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Hans Tietgen

Published by the Author S2 Union Square, New York Copyriabt 190+

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Wohl Viel1s 6eul dent Mmsc/Jengrisll Ndnrrg: Das Beste 6/n"IJI du nrme Eifallrrnr.

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For, anyone who is deeply interested in violins and their construction, and who by long years of care ful study and experiment has acquired a rich store of knowledge relating to this fascinating theme, noth ing is more natural than that he should wish to share with others the results of his. labor and re search. Especially is this the case if a lifetime has to re-discover the lost been spent in the attempt

secret of the indescribably beautiful tone of the Stradi vari or Guarneri, which, for nearly two centuries, has baffled investigators in every part of the world. There is a voluminous literature on the subject of violins and their making, particularly regarding old violins, and we owe a debt of gratitude to the men that acquainted the world with the great masters who made those wonderful instruments-although it must

be admitted that many of their books were probably

conceived in the spirit of an advertisement, which naturally limits their intrinsic value. New violins, too, have been the subject of many treatises, and however interesting such works may be to the historian and the scientist, they are of no value
to the violin-maker; for theorizing in this art has never

been productive of any favorable results.


True auc-

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cess can be obtained only by practical study and ex periment.


It is to be regretted that conceit and ignorance are

for many books on the violin, and that the

innocent public is so often deceived as to their value. determine wh o is to be considered a reli able authority. cence of the
In this age of the art of advertising, it is difficult to

The purpose of this booklet is to show how the inno

dishonest dealings by
feited confidence.


is abused and made the basis of


without conscience, and

how, for that reason, violin-dealers have so often for

for many years, because the value of genuine old vio

fHsion in the wake of competition. against new violins.
,,, ,,.

The business has been demoralized

lins fluctuates, and is often exaggerated by the con But the worst of this state of things is the prejudice May th i s booklet do its share

toward counteracting that prejudice and paving the


m o re

advanced views on the subj ect.

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The First Period

The violin as we have it in its present fonn, had to go through a very long process of evolution before it came to be recognized in configuration and tone as the most important and perfect of musical instruments. String instruments existed in remote antiquity, their origin -being probably traceable to Egypt. tive The primi

sire for better music, into an instrument with a sound ing board, and strung with strings which were made te vibrate by being played with fingers or with the bow, producing tone, the quality of which was wonderfully perfected as the instrument improved.




developed with the growillg de

Rise of the Art

Italy is the country in which it next appeared.


the beginning of the sixteenth century the violin in its present fonn was being manufactured by Italians, to whom undoubtedly is due the credit of having per fected the instrument, which is now built on other Jines than its predecessors, the 'Viola di

viola da

Concerning the real inventors of the violin, doubt. Some consider Tieffen


and should not be confounded with



historians are in

brucker, some Kerlin the first maker of the violin, and the Italians claim the honor for Gaspar da Salo. It is a fact that before Gaspar da Salo there was
no positive knowledge about violins, and the preceding or earlier names may be the invention of a shrewd 7
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French violin-maker, who by skil ful imitation de ceived the public


Into this country, too, such instru

ments have been imported; and exorbitant prices are

demanded foF them.

Clima% and Decadence

W ith Gaspar da Salo the art of violin-making de

veloped to an admirable degree.

Niccolo Amati im

pr oved upon the work of those that went .before him,

an d Stradivarius, the master of all masters, brought the art to its highest perfecti on. After Joseph Guar nerius a rapid decline set in, and the height attained in the Stradivarius period was never again reached. Some masters, it is true, either pupils or c onte mpora ries of Stradivarius, left good instruments which are to- day highl y prized. but they gen erally show distinct traces of imperfection, and are often estimated be yond their actual worth. The success of Stradivarius, which made many of his successors covetous for his fa me, led to the pro duction of many spurious instruments.
rpan!i for violins increased, and

As the de

the trade began

to grow, the art found followers in France, Ger

many and England, where it was degraded by whole

sale manufacture

Not satisfied with making cheap

grades of inferior material, naturally poorer in tone, the trade stooped to the trick of ascribing these imperfect and inferior instruments to famous makera

Many a Mittenwald or Mirecourt violin is to-day c alled

a Bergonzi or Ruggieri, and the owner in his igno ran ce is proud to have acquired an apparent ly gen uine old violin.

