What is a Stradivarius?

Stradivarius is the name applied to any of the violins, violas, cellos, and other string instruments built by members of the Stradivari family. Also called “Strads,” these instruments are prized around the world as being the pinnacle of sound engineering. In particular, those instruments crafted by Antonio Stradivari during his golden period, which lasted from 1700 to 1725, are considered to be among the finest ever made, which is why his instruments continue to command millions of dollars whenever they are sold today.

What is So Special About a Stradivarius Violin?

There is no shortage of mystique where Stradivarius violins are concerned, and this is one of the reasons why they are so revered by musicians, historians, and collectors alike. Strads have a long and storied reputation for producing the very finest sound quality capable of being produced by a stringed instrument. Stradivarius violins are renowned for their clarity of tone, which carries perfectly in any environment, including spacious concert halls.

This impressive sound quality is often attributed to the wood used in the instrument’s construction, but it also has to do with the actual design of the piece. According to The Cambridge Companion to the Violin, it is the structure of a Stradivarius that is key. In his search for creating the ideal shape, Stradivari introduced a shorter, flatter body shape and changed the shape of the plates (the panels that make up the front and back of the violin) in his creations, and this is often considered the instigating factor behind his instruments’ famed sound quality.

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. While this wouldn’t otherwise be controversial with any other violin produced by any other violin maker, again there is a mystique that surrounds everything from the wood that Stradivari used to the varnishes he used to finish his pieces.

For instance, one popular legend states that Stradivari used wood from ancient churches to create his instruments. Another suggested that he added a mysterious ingredient to the wood and used secret construction techniques that have since been lost.

In 2003, researchers from Columbia and Tennessee universities attempted to give a scientific explanation for a Strad’s superior sound. According to their research, the sound quality can be attributed to reduced solar activity in the 17th Century. They believed that the colder winters and cooler summers slowed tree growth by such a rate that it in turn led to denser wood with superior acoustical properties.

This wouldn’t be the last time that scientists would try to inject their theories into the Stradivarius mystery. In 2006, researchers from the United States stated that they believed a Stradivarius’ distinctive sound was the result of Stradivari applying a chemical treatment to the wood that was designed to kill woodworm and fungi.

Despite all the theories and scientific explanations, most modern violin makers place the Stradivarius’ incredible sound quality down to the pure 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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