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May 5, 2024 - 2:13:57 PM
1 posts since 5/5/2024

I am keen on violin making and last days started deeping into violin varnish topic. Recently, I've found one Ukranian luthier Boris Dmitriev, who found, after 20 years of research, a recipe for varnish that looks exactly like Stradivarius varnish. It's made from so called "liquid marble". Based on it, he creates a very beautiful varnish. He adds pigment crystals in it made as well from this "liquid marble". Well, it's pretty complicated but intriguing. Do you think it's possible to create Straduvarius varnish nowadays? And what it could be as "liquid marble"?.. He treats wood with it before varnishing.

Edited by - Dmitry Volkov on 05/05/2024 14:14:52

May 5, 2024 - 7:14:47 PM
like this

1532 posts since 3/1/2020

This falls well into the category of attempts to discover the “secret of Stradivari.” Over the centuries all kinds of nutty theories have been presented to draw back the curtain and expose the secret that made Strads the greatest violins in the world, one that can be repeated by the discoverer of this mystical knowledge.

The best part of this is that you can read Dmitriev’s ravings on his website.
boris-dmitriev.com/The-Violin-...Monologue

Somehow, given the grandiose and unsubstantiated nature of the language in the “monologue,” it is extremely fitting that the conclusion is that the secret is in growing special crystals (of course, YOU can’t make them very well yourself and neither could Sacconi, but the magnanimous discoverer of the secret the Catholic church worked so hard to bury will send you some of these magic crystals if you want so that you too can enjoy the secret of the inner circle).

I see the maker posted on violinist.com about this discovery. The intervening decade has not led to the widespread dissemination of this earth-shattering discovery. If only the post weren’t archived and you could read the responses in 2014…

A particularly amusing little snippet mentions the famous violist Yuri Bashmet, who has, according to Dmitriev, condemned himself to a disappointing career due to his use of a lowly Testore instead of a Strad. I can only wonder how he justifies the failure of the MacDonald Strad to sell at auction and the less than enthusiastic response of makers and players to Strad violas in comparison to violins or cellos.

If you want to read the best analysis of Stradivari’s varnish, the book by Brandmair and Greiner is the source. You’ll find much different conclusions there and much less attempt to claim an understanding of a varnish that’s been mostly worn off the majority of Strads and has undergone hundreds of years of oxidizing, wear, and retouching.

The idea of using an ingredient to change the refractive index is not a new one. The usual application of this idea is in the surface preparation of ground/pore filler/sealer before varnish is applied. There was a long period of using “water glass” in the ground to get this effect. Roger Hargrave has written on the use of slaked plaster in the ground. There are other arguments for silica grounds. Then there are the arguments for the presence of other things, like ammonia, iron, salts, or other chemical applications.

If you’re new to violin making, I would recommend finding the most reliable sources of information you can to get started. Varnish making is such a difficult pursuit even for those who do it regularly that it’s not something I’d recommend to someone just getting started. The Courtnall/Johnson book is a great resource for getting some good working methods as taught at the Newark violin making school. Roger Hargrave’s website has a lot of great information in it as well. Sacconi’s book does too, although one must keep in mind that he very intentionally titled it “The ‘Secrets’ of Stradivari,” not “The Secrets of Stradivari.”

If you’d like to see some truly impressive varnishing results that look close to Cremonese, the work of Jeff Phillips and Antoine Nedelec are great examples (both are individual and collaborative gold-medal winners at the VSA competitions). The rosinate varnishes that have come into vogue are getting very attractive results and there’s plenty of information on making them available.

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