Was it the special varnish? Was it the precision of his carving? What gave Stradivarius violins their special timbre? His varnish has been extensively analysed and although the exact recipe remains unknown, it was basically an oil-based varnish with sandarak (resin), madder root and colorants. But it wasn’t the varnish. Many strads have been badly worn over the past three centuries and most have been revarnished – apparently without adversely affecting their tone.

Stradivarius experimented with several different woods for his violins, but mostly went for spruce and maple – as used today. But his wood was different. At the time Stradivarius was alive, Europe was experiencing a mini ice age with long winters, short summers producing dense annular rings in the trees as they grew more slowly. That is why today the best violin wood comes from cold and semi-arid places – the lack of water makes the trees grow slowly and produce a denser structure. So it is likely we will never see the same timber again – our atmosphere has different pollutants, and our world is getting warmer, rather than cooler.

Drying time – long thought to be a factor, doesn’t appear to be the case. Antonio dated his instruments on completion. The annular ring pattern provides the date the trees were cut down – the difference is the drying time – usually less than 20 years.

But above all, what has struck those who have analysed Antonio’s methods, find that his violins are quite rough inside with varying thicknesses in the top and bottom plates – and perhaps that after all is the secret – by having an infinitely varied fibre length in the timber, every frequency has a chance to ring, along with its respective overtones.

Here is a fascinating insight into the structure of a strad

Cheers
Jerry