A recent article posted on the science website Phys.org offered some interesting research on how famous violin builders Antonio Stradivari and Giuseppi Guarneri “del Gesu” were able to create instruments of such incredible sound quality more than two centuries ago.
Turns out, it was not necessarily the luthiers’ skill in building their instruments that gave them their tone (no disrespect to their skill is meant); rather, it was chemicals used to treat the wood, usually spruce, used in building them.
According to the article, this hypothesis was originally proposed some four decades ago by Joseph Nagyvary, professor emeritus of biochemistry at Texas A&M University. A research team led by Hwan Ching-Tai, chemistry professor at National Taiwan University, recently published its findings on the matter in the journal of the German Chemical Society, Angewante Chemie, International Edition.
Phys.org said that Hwan’s research team found that “borax, zinc, copper and alum – along with lime water – were used to treat the wood used in the instruments.”
Nagyvary told Phys.org: “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.”
The Phys.org article noted that “Stradivari (1644 –1737) 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. A lesser-known contemporary of Stradivari, Guarneri [1698-1744], had trouble selling his work, but his instruments are now considered equal in quality and price to Stradivari violins.”
The Phys.org article is available here: https://phys.org/news/2021-08-secret-stradivari-violin.html
The Angewante Chemie article is here: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/anie.202105252
[Violin photo by Providence Doucet; courtesy of Unsplash.com]