wood treatment

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Historic gums and resins

ResinsI found the following list here. It contains lots of information on historical material that was used in the varnish and paint industry. When you are a violin maker you come across lots of ancient materials and it can become very confusing. This list is quite accurate but not exhaustive at all. Interesting stuff...

 


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To pond or not to pond....

Over the years many people speculated that the Cremonese 'ponded' (soaking in water for a long period) their wood, either intentionally or unintentianlly as part of the transport process. Presumable this changed the chracteristics of the wood and explains the success of their creations. This paper by Barlow and Woodhouse appeared in 1990 and looks at the evidence around this theory.

The article is in PDF format and registered users can download it here.

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William F. Fry: a physicist's quest for the 'secrets' of Stradivari

This is an article by Kameshwar C. Wali that I found here. It gives a profile of William Fry - a physicist - and his efforts to understand what makes the old Cremonese violins so special. I don't necessarily agree with all of his opinions, but it is nevertheless a very interesting read, especially the part on the effect of frequency ranges on the sound.


The origin and early history of the violin remain shrouded in mystery despite much research and speculation. The instrument appeared in its present form in the early sixteenth century, predominantly in Italy. Two schools of luthiers flourished: that of Gasparo Bertolotti, or Gasparo da Salo (1542-1609) in Brescia, and that of Andrea Amati (c. 1511-1581) in Cremona. The Cremona school dominated the scene for the next two centuries. Amati and his descendants ushered in an extraordinary period of violin making, which peaked between 1650 and 1750. All the violin makers lived and worked side by side around a courtyard in front of the St. Domenico church, where they produced instruments of great beauty and exquisite sound. The most celebrated of all, Antonio Stradivari (1644?-1737), brought unsurpassed perfection to the instruments he built.

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A rational look at the classical Italian coatings

This article appeared in the VSA papers, summer 2005, and it really is one of the best I have seen. I follow the author, Koen Padding's advice quite closely in my own work. The article is downloadable in PDF format for registered users here.

Abstract

This article describes the author’s thoughts about varnish and his approach toward understanding the puzzle that classical Italian varnish has become. Significant clues were derived from both the physical appearance of the surfaces of classical Italian violins and observations of the visible fluorescence from their varnishes when irradiated by an ultraviolet lamp. To illuminate the influence of earlier painting techniques on the surface coatings applied by Italian violin makers from ca. 1550 to 1750, the author refers to two historical documents from the 12th and 15th centuries that describe varnish composition and methods of application. Correlation of observations, scientific studies, and historical records has led the author to the conclusion that the Byzantine finishing system is the likely original conceptual basis for the classical Italian coatings.

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Mineral preservatives in the wood of Stradivari and Guarneri

Here is an article that is hot off the press. One of the authors is Joseph Nagyvary, a scientist/violinmaker from Texas that has written a lot on the theory that the Cremonese masters used a special wood treatment on their violins. In the past he has put forward several theories, including soaking the wood in water, urine, borax, shrimp shells, etc etc. All these theories and some sensationalist coverage by the press have not done his reputation in the violinmaking community much good. Nevertheless, he is an experienced scientist and his work and results are some of the best available. This paper contains some very interesting stuff. It seems more and more likely that there was a 'silver bullet' wood treatment that makes the Cremonese instruments different. The article was published in a scientific journal and it is not light reading, but well worth the effort.

The article is also available to registered users in PDF format here


Joseph Nagyvary1*, Renald N. Guillemette2, Clifford H. Spiegelman3

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