Golden violin tone

December 2, 2006 at 04:41 AM · On the topic of Stradivarious perhaps treating his wood with a chemical I have a rather amusing anecdote to share.About 15 years ago I was teaching from my own private studio but needed a large space in which to rehearse my little string orchestra.I was thus introduced by the father of one of my pupils to a childrens home which was willing to offer the use of their hall once a week in exchange for free tuition for any of the resident children who wanted to try the violin.Of course I had to provide the violins as well and managed to get hold of a very cheap full size for a 14 yeasr old boy.The violin seemed to be bolted together from the inside by a block of wood but nevertheless was just about playable.Unfortunately his room mate was either very jealous or just wanted to be mean so he urinated all over the violin.When the violin had finally dried off it produced a beautiful golden tone.I still hand this violin out today for students who want a trial period or are having violins repaired and it still sounds good.

Replies (66)

December 2, 2006 at 08:30 AM · Janet, are you actually serious?

No-one considered cleaning the thing?

December 2, 2006 at 08:31 AM · Hmmm....

In major cities, there are usually a few very special acoustic guitars that get rented to all the big recording studios. these "magical" guitars end up on countless recordings. A friend of mine owns one of the most popular in NYC. He told me once, after we had finished off a very nice bottle of something deep & red, the "secret" to that guitar (which really did sound other-worldly) He said that since the early 60's, whenever he finished off a bottle of red, he soaked a rag with the dregs from the bottle, and rubbed the inside of the guitar with it. He was convinced that the crystallized dregs contributed to the sound. I dunno, but urine and red wine both contain alot of nitric acid (I think) so maybe there's somethign to it after all.

I'm not gonna' experiment with my violin!

December 2, 2006 at 04:02 PM · I just have to ask, do any of these people who've been playing on this fiddle know about, erm, the secret of its golden tone? You might want to get it cleaned off....

December 2, 2006 at 07:49 PM · Errrr, in this case, I prefer a mediocre sounding violin--my nose is more sensitive than my ears. :-)

December 2, 2006 at 10:03 PM · So, you're saying if you get this particular violin urine luck?

December 2, 2006 at 10:32 PM · it's a nonsense.....the french use that expression "pisser dans un violon" and it means something particularly useless or pointless, so they have obviously centuries more experience than you do in the USA!

December 2, 2006 at 10:39 PM · A pessimist would say 96 more posts left for this topic, but an optimist would say only 96 more.

December 2, 2006 at 10:39 PM · All of this discussion is water under the bridge, although it is easy to follow the flow of the conversation. But I think the sentiment expressed here was poured into that famous movie, "The Yellow Violin."

:) Sandy

December 3, 2006 at 12:36 AM · Jim,

I think we've only seen a small trickle of the opinions to come.

December 3, 2006 at 12:39 AM · Yeah. I propose that we get the site admin drunk. We can then post "forever". I am a happy camper. :-)

December 3, 2006 at 12:47 AM · that fact that my foul smelling violin does not sound good pisses me off.

December 3, 2006 at 12:56 AM · I'm a wee bit confused by all this...these chemical-treatment theories clearly don't hold water, but what with all the posts in the last few days about violinmaking, I fear this is only the first drop in the bucket...

December 3, 2006 at 10:05 AM · "A wee bit confused." LOL .... stop it, yer killin' me!

You know, if this turns out to actually be a Cremonese secret, then the joke's on us. (esp if you don't use a chin-rest.)

-the joke's ON us, get it? I crack myself up....

December 3, 2006 at 08:09 AM · Hi,

I didn't read previous comments, but this thread attracted my attention since I read a short article in a Belgian newspaper about this yesterday evening. The full article was published in 'Nature'.

What I read in the Belgian article was not very clarifying though. Scientists claimed to have found the secret of the beautiful sound of Stradivari and Guarneri del Gesu. They would have threated the wood chemically (!) to improve sound quality and to preserve the instrument longer.