. Imitations

]. B. Vuittaume, the most skilful of these imitators, PlUSt be admitted to have used baked wood for hie
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out of good, solid material.

prefer such instruments to violins scrupulously made

violins, and the people themselves are to blame if they There is not a violin of

at the time when he made or had made under his become rotten and brittle, which explains the hard, shrill tone of these instruments. way a better business man than artist, for he knew Vuillaume was in a supervision the violins bearing his name, has to-day

beauty of tone, for the baked wood, soft and elastic

Vuillaume's make to-day, that can lay any claim to

how to use his influence with the credulous violinists. right way to the ignorant.

Nevertheless, he has unintentionally pointed out the The preparation of the wood by baking, is a pro

cess which deserves to be condemned even in cheap violins, however frequent may be its practice amoqg unscrupulous makers, who deceive purchasers by the

tone and appearance of the instruments, which, though undeniably good at first, are certain to deteriorate within a short time. serve their tone. All violins prepared in this way deeply the purchaser is

grow worthless, especially because they cannot pre wronged, who has been induced to buy such an in How

goes to a capable violin-maker, and complains that the instrument no longer has its beautiful tone. plight. indeed, the owner of the violin finds himself in a sorry Then,

strument, he does not learn until some time later he

A Rare Art
The unfamiliarity of many violin-makers with the old instruments is chosen the trade by accident. truly astonishing. Some, it cannot be de Many have

nied, devote themselves very seriously to it, but never theless acccomplish little, because of their lack of indis9
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pensable training and technical knowledge. more, the art of v iolin-mak ing


requi res

d istinct

talent, which only a few peo ple possess.

It is really

and varnish a good violin as it is to pai nt a pi ctu re or chisel a statue, is not a n exaggera tion.

an art, and the statement that it is as difficult to build

Indeed, the

art of. violin-playing, about which so much bas bee n making, which, since the close of the brilliant Italian

written, is more r ea dily a cq u ire d than that of violi n

period, has declined until it is now a ppreciated and understood only by a very few.

The num ber of v iol in-mak er s who have succeeded in conquering the pr ejudic e of the public against the whole trade, is exceedingly small. The chief blame,

of course, must be attached to the violin-makers them ests of their trade, instead of furth er ing them.

selves, who , in th eir desire for gain, injure the inter

This is

especially true of r epairing, w hich is likely to reveal a glaring want of u nders tan din g and great careless: n es s of execution.

C orrectly to mend a violin made

The amount of

by an old master of the craft is often mo re difficult tha n to build a good n ew instrument. damag e done in this respect is hardly to be a scertained .

Every day in this country, violins of great value are

taken apart and th ereby forever ruined.

When de

priv ed of their wonderful varnish, and simply covere d

with sh ella c, they are rendered worthless. That suclt . vandalism can b e perpetrated by a simple cabine t mak er ou ght to br. p lain.

Even the most excellent

mas t er of the craft of violi n-maki ng cannot restore

such an ins trument to its ori ginal state. Other grave mistakes are commit ted in the inser

tio n of the new bass bar.


It is the most important

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organ of the violin, being the transmitter of sound vibrations, and upon its right or wrong construction largely depends the tone of the instrument. That a Stainer violin with a Stradivarius bass-bar can never sound like a Stradivarius, can readily be seen, and that by means of a correct bass-bar the correct quality of tone can be obtained, is equally clear. Every valuable violin has its individuality and must be treated accordingly; and if it needs repairing it can be put in good condition only in one way, other wise it is thoroughly spoiled. To be capable of doing first class repairing requires before all a wide experi ence, and an intimate acquaintance with the method and peculiarities of the old masters. Such skill can be acquired only after years of serious study and prac tice, and even then the work must be executed with the utmost care and conscientiousness. Rather than trust the instrument to an unreliable workman, leave your valuable old violin unrepaired, for in this con dition it at least retains its original value.

