When 18th &19th century luthiers bought wood...
... would they buy it in chucks of wood? Would two instruments made within a couple months of each other be made out of the same tree? Was the wood already cut to size for the carving? Was the wood cut in a lumber yard or under the auspicies of the luthier?
The Luthiers on the panel will have a better answer. The "secrets" of the old Italian masters is a fun topic for debate. Some hypotheses: In the 18th century Europe was coming out of the "little ice age"- the 16th and 17th centuries were cold. The trees had been growing in a cold climate for several centuries, with denser wood, closer growth rings. The industrial revolution had not started yet, so there was less air pollution from coal burning.
I read somewhere that Stradivarius (and other luthiers, presumably) went into the woods and forests and selected the trees they wanted. Best way to do it if you are experienced.
Joel you’re absolutely correct about the Italian makers’ wood source being the same sometimes. In fact, last year I had a 1740’s G.B. Guadagnini at my place that I was playing on which according to a top dendrochronology expert, matched the exact same piece of wood that Guarneri del Gesu used to make one of his violins in 1742. Guadagnini learned his craft in Cremona and was mentored by Stradivari, so it’s highly believable he used similar materials on his other instruments as well.
I think you will find this video featuring violin dendrochronologist Peter Ratcliff very interesting:
Thanks for posting this video as I found it quite interesting.
We went on a tour of a luthier shop recently and they said they still go out to forests and pick out trees!
I thoroughly enjoyed watching/hearing the video. As a subscriber to the British "violin" magazine "The STRAD" since 1970 I have followed this field since its relationship to wooden instruments was first described.
Kris, while there are many legends and theories, the bottom line is that we don't really know much about how the early makers got their wood.
David Burgess, what are you looking for when you sort through a pile of wood? What are the physical signs that a piece of wood is viable for violin making? How do you distinguish the wood suitable for a great violin from that suitable for a lesser one? I'm very curious to understand how makers know which wood is worth their time investment, given that so many weeks/months of work have to be put in before any sound is generated from it.
There’s a fascinating if disjointed movie/documentary called “highly Strung” about very expensive old violins and their owners which includes a few episodes of a luthier in Cremona making a copy of a specific Guadignini cello, with him spending a very long time going through a large wood warehouse till he finds the precise piece he wants that even has a blemish in the right place by coincidence. It also briefly talks to the woodcutters in the mountains, and they demonstrate tapping the cut trunks and you can hear the resonance .
"It also briefly talks to the woodcutters in the mountains, and they demonstrate tapping the cut trunks and you can hear the resonance."