What is a Stradivarius?

Stradivarius is the name applied to any of the violins, violas, cellos, and other string instruments created  by members of the Stradivari family. Also called “Strads,” these instruments are prized around the world as having unsurpassed acoustic characteristics which make them prized by musicians. In particular, those instruments crafted by Antonio Stradivari during his so-called Golden Period, 1700 to 1725, are considered to be among the finest ever made, which is one reason his instruments command millions of dollars whenever they are sold today.

What is So Special About a Stradivarius Violin?

There is a great mystique about Stradivarius violins – and all his instruments. They are revered by musicians, historians, and collectors and have a long and storied reputation for being instruments capable of producing the finest tone of any violin.  The tone of Stradivari instruments have a unique capacity to carry to the furthest reaches of spacious concert halls.  Just as you can hear an opera singer perfectly when she is softly singing sotto voce, and also over a full orchestra playing forte, Strads have a great ability to project sound, and have it be a beautiful sound.  

Another way to think of this is to consider sound systems- if you have an inexpensive sound system at very low and high volumes the sound suffers, and at moderate volumes it sounds its best which still isn’t very good.   But a very fine, expensive sound system will give you great tone, and let you hear all the subtle shadings and tone colors in the recording, at whatever volume you play it.  

What are Stradivarius Violins Made Of?

Stradivari made his instruments using a variety of different woods. He used spruce for the top, willow for the internal blocks and linings, and maple for the back, ribs, and neck. He sometimes used willow instead of maple for the backs of less expensive cellos.  Some of his instruments were made of a local Italian maple known in Italy as Oppio, not that different from a soft maple that grows in many parts of the world.  The finest maple he used came from Bosnia and maple of this region is still prized by violin makers.  It is believed that he preferred spruce from the Val di Fiemme in northern Italy, a valley in the Dolomites which seems to produce a special quality of wood that makes the finest violins.

As with everything about this great artist, the mystique surrounding his creations has led to all sorts of crackpot theories; one legend states that Stradivari used wood from ancient churches to create his instruments. Another suggests that he added a mysterious ingredient to the wood, and yet another that he used secret construction techniques that have since been lost.  Researchers have claimed that reduced solar activity in the 17th Century led to colder winters and cooler summers which slowed tree growth by such a rate that it in turn led to denser wood with superior acoustical properties.  Others stated that a Stradivarius’ distinctive sound was the result of Stradivari applying a chemical treatment to the wood that was designed to kill woodworm and fungi.  There is one so-called scientist in the United States- who shall remain nameless- who has been regurgitating the same harebrained theories about chemical treatments every 3 years since at least 1975 when I first heard of him.  His great skill is getting publicity, not making fine instruments.   

This kind of blarney must make poor Stradivari spin in his grave.  The incredible sound quality of a Stradivarius is due to the pure skill and inventive genius of their creator – Antonio Stradivari.

What is a Stradivarius Violin Worth?

Antonio Stradivari is widely considered the greatest violin maker of all time. As a result, his instruments are among the most expensive ever sold, with some selling for as much as $16 million. His most famous violins include the 1715 Lipinski and the 1716 Messiah. The Messiah is considered to be the only Stradivarius in existence in “as new state” since the instrument remained in Stradivari’s workshop until his death in 1737. It is currently on display at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, England. With an estimated value of $20 million, Stradivari’s 1716 Messiah is the most expensive violin in the world.

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