Tricks of the Trade

An experience of thirty years has taught me the extent to which the public is deceived by unscrupu-. lous violin-dealers. Not every violin can be a Stradi varius or Guarnerius; but violin labels are cheap, and can be easily pasted into an instrument, and a voluble tongue can readily declare an instrument to be of the highest grade. Such tricks are features of the violin New trade of to-day, and especially of this country. as genuine old violins of great value.

or old instruments of inferior grade are being sold On the other


hand, violins that are genuine old instruments of by men trading in them.

high grade are not always recognized as such, even Not long ago a prominent
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firm bought a genuine Amati for twenty dollan and sold it for twenty-five. Whenever such a transaction becomes public, the people grow skeptical and lose even more confidence in the representations of the trade. However, there are violin-dealers who are really connoisseurs, and can justly estimate an instrument. Ii I sell an instrument of whose genuineness I am con vinced, I do not hesitate to give a testimonial to that effect. Some years ago I bought violins in Italy which, though several hundred years old, were still in their original state, having never before been opened or repaired. Such instruments I can guarantee.

place no confidence in old documents. They have been offered to me in Europe at ridiculously low prices, and many an owner of a supposedly old violin
is in possession of such documentary proof, which is

much a forgery as his instrument is a fake. An

old violin is only of value if it is well preserved and sounds well, and genuine, old violins should to-day be high-priced only on account of their wonderful tone.

The Teachers' Part

A word must be said about the third party in many

doubtful transactions that occur in the violin-trade. This third party is the teacher, who sometimes, it i& sad to state, favors the dealer who offers him the larg est commtsston. The number of violin-instructors who do not care whether a pupil gets a good or a bad more than he ought to do, as long as the instrument looks like a valuable old violin, is unfortunately not small. The teacher's familiarity with old instruments is often over-estimated, and though the teacher is uauu o,g,,,zcd by

instrument, or whether he pays about 50 per cent.


ally consulted in preference to the violin-maker, I dare say that the average teacher's professional judgment is in most cases of very doubtful value. I admit that many professional violinists can judge the tone of a violin, but they are usually incompetent to estimate its value. The worst state of affairs is reached when Then the igno I teachers themselves deal in violins.

rance and inexperience displayed is incredible.

advise every violinist who is also a teacher, not to Few realize . meddle with the sale of instruments. how much they injure their position by such trans actions, though they may wonder why the number of their pupils falls off every year. The sale of violins ought to be left to those who really understand that business, and who do not hesitate to pay a suitable commission if a deal proves satisfactory. Many un pleasant experiences can thus be avoided, and teachers may retain the esteem of their pupils and preserve that dignity which they owe to their profession.

The Violin Collector and Fiddle Crank

An amusing class of characters are the fiddle crauks. who seem to have no other mission or aim in life, but , to haunt the shops of the violin-makers from morning till night, and annoy those hardworking ludicrous questions. men with These people always discover

old instruments, which they take from one dealer to another until they finally arrive at the conclusion that they alone have a correct knowledge of violins, and deserve to be held in esteem as connoisseurs. Usu ally these people repair their own violins, and some times they favor the unsophisticated by selling them one of their "rare, old, genuine instruments." Woe to him who becomes the owner of such a violin! He may find pleasure in it during his lifetime, but
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when he leaves it to his heirs, and they attempt to sell it and receive no offer of more than five dollars froni any dealer, they discover that the treasure was

dearly bought.
Many collectors are a class of spendthrifts who, not knowing what to do with their money, ought to give it to the poor, or-if it is to be spent in behalf of art present good violins to needy musicians who deserve sucn gifts. A good violin has too hi gh a mission h music to be kept in a glass case and merely stared at as a curiosity by people devoid of artistic sense or te chni cal knowledge

The wealthy should undoubt

edly purchase the best they can get for their money, but, in this matter, they ought not to accu mulate be yond their personal needs, and thus deprive perform

ing artists of instruments which wou ld greatly add to the pleasure both of the musicians and the public

Although violin-collectors often make the mistake of considering themselves connoisseurs, they are really
harmless, for they rarely turn their accomplishments to any business profit, and, on the contrary, are fre quently "done," as the phrase goes. Unknowingly however, some collectors have really become benefac

tors, because, through their efforts, many an old violin of value has been preserved and, after their death, has came into worthier hands.

