Stradivari and Guarneri
Antonio Stradivari (1644-1737)
The maker of the “Stradivarius” or “Strad” stringed instruments is the most famous luthier of all times. During his long life he made at least 1,116 instruments. It is assumed that only around half of his instruments survived until today, but the exact number is not known.
His instruments were regarded to be the best stringed instruments ever created already during his life. They are highly prized for their superb tonal qualities and excellent playing characteristics.
Stradivari was a perfectionist and his instruments are perfectly executed. He sold them often to the royalty and laid the foundations of stringed instrument-as-an-investment. His instruments were always highly valued and were often kept safely in cabinets.
Bartolomeo Giuseppe Guarneri del Gesù (1698-1744)
The most prominent luthier after Antonio Stradivari was Giuseppe Guarneri del Gesù. The term “del Gesù” originates from the Greek abbreviation for Jesus (IHS) (Jesu Hominum Salvator) and a Roman cross that Guarneri used on the labels inside his instruments. It indicates veneration for the Holy Name.
Contrary to Stradivari, Guarneri del Gesù made his instruments quickly and sold them for a low price. Despite of this also his instruments are exceptional and highly valued.
Only around 135 violins, none viola and one cello build by Guarneri survived until our time.
Why are the instruments by Stradivari and Guarneri so special?
The master stringed instruments made by Antonio Stradivari and Giuseppe Guarneri del Gesù excel in a supreme powerful, rich and colourful tone that is ideal for a solo instrument. A Stradivarius in a good condition emits high-frequency sounds in a range where human hearing is the most sensitive. These frequencies become more audible in larger rooms. That makes the Stradivarius ideal for concerts in spacious concert halls and for performances together with big philharmonic orchestras.
The sound of these sublime instruments is so very characteristic that an observant listener can distinguish their superior tone when hearing the same artist playing on different instruments.
The sound of the old master instruments is not only superior in the vivacity of the tone; it is also insistent and captivatingly beautiful. The lustre and beauty of the instrument’s tone is as close you can come to the immaculate voice of a great opera diva.
The instrument by Stradivari is like a finely tuned sports car. Just a little touch is needed to spark a reaction.
Science has not invented an instrument that could measure or quantify the beauty of a sound yet. Only the metaphysical investigation could possibly tackle the phenomenon.
Thousands of hours and millions of dollars were spent in the search for the secret formula of the old master stringed instruments made by Stradivari and Guarneri, but no clear all-explaining answer was found. Neither using x-rays or the wood of specially grown trees nor anything else has helped to re-create their excellent characteristics.
Many imitations of Stradivari violins have been made, but none of them could successfully duplicate the creations of the master luthier from Cremona.
Some of the most critical factors that make it impossible to build an instrument with the same extraordinary qualities today are:
ü The climate three hundred years ago was different than we know it today and affected in a
positive way the quality of wood. At that time Europe experienced what is called "the little ice age"
- extremely cold temperatures and long winters. In the colder climate the trees grew slower and
the wood was denser and more resonant.
ü Today nobody knows for sure the wood treatment procedures used prior to the building of the
instruments and prior to its varnishing.
ü The favourable effect of the varnish on the sound as well as on the visual beauty of the
instrument was never successfully imitated.
ü Some of the old luthier knowledge is lost.
Even if we new all the stringed instrument-building secrets of the great masters Antonio Stradivari and Giuseppe Guarneri del Gesù, only a uniquely talented and gifted master luthier of the same calibre could give birth to comparable instruments today.
© Stradivari Invest 2009