Beta
×

Welcome to the Slashdot Beta site -- learn more here. Use the link in the footer or click here to return to the Classic version of Slashdot.

Thank you!

Before you choose to head back to the Classic look of the site, we'd appreciate it if you share your thoughts on the Beta; your feedback is what drives our ongoing development.

Beta is different and we value you taking the time to try it out. Please take a look at the changes we've made in Beta and  learn more about it. Thanks for reading, and for making the site better!

Wood Density May Explain Stradivarius Secret

CmdrTaco posted more than 5 years ago | from the don't-sit-on-it dept.

Music 318

Whorhay writes "A Dutch doctor and a violin maker from Arkansas have compared five classical and eight modern violins in a computed tomography (CT) scanner. Apparently the 300-year-old violins are made of wood with a more consistent density than the modern violins. They aren't saying for sure that this is what gives the Stradivarius violins their unique sound, but it's the first scientific explanation I've heard for it that seems to have merit." Unfortunately science has yet to explain how how all three chords I know ROCK on my SG.

cancel ×

318 comments

Sorry! There are no comments related to the filter you selected.

Pardon my musical ignorance, but (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24043895)

"Wood", "Stradivarius", and "Secret" made me think that the article must be about Dinosaur pr0n. :/

Harmonics (5, Funny)

Bandman (86149) | more than 5 years ago | (#24043913)

It might go a log way to preventing them from producing undesirable harmonics.

Anyone know of any studies which looked at the waveforms to find unique qualities?

Re:Harmonics (5, Informative)

bigtomrodney (993427) | more than 5 years ago | (#24044019)

I wouldn't be all that surprised. Wood quality has always been a key factor in instruments. Even with electric guitars weight and density are considered a good thing. You'll find people complaining how heavy their Les Paul Custom is yet still play it for the sustain the extra weight provides. And Swamp Ash is a preferred material for Stratocasters and Telecasters because it is very hard while not being as heavy. High density again would provide for more fidelity in sound transfer.But hey, don't expect the science to devalue the old instruments. A '59 'Burst can still cost you $250,000.

Re:Harmonics (2, Interesting)

Bandman (86149) | more than 5 years ago | (#24044339)

Not being a guitar player, I have to ask...

Is it the density, mass, or maybe the structure?

Would a quartz guitar play amazingly?

Re:Harmonics (3, Informative)

HolyCrapSCOsux (700114) | more than 5 years ago | (#24044645)

Not likely. Jackson made and aluminum guitar, and I thought that it soundedking of harsh. My mahogany guitar sounds different than my ash guitar and my mystery wood guitar, they all have maple necks and the same model picukps. Mahogany is warm, ash is a little bright, etc.

I also think a crystal guitar would buckle the first time you put the strings on. they run at 16+ pounds of tension per string.

Re:Harmonics (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24044769)

Not likely. Jackson made and aluminum guitar, and I thought that it soundedking of harsh. My mahogany guitar sounds different than my ash guitar and my mystery wood guitar, they all have maple necks and the same model picukps. Mahogany is warm, ash is a little bright, etc.

I also think a crystal guitar would buckle the first time you put the strings on. they run at 16+ pounds of tension per string.

All hail the newly crowned King of Harsh!

Sorry guy, I know that typing mistakes are easy to make and I'm really not trying to hack on you. No hard feelings?

Re:Harmonics (1)

Hognoxious (631665) | more than 5 years ago | (#24045251)

I assumed it was a slang expression meaning 'very', something a lolcat might say.

Re:Harmonics (1)

Bandman (86149) | more than 5 years ago | (#24044943)

Ah. Bummer.

You have to admit, it would look pretty cool with flashing lights going through it, though ;-)

Re:Harmonics (4, Informative)

m50d (797211) | more than 5 years ago | (#24045517)

Crystal, particularly Quartz, wouldn't buckle; it's far too brittle for that. It'd either stay solid or shatter, and given the strength of the stuff, I'd imagine the former. It might actually be worth making, though how the hell GP is proposing to get a quartz crystal large enough to carve a guitar out of I don't know (and if the top isn't carved from a single contignous piece of the original material, it's practically guaranteed to sound awful).

Re:Harmonics (3, Insightful)

ari_j (90255) | more than 5 years ago | (#24044563)

Wood - all aspects, from density to shape - plays a huge role in guitar tone. I've always found this to be rather astonishing since the sound of an electric guitar comes from a vibrating piece of wire interacting with a small magnet. How is it that the thing holding the string above the magnet can play such a big part in what the magnetic field is doing? But it does, and that's pretty cool to me.

Re:Harmonics (2, Insightful)

OwnedByTwoCats (124103) | more than 5 years ago | (#24044851)

I am not a guitar player. I might try my hand at making one, though.

I can imagine that the wood affects the rigidity with which the bridge and (for guitars, the fret on) the neck hold the string, and hold the pick up under the string. Some frequency components of the vibration of the string get damped because the body and the neck absorb them.

And, of course, the weight and shape and finish of the instrument change how it affects the musician. Do not underestimate this impact.

Re:Harmonics (3, Interesting)

Doctor Faustus (127273) | more than 5 years ago | (#24044701)

Even with electric guitars weight and density are considered a good thing. You'll find people complaining how heavy their Les Paul Custom is yet still play it for the sustain the extra weight provides.
That sustain comes at the expense of having a very simple clean tone. They're great for distortion, though.

