The antique violins made by Stradivari & Giuseppe Guarneri within the 17th & 18th centuries are still considerably wanted by modern-day musicians. Now, a latest new study reveals one among the hidden reasons why: the chemical treatments applied to the wood of instruments.
As it seems , it isn’t just quality of craftsmanship that makes the superior sound of those classic violins – called Cremonese violins after area where they were produced – but also the way the wood was processed.
This latest study focussed particularly on the soundboard of the violin, the part that’s most vital to the acoustic output of instrument. Stradivari & Guarneri soundboards are relatively thin and lightweight by modern-day standards, and it’s here that the chemicals would have originally been applied.
“This new study reveals that Stradivari & Guarneri had their own individual proprietary method of wood processing, to which they might have attributed a consider-able significance,” says biochemist Joseph Nagyvary, from Texas A&M University.
“They could have come to understand that the special salts they used for impregnation of the wood also imparted thereto some beneficial mechanical strength & acoustical advantages.”
The idea that chemical processing is that the reason Stradivari & Guarneri violins stand out has been explored by Nagyvary and colleagues before, but this new work goes further into identifying the type of substance that were probably use by the master violin makers.
Using a combination of techniques involving spectroscopy (studying materials using light & radiation), microscopic analysis & chemical techniques, the team was ready to identify borax, zinc & copper sulfates, alum, and lime water as being a part of the treatment mix.
The overall purpose of those applications would are to preserve the wood & tweak the acoustics of the violin, the researchers say. Borax, for instance , has been used as a preservative since the time of Ancient Egyptians.
The chemicals were found everywhere and running through the wood, so these weren’t just surface treatments. It’s likely that the fresh spruce planks used for the soundboards were soaked in special chemical mix for a few time before getting used .
“The presence of those chemicals all points to collaboration between the violin makers & therefore the local drugstore & druggist at the time,” says Nagyvary.
“Both Stradivari & Guarneri would have wanted to treat their violins to stop worms from eating the wood because worm infestations were very widespread at that time.”
In an era without patents & therefore the subsequent protections against competition, the manufacturers of the Cremonese violins would are very keen to stay their processes secret – the treatments wouldn’t are visible to the eye , and therefore the secrecy is probably one reason that these techniques died out.
Only a couple of hundred instruments from each craftsman now remain in-existence, and that they can sell for tens of many dollars once they move .
Now we all know a part of reason why – though further research are going to be required to figure out the precise chemical mix used and the way it interacts with the wood, potentially altering the acoustics.
“All of my research over a few years has been supported the idea that the wood of the good masters underwent an aggressive chemical treatment, and this had an immediate role in creating the good sound of the Stradivari and therefore the Guarneri,” says Nagyvary.
The results have been published in Angewandte Chemie.