It is interesting to compare the amateur's concep tion of tone with that of a professional musician

What is meant by a good tone admits of so many


shades that the descriptions and definitions might fill a book. Opinions as to what constitutes a bad tone The human au ditory fac
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differ almost as widely.

ulty is certainly the sense most likely to err; still a


sane person pOSsessing a so-called "good ear'' ought to tone.

be ca pable of judging approximately the quality of a But this is not the case. The ear of a beginner is so impressed and spoiled by the tone of a bad violin,
person of the erroneousness of his judgment. Some

that i becomes extremely difficult to convince such a amateurs are p erfectly contented with a ten or fifteen dollar violin, and insist that their instruments sound as well as far more expensive ones. Seriously to . refute such statements is one of the mosfdifficult tasks of our profession, and every violin maker of importance should consider it his duty to instruct purchasers regarding the conditions that de termine tonal quality, until they develop some under standing of the subject ; for the prime and essential feature of a valuable violin, whether it be old or new, is a good tone. A careful perusal of what has been said suggests the conclusion that old violins, however important as factors in musical art, must, in time, lose some of their value, for which there is ample proof. And if imitations of old instruments can exist side by side with ge n uin e old violins of great value with out ever arousing suspicion, it is natural to ask, "In what does the real value of the genuine old violins consist, and what unmistakable advantages do they possess over the productions of the imitators ?"

The Exploded Myth of Age

It is commendable, and may be good policy, to

esteem what is old for its very age, and to preserve to posterity the artistic achievements of the past. But time inexorably progressing, practically deprives even these old violins of their right of existence. The
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wood has grown weak through age and excessive use of the instruments; it has no longer so great a power of resonance, and if a violin has at various tiines been repaired, even by capable hands, it by no means gains in perfection; on the contrary, it steadily loses. The time when such violins should serve merely as antique models, to be studied from, ought not to be far dis tant. Violinists like Joachim, Wilhelmj, and Saras ate, have admitted that their "Strads,'' as they are familiarly called, within a periOd of about thirty years had, by much use, considerably lost in beauty of tone, which fully corroborates my statement. Now, the violin having in no way been improved since the time of Stradivarius, one had to cling to the old tradition. Improvement of form or tone was out of the question; white the possibilities of deterioration through inex cusable ignorance and senseless experiments have al ways been unlimited.
The RenaJ.BSance of Violin uing

Seeing that perfection could not be reached by mere experiments in construction, sensible violin-mlkers decided carefully to study the best of the old models; and by this judicious method, violin-making received a new impulse, and has recently made remarkable pro gress. We have to-day a considerable number of good new violins, aside from the factory instruments which remain always upon the same level. These people carry on a zealous propaganda for the products of their workmanship, and, though slowly, are surely weaken ing the mania for old instruments. Of course it must be admitted that notwithstanding the many efforts to perfect these new violins, they cannot yet as a rule compare with the old masterpieces.
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The chief cause of this failure is unfamiliarity with the ingredients of the varnish of the old m aster violins, which thus far has been looked upon as the great un solvable secret o f the art; and justly so, for the beautiful tone of these old violins depends upon the method of varnishing. After eighteen years sp ent in the study of this subject, I claim to have re-discovered this secret, and believe that with an accurate knowl edge of the materials to be used, it will be possible in time to reach even a higher perfection than Stra divarius dared hope for his art.

2'1Je Prejudice Against New Violins

Although the p resent time has witnessed the atperfect instruments, only a few modem makers have

tempt to oppose the cult of the old violin by new and

have undoubtedly shared with tnost of the old masters. For a genuine Joseph Guamerius could be bought even a hundred years ago for a comparat ively small sum. If the question were asked why these instruments bring such eno rmous prices to-d ay , it must be confessed that the shrewdness of a certain class of violin dealers has something to do with it . The idea has been suggested to people in gene ral , and has taken root among them, that these violins were originally poor; that use or even age had im proved them, etc. Such mysteri ous assertions have rarely failed to impress the credulous masses, and the connoisseurs and dealers w.ho launch ed the myth have glori ed in its success. One thing, h owever,

succeeded in selling their instruments at reasonably

high prices, a fate which they


of genuine instruments and clever imitation s so fre quently conflict. new instruments?

truly commendable step, if it were not that the value

been set upon old violins of any grade or kind-a

has been accomplished ; a certain stan dard price has

But what of the market price of Our authorities reply with a wise

smile, that they are not old enough to have proved their worth, and the uninitiated are baffled at the prob lem so philosophically formulated. Knowing that it is impossible to wage war upon such conditions, many good modem violin-makers have been discouraged trades. and .have turned to other

struments with those of the old masters, the gen eral verdict will surely declare him fit for an in sn e asy lum. Instead of promoting the art which has lain