And Swamp Ash is a preferred material for Stratocasters and Telecasters because it is very hard while not being as heavy.
A swamp ash Stratocaster is my ideal guitar for playing clean, since it brings out the fundamental note and higher harmonics without so much midrange -- that's great for getting an ominous sound when you want it. I suspect it's the hardness that lets the higher frequencies reverberate so well.

You have to remember, though, that Fender sells many times more Stratocasters made of Alder than made of ash. Not everyone wants that sound.

Re:Harmonics (1)

E.T.123 (1319195) | more than 5 years ago | (#24045067)

i totally agree. a lot of people don't realize that the wood of an electric guitar matters. they think its all in the pick ups, the electronics and distortion. true,they are not like acoustic guitars in that aspect. with acoustic guitars the sound is determined by the body shape and type. in some aspects the same is true with electric ones. les pauls are are heavy and kinda clunky but have amazing sound. jimmy page, slash, eric clapton, and a ton of others used les pauls and got amazing sound. its not all in the amps.

Re:Harmonics (4, Informative)

Anonymous Psychopath (18031) | more than 5 years ago | (#24044843)

I saw a special, on History Channel I think, where they thought that the trees that Stradivarius used to make his violins had unusual density qualities caused by the mini ice age.

Re:Harmonics (1)

L33THa0R69 (610556) | more than 5 years ago | (#24045023)

Even with electric guitars weight and density are considered a good thing.

Damn, my infinite volume, zero mass electric guitar will not have either - back to the drawing board.

Re:Harmonics (4, Funny)

An ominous Cow art (320322) | more than 5 years ago | (#24044043)

It might go a log way

Nicely played. :-)

Re:Harmonics (-1, Redundant)

CDMA_Demo (841347) | more than 5 years ago | (#24044661)

It might go a log way

Nicely played. :-)

I'd say nicely replayed.

Re:Harmonics (4, Informative)

tompaulco (629533) | more than 5 years ago | (#24044361)

Acoustically, a consistent density would tend toward one resonance frequency (and it's harmonics), whereas an inconsistent density could have many resonance frequencies and their harmonics, which would probably be less pleasing to the air. I know it wouldn't work well for a violin, but when designing subwoofer boxes, it is recommended to use particle board for reasons of both structural rigidity and almost complete lack of resonance frequency.

Re:Harmonics (4, Funny)

Hoi Polloi (522990) | more than 5 years ago | (#24044515)

This is all too complicated. I'm just going to wait for "Violin Hero" to come out. The delux package comes with a kettle drum, brass and woodwind section, conductor's baton, etc.

Re:Harmonics (1)

robertjw (728654) | more than 5 years ago | (#24044919)

This is all too complicated. I'm just going to wait for "Violin Hero" to come out. The delux package comes with a kettle drum, brass and woodwind section, conductor's baton, etc.

The first version of consists entirely of tracks from
Us and Them: Symphonic Pink Floyd by the London Philharmonic Orchestra

Re:Harmonics (1)

Bandman (86149) | more than 5 years ago | (#24045001)

I'd buy that so fast, you have no idea

Re:Harmonics (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24045175)

but when designing subwoofer boxes, it is recommended to use particle board

maybe if you are selling them at flea markets. MDF is much better to build boxes with.

Re:Harmonics (1)

gad_zuki! (70830) | more than 5 years ago | (#24045207)

What about "learned" harmonics? I imagine violin players grow up listening to recordings of strads and have internalized their timbre. They may not sound better than a similiar instrument, people have accepted the differences and flaws as superior.

This has been known for years (5, Insightful)

CXI (46706) | more than 5 years ago | (#24043957)

Here's an article from 2004 about the fact that the Little Ice Age [wikipedia.org] was most likely responsible for slowing tree growth and creating perfect wood for violins: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2004/01/0107_040107_violin.html [nationalgeographic.com]

Re:This has been known for years (4, Funny)

zippthorne (748122) | more than 5 years ago | (#24043987)

So.. you blame Global Warming?

Re:This has been known for years (3, Interesting)

crow (16139) | more than 5 years ago | (#24044017)

So I suppose someone could carefully manage a tree farm to produce some new perfect instruments.

Re:This has been known for years (2, Informative)

peragrin (659227) | more than 5 years ago | (#24044211)

It would have to be an indoor tree farm, as things like cool temperatures, sunlight, humidity would all have to be carefully controlled. If a little ice age can slow the growth of the trees down you would have to duplicate that, over a period of 30-50 years to grow the slow growth trees large enough for timber.

Re:This has been known for years (1)

Whorhay (1319089) | more than 5 years ago | (#24044615)

Large caves might be ideal for this as you wouldn't need to add much in the way of cooling, though heating might be necessary. You'd have to use growth lamps which I imagine would be very costly to operate on such a large and longterm scale. Although if you developed this along with a pot cave [cultural-baggage.com] , the illegal sales could subsidize your underground hardwood farm.

Re:This has been known for years (2, Interesting)

robertjw (728654) | more than 5 years ago | (#24044977)

It would have to be an indoor tree farm, as things like cool temperatures, sunlight, humidity would all have to be carefully controlled. If a little ice age can slow the growth of the trees down you would have to duplicate that, over a period of 30-50 years to grow the slow growth trees large enough for timber.

Wouldn't it be possible to find a natural climate that caused slower tree growth. I live in Colorado, and trees tend to grow slowly here, probably due to the dryness and possibly altitude. Would an ash or maple from Colorado produce a superior instrument?

