The Truly Stradivarious: What are the characteristics of Stradivarius Violins?

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There have been numerous types of violins throughout history. However, when it comes to Stradivarious violins, there’s hardly a questioning tone to be heard when people refer to the superior qualities these instruments share over all others. A Stradivarius is almost a synonym for quality, but why?

The violin maker: Antonio Stradivarius

Antonio Stradivari was a noble Cremonese citizen, and despite not coming from a luthier family, he started his apprenticeship at a young age, supposedly with Nicola Amati. He started out with the violin, following Amati’s style, but soon he developed his own style, creating his finest instruments! Little by little, he built his reputation by selling his instruments to the royal families and notable citizens of that time.

The tone, responsiveness, elegance of design, visual appeal, and precision of Stradivari crafts were higher than any other at the time. His life can be divided into 4 periods:

  • The Amatisé: 1660 – 1690
  • The Long Pattern: 1690 – 1700
  • The Golden Period: 1700 – 1720
  • The Late Period: 1720 – 1737

From 1700 – 1725, Stradivari hit the peak of his violin-making career (The Golden Period). It was at this time that he distanced himself from the long pattern violin and returned to the standard, smaller-sized instrument.

Although not technically beginning until 1700, some of Stradivari’s earlier work from the 1690s mirrored the quality of those crafted in his golden years. Somewhat controversially, many of these instruments actually had their original labels amended to date post-1700 so that they could be sold at an increased value; any instrument crafted during this time was and remains to be held in high esteem, worth millions and ever-increasing in worth.

These instruments are masterpieces, and their characteristics make them very special. It is estimated that the luthier made more than a thousand instruments, some of them may have had the help of his sons to complete the work, however, approximately 650 of Stradivari’s instruments still survive and some can be seen at museums. 

The majority of his violins occupy the spotlight, but Antonio Stradivari also built violas and cellos. His cellos, which are more rare than his violins, are almost all built on a smaller contralto model of about 45cm in length, says Tarisio website.

Incredible and unimagined how and with which techniques the maker conquered this. Today, we decided to bring you a few characteristics that differ a Stradivari from any other violin.


A Stradivarius Violin

A Stradivarius or a Strad is an instrument built by Stradivari, very renowned and known for its superior quality. The Stradivari family were luthiers or makers of stringed musical instruments like violas, cellos, and other violin family members during the 17th and 18th centuries.

The Long Pattern period was characterized by a larger violin, known as a “Long Strad”. Branching out from the standard sizing, Strad’s violins from this time were 12mm longer than the traditional model. It is also worth noting that he might have taken his inspiration from Brescian makers, such as Maggini and Gaspar da Salò, who were known for crafting instruments with a darker, more powerful sound. Many kinds of research and tests have been done in order to find out the luthier secret for such a masterpiece.

Stradivari has been credited with using rare and valuable Alpine spruce for his violins. Some speculate that this wood was unusually dense because it grew in particularly harsh winters when the annual growth rings were near each other.

What we know today is that the Master Maker had deep knowledge in violin-making, and as he improved his financial conditions, he invested in better materials, which resulted in the fine instruments from the Golden Period. He had an understanding of the science behind his work, Stradivari wasn’t just a simple craftsman. Knowing the value of accumulated knowledge of his instruments, he pondered the pros and cons of each instrument, each an improvement on the last.

The very particularities that define Stradivarius violins

The Shape – A Stradivarius violin is distinctive due to its unique shape. Before Stradivari made his violins, violins were commonly rounder and narrower. His violins were often longer with sharper-edged corners and a clear definition between their upper and lower half.

Wood – Instruments of Stradivari have been found to feature unique varieties of wood and varnish. Alpine wood, like spruce and maple wood, was used for the instruments’ various parts.

Varnish – It is normal for many makers to create their own mixture of varnishing to take a particular result. This may have started with these master makers, Stradivari is known for a very unique varnish, scientists have found traces of certain minerals, like copper and aluminum. But no one knows the recipe exactly. 

The Label – To really know if it’s an original one you can always identify it in the instrument’s label. Stradivari’s violins always had a label that read “Antonius Stradivarius Cremonensis Faciebat Anno”, followed by the year they were made.

Violinists and musicologists often struggle to distinguish Stradivari’s work from copies and forgeries, as violins labeled “Stradivari” or “in the style of Stradivari” are still being produced to this day. The f-holes are very important to create the sound. Stradivari made some f-holes longer and narrower, his work was somewhat longer in a few periods, with sharper-edged corners and a clear definition between its upper and lower half.

Among them, the most famous ones are the “Messiah” Stradivarius, built-in 1716, which was once owned by another famous luthier, Jean-Baptiste Vuillaume. It was later acquired by the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, England.

The “Soil” Stradivarius of 1714 and the 1713 “Gibson ex-Huberman,” are owned and played by classical music stars like violinists Itzhak Perlman and Joshua Bell.

Nowadays, the instruments that follow his characteristics and model are also called a Stradivarius model, for being inspired by the great maker.