Giuseppe Guarneri ‘del Gesu’ is one of the most recognisable names in the violin-making world and for good reason. He has established himself alongside Antonio Stradivari as one of the greatest luthiers and his instruments are amongst the most prized in the world. Sadly, fewer than 200 of his instruments remain in existence today and, unlike Stradivari, they are all violins.
Due to the enormous success of Guarneri violins, they are some of the most common models contemporary luthiers use when making their own instruments. There are a variety of factors that go into the process of choosing a model as a maker but sound production is considered to be the most important. Instruments by masters such as Stradivari, Guarneri and Guadagnini are all proven to sound exceptional and are therefore an excellent starting point for luthiers aspiring to make an instrument with similar characteristics.
Different violin models allow luthiers varying degrees of freedom. Some try to make exact copies and stay completely true to the original while others will try to add as much of a personal touch as they can.
Let’s briefly take a look at who Guarneri ‘Del Gesu’ was. Born in Cremona in 1698, he came from a family of violin makers. His career was quite short as he died at the early age of 46.
As a maker, he was known to be very experimental with his instruments. He tried various archings, f-holes and thicknesses in order to assess how they affected the sound. This led to his violins being very inconsistent in appearance, unlike his famous counterpart Stradivari who exhibited a perfectionist attitude when it came to the design and sound of his instruments.
This characteristic of his actually accentuated even further later in his life and his latest instruments have very unusual attributes. There is speculation that he was in hurry to make as many as possible because he knew of his illness. Interestingly, his later violins from the mid 1730s to the last ones in 1744 are the most valued of his instruments.
This is a good example of the idiosyncrasies of Guarneri’s making. This late model 1744 Guarneri has very elongated f-holes as well as unusual body dimensions.
Guarneri ‘Del Gesu’ Sound Characteristics
As mentioned previously, along with Stradivari, Guarneri’s instruments are held in the highest regard. They are extremely resonant and powerful and they have a particularly rich lower end which is why they are the favourite for some soloists. In addition, they often have quite a robust tone, which can make them appear harsh in close proximity but enables them to project in very large spaces.
These instruments have gained worldwide recognition not only because of their legendary sound but also because they are played by some of the best musicians in the world. This, of course, adds more to their mystique and makes them even more sought-after.
Yehudi Menuhin with his 1742 ‘Lord Wilton’ Guarneri ‘Del Gesu’
Who plays on Guarneri ‘Del Gesu’ Violins?
Notable past violinists who have played on Del Gesu’s instruments include Paganini, Kreisler, Enescu, Heifetz, Milstein, Menuhin, Stern, etc.
Some of the current violinists who use a Guarneri violin:
Every luthier has their preferred models when it comes to violin making but Guarneri models do tend to be unanimously popular.
Counter-intuitively, one of the reasons for this is precisely this lack of physical consistency between his instruments. This allows the contemporary maker much more liberty to adapt one of his models to their particular style. Some makers, such as Stefan-Peter Greiner, only make Guarneri models because it suits them perfectly.
The other reason is the sound that his models produce. They have an immediate response, powerful projection and a very rich sound. This combination is often very attractive to musicians, making it a more obvious choice for makers looking to make a musician-friendly instrument.
Musician requirements often dictate the choice of model of a maker. Early in their careers, luthiers will experiment with different models and sounds and will eventually settle on the ones that work best.
Some well-known makers who make Guarneri copies include: