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"Was Stradivariusí Big Edge Just The Wood He Started With?" Topic

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How Scurvy Got His "Style"

How Scurvy developed his unique approach to miniatures.

570 hits since 28 Nov 2017
©1994-2020 Bill Armintrout
Comments or corrections?

Cacique Caribe28 Nov 2017 10:53 a.m. PST

So wood harvested from trees that grew during the "Little Ice Age" is the main reason his violins sound the way they do?

Were these special trees available only to him and his family?

Was the work by his contemporaries comparable to or even better than his, and his simply became more widely promoted due to his connections, which then gave his courtly fame snowball-effect a better start?

Or was it just because he had such a cool-sounding name … Antonio Stradivari? :)

Inquiring minds want to know.

TMP link

Winston Smith28 Nov 2017 11:27 a.m. PST

Having good PR doesn't hurt either.

Ed Mohrmann Supporting Member of TMP28 Nov 2017 12:00 p.m. PST

I've heard the theory about the wood before and, not
that I know anything about, supposedly there is
scientific evidence to support it.

Winston Smith28 Nov 2017 1:49 p.m. PST

Since you don't link, I'm assuming that wood from the Little Ice Age would have denser grain from the colder winters and shorter growing season. That shouldn't be hard (well, maybe it is grin) to duplicate.

Personal logo etotheipi Sponsoring Member of TMP28 Nov 2017 2:16 p.m. PST

And here I thought this was a completely different discussion …

Bowman28 Nov 2017 4:20 p.m. PST

I agree. The heading seems to suggest a much more interesting topic.

Dan, is there anything to the first sentence in your post?

I think Winston hits the nail on the head. PR is more important than the extreme subjectivity entailed in determining violin qualities. When violinists were asked if Stradivarius violins really sound better than high quality modern violins, they routinely answer yes. However, in well designed blind tests, the violinists actually prefer the sound and feel of the modern violins. There are actually many studies showing this effect, here is but one:


You know, in my basement I have some vintage Moog and Oberheim synthesizers. They are now worth an enormous amount of money, many times more than what their original selling price was. The market prices are determined by professional, rich collectors and speculators. Are they better sounding, or better built than modern synthesizers? Doubt it, but don't tell the PR men. I may want to sell them one day.

Since you don't link, I'm assuming that wood from the Little Ice Age would have denser grain from the colder winters and shorter growing season.

So Winston, if this was the case, wouldn't the best violins be built by a guy call Ulfsson in Sweden instead of a guy named Stradivari in too-hot Italy?

Cacique Caribe28 Nov 2017 7:16 p.m. PST

That is what confuses me the most.

Someone else must have already known that the wood was denser wherever trees had to conserve growth. Who knows? Maybe it was common knowledge back then.

And, if they had known about it, I'm sure they must have also found ways to make the most of that fact.


Bowman29 Nov 2017 5:31 a.m. PST

But we don't know if wood density or cold weather growth, or altitude where the trees are grown have anything to do with anything as you haven't linked to anything yet. Right now this is all speculation.

A quick peak at the historical data, indicates that Stradivari's professional career was in the period of warming after the Maunder Minimum. Since we are speculating, maybe the best wood for violins comes from wood grown in temperatures that are in a warming phase.

Or not.

Bowman29 Nov 2017 6:20 a.m. PST

We could also speculate if Jewish philosophers come to prominence due to cooling weather. The great Baruch Spinoza did his best work just as the temperatures were heading towards the Maunder Minimum.

I think this is called the Texas Sharpshooter logical fallacy.

Ed Mohrmann Supporting Member of TMP29 Nov 2017 8:03 a.m. PST

Uh…OH ! Yeah ! Right, right ! Sure, sure !

Cacique Caribe29 Nov 2017 10:52 a.m. PST

After hearing it on a documentary, I simply looked up Stradivarius wood density.

Well, apparently it's old "news", and I simply missed it the first time around.


These guys still don't buy it though:

PDF link


Bowman30 Nov 2017 5:31 a.m. PST

From the PDF link:

……..we find that the densities of the
spruce and maple plates are similar to those of wood available to modern luthiers, and that the wood chosen by Stradivari varied from relatively low-density to high-density. We feel that although the Maunder Minimum hypothesis might have romantic appeal for some players, it cannot endure examination by modern technology.

Which accounts for the player preferences for modern violins in the blind studies. Also, the authors have a longer period set for the Maunder Minimum, which most believe ended before 1700. That mean that the Stradivari instruments were built once the warming period began.

What we have are 4 very talented families of luthiers, all from Cremona who built upon each other's successes. And that is why Ulfsson in Sweden never built a better violin. He had access to some dense spruce too, but he was not in the center for violin innovation and construction.

And the rest is, as Winston suggests, good PR.

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