The source of the sound diff - Strad vs Guarneri

November 16, 2004 at 06:42 AM · What makes a Guarneri model sound darker vs. a Strad model? Is it really the subtle difference in shape of the instrument or of the cut of the f-holes? I read in a book on the physics of the violin that the thickness (depth) of the edge scooping of the front plate is a few fibers (slightly) thicker for Guaneri, thus requiring more bow energy to produce plate vibrations. However a Luthier told me it was related to the f-holes. What's the true story?

Replies (7)

November 16, 2004 at 02:55 PM · I have a follow up question which is related. With an instrument of a given character (darker, brighter etc) is it usual to match things like strings, bridge to the given character, or does it make sense to put "brigher" strings or thinner bridge on a darker instrument to get some combination / mix which is a bringing together of sounds.

Peter Lynch

November 16, 2004 at 09:19 PM · that's probably an extremely difficult question to answer.

November 16, 2004 at 09:39 PM · The answer's really complex and involves everything from outline to graduations and arching. The two types are different in almost every respect.

November 16, 2004 at 09:59 PM · I'm not an expert so hopefully you'll (both) get additional replies. In the meantime however...

I'm guessing that most everything on a violin serves a purpose and much of it also affects the sound (tone, volume, projection) of a violin.

Arching, of the top especially, does affect the sound of a violin. Higher arched instruments - Stainers and Amatis for example - have a "silker, smoother" but often less powerful sound. Stradivari violins typically have a lower arching leading to a more powerful sound. The idea here is that a object that is flatter vibrates easier or more that an arched object since arching provides a bit of a brace that resists vibration. I believe that Guarneri violin usually have a lower arching as well, hence their power comparable to that of Strads. Since (or better, "if") Strads and Guarneri violins have similar (lower) arching, this wouldn't explain dark vs bright differences.

I've heard it said that violins with uneven arching -- be it low or high -- tend to have a thin, nasal sound. The aim is to have smooth, graceful slopes to the arches.

F-holes also influence the sound by allowing the resonance of the vibrating air inside the violin "escape". If too small, then that portion of the sound is reduced to the detrement of sound. Whether varying the size and shape influences dark vs bright sound, I'm not sure and would be interested to know as well.

Another possible variable in the construction of violins is the height of the ribs. A Guarneri copy I have -- Cannone model -- has high ribs (about 32.5 - 33 mm - vs. roughly 29 - 30 for a Strad model). The Guarneri copy has a darker sound than my Strad version and might be a result of the rib height (or not...).

To Peter: how you "accessorize" your violin depends on how you want to modify the basic sound of your violin. If you have an instrument on the dark side but want something brighter, then it might help to equip it with appropriate strings -- probably cheaper than replacing the violin. On the other hand, if you're preference is for a darker sound, then stick with strings that complement that kind of sound. It all depends on your tastes and the type of music you play.

November 17, 2004 at 03:01 AM · Thanks for the thoughtful replies. Michael, is there literature, beyond the many texts on making violins, you could recommend to better understand the relation of structure/design to sound?

November 17, 2004 at 04:28 AM ·

Literature's not particularly good on this one, unfortunately.

One thing to remember, though, if you're looking at anything other than the real ones, is that in order for a copy to work like the real thing, it's got to be a reasonably good copy. When I think of the characteristic sound of a del Gesu, for instance, it comes from a number of different tonal characteristics that come from different things; the more of those that are "right" the more it sounds like the real thing. But a lot of makers will only do one or two (and a lot of the other things they do like they, themselves do it, not like either Stradivari or del Gesu would, and therefore not make anything that's charactericteristic of the model. We all more naturally make our own model, and doing something that's really *completely* a copy is very difficult--that's one of the things that helps experts i.d. violins--that ultimately every maker makes his own violin, even when he's trying not to.

November 17, 2004 at 01:23 PM · Since modern Luthiers' instruments really do seem to be held in high regard, given both the subjective and "bench" assessments I've seen. And given the probable disadvantage a newer instrument has over one that's aged and broken-in (whether real or perceived) - the processes of modern luthiers seem salutary.


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