Re:This has been known for years (5, Informative)

b4upoo (166390) | more than 5 years ago | (#24044061)

There is much confusion among musicians as to what causes tone qualities in various instruments. Violins may well be locked to resonance
more than other instruments. But for brass and woodwinds the hardness of the material is overwhelming as an influence. What is not clear in any instrument is to what degree the hardness of the surface coatings are vital as opposed to the hardness of the material underneath the coatings. Dr. Adolf Sax from whom the saxophone gets its name was the genius who discovered the importance of surface coatings.

Re:This has been known for years (2, Interesting)

The Gaytriot (1254048) | more than 5 years ago | (#24044241)

Yes, one of the things I remember reading about early wooden string instruments is that the maker would use ground up locust shells to make a kind of lacquer for the instruments. They figured since they could hear locust swarms coming from miles away, their wings and bodies had properties which allowed them to project sound well.

Re:This has been known for years (2, Informative)

Slashidiot (1179447) | more than 5 years ago | (#24045003)

I also think there is some other reason why Stradivari violins are so good. It's called bias. Yes, they are fine instruments, no doubt, about the best there is, no doubt. But can you detect a Stradivarius without knowing it is one? And telling it apart from a Guarnerius or Amati? Or even a good quality modern instrument?

There is a good bit of knowing it is an expensive instrument in hearing a big difference. The player plays a much bigger role. A good player on a good day with a cheap violin can sound better than that same player on a bad day with a Stradivarius.

In short, Stradivari violins are not that good. Stop trying to find the magic, because there is none.

Re:This has been known for years (1)

Hognoxious (631665) | more than 5 years ago | (#24045417)

Dr. Adolf Sax from whom the saxophone gets its name

Ah, the other famous Belgian.

P.S. it's Adolphe.

Re:This has been known for years (1)

sm62704 (957197) | more than 5 years ago | (#24044695)

TFA I saw yesterday (New Scientist) said that it was possible that the wood's age may have something to do with its even density.

A good luthier should test this by finding some antique wood and making violins out of it.

Re:This has been known for years (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24045521)

Ok, so what about all the other equally-old violins? There are many instruments from the 1700's, and not all of them sound like a Stradivari.

I guess they had better compare some Stradivari to some other violins of the same age, not new ones. Otherwise you can tell what age does to violins, not what Stradivari did.

Maunder Minimum... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24043977)

Hasn't this been known for years? The trees these violins were made from grew during the Maunder Minimum (or Little Ice Age) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maunder_minimum resulting in denser wood.

Re:Maunder Minimum... (1)

sm62704 (957197) | more than 5 years ago | (#24044543)

The wood's desnity isn't what they say made them sound good, it was the evenness of the density. In other words, if part of the soundboard is denser than a few inches away, your harmonics will suck more than if the density were even, even if the uneven soundboard is denser.

In past it was chemical treatments and soaked wood (5, Informative)

blahbooboo (839709) | more than 5 years ago | (#24044003)

Well, perhaps this is the final verdict? However, in the past the claim was the wood was from logs that were at the bottom of a swamp or something. Also, it was thought to be the chemical treatment. I suspect this is just the latest theory.

http://news.softpedia.com/news/Stradivarius-Violins-Mystery-Solved-41462.shtml [softpedia.com]

Re:In past it was chemical treatments and soaked w (3, Interesting)

Pictish Prince (988570) | more than 5 years ago | (#24044187)

I heard something similar from a violin maker in Indiana. He said the wood was treated by submerging it in the acidic bogs around Cremona. Supposedly this efficiently removed the pectin [wikipedia.org] leaving only the cellulose.

Re:In past it was chemical treatments and soaked w (1)

jbeaupre (752124) | more than 5 years ago | (#24044369)

The story I heard long ago rejected the old story of him tapping on trees. Instead he bought his wood from local suppliers. To easily move and manage their inventory, the suppliers kept the logs floating in water (canals or lagoons, I forget). This surreptitiously altered the wood.

Create some new ones ? (1)

Daas (620469) | more than 5 years ago | (#24044009)

Does this mean that after the study, they'll be able to tell violin makers how to "reproduce" a Stradivarius ?

If yes, does this also means that the value of the originals would be going down, or would it still be considered a highly valuable collectible item ?

Re:Create some new ones ? (1)

jessica_alba (1234100) | more than 5 years ago | (#24044117)

wooden instruments sound better the more you play them, something to do with the wood settling. so to answer your question, the originals we always be better.

Re:Create some new ones ? (-1, Offtopic)

everphilski (877346) | more than 5 years ago | (#24044275)

wooden instruments sound better the more you play them

THAT'S WHAT SHE SAID ... jessica_alba

And yet (1)

WindBourne (631190) | more than 5 years ago | (#24044327)

those instruments were KNOWN to sound better when first created. I would suspect that value may go down a bit, but will stay high due to name. OTH, I would be very surprised if new instruments are not made of very finely selected wood. In fact, I would guess that new trees would be planted for just this.

Re:Create some new ones ? (2, Interesting)

The Gaytriot (1254048) | more than 5 years ago | (#24044343)

I'm sure the original Strad's will retain value. If nothing else because they are held with such respect among musicians and because they are rare.

However, along the same lines of wood settling, it is believed by some that brass instruments go through a similar process. Not only do great musicians play on good instruments, but their playing it well makes the instrument even better. Something having to do with the "good vibrations" changing the metal slightly.

