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Violins, Violas, and Cellos based on 40 years of research on Stradivari, Guarneris, and Amatis.

Nagyvary Violins

About Nagyvary Violins

Nagyvary Violins is the practical outgrowth of research by Dr. Joseph Nagyvary into the materials and mechanics of violins made in Cremona, Italy in the 17th and 18th centuries. It is based on several breakthrough discoveries achieved in state-of-the-art laboratories which give us a realistic chance of approaching the level of excellence of the legendary masters.

The first breakthrough in our understanding of the Cremona violins was provided in the 1972 book of Simone F. Sacconi. He proposed that the ground of the old Italian violins was made of potassium silicate, his proposition being based on chemical analysis of the wood-varnish interface by an unidentified chemist.  Although this claim could not be verified, it issued a challenge to identify the mineral ground more accurately. Sacconis ideas fit well into the chemical paradigm of violinmaking that was subsequently developed by Dr. Nagyvary. Following a decade of historical research, Dr. Nagyvary first announced his thesis at the 1978 Violin Society of America convention that the quality of the materials is as important determinant of the Italian tone as the wood-crafting workmanship. In addition to the macro operations, the violin also has to be crafted on the micro-scale at the cellular and molecular level. Most makers and researchers of the violin believed that the key to the cherished Italian tone lies in the proper tuning of the free plates to certain low frequencies. In contrast, Dr. Nagyvary has maintained that the essential feature of the Cremona tone, its brilliance and purity, has little to do with low frequency tuning which is a necessary but rudimentary requirement. Rather it is caused by an elaborate process of wood treatment and the application of certain filler materials, which enhance the high frequency emission and reduce the noise level. In his seminal paper (1978, J. Violin Soc.) he postulated three critical material requirements. In 1982, Nagyvary pioneered the use of cutting edge microanalysis, the EDX spectroscopy, to show that the wood of a Guarneri cello was treated with wood ash. Naturally, valuable contributions were also made by other researchers in the past 15 years. The most recent work published in Nature (2006) provided the first experimental proof that the wood of Stradivari and Guarneri had been indeed chemically manipulated with borax and other compounds.

Nagyvary Violins represents a break with violin making as it has existed for the past 200 years. During this post-Stradivari era, most violins were made of sap-heavy unpreserved wood and filled with homogeneous rubbery varnishes consisting of linseed oil and oleoresins. More than just the materials have changed since the days of Stradivari, who like his teacher and other renaissance artists, relied on team work. Most violin makers nowadays view themselves as individual artists who create signature-pieces of artwork.

At Nagyvary Violins, we make recreations of the old Stradivarius and Guarnerius violins according to the criteria that really count. Our focus is specifically on the material and tonal reproduction of the Great Masters' work, which we greatly admire. We do not create individual art works. Our instruments are made by a team of two men:  the distinguished craftsman Chen Guang-Yue and the scientist Dr. Joseph Nagyvary, in a close collaboration. Dr. Nagyvary is in full control of all structural and engineering aspects of the carving process; he tunes the plates by carving away the last critical millimeter of wood and also by applying chemical solutions. The selection and processing of the wood, the application of preservatives, fillers and the varnish are all done by Dr. Nagyvary who also performs all the acoustical testing and repeated adjustments. The carving itself can be accomplished in a matter of weeks, but the processes of fine-tuning of the parts and the assembled violin could proceed on and off for at least one year. The violins get played in for several weeks by electro-mechanical vibrators over the entire frequency range. Each note is played many times into a computer-based signal analyzer which provides a fingerprint of the sound (FFT power spectra). Unless this fingerprint comes close to those of the fine Stradivari and Guarneri violins, the new violin will be reworked, or priced as a less expensive student violin. Knowing how to re-engineer a new and yet imperfect violin is one of the most important skills of a good maker. The musician may not understand the objective analysis, but he/she can clearly discern the clean, ringing and focused tone and the easy, crisp response of the finished violin. Similarities of sound spectra of the old and new violins would make it difficult for the audience to tell them apart, but the player would still hear the difference. Much of the perceived superiority of the old violins lies in their lower noise level, which we believe to be a material property. The attenuation of noise also seems to relate to the amount of playing time. Violins made with our process are played in faster and possess less noise than most new violins.

Public Reactions. Dr. Nagyvary's research should be viewed against a backdrop of non-cooperation and direct animosity from many components of the violin business who did not like his conclusions. The reasons for this negative attitude can only be guessed. In contrast, Dr. Nagyvary found nothing but support and approval by the educated scientific societies during his lecture tours which took him to every state of the union. Nagyvary's  research and new instruments were vetted in hundreds of public lecture-demonstrations.  They were heard in several concerts, including those by The Takats Quartet and The Muir Quartet, and they elicited positive audience responses.

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