Stradivari in Paris

It is only recently that science has begun to answer many basic questions about the violin and our perceptions of it. Doing so frequently calls for blind-testing, a methodology that originated late in Leopold Mozart’s lifetime…

Listener evaluations of new and Old Italian violins

Old Italian violins are routinely credited with playing qualities supposedly unobtainable in new instruments. These qualities include the ability to project their sound more effectively in a concert hall – despite seeming relatively quiet under the ear of the player, compared with new violins.

The violin: studying the influence of model by means of a free sorting task

In the last few years, various blindfolded playing tests have been conducted in order to better understand how violinists evaluate violins. They mostly involved preference rankings and evaluation of different criteria using scales.

Maud Powell’s Violin

Maud Powell (1867–1920) and George Gemünder (1816–99) were trailblazing figures – she the first American-born violinist to be recognised internationally as an artist of the first rank, he a German-born immigrant who brought top-level European violin making to the United States.

Soloist evaluations of six Old Italian and six new violins

Many researchers have sought explanations for the purported tonal superiority of Old Italian violins by investigating varnish and wood properties, plate tuning systems, and the spectral balance of the radiated sound. Nevertheless, the fundamental premise of tonal superiority…

The Indianapolis Experiment

Without clues to an instrument’s identity, expectations about its playing qualities fall away. So too does a kind of confidence – or rather, false confidence – leaving an odd combination of uncertainty and liberation.

Player preferences among new and old violins

Most violinists believe that instruments by Stradivari and Guarneri “del Gesu” are tonally superior to other violins—and to new violins in particular. Many mechanical and acoustical factors have been proposed to account for this superiority…

Frequency response in the ‘Vieuxtemps’ Guarneri ‘del Gesù’

The chance to examine the acoustics of a great late Guarneri ‘del Gesù’ violin was too good for a team of maker–researchers to pass up. In the first of a two-part investigation of the ‘Vieuxtemps’, Joseph Curtin sets to work with his impact hammer.

The Violin-maker’s Dilemma

About a year ago, violist Yizhak Schottenleft his Francesco Linarol viola at my shop for a few days. Originally built as a lira da braccio, it’s one of those loosely built Old Italians whose symmetries are all approximate.

Carleen Hutchins Remembered

When I met Carleen Hutchins in the mid-eighties, she was already something of a legend, having co-founded the Catgut Acoustical Society, developed a system for tuning violin plates, invented a new family of stringed instruments, and published a Scientific American cover story on the physics of the violin.

Measuring Violin Sound Radiation Using an Impact Hammer

An impact-hammer-based system for measuring violin and viola sound spectra in a workshop setting is described, along with an overview of some of the practical and theoretical problems involved. In this system, the violin is held vertically while a miniature, pendulum-mounted…

Good Vibrations: Signature modes of Old Italian violins & violas, Part II

In the second of a two-part series, Joseph Curtin continues his investigation of the low-frequency resonances that influence a violin’s acoustic behaviour.

Scent of a Violin: Signature modes of Old Italian violins & violas, Part I

In the first of a two-part series, Joseph Curtin investigates one of the low-frequency resonances that help define a violin’s acoustic perfume, and explains how studying it can benefit makers.

Man With a Van: A profile of Oliver Rodgers

One Saturday morning in 1994, retired engineer and violin acoustics researcher Oliver Rodgers parked his Ford pickup outside the renowned Philadelphia firm of William Moennig & Son…

Tap Tones and Weights of Old Italian Violin Tops

The tap tones of Old Italian violin tops and backs have long interested makers and researchers, both as clues to how the classical makers graduated their instruments, and as guides for graduating instruments today.

Subject to Change: Innovation among violinmakers

The violin is often hailed as a perfect design – though more often by makers and dealers than by working violinists, who must cope on a daily basis with the imperfections of their particular instruments.

Jim Woodhouse and the Violin Bridge

At the stately, historical William Penn Hotel in the once-sooty, now cleanly-scrubbed city of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, members of the American Federation of Violin and Bow Makers gather for their 2005 convention: three days of lectures, exhibitions, panel discussions, and banquets.

Bridge Tuning: Methods and Equipment

The frequency of a violin bridge’s lowest lateral resonance to some extent controls the brightness of the instrument. This frequency can be measured by holding the bridge feet in a relatively massive clamp, touching a piezoelectric sensor to an upper corner, and then“plucking” the bridge with a fingernail.

Otto Erdesz Remembered

Late one afternoon in the summer of 1975, I cycled from the restaurant where I worked to an address in Toronto’s newly fashionable Yorkville area. A beautiful woman with an Israeli accent greeted me from the top of the stairs. She told me her name was Rivka, and that Otto would be down in a minute.

Gabriel Weinreich and Directional Tone Color

“When I say I study violin acoustics,” says Gabriel Weinreich, Professor Emeritus at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and preeminent figure in the world of musical acoustics, “people ask me if I’ve found the ‘Secret of Stradivari.’

Selected Articles by Joseph Curtin

Listener evaluations of new and Old Italian violins
Stradivari in Paris
The Strad, June 2017
The violin studying the influence of model by means of a free sorting task
The violin: studying the influence of model by means of a free sorting task
International Symposium on Musical and Room Acoustics, September 2016, PDF
Maud Powell’s Violin
The Strad, May 2016
The Strad, August 2005
VSA Papers, Summer 2005
Bridge Tuning: Methods and Equipment
VSA Papers, Summer 2005, PDF
The Strad, November 2000
Otto Erdesz Remembered
The Strad, November 2000
Proceedings, International Symposium of Musical Acoustics (ISMA), July 1998
Innovation in Violinmaking
Proceedings, International Symposium of Musical Acoustics (ISMA), July 1998