In fact, some top end brass instrument makers give you the option of having your horn work hardened by hand with a hammer to achieve a similar effect.

Re:Create some new ones ? (1)

owlnation (858981) | more than 5 years ago | (#24044683)

wooden instruments sound better the more you play them, something to do with the wood settling.

Is that actually true though? And indeed how would you even measure it? I've heard this many times, and it sort of sounds true -- but is there actually any evidence for it?

Re:Create some new ones ? (4, Insightful)

Daimanta (1140543) | more than 5 years ago | (#24044119)

Highly unlikely. Are old paitings worthless because we have high definition movies now? No, because they are considered works of art. This is the same for the Stradivarius.

Re:Create some new ones ? (1)

aussie_a (778472) | more than 5 years ago | (#24044289)

Some wooden instrument is a work of art? I see post-modernism existed long before anyone invented cans of soup, let alone made a painting of one.

Re:Create some new ones ? (3, Informative)

e4g4 (533831) | more than 5 years ago | (#24044371)

Indeed - and like a great wine, a great violin improves with age. As closely as we might be able to mimic the construction of a Strad as it was 300 years ago, that 300 years is hard to fake.

Re:Create some new ones ? (2, Insightful)

Ginger Unicorn (952287) | more than 5 years ago | (#24044441)

how do you know that the 300 years have improved the sound? a new stradivarius might sound better.

Re:Create some new ones ? (1)

fireboy1919 (257783) | more than 5 years ago | (#24044825)

old paintings worthless because we have high definition movies now

Not worthless, but worth less. Because now they're only works of art. They used to be one of the main forms of entertainment that people had.

HD movies competes with them in that way.

Obviously, if people could reproduce the sound of strats, then they would move from "amazing sounding instruments with sound that can't be reproduced AND amazing piece of art" to just "amazing piece of art" ...which isn't as valuable.

Re:Create some new ones ? (4, Interesting)

metlin (258108) | more than 5 years ago | (#24044601)

Not necessarily.

I know this is anecdotal, but I've a violin that's my grandmother's, which was her mother's (I think). It's very old, and German, and is a pleasure to play.

I also have several new violins that have been modeled after the really good old ones (including one that's modeled after a Bolshoi instrument [wikipedia.org] ). Now, the new ones sound fabulous, no doubt, but the old ones still have an ineffable quality to them that makes the music stand out.

For the longest time I thought this was psychological, but I've played both kinds of violins to friends and family with no music knowledge, and almost always, people say that the older violin just sounds richer. Even more interesting is the fact that the strings (both violin and bowstrings) are all quite new, so it most certainly is the body.

Secondly, it is also the collector's value - you have some excellent replicas of some of the world's most famous paintings, perhaps in better quality and in better resolution. However, that hardly diminishes the value of the original.

Do I enjoy playing my new violins? Hell yeah. In fact, I've some with fixed microphones inside which makes it easier for me to make recordings and the like (this is a problem because appropriate placing of mics inside a violin is hard, without affecting the harmonics, and there are some violins that take this into consideration).

And while some of my new violins can certainly take a beating, while I'm scared shitless of doing anything to my grandmother's violin. That does not mean that it diminishes the value of the old one - if anything, it makes it a delicate, valuable item.

New news? (4, Informative)

demonbug (309515) | more than 5 years ago | (#24044015)

They aren't saying for sure that this is what gives the Stradivarius's their unique sound but it's the first scientific explanation I've heard for it that seems to have merit.

This idea (and papers supporting it) have been around for years... a quick Google Scholar [google.com] search turns up papers going back to at least 2003. The only new part was the use of CT imagery, as far as I can tell.

Little Ice Age (1, Redundant)

SputnikPanic (927985) | more than 5 years ago | (#24044047)

I remember watching something on History or Discovery a couple of years ago where they postulated that the higher density of the wood used for Stradivarius violins was attributable to the Little Ice Age [wikipedia.org] . It was quite an interesting program all around.

Re:Little Ice Age (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24044161)

Yeah, I think I watched Little Ice Age 2, it was not as funny... oh!... I get me coat...

Why Rob's Chords ROCK (1)

warrior (15708) | more than 5 years ago | (#24044097)

Unfortunately science has yet to explain how how all three chords I know ROCK on my SG.
 
Actually, Rob, they have explained it. Please see the explanation on Wikipedia for the power chord [wikipedia.org] . Note that they reference Townshend as a popular example of the power chord ;) Next up, you should extend your skills and bend those fingers to play the Hendrix Chord [wikipedia.org] .

Alternative idea: varnish (4, Interesting)

Beryllium Sphere(tm) (193358) | more than 5 years ago | (#24044115)

The varnish on a Stradivarius [sciencenews.org] is what biochemist Joseph Nagyvary thinks is relevant. Cheaper varnishes may be too rubbery and as a result damp high frequencies. He's built some violins based on his ideas, though apparently a good musician can still tell the difference between one of his and a Stradivarius.

One problem with the wood density idea is that not all Stradivarius violins have the sound for which they're famous.

Re:Alternative idea: varnish (2, Insightful)

querist (97166) | more than 5 years ago | (#24044291)

Actually, I believe that your statement "... not all Stradivarius violins have the sound..." may support the wood hypothesis, not refute it.

The ideal test (if possible) would be to obtain several Stradivarius violins, have them categorised by top-notch professionals as "have" or "not have" with regard to "the sound", and then compare them.

