New study shows Stradivarius varnish is unexceptional

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A recent study by researchers in France and Germany, reported in the New York Times, has revealed that the varnish on Stradivarius instruments is typical for the period. This contradicts a long running debate among musicians, music historians and instrument makers as to why Stradivarius' instruments sound so good.

“It’s a very basic recipe,” according to Jean-Philippe Échard, a chemist from the Musée de la Musique in Paris who has analysed tiny samples from the museum’s Stradivarius collection-which consists of four violins and a viola d’amore.

The research showed that the instruments were first coated in a drying oil such as linseed or walnut oil. This was followed by a coat of drying oil and natural resin, with red pigment added to all but the earliest instrument.

The study has been published online in the journal Angewandte Chemie International Edition.

The debate about what makes Stradivari's instruments, of which over 600 survive, so special has gone on for centuries. Among the many proposals, such as the wood and patterns used by the luthier, has been that his varnishes contained secret ingredients.