or quicklime for alkaline treatment.

In string instruments, specially selected woods act as transducers of mechanical energy from vibrating strings into acoustic energy.

Violin-family instruments, including violas and cellos, are made of two types of tonewoods: Norway spruce (Picea abies) for soundboards and maple (Acer sp.) for ribs and back plates.

Curiously, leading violinists today still prefer antique instruments made by Antonio Stradivari and Giuseppe Guarneri 'del Gesù.'

Stradivari made about 1,200 violins in his lifetime and sold them only to the very rich, including the royalty. Today, there are about 600 Stradivari violins remaining. He also made violas and cellos that are highly prized.

Guarneri 'del Gesù' had trouble selling his work, but his instruments are now considered equal in quality and price to Stradivari violins.

[...] "All of my research over many years has been based on the assumption that the wood of the great masters underwent an aggressive chemical treatment, and this had a direct role in creating the great sound of the Stradivari and the Guarneri," said Professor Joseph Nagyvary, a researcher in the Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics at Texas A&M University.

[...] "Both Stradivari and Guarneri would have wanted to treat their violins to prevent worms from eating away the wood because worm infestations were very widespread at that time."

[...] "This new study reveals that Stradivari and Guarneri had their own individual proprietary method of wood processing, to which they could have attributed a considerable significance," Professor Nagyvary said.

The Secret of the Stradivari Violin Confirmed

The secret of the Stradivari violin confirmed:

[Professor Joseph Nagyvary] said that the varnish recipes were not secret because the varnish itself is not a critical determinant of tone quality. In contrast, the process of how the fresh spruce planks were treated and processed with a variety of water-based chemical treatments is critical for the sound of the finished violin.

Such knowledge was needed to gain a "competitive advantage" over other instrument makers, he said.

Nagyvary added that the team found the chemicals used were found all over and inside the wood, not just its surface, and this directly affected the sound quality of the instruments.

He said that further research is need to clarify other details of how the chemicals and wood produced pristine tonal quality.

"First, one needs several dozens of samples from not only Stradivari and Guarneri, but also from other makers of the Golden Period (1660-1750) of Cremona, Italy," he said. "There will have to be better cooperation between the master restorers of antique musical instruments, the best makers of our time, and the scientists who are performing the experiments often pro bono in their free time."

Nagyvary has been involved with violin research much of his 87 years. He first learned to play in Switzerland on an instrument that once belonged to Albert Einstein.

Journal Reference:
Cheng-Kuan Su, Szu-Yu Chen, Jen-Hsuan Chung, et al. Materials Engineering of Violin Soundboards by Stradivari and Guarneri [open], Angewandte Chemie International Edition (DOI: 10.1002/anie.202105252)


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  • (Score: 5, Informative) by Thexalon on Monday August 23 2021, @04:54PM (13 children)

    by Thexalon (636) on Monday August 23 2021, @04:54PM (#1169909)

    Many top professional string players prefer more modern instruments, even when they have access to Italian Baroque-era instruments. Double-blind tests in the last decade have shown that audiences and players either can't tell them apart or slightly prefer the more modern instruments. So while these instruments are without question very fine workmanship, it's also unfair to say that modern builders can't either replicate what they're doing fairly accurately or get similar effects using different techniques.

    The remaining Stradivari and Guarneri are to a large degree being passed around a insular group of rich people in much the same way as fine art is, along with the accompanying money laundering and robberies, with the only real difference being that they'll loan the instrument to a top-tier musician to play and advertise the rich person's brand. That means the owners of these instruments have a strong incentive to pretend that they're these completely unique works of art that couldn't possibly be matched by anyone ever, even as people match them and replicate them.

    I have a bit of a personal connection to this issue: A relative of mine actually owned and performed on a Guarneri (it's now in a museum, but still occasionally brought out to play), and a longtime family friend is a well-regarded modern crafter of stringed instruments.

    --
    The only thing that stops a bad guy with a compiler is a good guy with a compiler.
    • (Score: 1, Interesting) by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 23 2021, @05:07PM (3 children)

      by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 23 2021, @05:07PM (#1169914)

      A fairly recent article about what you're talking about. [sciencemag.org]

      The finding also leaves open the possibility that Strads do sound better than modern instruments under certain circumstances—when the listener knows they are hearing a legendary instrument. "If you know it's a Strad, you will hear it differently," Fritz says. "And you can't turn off that effect."

      As for Stradivari's secret, the whole notion is misguided, Germain says. "Stradivari's secret was that he was a genius and that he did a thousand things right, not one thing right," Germain says. Saying his success came down to just one trick is, Germain says, "like saying that if I had the same kind of paint as Michelangelo, I could have painted the Sistine Chapel."

      • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 23 2021, @09:56PM (2 children)

        by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 23 2021, @09:56PM (#1170024)

        Firstly: old acoustic guitars/etc are said to sound better than new. (assuming they are not broken or have warped necks)

        There was also an interesting analogue when creating a famous historic Gibson pick from the 60's.
        They recreated it 'exactly' and they sounded worse. Took them a while to figure out why.
        The reason was the the old manufacturing procedures were fuzzy and this created distortions and imperfections in the sound that gave it better timbre/etc.
        e.g. https://www.themusiczoo.com/blogs/news/the-gibson-59-true-historic-les-paul-comparison [themusiczoo.com]

        It is the same for old instruments.

        If I was to bet, the chemical treatments he used and the age of the instruments created a plethora of imperfections that improved the sound profile.

        Yes, this can be replicated in modern/new instruments with a variety of techniques.

        Case solved?

        • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 24 2021, @02:37PM (1 child)

          by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 24 2021, @02:37PM (#1170331)

          Firstly: old acoustic guitars/etc are said to sound better than new.