If one has the courage to compare his in

fallow for several centuries, artists and violitt con noisseurs impede its progress by their prejudice and often by their greed. If some artist really tries to make a propaganda for a good, new instrument among his friends and colleagues, his good will is repaid with doubt and suspicion, and again st his conviction he is foreed to bow to the sacred myth of the antique.Famous violinists sometimes play in concert upon a modern master's instrument, and the results are always
a surprise when the fact becomes known ; but all the

credit of a performan ce goes to the performer, re ment, and whose skill rendered possible the artistic effects.

gardless of the merits of him who made the instru

day timid about placing his new instruments on the

A master of the art of violin-making is to

market, so strong is the pre judice and so keen the

son with, or preferable to, that of the old and fatnous


distrust; for to declare his work worthy of compari

violin-makers, may s poil his business chances, being

G oogle

an unpardonable offense against a t im e-honored tra

Bad Old or Good New Violins
Nevertheless it must be reit erated , that in spite of various favorable results as re gard s beauty of tone, no violin equal to the Stradivarius has been produ ced
a close imitation of the model in siz e and app earanc e .

since the master's death, for this means far more than It cannot be doubted, that a well -built new

pre fe rable under all circumstances to an old one by

a less famou s maker.



vi olin s is impartially compared , the new instrument one has been

For if the tone of the two

will disclose some advantages, es pecially if the old

mental to its tonal quality.


which is nearly always detri

On the contrary, new

violins that from the beginning have had a shrill, hard tone, should not be compa red with old o nes, because they can be considered
only as

instruments of the

but will lose the good qu ali t ie s it has.

seco nd grade, and their tone will never grow better, The ma j ority of new violins have been mad e with

out a sufficient knowledge of the materials requi red ,

should not be deceived by them.

workman sh ip is n eatly and elegantly executed, one

A goo d violin should

especially the different kinds of wood ; and even if the

s oft, qual i ty
est purpose.

have from the beg i nni ng a certain pleasant , that is , concert-hall, for only then does it
answer its

of tone, yet power enough to fill the larg

There is, in my opinion, but one mod el which the


imitate-namely, the some respects imperfect, and to achieve a good tone by copying a Guarn erius model is still more difficu lt , not to say imshould




All other models are in

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possible, unless one thoroughly understands how to mix and apply the varnish. Violins of other di mensions than the Stradivarius, are likewise to be avoided. Other pitfalls against which it may be nec
essary to give warning, are the inventions intended to improve the instrument parts, such as the bass bar, the sound-post, etc.

by changes in the several


What senseless results are attained by such experi ments may best be seen in the so-called inventions of Dr. Laborde, Savart, Charles Reade, and others. Vuillaume in a way has played the part o f the wolf in the flock, and it cannot be denied that by his in time with hopeless decay.

fluence the art of violin-making was threatened for a

What Vuillaume's name realty means to the art of violin making is to-day
Theory and Practice

gradually becoming apparent.

All experimenters who desire or seek to improve the tone of modem violins by scientific methods, I should urge seriously to study the achievements in the art at the time of Stradivarius ; for only by acquiring fa miliarity with the materials then used, is it possible to introduce improvements likely to be of real value. While I credit scientific investigation with all that it deserves, I must still maintain that science bas never pursued in the art of violin-making; nor has it been perience. That most ingenious and still accomplished anything in the course it bas thus far

able to point t he way to the workman of practical ex useless essay of Charles Reade, regarding the secret of the

analysis has proved nothing

varnish, shows how science gropes in the dark, for his

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A teamed friend of mine r ec ently declared that violin-makers ar e nothing more than cabinet-makers. There may be some truth in the statement, but violin makers by their practical skill have promoted the art
of violin-making more than all tJe scholars with their abstract theories.

I myse lf was for a time induced

to work on purely theoretic al lines, and the experi many a good violin

ments which I m ade during that perio d cost me

getting farther away from my original aim, I hasten ed to retrace my steps. The construction of new violins r equires in the first place a very pr actic ed hand and a sharp eye. ple sometimes wond er how it is possible to build a beautiful violin with such primitive tools as I us e, Lut it should be r em embered that my und erstanding acquired by many years of practical work. Peo

When I learned t hat I was thus

of the subject and my mechanical skill hav e been Next to nicety of execution, it is a thorough knowledge of the material r equired, which en ables the violin-maker to prod uc e a good instrument, and this a g ain is acquired only by practical studies. If sometimes new violins, otherwise well-made, fail to give the right tone, it may be due to an inju dicious choice of materi al; and
if amateurs who feel constrained to try their skill at selves concerning the materials to be used, th ey might making a new violin, would caref ul ly inform them

arrive at bet ter results.