A reasonable (though maybe not accurate) "assumption" would be that the varnish is identical on all of the sample violins. That way, the only variable to be examined would be the structure of the wood. That would, in short order, either refute or support the "wood" hypothesis.

Re:Alternative idea: varnish (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24045273)

A side by side comparison would still not prove or disprove anything. Because all of the instruments were hand made, none of them were made exactly the same. Even for a same design, there are subtle variation that may affect how it sounds.

I think the only reason that instruments made by old masters are better is simply that they were made by the old masters. These people, through talent and/or experience, instinctively knows which piece of wood will result in better sound, and the little bit of variations needed to compensate for wood's inherent imperfections. Plus, even for the masters not all of what they made are master pieces. We all know the good ones, but who knows how many just ordinary pieces were turned out for each of the great piece.

So to reproduce a stratovarius, we will need someone with the same talent, dedicate to the craft for as long as the old master did, use top quality material, and even then, plenty of trial and error.

they did a test, experts thinks his sounds better (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24044955)

There was a story posted on slashdot about
that guy conducting a concert for a bunch of violin experts,
and they consistently picked his violin as the better sounding

density seems to be the issue (4, Interesting)

fermion (181285) | more than 5 years ago | (#24044125)

Every once in while I hear that someone has tried to restore an instrument such as this. In some cases, they try to sand down the instrument so it is perfectly flat, and destroy it. It seems that the violin makers tried to not only get very good wood with proper and uniform density, but also made a fairly good attempt to compensate for non uniform density by varying the thickness.

This is a problem with woodwork. It is difficult to get dense wood. Only 20 years ago it was easy to get good dense wood that could be built and oiled so it would last a very long time. Now all I see is light junk wood.

What else? (1)

qoncept (599709) | more than 5 years ago | (#24044151)

I'd like to know how long they were trying to determine the differences without considering wood density. Other than the shape and size, what other differences could there be?

Re:What else? (2, Insightful)

phizix (1143711) | more than 5 years ago | (#24044209)

I'd like to know how long they were trying to determine the differences without considering wood density. Other than the shape and size, what other differences could there be?

Craftmanship.

Re:What else? (2, Funny)

Gizzmonic (412910) | more than 5 years ago | (#24044523)

I'd like to know how long they were trying to determine the differences without considering wood density. Other than the shape and size, what other differences could there be?

Uh...the motion of the ocean, baby.

It must be the first of the month... (1)

dbc (135354) | more than 5 years ago | (#24044169)

... somebody has discovered "the secret of Stradavari" yet again.

I saw it on TV (0, Redundant)

thatskinnyguy (1129515) | more than 5 years ago | (#24044175)

There was something on the History Channel a while back about the "Little Ice Age". The Stradivarius violins were showcased because they were made during that time period. Their explanation for the density and tonal properties of the wood was due to the colder climate, the trees grew slowly so the grain was much finer than the trees of today.

consistency (1)

alxkit (941262) | more than 5 years ago | (#24044207)

what wood is the world's smallest violin made out of?

Re:consistency (1)

killproc (518431) | more than 5 years ago | (#24045097)


I believe that would be the "Campnosperma brevipetiolata" from Micronesia...

More than one theory perhaps? (1)

dorzak (142233) | more than 5 years ago | (#24044251)

There have been other studies to try and explain it.

I recall there being one a while back about the wood having been treated by soaking in wine.

Then another about varnish.

Now this about the density of the wood.

What if it is a mix of all the factors?

The physics of violins (5, Interesting)

swm (171547) | more than 5 years ago | (#24044255)

There was a TV show some years back about a physicist who tried to figure out what makes violins sound good. He found a few interesting things.

High-frequency response depends on the shape of the bridge. All those curly-cues cut into it control the transfer function from the strings to the body.

Mid-range response depends on the shape of the f-holes in the body. In this range, the bridge is rigid. The strings push on the bridge, and the bridge rocks the portion of the top plate between the f-holes back and fourth so that it radiates sound.

Bass goes from the strings, through the bridge, down through the sound post to the back panel, and is radiated by the back panel. Stradivarius shaped the back panel of his violins asymmetrically, so that the center of percussion was right where the sound post pushes on the back panel. IIRC, getting the center of percussion under the sound post was a distinguishing characteristic of Stradivarius violins.

A Dutch doctor and a violin maker from Arkansas... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24044263)

A Dutch doctor and a violin maker from Arkansas...

Did anybody else hear the theme from Deliverance while reading that?

Anyway, you can make your own jokes with the captioned line, but shouldn't that be "fiddle maker from Arkansas? or "sqeaky-squawky box maker from Arkansas?

Re:A Dutch doctor and a violin maker from Arkansas (0, Offtopic)

Vinegar Joe (998110) | more than 5 years ago | (#24044357)

Walked into a bar in Nantucket.....

Re:A Dutch doctor and a violin maker from Arkansas (2, Funny)

sm62704 (957197) | more than 5 years ago | (#24044833)

Did anybody else hear the theme from Deliverance while reading that?

Q: What's the difference between a violin and a fiddle?

A: People actually like fiddle music!

There was a world class concert violinist (don't remember his name, it has been several years ago) who said he tried to learn to play the fiddle. "Turkey in the Straw is Mozart played real fast with extra notes!" he siad.

Sound (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24044283)

Maybe they sound better because the instruments are not played by schmucks, and they are worried about wreaking a $1m+ Stradivarius.

