Oberlin Workshop

Oberlin Workshop

The VSA-Oberlin Acoustics Workshop

The VSA-Oberlin Acoustics workshop brings together violin-makers and researchers for a week of hands-on projects, talks, and demonstrations. Now in its 18th year, the 2019 session will run concurrently with the first week of the violin and bow making workshops, allowing opportunities for joint projects. The dates are June 22nd – 28th. Places are limited. If you wish to attend, please contact Fan Tao.

2019 Workshop Overview

Continuing our practice of integrating high-level musical performance into the workshop, the eminent violinist Aaron Boyd (formerly of the Escher Quartet) will step in for Nathan Giem as Acting Music Director. He and other artists (to be announced) will take part in experiments, give feedback on participant instruments, and present two recitals using violins, violas, and cellos from the workshop.

Below are three topics we are considering for the upcoming session. Other possibilities are currently being explored. Please let us know where your interests lie, and if you have a project of your own you would like to pursue.

Space in the workshop is limited, so if you’d like to come, please contact Fan Tao as soon as possible to reserve a place.

2014 Oberlin workshop

Photo: Cristian Fatu

Acoustics of the neck and fingerboard

Over the past decade there has been a surge of interest in modifying the necks and fingerboards of violin family instruments. Some makers routinely reinforce necks with carbon-fiber inserts. Others, in face of dwindling supplies of ebony, have been experimenting with alternative fingerboard materials. And the practice of A0-B0 matching (where the fingerboard’s ‘flapping’ frequency is tuned to that of A0) continues to have its advocates.

In this session we will review existing research on the neck-fingerboard system and its effects on the sound and feel of an instrument. We will explore neck reinforcement and A0-B0 matching experimentally using participant instruments. Swiss maker Boris Haug will bring fingerboards made from compressed maple and spruce for participants to try. American maker Thomas Croen will talk about his many years of experience in tuning fingerboards. And Cambridge scientist Jim Woodhouse will explain (via Skype) what happens when one resonance is coupled to another – a key to understanding how fingerboard resonances can affect the rest of the instrument.


Projection, or how well an instrument can be heard at a distance, is of primary importance to violin soloists, and yet players are more often required to blend into, rather than carry over, an ensemble. What qualities in an instrument facilitate blending in? Are “blendability” and projection opposites, or can an individual instrument combine both? Informal demonstrations and conversations will be backed up with formal listening tests.


The playability of an instrument, while undeniably important to the player, is surprisingly difficult to quantify. The measurement most closely associated with playability is bridge admittance (which describes how much the bridge moves for a given force at the bridge, across the instrument’s frequency range), but just how do we interpret an admittance measurement to shed light on playability? Do players agree on which instruments in a group are the most playable? And what can the violin-maker do to influence playability? Jim Woodhouse is the leading expert in this field, and will give a presentation via Skype.

Oberlin Workshop, Class of 2014

Class of 2014. Photo: Cristian Fatu

Faculty Bios

This year’s faculty includes Joseph Curtin, Evan Davis, Claudia Fritz, Colin Gough, George Stoppani, and Fan-Chia Tao. Jim Woodhouse will join us via Skype.

Joseph Curtin, co-director of the Workshop, is a violinmaker, researcher, and writer whose making interests extend from traditional instruments to experimental ones using alternative materials and architectures. Curtin has collaborated with many researchers, including Gabriel Weinreich, Claudia Fritz, and Charles Besnainou. He has delivered colloquia at the physics departments of Stanford, Princeton, and Cornell universities, and contributes regularly to The Strad. He is co-author with Claudia Fritz of three papers published in the Periodical of the National Academy of Sciences, and he co-wrote with Thomas Rossing the chapter on violin acoustics in the Springer textbook, “The Science of Musical Instruments.” In 2005, Curtin was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship. He lives and works just outside Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Evan Davis was a Technical Fellow at the Boeing Commercial Aircraft Company, where he led their structural acoustics research group. He is a recognized expert in the field of Statistical Energy Analysis, a method for modeling and analyzing complex structural acoustic responses in the mid-to-high audio frequency range. His early fascination with guitars led to the construction of several instruments, and to a PhD in guitar acoustics from the University of Washington. He joined the Catgut Acoustical Society in 1976, and is on the Editorial Board of the VSA. Davis has worked with some of world’s leading guitar builders on ‘out of the box’ projects. He performs with several bands as a jazz drummer and a gypsy jazz guitarist.

Claudia Fritz is a CNRS-researcher in Paris, and a member of the Lutherie-Acoustics-Music team at the University Pierre & Marie Curie. Following her post-doctoral work at the University of Cambridge (UK), she has been investigating the correlations between player/listener perceptions and measured acoustical properties. Her recent work with double-blind studies involving new and old violins has gained widespread international attention and the publication of three papers in the Periodical of the National Academy of Sciences.

