What is actually original to very old instruments?

May 22, 2018, 10:53 PM · I know it varies from instrument to instrument, but generally, what remains intact for most 300 or 400 year old violins?

Replies (12)

Edited: May 23, 2018, 3:23 AM · With the exception of repaired sections added, usually the only things changed are the bassbar and the neck, The scroll and the entire body are preserved. Also the top block on the inside might be replaced when the neck was changed.
May 23, 2018, 3:58 AM · These are Szeryng's words:

"What are the problems concerning antique violins?

I have talked at length with experts. The result is extremely simple. The material seasons and ages. With time the wood becomes more venerable... but ultimately ... too old.

It does not exactly decay, but certainly does not improve, and loses elasticity.

I mostly play one of my two modern violins.

With all due respect, we must not forget that the finest classical violins are at least 250 years old. I am an incurable optimist, but I'm convinced that the Stradivaris, the Guarneris, the Amatis, the Grancinos, the Ruggeris, the Gaglianos and the Stainers will not be "playable" much longer unless they are completely restored.

This then gives rise to the problem of whether such an instrument can still be considered antique and original or whether instead it is the restorer who has bestowed upon that violin its balanced timbre and sonorousness, rather than the violinmaker who made it.

Consequently, the question arises of whether it is not more practical to resort from the beggining to a new instrument" (FRNAKFURTER ALLGEMEINE, Magazine, 30.01.87)

And in the Strad, september, 1988, we will find:

"In his final period, in addition to the "Le Duc, he (Szeryng) played on two French violins, one by Pierre Hel made in 1922 and the other by Jean Bauer, a comtemporary maker."

Edited: May 23, 2018, 4:28 AM · The air inside f - holes.
May 23, 2018, 4:43 AM · The dust inside could be original as well ...
May 23, 2018, 5:10 AM · The oldest violins made around 1600 are still being played and considered concert quality, reports of their so called demise is premature IMHO
Edited: May 23, 2018, 5:38 AM · "but I'm convinced that the Stradivaris, the Guarneris, the Amatis, the Grancinos, the Ruggeris, the Gaglianos and the Stainers will not be "playable" much longer"

The claim that an entire group of instruments are about to become unplayable doesn't make much sense for several reasons:
-musicians are constantly having work done on these old instruments on an as-needed basis if they feel there is a problem with playability.
-All of the instruments differ, using differing ages, quality, and thicknesses of wood.
-The "decline" of playability is likely such a shallow slope that instruments won't suddenly become anything unless damaged or there is a poor repair or adjustment, especially if they are kept in stable conditions. Violins aren't bounced around in horse-drawn carriages or subject to the extremes of the 18th century home and climate any more.

Sorry, Claudio, it sounds a little too much like propaganda for new instruments...

Edited: May 23, 2018, 7:16 AM · I play on a 1610 Amati. The neck is unchanged, but is extended at the root and is still attached with nails through the block. The finger board, bridge and other external fittings are not original. Internally it has a new bass-bar. The front is half-edged, and cracks to the front have new material added in the form of small studs to hold them together. It has had touch ups to the varnish when needed. It had an (possibly original) ivory nut when I bought it, but I had it changed for ebony as I was worried about American Customs and their possible over-reaction when on tour.

It would not be useable at all as a musical instrument without the work of luthiers over the centuries. So in a way, it is an amalgam of the work of the Brothers Amati and the (mostly) skilled work of others who came later.

I think an interesting comparison is a car... you change the tires, fix the motor (including replacing parts), panel-beat the dents after an accident, and touch up the paint work. It is still the same model, brand, and year of car afterwards.

BTW. The tone is very fine and the violin is more than “playable”!!!

Cheers Carlo

May 23, 2018, 7:24 AM · My 1626 Brothers Amati is still going strong.It has great projection.
Edited: May 23, 2018, 12:29 PM · Aye, did I tell ye about me great-great-great-great grandfather's axe that we have still have in the family? It's had 6 new handles and 3 new heads, but it is as good as it ever was!

I believe that Roger Hargrave wrote an article about what is and isn't titled pry before you buy' or something like that. Blocks get replaced, linings, sometime a rib, bass bar, grafted neck, but some like Carlo's Amati(very few) retain the old neck-albeit heavily reshaped beyond recognition by Amati. On some instruments there is a mere veneer of the top remaining, supported by a large patch or three.

The Brescian instruments that Lyndon mentions as being the earliest instruments didn't start life with corner blocks, linings, and some didn't have bass bars. The ribs were, in the name of restoration, thinned, corner blocks added, as well as linings, the grooves in the plates filled to glue the newly refurbished ribs/blocks/linings onto, the end blocks mostly replaced and patches added to the plated to make them flat instead of sloped, ect, ect.

And, in spite of all of this, they still sound wonderful.

Edited: May 23, 2018, 1:50 PM · evidence????? I was refering to Andrea Amati, anyway. and yes they had corner blocks!!
May 23, 2018, 2:57 PM · Interesting discussion, thanks for the replies.
May 23, 2018, 3:46 PM · Of course Amatis have blocks. The inside mould is the cornerstone of the Cremonese method.

Evidence for the Brescians comments would be Dilworth's descriptions in the "Liutai in Brescia 1520-1724: by Eric Blot.

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