Of course, there is always some sort of chemical process involved in threating the wood, so I don't exactly see their point. Ok, probably they gave the wood an extra threatment then.

Also, the quality of the sound was already better, because of the simple fact that the wood of the trees in their time was harder than the wood of trees nowadays.

You'd better check out 'Nature' though,if you want to know detailed information about this.

December 3, 2006 at 08:25 AM · The secret I want to know is how do you get your news item in a dozen threads and blogs on a website, half the world's newpapers, and in the journal Nature, on demand? Somebody's onto something there at least.

December 3, 2006 at 02:35 PM · Huh? Didn't get that sentence. My English is not that good.

December 3, 2006 at 06:32 PM · I've heard of golden showers, but golden tone ... ?

You'd have to be a bit of a piss artist to subscribe to that one. Perhaps it's because when you've 'sprayed' to mark out your territory, you play better anyway?

December 3, 2006 at 11:23 PM · This pisses me off !!!

DB

December 4, 2006 at 12:42 AM · This isn't necessarily as daft an idea as it seems:-

http://www.rotten.com/library/medicine/bodily-functions/pissing/practical-uses/

Urine might just have some beneficial effect on wood

gc

December 4, 2006 at 01:21 AM · I had a carton of milk poured on my violin before...not my good one now. My high school violin. I frantically dried if off in front of a box fan with a rag and then let it sit there on low to dry it out more. I have to say, that is all the cleaning I did on it, though. It had a bit of a sour smell to it for awhile, but let me tell you, the tone was so much milkier after that! Bad word choice...

It was more mellow, or so it seemed.

JW

December 4, 2006 at 02:30 AM · Jennifer,

you mean that the tone was, um, creamier?

December 4, 2006 at 02:31 AM · After reading this again I decided to throw decency and caution to the winds and try this on my violin. I couldn't do that personally to my violin so I put it outside against a well used tree. Sure enough a few dogs came by and annointed the violin.

While the violin sounded world class before, now it is incredibly beautiful sounding. Absolutely gorgeous. The only problem I'm having now after the dogs did their thing on it (leaving pee mail), is everytime a cat walks by the house the violin goes wild and I lose control of it.

December 4, 2006 at 03:24 AM · Ray, I know you are joking, but since I remember that you have Joska Szigeti's old violin you nearly just gave me a heart attack anyway. Don't DO that!!! :)

December 4, 2006 at 04:43 AM · Sorry, I couldn't help myself. LOL

December 4, 2006 at 08:24 AM · edit:

Nah, I can't do it. I had a line from Oscar Hammerstein here but I retract it. I love Rogers and Hammerstein too much to leave it here.

December 4, 2006 at 08:26 PM · Hi,

The only connection that I can see possible would be the following. It is known that Stradivari and Guarneri did treat the wood with a concoction prepared by the local drugist (pharmacist). Originally some early drug was made from the urine of pregnant female horses (forget which drug), so it is possible that uric acid could have found some way in the preparation used to treat the wood.

That said, to which extent this may correlate to the above remains to be seen.

Cheers!

December 4, 2006 at 08:42 PM · This could all be resolved by some adventurous violin maker giving it a trail run!!

December 5, 2006 at 05:14 PM · But if the trial run requires drinking beer to speed things up wouldn't it matter, using the "scientific method," hypothetically speaking, that the kind of beer you drink would affect the results. European good stuff vs American watered down brew. Dark vs lite, etc. Maybe the real "secret" after all is beer. You mean all these years I've been drinking the Cremona secret instead of putting it on the fiddles. Oh, my.

December 5, 2006 at 05:16 PM · janet griffiths,

I'd hate to think you might have had a similarly bad experience with a fiddle that is "Dark, Chocolatie and Juicy" :o

December 5, 2006 at 05:32 PM · For those going to try it, make sure drink a lot of red wine, then go ahead. This will expedite it.

December 5, 2006 at 07:49 PM · It would be unlikely that they would have drunken beer ,red or white wine.Italy remember is a land of wine drinkers.As for the dark chocolate tone, well they do do a rather nice fondante in Itlay but I'll leave that experiment for someone else to try.