Aaron Boyd has established an international career as soloist, chamber musician, concertmaster, recording artist, teacher, and lecturer. He was a member of the Escher String Quartet for five seasons, and with them was awarded the Avery Fisher Career Grant. Boyd’s passionate interest in the violin and its history has made him a sought-after lecturer on the golden-age violinists and their instruments. A former faculty member of Columbia University and the University of Arizona, Boyd now teaches violin and directs the chamber music program at the Meadows School of the Arts at Southern Methodist University. He performs on the “ex Stopak” Matteo Goffriller violin, made in Venice in 1700.

Colin Gough is an Emeritus Professor of Physics at the University of Birmingham, England, where he headed the UK’s largest interdisciplinary research group on superconductivity. An avid amateur violinist, he led the University’s Hayward String Quartet and many other local chamber and orchestral groups. Gough has enjoyed a long-term interest in violin acoustics and the factors determining sound quality. In addition to teaching Musical Acoustics, he has published major research articles on vibrating strings, the wolf note, and vibrato – from both the scientific and the player/listener points of view. In 2001, Gough received the annual Science Writing Award for Professionals in Acoustics for an article about violin acoustics. He wrote the Musical Acoustics section of a major Handbook on Acoustics published by Springer, and has recently published several important papers describing and explaining the vibrations and sounds of the violin and related instruments.

George Stoppani studied Literature and Music at York University before turning to instrument making in the mid-seventies. His early work, mostly with period instruments, led to his fouding “Real Guts,” a quasi-cooperative gut string manufacturing venture, which he continues to run. Stoppani builds mainly modern violins, but has also made cellos and basses. His deep interest in the acoustics of violin-family instruments led him to write software for modal analysis and other sophisticated acoustical measurements. An invited speaker at the SMAC13 conference in Stockholm, he has given talks at numerous workshops and conferences in the United States and Europe, and has written for the Strad and the CAS journal. Stoppani is based in Manchester, England, but frequently collaborates with other makers and researchers in Europe and the USA.

Fan-Chia Tao, co-director of the Acoustics Workshop, is Director of Research and Development at D’Addario & Company, where he designs strings for bowed-string instruments and guitars. His deep interest in violin acoustics was fostered by his mentor Norman Pickering, who originally invited him to join D’Addario. Tao is an accomplished amateur violinist and violist with an abiding interest in chamber music. He holds electrical engineering degrees from Caltech and Princeton University, is a Trustee of the CAS Forum (formerly the Catgut Acoustical Society) and a past President of the Violin Society of America.

Jim Woodhouse, Professor Emeritus at Cambridge University, England, is a leading figure in violin research, and has done foundational work on the bowed-string and other aspects of violin acoustics. His first degree was in mathematics, but a hobby interest in building instruments led to a PhD in violin acoustics from Cambridge. He worked for an engineering consultancy on a variety of problems in structural vibration, then in 1985 he joined Cambridge’s University’s Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics, first as Lecturer, then Reader, then Professor. His research interests all involve vibration, and musical instruments have been a major focus. Woodhouse lives in Cambridge, England, and though now retired, he continues to work on stringed instrument acoustics.

General Information

When: The optional Introductory Lectures will take place 1-5 PM on Saturday, June 22th. Friday night housing is available for those arriving early. Otherwise, please plan to arrive at 6 PM Saturday for a welcome dinner and introductory meeting. Full activities begin Sunday morning. As a result of participant feedback, we have extended the duration of the workshop to end late afternoon Friday June 28th. Departure is that evening or on Saturday.

Where: Oberlin, Ohio, is a college town about 30 miles from Cleveland, a half-hour drive from the Cleveland International Airport. Shuttle service is available to and from the airport. Workshop activities and accommodations are in the air-conditioned Kahn Residence Hall.

Meals: Cold breakfasts are available at Kahn for a small additional fee. Lunches are on your own, with many restaurants in easy walking distance. Dinners are served next-door to Kahn at Stevenson dining hall.

Fees: $1,150 includes tuition, an air-conditioned single dorm room, and six dinners. Participants must be current members of the Violin Society of America. Contact the VSA at www.vsaweb.org or call (972) 233-9107, ext. 224 for membership information. A $400 deposit is due by April 10th, and the $750 balance by May 10th. Credit credits accepted. Oberlin College will contact accepted participants with payment instructions. Some financial aid is available for qualified applicants. Please contact Fan Tao with inquiries.

Fan Tao
R&D Director
D’Addario & Company, Inc.
595 Smith Street
Farmingdale, NY 11735
T: 631.439.3270