An old adage proved (1, Troll)

benwiggy (1262536) | more than 5 years ago | (#24044299)

So, the old tradesman's excuse is true:
It appears you really can't get the wood these days!

This is about the FOURTH plausible explanation... (1)

Jane Q. Public (1010737) | more than 5 years ago | (#24044341)

... that I have read about.

The first was the precise age of the wood. The second was a kind of mold that grows "exclusively" in the wood of Stradivariuses. Etc.

This one sounds no more plausible than the others.

Most Plausible? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24044447)

Most plausible:

Stradivarius violins don't sound any better than a good quality modern violin, and nobody is able to tell the difference in an ABX test.

Re:This is about the FOURTH plausible explanation. (1)

D.McGuiggin (1317705) | more than 5 years ago | (#24044579)

"This one sounds no more plausible than the others."

So you're saying you don't think the density of wood influences sound? Or is the implausibility that it is the density itself that is responsible?

If it's the first, then no. There's nothing implausible about claiming the primary material influences the final characteristics. If it's the second, I think that's more reasonable, as it's akin to saying it's the pigments that made Picasso's art what it was, or it's the marble that made Donatello's sculpture what it was.

An artist takes pieces and assembles them into a whole, which is art. Claiming that it is the pieces that are the determining factor misses the point.

head density may explain corepirate nazi 'success' (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24044395)

there are none so blind.... the lights are coming up all over now. conspiracy theorists are being vindicated. some might choose a tin umbrella to go with their hats. the fairytail is winding down now. let your conscience be yOUR guide. you can be more helpful than you might have imagined. there are still some choices. if they do not suit you, consider the likely results of continuing to follow the corepirate nazi hypenosys story LIEn, whereas anything of relevance is replaced almost instantly with pr ?firm? scriptdead mindphuking propaganda or 'celebrity' trivia 'foam'. meanwhile; don't forget to get a little more oxygen on yOUR brain, & look up in the sky from time to time, starting early in the day. there's lots going on up there.

http://news.google.com/?ncl=1216734813&hl=en&topic=n
http://www.nytimes.com/2007/12/31/opinion/31mon1.html?em&ex=1199336400&en=c4b5414371631707&ei=5087%0A
http://www.nytimes.com/2008/05/29/world/29amnesty.html?hp
http://www.cnn.com/2008/US/06/02/nasa.global.warming.ap/index.html
http://www.cnn.com/2008/US/weather/06/05/severe.weather.ap/index.html
http://www.cnn.com/2008/US/weather/06/02/honore.preparedness/index.html
http://www.nytimes.com/2008/06/01/opinion/01dowd.html?em&ex=1212638400&en=744b7cebc86723e5&ei=5087%0A
http://www.cnn.com/2008/POLITICS/06/05/senate.iraq/index.html
http://www.nytimes.com/2008/06/17/washington/17contractor.html?hp

is it time to get real yet? A LOT of energy is being squandered in attempts to keep US in the dark. in the end (give or take a few 1000 years), the creators will prevail (world without end, etc...), as it has always been. the process of gaining yOUR release from the current hostage situation may not be what you might think it is. butt of course, most of US don't know, or care what a precarious/fatal situation we're in. for example; the insidious attempts by the felonious corepirate nazi execrable to block the suns' light, interfering with a requirement (sunlight) for us to stay healthy/alive. it's likely not good for yOUR health/memories 'else they'd be bragging about it? we're intending for the whoreabully deceptive (they'll do ANYTHING for a bit more monIE/power) felons to give up/fail even further, in attempting to control the 'weather', as well as a # of other things/events.

http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&q=weather+manipulation&btnG=Search
http://video.google.com/videosearch?hl=en&q=video+cloud+spraying

dictator style micro management has never worked (for very long). it's an illness. tie that with life0cidal aggression & softwar gangster style bullying, & what do we have? a greed/fear/ego based recipe for disaster. meanwhile, you can help to stop the bleeding (loss of life & limb);

http://www.cnn.com/2007/POLITICS/12/28/vermont.banning.bush.ap/index.html

the bleeding must be stopped before any healing can begin. jailing a couple of corepirate nazi hired goons would send a clear message to the rest of the world from US. any truthful look at the 'scorecard' would reveal that we are a society in decline/deep doo-doo, despite all of the scriptdead pr ?firm? generated drum beating & flag waving propaganda that we are constantly bombarded with. is it time to get real yet? please consider carefully ALL of yOUR other 'options'. the creators will prevail. as it has always been.

corepirate nazi execrable costs outweigh benefits
(Score:-)mynuts won, the king is a fink)
by ourselves on everyday 24/7

as there are no benefits, just more&more death/debt & disruption. fortunately there's an 'army' of light bringers, coming yOUR way. the little ones/innocents must/will be protected. after the big flash, ALL of yOUR imaginary 'borders' may blur a bit? for each of the creators' innocents harmed in any way, there is a debt that must/will be repaid by you/us, as the perpetrators/minions of unprecedented evile, will not be available. 'vote' with (what's left in) yOUR wallet, & by your behaviors. help bring an end to unprecedented evile's manifestation through yOUR owned felonious corepirate nazi glowbull warmongering execrable. some of US should consider ourselves somewhat fortunate to be among those scheduled to survive after the big flash/implementation of the creators' wwwildly popular planet/population rescue initiative/mandate. it's right in the manual, 'world without end', etc.... as we all ?know?, change is inevitable, & denying/ignoring gravity, logic, morality, etc..., is only possible, on a temporary basis. concern about the course of events that will occur should the life0cidal execrable fail to be intervened upon is in order. 'do not be dismayed' (also from the manual). however, it's ok/recommended, to not attempt to live under/accept, fauxking nazi felon greed/fear/ego based pr ?firm? scriptdead mindphuking hypenosys.

consult with/trust in yOUR creators. providing more than enough of everything for everyone (without any distracting/spiritdead personal gain motives), whilst badtolling unprecedented evile, using an unlimited supply of newclear power, since/until forever. see you there?