December 5, 2006 at 10:10 PM · This may interest you. It claims to be the chemicals applied to the wood that prevents woodworm.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2001/03/31/wviol31.xml

December 6, 2006 at 02:52 AM · I just had a bunch of friends over - we all took turns urinating on my Ruggieri. I'll let you know the results once it's nice and dry. Stay put.

IG

December 6, 2006 at 03:23 AM · Suzuki had the right idea for beginners with new violins.

Do number one, "The Tinkle Variations"

Do number two, "Song of the Wind"

Over time, with this foundation your violin will sound great.

December 6, 2006 at 06:44 AM · Thats called 'Nurture the Wood'

December 6, 2006 at 12:59 PM · Ilya, you can speed the drying by taping it to the front bumper of your car.

Or if you want to be artistic, you could mount it as a hood ornament.

December 6, 2006 at 02:50 PM · David, I don't drive, but seeing as in another thread people are recommending wall-hanging, I just might try that. The weather outside is just right.

IG

December 6, 2006 at 06:36 PM · this post reminds me of the chinese century egg... it is an ordinary hard boiled egg... but both the yolk and the egg white is black in color...

it is said that the color, as well as the taste, is due to the treatment by horse pee....

no joke... i'm serious.... and it tastes delicious... perfect with chinese porridge...

ask the chinese... lol...

and people, unlike the violins by the great masters, the century egg is not a hundred year old... lol...

December 6, 2006 at 08:53 PM · It's nice we learn something new everyday ! What's next ?!

December 6, 2006 at 09:43 PM · Just by chance I had an Italian beer last night. It was actually quite decent, but it sure packed a wallop. Wheeeeeee.

I still think beer might have been the secret, especially with some prolific Cremona makers. They needed help from the beer to generate enough, well, you get the picture.

December 6, 2006 at 10:34 PM · It could also explain the surprisingly good quality of a lot of Czech violins...

December 6, 2006 at 11:12 PM · Greetings,

well I,m curently negotiating to produce a new line in violins called the `Golden Shower.`

In the meantime I am so glad urine, long recognized by men as the only means of defrosting a car door lock on a snowy day, is finally getting the recognition it desrves as a universal panacea. One of the first Japanese TV programs I ever saw was a documentary on how old people drink a glass of the golden amber for breakfast everyday.

Cheers,

Buri

December 6, 2006 at 11:17 PM · Ray,

I dunno how beer affects the tone-enhancing qualities of urine, but I do know that the more beer I drink, the better my violin sounds!

December 7, 2006 at 12:50 AM · Stephen, defrosting door locks that way is dangerous!

Did you ever get your tongue stuck to a can of frozen orange juice?

December 7, 2006 at 01:02 AM · There's a story about a guy who got his tongue stuck to a frozen railroad track with a train coming. There was only one way his friend could thaw him loose.

December 7, 2006 at 01:49 AM · I've had new pilots and Flight Engineers, let alone the gullible Flight Attendant, stick their tongues on the 727 airplane skin after a flight in minus 60F, or colder, temperaturs. they did this in North Dakota and Minneapolis, (very cold in the Winter) too which wouldn't let the plane skin temperature warm up. Pouring on hot water only exacerbates the problem as that, too, freezes instantly. LOL. Unfortunately I never had a camera with me when this happened. One cure is booze poured on their tongue and metal skin from a liquor miniature. But if they swallow they flunk an alcahol test. You can't win.

December 7, 2006 at 02:13 AM · From Jim W. Miller

There's a story about a guy who got his tongue stuck to a frozen railroad track with a train coming. There was only one way his friend could thaw him loose."

Was his tone improved?

December 7, 2006 at 02:45 AM · Don't know about his tone. He had bad taste after though. But not tasteless.

December 7, 2006 at 04:14 AM · Jim, that joke makes me think of a possible explanation for Stadivarius' unique discovery:

--------------------------------

Imagine the master at work in his shop, late one cold Cremonese winter night. See the frost on the windows, hear the stillness of the air....

