[alert type=”info”]The 8th subject of our series on craftsmanship is about how few products are as synonymous with quality and excellence as the Stradivarius. This brand of violins is highly treasured by not just the music industry, but by the general public as well. The name Stradivarius has found its way into many elements of popular culture and fueled this Italian instrument’s legendary status.[/alert]
The Luthier Behind the Legend
Antonio Stradivari was an Italian luthier, a crafter of string instruments, who lived in 17th century Europe. He crafted cellos, guitars, harps, and many more string instruments. It was violins that made him famous, however, and thus it was here he focused most of his efforts.
Not much is known about Stradivari’s early career, although many speculate that he apprenticed with another famed luthier, Nicolo Amati, at the age of 12. Records suggest that Stradivari had been skilled enough to sell directly to patrons at the age of 16.
Stradivari was constantly perfecting his craft and building improvements into every successive instrument. His violins started out small, and as he developed his own style his violins tended to have stronger, more masculine builds and fewer rounded curves. After Amati’s death in 1684, Stradivari’s sales surged. His designs then became larger and began to outline the heads of his instruments in black, which was unique among luthiers of the time.
The period from 1700 to 1720 are celebrated as the “Golden Period” of Stradivari’s career. He tweaked his design to incorporate larger patterns than previous instruments, and changed his varnish to a darker, richer variety. Most of the Stradivari’s instruments made during time are considered to be superior to other Stradivaris from different periods.
The Definition of Excellence
Although no two Stradivari violins sound exactly alike, all of them are widely acknowledged to have exceptional sound quality. Despite their age, many original Stradvari violins stand up to instruments crafted today using modern methods–instruments that, it must be mentioned, use some of the same design elements that make Stradivaris so exceptional.
One contributing factor to Antonio Stradivari’s success was his constant drive to improve. He never churned out the exact same product en masse, as some of his peers did. Stradivari constantly tinkered and adjusted his design, to the point where he was using building materials that few people had even heard of. Up until now, musicians, luthiers, and scientists are trying to figure out the Stradivari violins’ design secrets.
Source Video: https://vimeo.com/4849260
For years, people have wondered just what makes a Stradivari so special. Some say it is the density of the violins’ wood. Others say it’s the variety of wood (and violins are often composed of multiple types). Unfortunately, they are considered too valuable to open up and have a look.
One day, a scientist by the name of Burno Frohlich put a Stradivarius violin under a CT scanner for a non-destructive form of testing. He discovered that Stradivari violins hold a consistent volume of air, which affects tone quality. And while other violins are made of wood that can be several millimeters thick, Stradivaris can be as thin as one millimeter in certain places.
Despite the findings, the jury is still out on the Stradivarius violin’s defining quality. Some have even argued that perhaps there’s no difference at all from a Stradivarius’ sound from that of modern violins. But no one can argue that the Stradivarius is an icon of art and function, and symbolizes the excellence for which all artisans strive.