Amateur Violin Makers

The fad of vio lin making is just at the present time assuming remarkable proportions in this country, and al though I blame n_obody for emp loy ing his leisure in this manner, I must say that the art is not benefited

by such trifling; for to the horror of the professional

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violin-makers, such instruments are sometimes placed on the market, and it has even happened that amateur violin-makers have received better prices than skilled, experienced workmen.



EiiJds aiJd CoiJditioiJs of Wood

The wood which is used in the making of a vioiin must be dry, but not brittle. Wood which is too old In my opinion, For the

is by no means to be reconunended.

wood which has been stored in a light, dry place for four or five years, is in the best condition. for the back, curly maple. wood. top, or belly, the best wood is undoubtedly spruce; The top must always be made of soft wood; the back, of correspondingly hard Slab cut wood is not advisable for the back, because it is likely to crack; birds-eye maple must be discarded, because it is too hard to give a good tone. The proper choice of the different kinds of spruce and maple requires a great deal of judgment, and can be acquired only by repeated experiments. In the making of new violins, one must take pains to use the same piece of wood for the sides and the back, as this not only improves the looks, but also the tone. The bass-bar must be of harder wood than the The sound-post is best when The internal top, and of closer grain.

it is of soft and fine-grained wood.

blocks and ribs of the instrument should consist of willow, this being the toughest and the lightest in weight. For the scroll and the neck it is advisable
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to use hard maple-wood on account of its durability.


A violin skilfully built accor ding to these directions cannot fail to have a good tone, an I cons ider these ideas worth y of the attention of violin-,:nakers.

Various Processes
As previously stated, the woo d of new violins should under no circumstances be baked, for in this way even the most carefully constructed instrument af ter
a few years loses in tone.

The wood grows too brittle

vibration which is inevi

with age, and the continual power of resistance.

table if the violin is in consta nt use, causes it to lose tt.>

Some violin-makers are of the

equall y err one ous opinion that the wood should, for
some time, be immerse d in water before it is service able. tone. There is eve n a tradition to the effect that Common sense al on e r ec ogniz es th e f olly of this Stradivarius used this process to obtain a beautiful idea, and a single attempt will convince any one that , wood soaked in water and then dried is abs olute ly useless for a violin. There are many more ficti ons r egardin g the myste rious method by which Stradivarius produced his mas terl y instruments. But they ou ght not to be heeded , for Stradivarius was a ma n of too much wisdom to resort to senseless ex pe riments, as the ex cel lence of his work amply demonstrates. Am on g other things, it is said that the wood used by him in making his i nstru ments no longer exists; but this only proves that th e study of the various kinds of wood has been neglected. Only a few violin-makers know that the w oo d which Stradivarius emp lo yed for his v ioli ns exists to-day in the same excellent quality, but cannot so easily be found. Then, aga in, the w ood which is usually dis
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carded for .the top, and suppo sed to be of



quality, is the very kind which Stradivarius used in preference.

One is often struck with the fact that some cheap,

new violins sound better than a carefully constructed

old instrument. This is easily explained. Unknow ingly the right assortment of wood f or top and bottom could hardly be anything but satisfactory. may have been chosen for such a violin, and the result

The Old Cremona Vamish
No feature of violin-making has been more mis understood and wrongly explained than the impor
tance of varnish. Scholars have theorized about the substance with which the Cremona makers varnished

their violins, and violin-makers have experimented to

obtain the same beautiful effect, but with what little suc cess, everybody knows. correct varnishing. It is a recognized fact that

the beauty of tone in a well-built violin depends upon Every violin-maker and connois seur knows that after the death of Joseph Guarnerius,

violins were varnished in a different way from that of

the Cremona makers, and that since that time not one

violin has been built which could compare in quality of t one with the violins of the brilliant Italian period.
The fact is proved, for violins varnished differently
never sound like the Cremona instmments. Why Stradivarius did not transmit his method to posterity, is not known, and it is a matter for deep


