Guarneri

Guarneri Violins

While many in the Guarneri family made violins, when one speaks of a Guarneri violin, the luthier in question is always Bartolommeo Giuseppe, also known as Joseph Guarnerius del Gesu. He was the grandson of Andrea Guarneri, who was apprenticed to Stradivari, and the “del Gesu” (or “of Jesus”) was appended to his name because the labels on his violins always included a cross and the letters “I.H.S.”, a Greek acronym for Jesus Christ.

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While Stradivari is the most well-known luthier in history, some professional violinists prefer Guarneri to Stradivarius for its power and dark, rich tone. Regardless of which luthier was superior, Guarneri violins are highly regarded as exquisite examples of craftsmanship and make superb concert violins. Violin patterns based on the Guarneri are frequently used today.

What makes the Guarneri Violin So Special?

In brief, the beauty of its tone and its power. With art long since lost to history, both del Gesu and Stradivari were able to build instruments of astonishing range and purity. The depth of sound they produce make them particularly well-suited to concert halls. Some historians speculate that the mini Ice Age of the late 17th, early 18th centuries meant that trees grew slower, causing them to be denser and thus more resonant when used in violins; others discuss the mysterious varnishing process used on the violins by the master luthiers of that age.

Whatever the reason, the tone of the del Gesu is unique and beautiful—and none save a Stradivarius is considered its equal. Despite attempts to mimic the construction of the del Gesu, modern luthiers have failed to match its quality.

What is the Difference Between a Stradivarius and a del Gesu?

Generally, a Stradivarius is considered to have a “brighter” sound than a del Gesu, which is often described as a “darker” sound. In terms of value, both originals sell for millions of dollars in auction, and some prominent violinists pick sides over which is better. In the end, it all comes down to a matter of preference.

The construction of both are similar, although Stradivari are a bit more rounded, with lower, straighter “F” holes, and in general, the Stradivari are more refined in appearance than the Guarneri. Late in his career, del Gesu’s craftsmanship began to fail as he rushed the completion of his violins; however, even as the appearance declined, the tone improved in quality. It is thought that he began to focus exclusively on tone as he grew older, and less and less interested in appearance. Stradivari, in contrast, was meticulous in detail throughout his career.

Modern Guarneri-style Patterns

Many modern luthiers use Guarneri patterns. Like the originals, these modern violins are powerful, projecting clearly across large concert halls while still maintaining a clear tone. Also like the originals, they lack some of the symmetry and proportion of modern violins patterned after Stradivari.

These unique violins reflect an in-depth knowledge of wood, resonance, acoustics, and overall craftsmanship regrettably lost to our modern age, but the patterns del Gesu used still help define the makeup our modern violins.