"If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land."

meanwhile, the life0cidal philistines continue on their path of death, debt, & disruption for most of US. gov. bush denies health care for the little ones;

http://www.cnn.com/2007/POLITICS/10/03/bush.veto/index.html

whilst demanding/extorting billions to paint more targets on the bigger kids;

http://www.cnn.com/2007/POLITICS/12/12/bush.war.funding/index.html

& pretending that it isn't happening here;

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/us_and_americas/article3086937.ece
all is not lost/forgotten/forgiven

(yOUR elected) president al gore (deciding not to wait for the much anticipated 'lonesome al answers yOUR questions' interview here on /.) continues to attempt to shed some light on yOUR foibles. talk about reverse polarity;

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/environment/article3046116.ece

Rob's SG (1)

Compulawyer (318018) | more than 5 years ago | (#24044397)

Every time I see a Gibson SG mentioned I can't help but think of Angus Young from AC/DC. That, in turn caused me to picture Rob on stage with an SG, shirtless, and in short pants.

BRRRRRRRR! It is going to take a while to recover from THAT one!

I, for one, prefer my Les Paul ...

The Stradivarius Myth (5, Insightful)

fm6 (162816) | more than 5 years ago | (#24044431)

So, there's some big mystery about Strads that makes them sound better than other violins? Or do people just think they sound better, because a single Strad goes for millions of dollars? Jon Rose adheres to the second theory:

As any honest violin dealer will tell you (and there are a few) the sound of a violin can be priced in a range from $50 (bad, but playable), to $10,000 (good-sounding) to $20,000 (extremely good tone and projection) to $100,000 (simply over-priced). The rest is snotty-nosed hubris. As has been proven on a number of occasions, most notably by the BBC in 1975, a well-made, top modern violin can sound just as good if not better than the prized golden age models. In a recording studio, behind a screen, the violins of Isaac Stern, Pinchas Zukerman and Charles Beare were played back to them. The instruments were a Strad, a Guarneri del Gesu, a Vuillaume, and a Ronald Praill (a modern instrument less than a year old). None of the esteemed violin experts really had a clue which violin was which. Furthermore, two of them couldn't even tell which was their own instrument. They were left mumbling platitudes about the personal relationship between fiddle and player — bloody obvious if you spend most years of your life playing the violin.

His full rant here [abc.net.au] .

Re:The Stradivarius Myth (1)

91degrees (207121) | more than 5 years ago | (#24044815)

Well, of course! You need silver strings and a bow made from unicorn hair.

Re:The Stradivarius Myth (1)

sm62704 (957197) | more than 5 years ago | (#24045105)

In a recording studio, behind a screen, the violins of Isaac Stern, Pinchas Zukerman and Charles Beare were played back to them.

The test was worthless. Have you ever heard a digitel recording that you would confuse with a live performance?

Neither has anyone else.

Re:The Stradivarius Myth (1)

fm6 (162816) | more than 5 years ago | (#24045385)

And they put the CD player behind a screen for what reason? I think you're misreading the sentence.

Then there was the violinist.... (4, Interesting)

wbtittle (456702) | more than 5 years ago | (#24044459)

Who alternately and randomly played a strad and a fake strad for an audience and for experts. Turned out that the well made violin was dubbed a strad equally often as the strad even by experts.

What really makes a strad sound good is the musician playing it.

How many entry level violin players play a strad?

There is no magic, there is just LOTS of practice.

Overlooked explanation (3, Interesting)

Monkey_Genius (669908) | more than 5 years ago | (#24044465)

Why is it that people seem to seek the most complex answer for these type of things? It's the wood. It's the varnish. It's the 'Little Ice Age'. Why not Stradivarius was the best violin craftsmen? Ever. Like other artists before him, he had a unique understanding of how to make this particular instrument and polished his abilities to perfection, the results of which the musicians and listeners still enjoy hundreds of years later.

Re:Overlooked explanation (2, Interesting)

Doctor Faustus (127273) | more than 5 years ago | (#24044927)

Why not Stradivarius was the best violin craftsmen? Ever.
Because there were several other people living in the same town at the same time who made comparable violins.

Re:Overlooked explanation (2, Interesting)

E.T.123 (1319195) | more than 5 years ago | (#24045445)

I agree. Anyone ever thought that maybe our buddy Stradivarius may have gone outside one day and went "that's a cool tree, i think ill make a violin out of it"? I doubt that he knew that the tree he used was going to be scientifically evaluated by scientist hundreds of years later and that it was a good density. Maybe he was just good at making violins? Or for all you people into cover-ups and aliens here is a thought. Maybe because he was of some otherworldly origin he could tell which trees would sound the best using some type of super alien sense. Its true i swear. I have proof in my garage.

Rob's SG (1)

BobandMax (95054) | more than 5 years ago | (#24044525)

The SG's design carries the neck through to the tail, effectively making the instrument one piece with two attached side pieces. This differs from standard Gibson practice, attaching the neck at the heel, as in my ES-335.