Even Carlo Bergonzi, a pupil of Stradivarius,

l:sed different varnish, which did not wear as well as

that of the mas ter, and, like the violins of Francesco
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and Ombono Stradivarius, the Betnzi violins show defects of tone and of varnish. The further away one gets from the time of Stradivarius, the iess is known of his art of varnishing, until it is at last completely lost. With the development of the violin trade and the demand for good instruments, many violin-makers at tempted to build instruments after the Stradivarius method. But to this day the attempt has been fruitless. Even if some violin-makers have tried to hypnotize themselves into the belief that they could make equally good violins, the public has doubted their statements, and has been justified in doing so. If a genuine Stra divarius is compared with an ever so skilful imitation, it cannot be denied that something is lacking, and this something is the varnish. Of course this deficiency is evident only to the con noisseur, but it proves most clearly how far even the best imitators are from attaining the standard of the old instruments, since they lack not only knowledge of the ingredients, but are also ignorant of the manner of preparation. It has recently become more and

more common to regard the secret of the varnish as lost forever, for if the foremost scientists after years of
futile effort could not discover it, the violin-makers

also must naturally lose courage.

The Beauty of the Cremona Varnish

Whoever has had the good fortune to see genuine Cremona violins which were stilt almost entirely cov ered by the original varnish, an9 who possessed any appreciation of artistic coloring, must have been deeply impressed with their extraordinary appearance. How superb must such violins have looked when they were new-violins, the varnish of which, after the

lapse of two hundred years, has considerably paled,

Digllizod by


and still far surt>,tsses anything produced during that lon g period of_ ime I
By the ren:arkable depth and clearness of this var nish, the be au ty of every fibre of the wood is shown to

the greatest ad vant age.

The grain of the top forms

an admirable contrast to the yellow base, which, in combination with the darker varnish, presents a bril liant play of red and gold. The sides and the back seem to be crossed with stripes of fire, which har monize wonderfully with the other colors, and the whole effect gives completeness to the conception of

a perfect work of art.

shout go without saying that there can be nothing loud or obtrusive in its character. its fiery brilliancy, its effect upon the eye is always As this varnish has a soft, velvety consistency, it Notwithstanding

highly agreeable.

Particularly the red color, desig

nated by many as the mysterious "dragon's blood,"

has a p ecu liar fascination, for no other materi al can be- compared with it as regards clearness and purity.
And even when, as is often the case, the varnish has

disappeared from certain places on the violin, the wood . still presents the attractive appearance of old ivory. The fact that these matters are so little understood
e xp

lains in a great measure the change in the public

taste, and it is with much regret that I am compelled to admit that even among violin makers, the knowl ed ge of the genuine Cremona varnish is exceedingly

-'Oil Varnish
Good violin-makers to-day use a so-called oil-var nish, which each prepares acccording to his individual formula. This varnish has the
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bi lity, and besides being most exceJtent for preserving


of dura


the instrument, if skilfully applied it gives a beauti ful appearance. The yellow base in this varnish is If these vio If, on the produced in many different ways, but not one of these instruments will ever be a Stradivarius. lins sound well at all, it is solely due to the correct choice of wood and to good workmanship. other hand, it is maintained that every violin which, according to the general idea, is well varnished, thus gains in tone, I must earnestly contradict the notion. A new, unvarnished, but well-made violin, strung up and played, will sound fully as well as one that is var nis hed, for such varnish serves only to protect the instrument from the influences of the weather, and to give it a better appearance. The ordinary alcohol var nish, whic h is used in the cheaper grade of instru ments, easily cracks, and the coating is usually so hard that the wood loses its original elasticity, and thts cau ses the harsh tone of some of these instruments.

Jl y Method
But none of the above-mentioned processes ap proach the right method of varnishing violins.


struments varnished according to my method ow<: their good or bad tone e.t'clusiely to the mant1er of


This is a discovery which I have madl

after eighteen years of experimenting, and I can brmg proof that S tradivarius varnished his violins in the same manner. I also assert that Stradivarius violins, when they were a few years old, sounded better than they do to-day, because in nearly two hundred years of frequent use, even the best i nstrument is sure to suffer. If it has happened that some new violins have almost reached the excellence of first-class old vio lins in tone, it must be remembered that the latter must have deteriorated as a result of age, and perhaps
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have suffered from repairs.

That the rulers of Europe

during the life of Stradivarius had him make instru ments for them, speaks for the superiority of his work ; and as his violins then sounded, they were worth even more than they are to-day.

