When we're talking about great violins, two names that tend to come up are Antonio Stradivari and Giuseppe Guarneri del Gesù. As some of history's most prominent violin makers, each made significant changes to the fundamental structure and sound of a violin. Here's what you should know when comparing Stradivari vs. Guarneri.
Antonio Stradivari perfected violin design.
During his working life in 17th and 18th century Europe, Antonio Stradivari was able to produce around 2000 instruments, of which around 600 violins still exist today. Displayed on the labels of his work, his violins are often referred to by his Latinized name, “Stradivarius”. His exceptional craftsmanship, design, and drafting skills quickly earned a reputation amongst the courts and nobility in Europe, with commissions by royalty such as King James II and King Charles III of Spain. That reputation still stands today. Stradivari can be credited with developing and perfecting the standard design for today’s violin makers, with an elongated body and longer and narrower f-holes, providing more tonal strength and richness than the standard design of his day. He also developed the use of high quality varnish on his instruments, a deep red-orange color unlike the standard gold-colored varnish of the 17th century. Other remarkable elements of his work include incredibly detailed and intricate edge-work and decoration, strengthened and broadened arching, added thickness to the plates, and a more square appearance to the center bouts. His work was of exceptional quality, with use of only the finest maple and varnish material to create a powerful, precise sound and unmistakable physical beauty.
Giuseppe Guarneri del Gesù was an artist.
Comparably treasured by musicians and violin enthusiasts is Stradivari’s contemporary, another Italian violin maker by the name of Giuseppe Guarneri del Gesù. Guarneri’s work was rougher in design, but much more adventurous with great expression of artistic and experimental nature. Unlike Stradivari, Guarneri had little influence with the European courts, making his violins more popular with the common musician who required a great sound without the higher cost. Due to his lack of reputation, he worked at a rapid pace to make a living and created over 2000 violins, of which around only 130 exist today, making the originals even rarer than an original Stradivari. Elements of his work include interesting designs with rugged character and finish, shortened body length, shallow fluting, use of a thicker back plate, and elongated, uneven f-holes where the bass f-hole is often higher than the treble. He also incorporated hook-like corners and erratically colored varnishes. All of these elements make for a deep, beautifully rich sound and dark, limitless tonal palate.
So which is better, Stradivarius or Guarnerius?
What it truly comes down to is preference. Think of it like white wine compared to red wine. Stradivari is like white wine with a light, sweet, precise tone, while Guarneri is a red wine with deep, dark richness. The Stradivari’s sound is described as more “direct and precise”, responding to the slightest touch with refined direction and elegance, much like a high-performance sports car. Some players prefer the longer body, which may result in a “better fit” to the curvature of the body, making the overall feel of the instrument more comfortable. On the other hand, some players prefer the Guarneri due to its shortened scale length which many believe creates greater ease while playing. Famed violinist Rachel Barton Pine describes her preference for the Guarneri saying, “They can be as sweet as a Stradivari when they need to be, but they’ve also got guts!”
We have both in stock.
It's very rare to find original violins by either maker but many newer models are based off of these designs. Neither Stradivari or Guarneri models necessarily cost more than the other; either can be found for under $500 or over $10,000. What dictates the price is its age, country of origin, and condition. Whether old original or modern copy, there are few more wonderful experiences than being able to produce a beautiful, powerful tone on a handcrafted violin made by a fine maker.