Prior to the mid 1920’s, recording studios used wax as a recording medium. Instead of a microphone, a large horn was used to gather the sound. At the end of the horn was a sensitive diaphragm with a sharp needle in the center. As musicians played into the recording horn, the vibrating needle cut a continuous groove into a rotating cylinder coated with wax. This kind of recording is known as acoustic recording.
Due to the limitation of wax as a medium, the best acoustic recordings were made when the source being recorded was LOUD. Singers that could sing in a very powerful voice were one most often recorded. None the less, many beautiful recordings were made during this period, and many collectors today are only interested in disc and cylinders that were acoustically recorded.
One of the quirks of acoustically recording an ensemble of musicians that included violins was that it was usually hard to hear the violins in the resulting recording. This situation was remedied by the introduction of the Stroh violin in 1901. The Stroh violin was designed to be very loud in the mid-range frequencies that recorded well in wax. It was also designed to be highly directional in its output. The player could now point the horn of the violin, and focus the sound into the recording horn. As a testament to the success of Augustus Stroh’s design, the Stroh violin was a state-of-the-art recording tool for more than twenty years.
When acoustic recording was replaced by electrical recording in the mid of 1920s, the Stroh violin lost its usefulness for the recording world. However, the Stroh related instruments, such as horned versions of guitar, mandolin and bass, as well as the one-stringed phono fiddle, had caught on with musicians in the days before Pas and electric musical instruments became commonplace. The Stroh violin was manufactured in London and ceased to be made in 1942.
Our research about the Stroh instruments led us to the Cité de la Musique, Paris, where they have an original Stroh-cello and Stroh violin. Thierry Maniguet –curator of the stringed-instruments division of the museum – and Stéphane Vaiedelich – laboratory director, welcomed us. We visited the reserve collection and tried the Stroh-cello and Stroh-violin of the museum’s collection.
During a performance of Le Chant des Pavillons at the JFIS (Journées Facture Instrumentale et Science – Instrument Making and Science Days) organized by l’Itemm (Institut technologie européen des métiers de la musique – European technical institute of the music professions) in Le Mans, Stéphane Vaiedelich explained the history of the Stroh-instruments to a gathering of stringed instrument-makers.
We would like the Stroh history to be better known and shared.
You will find it on this page soon.
In the meantime, you can find some picture of our visit at the Cité de la Musique.