The Tone
Even in Pagani ni's time, it was j ustifiable to marvel at the beauty and power of tone displayed by the Stradivarius and Guarnerius violins. But to-day there is no longer any reason for it, because these violins can under no circumstances be what they formerly were. We have the most extravagant poetic descrip Every In my tions of the beauty of the violins of that period. pression made upon him by those divine tones.

musically gifted poet was inspired to describe the im opinion, such a tone cannot be described in words. Epithets like sweet, rich, fiery, melancholy, brilliant, large, small, etc., are all inadequate : for the tone of such a violin has a quality which can only be felt, and the musically gifted, on hearing such a tone, cannot suppress their emotion. The varnish, which apparently has so little to do with the tone of the instrument, in reality works the charm. How the varnish influences the tonal quality
I will now try to describe.

The Tone Depends on the Varnish

The principal purpose of the varnish is to make the instrument more resonant, and to retain this increased resonance. For this reason the varnish first applied must penetrate and thoroughly permeate the particles of the wood so as to render the entire body of the in strument as regards density and susceptibility to tone,


a homogeneous substance. J8

In other words, the

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wood which naturally possesses certain inequalitiea, is by means of the varnish brought to a uniftWm &on sisten&y. And this greatly promotes the formation of
sound waves. Another effect of the varnish is to dissolve certain rosins which may be present in the wood and contrib ute to the production of so-called "wolf-notes." One varnish, the Brescia, is used to harden the top, and another kind, the Cremona, is used to soften the back. The principle of mixing hard and soft metals, a' in the making of bells, is thus in a different way applied to the violin. Moreover, the varnish preserves the wood in its original and best condition for a num ber of years, and renders possible the improvement of the tone. Considerable time is required before the varnish is completely absorbed by the wood and dried. The next step is to apply what is known as a "yellow base." After this comes the color, and then the finish ing coat. Corroboration of my statements can be found in various books about violin-making and varnishing. Charles Reade, among other things, also discovered that the wood of genuine Stradivarius violins had been soaked with a varnish, the composition of which he could not explain-a poor consolation for the violin maker. If Charles Reade had studied the facts nearest at hand, he might have learned that the ingredients which he s upposed no longer existed, are to be found to-day in a purer and more serviceable condition. The investigation of the nature and properties of these ele ments is an arduous field of study. Many violin makers have apparently entered upon the right path to success, but at some point in their course have gone astray. Some have been prevented by their vanity
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from proceeding steadily, for a rapidly achieved par-


tial success ha s "gone to thei r head."

Others again

a re dis couraged because the man who claims to be

able to make violins equal in tone to genuine Stra divarius instruments, reaps little else but mistrust.

M y Claim
Proof that this is possible has been so far lacking ; and though wi thout such proof no claim can be estab lished, even skeptics will admit that my assertions are

at least based upon a practical foundation, and have

been matured by many years of careful study. On

coming to America, which seemed to offer a favorable

field for my enterprise, I settled in New York and was not spared the usual discouragements and disappoint ments, but it was here that I came to the nearest

realiz ation of my professional ambition.

D uring a j ourney in Italy made for the purpose of pu r chasing some old violins, many years ago, an old violin-maker first suggested to me the idea of trying to discover the secret of the Stradivarius varnish. On The

my ret urn to New York I began to experiment.

results were at first very douBtful, yet I became per suaded that it was the only way to produce perfect violins. During my experiments I made more than four hundred violins, many of which were rendered absolutely useless. Now that eighteen years have passed, I can say

that I am absolutely certain of having found the rigkl method, and consider it proper to make known my
achievement. I willingly offer any of my new violins on trial to compare with the best Stradivarius and Guamerius violins, simply to obtain opinions of my work.
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..i Remarkable Test

Edwin Grasse, the blind violinist, became in this way acquainted with my instruments.
Three vio

lins were laid upon a table before him, a genuine Guamerius, a genuine Stradivarius, and a new violin
of my make.

I banded him the instruments in the

order named without saying a word.

After he had

tried mine he was delighted, pronounced the tone

noble, even and free, and said, "This must bt the Stradivarius." Mr. Grasse's eminence as a musician

justifies my giving publicity to this incident.

and have given me testimonials.


other great artists of all countries have tried my violins

Thanks are due to the press, which from time to

time has publi shed fl attering notices of my work. They have attracted so much attention that I have been

besieged by correspondents.

As it is impossible to

reply to them individually, I have answered their prin cipal qu estions in this booklet, and hope some time

to acquaint my patrons more fully with the nature and scope of my aims.

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