Most players feel that this audibly contributes to sustain, enhancing the harmonic effect of Rob's power chords (all three).

Country Statics?! (1)

rhartness (993048) | more than 5 years ago | (#24044559)

Where's Sealand?

Wood Density, Harmonics and the Little Ice Age (1)

thesandbender (911391) | more than 5 years ago | (#24044597)

This actually kind of old news. These violins were made with wood from trees that went through the Little Ice Age [wikipedia.org] . Cold weather hinders growth in trees and the resulting wood has densities different than what can be found anywhere in the world now. Even if you found a tree that old, like a redwood, it would have rings/growth from after this time period and the harmonics would be different. That's what makes these violins so special... they're literally irreplaceable.

I don't know if science can "explain how how"... (1)

mechanyx (960689) | more than 5 years ago | (#24044625)

...but it can explain how. Shameless self promotion: look for my book Referential Structuralism when it comes out 8 years from now.

Arkansas? (1)

Riktov (632) | more than 5 years ago | (#24044643)

Come on, everybody knows there are no violins or violinists in Arkansas.

There are only fiddles and fiddlers.

Another explanation (1)

Ted Freeman (1319075) | more than 5 years ago | (#24045005)

Consider this. The most valuable and sought after violins in the world are made by Giuseppe Guarneri del GesÃ. He was the grandson of Andrea Guarneri who was appreticed with Stradivari under Nicolo Amati, who designed the modern violin in Cremona. There was set of skills and techniques passed on through the Amati family to Stradivari and the Guarneri family, they just made the best.

I don't need science... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24045267)

Unfortunately science has yet to explain how how all three chords I know ROCK on my SG.

It's called overdriving the tubes...everything rocks with a little analog chaos grit. ;)

Yet another theory here... (1)

blueforce (192332) | more than 5 years ago | (#24045291)

Maybe it's just because they're so expensive that only virtuosos can afford them / are allowed to play them?

Define the terms.. (5, Interesting)

mtconnol (1170419) | more than 5 years ago | (#24045397)

I agree with some previous posters that the question isn't "What made Stradivarius instruments so great" as much as "how are we defining 'great' in this context?"

I have played fiddle for 10 years, mostly bluegrass and Irish music. I've also spent time in an orchestra as a clarinet player, as well as a smattering of other instruments. The world of bowed strings and the prices associated with Strad-grade instruments has always astonished me. I can't name another type of musical instrument people are willing to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for, and I think there are a couple of factors behind it:

1. Most classical violinists play in the company of others, i.e. in an orchestra, where 'one-upmanship' can play a big role. If your instrument isn't as expensive as your stand partner's, you might fear the perception that you value your craft less highly! In fact, I'm told some orchestras won't audition players unless their instrument cost a certain (quite high) dollar amount.

2. I can say as a violin player that the instruments are basically impossible to perform systematic A/B tests with. For example, I can't A/B two different brands of string on my instrument, because changing the strings takes at least 5-10 minutes, by which point my short-term aural memory is already gone. Furthermore, it's next to impossible to change strings without shifting bridge and tailpiece position, both of which affect tone as well. Need some more nails in the coffin? Rosin buildup on the strings and string age also affect the tone _more_ than different brands of strings do. It's a different picture than, for example, factory built electric guitars, where you could set up two identically built solidbody guitars with your A and B stringsets, and (at least within a first order) you could claim equivalence between your two string-testing platforms.

In the absence of the ability to perform systematic tests, it seems like string players go for a lot of "magic" - $90 sets of strings, rosin with gold flecks in it for "warmer, richer tone" - and a lot of other bullshit, including price-performance equivalence. Like Lotus owners, violinists are usually limited far more by their technique than their instrument (once you get into the 10-20K range), and yet there is still a push to buy the 100K instrument!

As for the Strad instruments: scientific inquiry into things like wood density, varnish, etc, seems pretty disingenuous if no one can reliably detect the qualities the instruments are supposed to have. If, as the earlier posters mention, Strads can't be reliably detected in double-blind conditions, it seems obvious that any investigation into their unique properties would be chasing one's own tail. Even if there is an amazing, one of a kind Little Ice Age, shipwreck-sunk virgin blood Stradivarius, none of those attributes are relevant if they don't impact the sound. And if "what makes Strads so great" isn't about the sound, then WTF is the point of the investigation? Dense wood really isn't great for its own sake.

Whew. rant over.

Find a music teacher. http://www.learningmusician.com/ [learningmusician.com]

Re:Define the terms.. (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24045531)

> I can't name another type of musical instrument people are willing to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for, ...

Organs, and a few pianos get up there.

Another theory I heard was.... (4, Interesting)

infodude (48434) | more than 5 years ago | (#24045503)

That it was the volcanic dust they used to finish rubbing the wood before varnishing, which stayed in the wood to leave a very hard layer under the varnish - it floated my boat.

Load More Comments
Slashdot Login

Need an Account?

Forgot your password?

Submission Text Formatting Tips

We support a small subset of HTML, namely these tags:

  • b
  • i
  • p
  • br
  • a
  • ol
  • ul
  • li
  • dl
  • dt
  • dd
  • em
  • strong
  • tt
  • blockquote
  • div
  • quote
  • ecode

"ecode" can be used for code snippets, for example:

<ecode>    while(1) { do_something(); } </ecode>