1 1 1 1 Riccardo Guaraldi: a Violin Maker in Venice Born in Venice and graduated at the Violin making Civic School in Milan, Riccardo Guaraldi refines his craft with great Maestri such as Carlos Arcieri (New York) Franco Simeoni (Treviso) and Gregg Alf (Michigan) and keeps contacts with experts of the caliber of Philip J. Kaas among others. A specialized restorer of rare seventeenth century Italian instruments, Riccardo Guaraldi develops, in parallel, his own production of modern instruments. Highly appreciated by numerous artists, the Guaraldi lutherie is the result of a personal elaboration of the great Italian tradition masters’ heritage reinterpreted in the light of the most peculiar Venetian school characteristics. Riccardo Guaraldi uses Italian (Val Canal, Val di Fiemme) red fir and the maple of Montenegro’s mountains; two wood typologies particularly well-known for their acoustic qualities. The production is entirely hand-made in line with the classical Italian violin-making techniques enriched with contemporary technologies and research. As tradition wants, there are two recipes that Riccardo Guaraldi keeps secret: the preparation mix he applies on the wood (protein-base, lime, etc) and the 5-layer varnish he applies on the finished instrument (conifer resin and flax oil base). For his oil hand-made label, Riccardo Guaraldi has chosen a handcrafted French paper of Moulin Richard de Bas.

The private and very Venetian Corte Botera, a corte sconta (hidden courtyard) recalling Pratt set in the Castello district, has for some years hosted Riccardo Guaraldi's workshop, a really secret place from which stringed instruments played in the most important Italian and European theaters emerge. Violins like the one recently bought by the Quartetto Bernini, or the one displayed at the Rassegna Nazionale di Cremona in 2014, but also the maestro Antonio Casini of Modena's rare viola of 1661, restored with philological and studied care. Before Guaraldi came to the workshop in Corte Botera there was certainly plenty of music listened to with his family and lifetime love of manual work, then the dazzling meeting with a self-taught violin maker in the 1990s that led him to choose the luthier's school in Milan. This was followed by years of work and study alongside expert craftsmen on the Veneto mainland, a workshop in his own town in the Treviso hills then his return to Venice with an established network of national and especially international relations and associations. Because being a "violin maker in Venice", to Guaraldi, Venetian by birth, is not without meaning. The city was the actual or elected home of some of the most important masters ever. Martin Kaiser, Matteo Goffriller and Domenico Montagnana lived and worked here in the golden age of the eighteenth century, when Pietro Guarnieri also worked in Venice, probably the brother of Giuseppe Guarnieri, called del Gesù, whose violins are now sold at international auctions for millions of euros. From the sixteenth to the eighteenth century, the violin maker's workshops in Venice employed at least a hundred masters, craftsmen and assistants. The work of the violin maker has certainly changed, for example graphic design software are now used in the design of a violin, but in Guaraldi's studio a little of the same atmosphere that must have pervaded the Venetian workshops of old can still be felt, perhaps partly because of the smell of the precious seasoned maple and fir, woods selected on the basis of the balance between elasticity, weight and types of vibration. "The magic is that of the musician who plays; in the work of the luthier there is much philosophy but there also has to be the certainty given by a perfect mechanical sturcture", explains Guaraldi. And so, in addition to the search for the right wood, there are mathematical calculations, the proportions between nodes and antinodes, the external convexity, the choice of accessories and infinite variables that the luthier harmonises and adjusts from the time he begins working the wood through to when the instrument is ready for its destiny. It is a stringed instrument that carries Guaraldi's signature not so much or not only on the internal scroll, but especially in its whole: the drop silhouette of the heads sculped in a particular way, the purfling and the points, the edge fluting and the 'f' holes in a style similar to that of Eugenio Degani, a great nineteenth-century luthier. A form that is always evolvinig. The Venetian luthier also follows the life of his creation after they have left his workshop. At times it is the violin or viola that comes back to the workshop for an inspection or check, but often it is Guaraldi himself who rediscovers, in some theatre in Italy or Europe, one of his violins born from maple and fir woods in the little Corte Botera workshop.

The restoration 

The use of ancient materials to be inserted in an instrument’s missing parts, the knowledge of varnishes’ chemistry, retouch techniques of high standards and methods studied with the greatest restorers for the recovery of structural modifications and depressions are fundamental steps; the experience acquired throughout the years about mechanical and acoustic recovery further enhance such steps. Violins, violas, cellos and double basses were the working ground for Guaraldi while studying in Milan. Nothing is left to chance, nothing in underestimated; in fact, even the humble mass-produced instrument, Italian or foreigner, shows characteristics and objectives which are shared with the more refined and prestigious pieces. All the materials used for the construction and restoration of the instruments in this laboratory are of the finest quality and the result of an on-going research other than the result of constant exchanges between lutists and everyday practice. 

The construction of the New

The construction technique adopted is the classic Cremonese one with internal shape; the technique and stylistic developments have been modified thanks to the influence of the big instrument Guaraldii restored with the attempt to imitate ancient sounds.
It has been difficult, unfortunately, to find coherent points of reference to modulate a real ancient acoustic idea because of previous interventions, but hypothesis have led to concrete results that reveal new developments every day. To start with, the fir: other than containing a rich quantity of tables of an almost 40-year aging, with non-invasive treatments of the product, the necessary acoustic-physical characteristics can be obtained also with a table not older than 4 years. Then the maple. The material recuperated in the past years mirrors, both aesthetically and from the acoustic point of view, what was used in the past. Stradivari and his contemporaries did not take advantage of any micro-glaciations: only great wood knowledge and, clearly, continuous experimentation. The lightness and the stiffness of the structure are the main characteristics when searching for a piece of wood on an empirical level: all this, however, has to be related to the speed of sound both lengthwise and horizontally. The reverberation coefficient has to be the result of simple relations between weigh, density and speed of sound. On the instrument’s surface it is necessary to put a non-oily substance that maintains the acoustic features of the piece and at the same time contributes to develop the same characteristics over time. The preparation applied onto the instrument has nothing to share with the products easily found to buy: they often reserve bitter surprises and continuous variables on the ingredients therein contained. The varnish is made of conifer resin and other ingredients but the most interesting part is the research of the perfect pigment which cannot be excessively sensitive to light thus not changing colour with the passing of time.

Guaraldi's laboratory specializes in: restoration and acoustic reactivation of stringed instruments belonging to the violin family;the instruments’ assembly and their fine-tuning with the use of top quality materials and with the support of the world’s best specialized companies;· restoration of arches’ cracks and small recovery interventions on the same;· evaluation and quantification of pre-existent damages of an instrument;· construction of stringed instruments of the violin’s family.

Texts from The Marco Polo Airport 1/4 - November-December 2015 and adapted from Riccardo Guaraldi's website.

Riccardo Guaraldi (website)
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