For years, luthiers have attempted to copy the violin-making technique of Antonio Stradivari, whose instruments represent the absolute finest from the Golden Age of Cremona. Using modern technology, dimensions, thickness of wood, and placement of bass bars and sound posts, can be imitated to a great extent (have you ever seen those luthier diagrams in Strad magazine? Too much for me). Yet, Strads still hold their ground at the very top of the pedestal. So what makes them so different from other fine instruments?
A common theory is that the answer is in the varnish. It was speculated that proteins from dead animals, or perhaps other exotic elements might have been added to the mix, and in turn adjusted the acoustic properties of the wood to sound so glorious.
Well we can just about cross that theory off the list.
Using samples from four violins and a viola d’amore, with vintages from 1692 to 1724 (remember his Golden Era was 1698-1720 so this is a good sample), a team of researchers have concluded that the varnish is actually a quite basic blend of oil and resin.
Back to the drawing board…
What Exalts Stradivarius? Not Varnish, Study Says – NY Times