          That's the problem here. A lot of people say the old violins sound better, but they don't pass the double-blind test. Because it is like in that quote above, that a Strad sounds better when you know it is a Strad being played.

          • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 24 2021, @07:55PM

            by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 24 2021, @07:55PM (#1170487)

            Incorrect. The old violins were double blinded with modern violins designed to replicate their sound.

            They add internals to break the sound up.

            I mention the fact you can make new instruments sound better...

    • (Score: 2) by ikanreed on Monday August 23 2021, @06:11PM

      by ikanreed (3164) Subscriber Badge on Monday August 23 2021, @06:11PM (#1169936) Journal

      Every single field has a name who is way bigger than their actual impact and ideas warrant, usually someone from a long-ass time ago. Freud, Plato, Hippocrates, you know the like. "Started" a field with some extremely dubious notions that literally took centuries to realize were full of shit.

      I go back and forth on whether formalizing a field of study and creating a school of thought that eventually outgrows the founder is a good or bad thing. Would psychology be better off today if it hadn't spent decades analyzing dreams for suppressed memories? Or was that a necessary growing pain?

      So by the same token, did Stradivari establish conventions of rigor in instrument making that theretofore hadn't been a concern for makers, or did he stumble ass-backwards into being a big name when the technology for consistent manufacture of complex machines was just becoming possible? Hard to say.

    • (Score: 2) by Mojibake Tengu on Monday August 23 2021, @06:16PM (3 children)

      by Mojibake Tengu (8598) on Monday August 23 2021, @06:16PM (#1169943) Journal

      I strongly disagree. Of many excellent, my top favourite violin player is Ayako Ishikawa. She's professional, well know in both anime popular subculture and classic concerting in great halls.
      Not rich person, she got Stradivari instrument as a birthday gift last year.
      There is not many violinists out there who can play Paganini at original Paganini-level of performance. She can. She was absolutely ready for the gift.

      It's the mastery of virtuoso what makes the overall result, but the instrument makes the big difference too.

      --
      Rust programming language offends both my Intelligence and my Spirit.
      • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 23 2021, @07:12PM (1 child)

        by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 23 2021, @07:12PM (#1169976)

        but the instrument makes the big difference too.

        That's not supported by double-blind tests. There may be other reasons for desiring such an instrument, but differences in sound or tone compared to a comparable high quality one is not one of them.

        • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 23 2021, @07:44PM

          by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 23 2021, @07:44PM (#1169992)

          This is the key, isn't it? Comparing Strads and such to the VERY BEST modern instruments.
          I'd say instrument price is roughly equivalent to weight class in a fight. Compare like with like.

      • (Score: 2) by Thexalon on Monday August 23 2021, @08:35PM

        by Thexalon (636) on Monday August 23 2021, @08:35PM (#1170005)

        It's the mastery of virtuoso what makes the overall result, but the instrument makes the big difference too.

        I didn't say that Strads don't sound great: they do. What I said is that there are top-end modern instruments that as far as anyone can tell sound as good as or better than Stradivari. Modern instruments have won major competitions, and there are many top-notch violinists who prefer them. For example, Jennifer Choi [jenniferchoi.com] can fill Carnegie Hall with a modern instrument without any trouble whatsoever.

        By top-end modern instruments, I don't mean the $300 student violin you hear at a Suzuki recital, I mean custom-built instruments made by highly trained craftsmen that cost $30-200K.

        --
        The only thing that stops a bad guy with a compiler is a good guy with a compiler.
    • (Score: 2) by vux984 on Monday August 23 2021, @06:40PM (2 children)

      by vux984 (5045) on Monday August 23 2021, @06:40PM (#1169960)

      it's also unfair to say that modern builders can't either replicate what they're doing fairly accurately or get similar effects using different techniques

      I think we'll really need see how they sound in a couple hundred years to see if the quality is on par.

      But otherwise i mostly agree you, although I don't think there is anything wrong with attaching value to the providence of things. If I borrow Thomas Jefferson's portable desk that was used to write the declaration of independence from the smithsonian, it's not going to make me write any better than if I'd used something from ikea, but nonetheless useing it will create a sense of occasion that one will never get by using an ikea desk. Likewise attending a recital using famous antique instruments of renowned quality may not really impact the music noticeably vs top flight modern instruments but it still makes the recital more 'special' on a separate level from the music. That emotional response is uniquely reserved to those instruments. They remain special even if they can replicated.

      • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 24 2021, @07:39AM (1 child)

        by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 24 2021, @07:39AM (#1170195)

        if the point is to have good sound, and you can achieve that with a cheap modern violin, why do you care what happens with the violin 200 years from now?
        just make another one, just as cheap, just as good.

        • (Score: 2) by vux984 on Tuesday August 24 2021, @06:03PM

          by vux984 (5045) on Tuesday August 24 2021, @06:03PM (#1170448)

          If it doesn't last 200 years, then it wasn't 'just as good', at least by one metric.
          That aside, I really despise disposable culture.

    • (Score: 2) by driverless on Tuesday August 24 2021, @08:02AM

      by driverless (4770) on Tuesday August 24 2021, @08:02AM (#1170206)

      Another thing with the Strads is that every few years there's some new study revealing what the secret sauce is: Magic ingredients, a particularly mild winter/summer when the trees the wood was cut from were grown, Jupiter moving into the third moon of Saturn, Morris dancing, etc. As the OP says, it'll be a whole lot of things, not one piece of magic.

  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 24 2021, @05:21PM

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 24 2021, @05:21PM (#1170410)

    All this talk of expensive stuff makes me want to twang the bango [urbandictionary.com]

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