By: Lisa Eluid
Most of us are aware that violins have been with us for hundreds of years. The most famous were made by Stradivari, Guarneri, and Amati. All of these makers were from Cremona, Italy and lived during the 16thh, 17thh, and 18th centuries.Their violins were the most famous and their quality far exceeded any that were made until recently. These men were all true artisans and masters of their craft. Violins are still made from excellent components and include scientific and mathematical design, yet they just don~t have the same elegance as the old masters.
The quality of violin on today~s market is nothing like violins of old. Unfortunately, mass manufacturing has turned this once beautiful instrument into a standardized instrument lacking in details. These violins may produce beautiful sounds, and are a certainly an option for schools or people just learning to play, but they lack the creativity and artistry of the violins found from the earlier years in Italy.
Today, we are seeing an increase in the number of violin makers who are creating beautiful instruments by hand. These artists are bringing back the high quality that has been gone for years. To create magnificent violins, they work with only the finest materials available and work painstakingly by hand to ensure every detail is perfect. One of the keys to the success of the Stradivari was the varnish recipe that gave the instrumentits sheen and richness.
Although the old secret recipe may never be duplicated to perfection, violin makers are now creating new recipes that produce beautiful pieces. Through trial and error,violin makers have discovered that once the violin is "in the white", meaning the carving and gluing process is complete, the violin must be exposed to the sun and air for days to weeks so the whiteness is eliminated. What happens is that air helps to darken the wood through an oxidation process, similar to the wood getting a suntan.
Before varnishing the violin, the violin receives a ground coating, which is a process similar to a painter preparing a canvas to receive paint. The ground coating enhances the wood and also accentuates the transparency and depth of the varnish color while penetrating the wood and strengthening it. The ground coating continues to protect the violin even if the top coat of varnish fades or chips over time. Many people believe that Stradivari~s ground coating is an essential part of his secret to creating a violin masterpiece. While the recipe has been speculated about for years, new testing procedures poerformed with electronmicroscopy show a thick layer of mineral ground.
Not only was the varnish a critical part of the secret of the violin, but the type of wood was crucial as well. Most violin makers choose spruce for the top of the violin because it is lightweight, but strong and flexible. Maple is frequently used for the back, in part because of the flame or curl appearance that is so prominent in the maple tree. The internal blocks and linings of the violin are often made from willow, while the sound post and bass bar are made from spruce, and the fittings made from rose wood,boxwood, ebony, or mahogany. Finally, the violin fingerboards are made from poplar or ebony. Violin makers of today are diligently trying to bring back the incredible quality to violins that have been missed for so long, creating the perfect instrument for the serious violinist.