Sunday, July 3, 2011

Stradivarius vs. Guarnerius

Written By: Andy Fein, luthier at Fein Violins

In this corner... Antonius Stradivarius. Apprenticed to Amati at a young age, he was the first violin maker in his family. Stradivarius was a sober and industrious guy that led a large workshop cranking out his instruments for almost 60 years, from about 1680 to 1737. He made more than 2,000 instruments of which about 600 still exist, mainly violins, violas and cellos. If you know anything about violins or violin makers, you know the name Stradivarius.

In the opposite corner... Giuseppe Guarnerius, known as del Gesu.
 Guarnerius came from a large family of violin makers and learned the craft from his father. He was an erratic worker who primarily worked alone, and he never put his name on a cello (although I did work on one by his uncle Petrus that definitely bears Giuseppe's workmanship).  As a cello enthusiast, I don't think I'll ever forgive Giuseppe for this lack of cello love. His working life spanned about 20 years, from approximately 1726 to 1744. His output was relatively small and about 100 of his instruments still exist.

Imagine you are a violin enthusiast with an infinite amount of funds to spend on a violin - which maker would you choose?  If you were a demanding soloist, the answer might be surprising - many soloists prefer the del Gesu violins over Stradivaris. Del Gesus' tend to be a bit stronger and louder. They also have a richer, mellower sound that enables them to carry further than a Stradivarius. The trade-off is that they are also more demanding and less forgiving than a Strad. Del Gesus' are like great sports cars - you can go faster than you ever imagined, but you can also crash faster than you ever imagined.

Stradivarius was a great craftsman. His violins are very beautiful in their symmetry and sense of flow. Every curve (and there are lots of them on a violin) is executed flawlessly. Of course, Stradivaris also sound fantastic.

'Lady Harmsworth' 1703 Stradivarius
Guarnerius was also a great craftsman, but not in the classical sense of symmetry, finely finished detail and flow of curve and line. His instruments are often lopsided. No kidding! Many of his instruments have one side stretching up higher in the shoulders, the f holes are obviously not aligned, and the scrolls have one ear lower than the other - yet somehow they flow together visually.

'Wieniawski' 1742 Guarnerius del Gesu

Giuseppe Guarnerius del Gesu was like Picasso. He transcended the standard forms to create something very beautiful that is outside our sense of classical lines. He was also able to produce tremendous violins, combining his different sense of craftsmanship with an intuitive sense of violin tone. His great craftsmanship was the result of an innate understanding of what makes a violin sound amazing.

For most people, Stradivarius models work better and sound better. But if you ever have a few million dollars to spend on a great violin consider a del Gesu if one crosses your path.

In terms of cost, if you want a great Stradivarius or a great Guarnerius del Gesu, be prepared to spend between $1,000,000 and $18,000,000. Of course, it all depends on sound, condition and the instrument's history. They are worth it!

Are you a violinist or interested in becoming one? If you can't spend $1-$18 Million on a Strad/Del Gesu, take a look at our Fine Violins!

1 comment:

  1. I would buy both.One from each maker.If i were a freaking billionaire