Stradivarius had just finished off several bottles of the local refreshment, and his bladder was dancing around like Logo-Guy. -But the cold winter night meant a painful trip to the outhouse, so he waited until he was about to burst.

Being also somewhat inebriated, while stumbling for the door, the master trips and knocks over his oil lamp. His worktable and latest violin burst into flames!

The master is frantic! (This is a major commission.)

Having no indoor plumbing, there was also no faucet from which to spray water and save the masterpiece.

So, Stradivarius used the only means available to put out the fire. (thus killing two birds with one stream)

After the violin cooled off, the idea for Strad's secret finish just sort of crystallized, right before his eyes. (so to speak)

December 7, 2006 at 04:49 AM · I didn't make you think of that. Don't blame it on me.

December 7, 2006 at 07:25 AM · well female horse urine is also used in estrogen pills... sounds like it's woman juice gives us the keys to Cremona.

December 7, 2006 at 01:27 PM · well... what do you know about the golden shower...I´ve heard that violin-forgers build violins and then bury them for a couple of months in piles of horsemanure, to get the real 17th-18thcentury used patina, and then put the varnish on.Just a couple of days ago there was a report on Stradivari violins in the Swedish newspaper SvD, that said that a team of scholars had found traces of salts and common 18thcentury pesticides in the wood. These scholars suggest that the wood was drenched in pesticides before the violins were built, a process that hardened the wood (thus the golden sound) and protected it against worms and stuff like that (thus the excellent condition of the instruments even today). But who knows?

December 7, 2006 at 05:43 PM · From Jenny Lundholm;

"These scholars suggest that the wood was drenched in pesticides before the violins were built.... "

Geez, I hope they're not toxic!

December 7, 2006 at 06:47 PM · Piss is for sissies. Men with style use Polonium 210.

IG

December 7, 2006 at 07:07 PM · They didn't know about it in those days

December 7, 2006 at 07:27 PM · Who says the long arm of the KGB can't reach back in time, too? :)

December 7, 2006 at 08:04 PM · From Jenny Lundholm;

"...I´ve heard that violin-forgers build violins and then bury them for a couple of months in piles of horsemanure........."

I don't own a horse. Will my kitty litter box work?

http://www.burgessviolins.com

December 7, 2006 at 08:08 PM · David,

If I were a violin forger, I wouldn't be forging Strads, I'd be forging Burgesses.

December 7, 2006 at 08:46 PM · Greetings,

since i"m full of horse manure, can I forge myself?

Cheers,

Buri

December 21, 2006 at 06:05 PM · Old time wood workers soaked boards in urine to make them bendable. They collected from draft or dairy animals, didn't piss on the wood themselves. Modern day makers use ammonia. This is for chemical bending not steam. Steam is quicker and cleaner, but has a short working time.

December 21, 2006 at 06:21 PM · Egad, and I thought this thread had finally passed away...

December 21, 2006 at 06:25 PM · legend has it that strad owed his tone to his family's hot sauce recipe.

December 21, 2006 at 07:41 PM · Well, talking about gullible...

My friend, a Heidelberg trained high energy physicist, told me when I called that he was in bed and could not drink beer, not for a long while. He, then, replied to my question, "Why?". "Joerg told me that warm beer would cure cold. And I just drank two big glass of warm beer....Grrrrr.", he said.

Me, on the other hand of the telephone over 5,000 miles away, laughed rolling on the floor...

Doh, I forgot to ask how "his tone" improved with the beer (he sings in a choir) after that amber water. :-)

May 20, 2008 at 10:27 AM · We should use female horse hair for violin bow now.It will not only produce golden tone but look like gold itself.

May 20, 2008 at 11:05 AM · I really enjoyed that freudian lapsus: "stradivarious" :-)

May 20, 2008 at 05:35 PM · So the person pee'ed on the violin being pissed off. Glad he wasn't feeling crappy!

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