Slash Boxes

SoylentNews is people

Submission Preview

No link to story available

Stradivari and Guarneri Treated Soundboards With Various Chemicals, Study Shows

Accepted submission by upstart at 2021-08-22 14:00:17

████ # This file was generated bot-o-matically! Edit at your own risk. ████

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.

After two centuries of investigations, there is still little consensus on what makes Cremonese violins so unique.

“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.

Professor Nagyvary and colleagues investigated the material properties of Cremonese soundboards using a wide range of spectroscopic, microscopic, and chemical techniques.

They found that borax, zinc, copper and alum — along with lime water — were used to treat the wood.

“Borax has a long history as a preservative, going back to the ancient Egyptians, who used it in mummification and later as an insecticide,” Professor Nagyvary said.

“The presence of these chemicals all points to collaboration between the violin makers and the local drugstore and druggist at the time.”

“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.”

Each violin maker probably used his own home-grown methods when treating the wood.

“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.

“They could have come to realize that the special salts they used for impregnation of the wood also imparted to it some beneficial mechanical strength and acoustical advantages.”

“These methods were kept secret. There were no patents in those times.”

“How the wood was manipulated with chemicals was impossible to guess by the visual inspection of the finished product.”

“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,” Professor Nagyvary said.

“We 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.”

A paper [] describing the findings was published in the journal Angewandte Chemie.


Cheng-Kuan Su et al. Materials Engineering of Violin Soundboards by Stradivari and Guarneri. Angewandte Chemie, publihsed online June 1, 2021; doi: 10.1002/anie.202105252

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 [])

Original Submission