How to Tell If You Have an Authentic Stradivarius Violin

By Lana M. Ulrich ; Updated September 15, 2017

Things Needed

  • Violin or other string instrument
  • Infrared and nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy

Antonio Stradivari, born in 1644, was a renowned Italian instrument maker. His instruments, from violins to cellos, survive as lasting testaments to his ability to craft the most superior instruments that may still be played today. Thousands of instrument makers over the years have copied Stradivari’s style and mislabeled their own instruments. If you happen to have a violin that purports itself to be a Stradivarius, chances are it is not the real thing.

Acoustics

Play the instrument to determine its sound quality; if you do not know how to play it, find a musician who can. In an interview published on National Public Radio’s (NPR’s) website, nationally renowned violinist Miles Hoffman said of a real Stradivarius, “Under the ear, there’s a sweetness to it, there’s a depth of sound. … It responds to the slightest touch.” Stradivarius instruments are primarily known for their superior craftsmanship, as well as for possessing a sound quality that often defies explanation.

Listen carefully as you or someone else plays the instrument. It should produce a sound that is both powerful and pure; lesser quality instruments will not project as well because they have more surface noise and less core. The sound a true Stradivarius produces will be rich, refined and resonant, from the lowest notes to the highest.

Do not worry if you are not a music expert; according to NPR, “in a direct, side-by-side comparison of a great Stradivarius with a commercially produced instrument—or even with a handcrafted violin that was merely very good—the differences would be absolutely clear, even to the most inexperienced listener.”

Performance

Play the instrument again, this time paying more attention to its responsiveness to your movements. A real Stradivarius should respond to the slightest touch—from minor changes in pressure to contact from the bow.

Consider how much pressure you are applying as you play. According to NPR, “You might say that playing a Strad is like driving a high-performance automobile: It responds to the slightest touch, and there’s always power in reserve.”

Determine whether your instrument has these qualities. Other instrument makers who labeled their own instruments as “Stradivarius” (the Latinized version of the Italian name) were not necessarily attempting to pawn off their instruments as originals; rather, they were reflecting the original style from which their instruments were constructed. If you find that the instrument is not relatively easy to play, or is not responsive, chances are that you are holding such a duplicate.

Wood Composition

Have the instrument tested using infrared and nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy to analyze the chemical properties of the instrument’s backboard. Such an analysis will determine its wood composition.

If the instrument sounds as a Stradivarius should, have its physical properties tested to determine whether it could have indeed been produced in the Cremona area of Italy, where Stradivari lived and worked.

Compare the results to those of researchers from different U.S. universities: Their study chemically analyzed wood shavings scavenged from two instruments and discovered the presence of a chemical wood preservative. The analysis showed that the wood of the violin has a chemical composition different from that of the maple wood grown in the region today; thus, the Italian masters used wood prepared by artificial means, treating the backs of their violins with salts of copper, iron and chromium.

Varnish

Have a sample taken and tested to determine the type of varnish on the instrument.

Consider the results of the analysis. Contrary to what you might believe, Stradivarius instruments do not boast a complex varnish. Instead, according to a study published in a German chemistry journal, Stradivari appears to have used a basic recipe of oil and resin to coat the wood.

Compare the results to the findings of these researchers. If your analysis detects the presence of chemical substances other than the basic recipe of oil and resin, then you do not possess a Stradivarius.

About the Author

Lana Ulrich is a freelancer writer living and working in Philadelphia. A Penn State graduate holding a B.A. in English with honors, she has been writing since 2006, when she was first published in "The Daily Collegian" as an opinion columnist. Her interests include cultural and political theory and literature, but she also enjoys writing on such topics as health, fitness and nutrition.