Replicating a Stradivarius

How’s this for a use of  technology?

A Stradivarius violin has been “recreated” using an X-ray scanner normally used to detect cancers and injuries, according to researchers.

The US-based group used a computerised axial tomography (CAT) scanner on the 307-year-old instrument to reveal its secrets.

They then used the data recovered to build “nearly exact copies”.

The team said the technique could be used to give musicians access to rare musical equipment. . . .

Scans of the older instruments revealed worm holes, small cracks and other damage that helped create their distinctive sounds.

Eventually the two men [Steven Sirr and John Waddle] borrowed a Stradivarius known as “Betts” from the US Library of Congress which still had an original label placed by its Italian creator, Antonio Stradivari, inside its body.

Teaming up with another violin maker, Steve Rossow, they proceeded to create three replicas.

To do this they took more than 1,000 CAT scan images from the original instrument and converted them into a file format used to resemble three-dimensional object in computer-aided design (CAD) software.

“We used the scans to determine the density of the woods that made up the violin – that could only otherwise be done if the violin was dissected and measured – and of course that would never happen,” Dr Sirr said.

The files were then fed into a CNC (computer numerical control) machine. It used the data to carve the violins’ back and front plates, neck and the “scroll” carving at the neck’s end using various woods picked to match the originals as closely as possible.

These were then assembled and varnished by hand.

“The copies are amazingly similar to originals in their sound quality,” said Dr Sirr.

“When we make the violin we copy the changes that have occurred over more than 300 years including the shifts in the wood – the small deformations in the front and back plates that occur over time because of the forces of the strings and the other parts of the violin.”

Dr Sirr said he hoped to repeat the process with other antique instruments and hoped that his work would one day pave the way for students to have access to “nearly exact copies” of the originals.

The dean of the world-famous Juilliard school in New York, welcomed the possibility.

“Every string player graduating from any great conservatory faces an immense crisis of how do you obtain a violin that is at the level that you need to have a really first rate career,” said Ara Guzelimian.

CAT scanner CAT scans are more commonly used to diagnose tumours, cancers and infections

“With the inflation of prices of rare old violins – and obviously Stradivari at the top of that list – it’s far out of the reach of anyone but investors and investment trusts. So if there was a way of putting a superb violin in the hands of a young violinist at a fraction of the cost it would be a huge step forward.”

A well-preserved Stradivarius known as the Lady Blunt was sold in June for $15.9m (£10.2m) at a charity auction.

via BBC News – Antique Stradivarius violin ‘replicated’ by radiologist.

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • Jon

    Cool.

    But these guys better keep it on the low down, as the feds are cracking down hard on counterfeiters!

  • Jon

    Cool.

    But these guys better keep it on the low down, as the feds are cracking down hard on counterfeiters!

  • Kirk

    I wonder how much it costs to make a reproduction.

    If memory serves me right, Yamaha did their own reproduction a few years ago that was just equal to a Stradivarius in a blind listening.

  • Kirk

    I wonder how much it costs to make a reproduction.

    If memory serves me right, Yamaha did their own reproduction a few years ago that was just equal to a Stradivarius in a blind listening.

  • http://www.redeemedrambling.blogspot.com/ John

    This is awesome!

  • http://www.redeemedrambling.blogspot.com/ John

    This is awesome!

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Hmm. I get that you could use a CAT scan to determine wood density, thickness, etc. — and with that data construct a new violin with pieces of wood of equal (or similar) density and thickness.

    But the article also mentions “worm holes, small cracks and other damage that helped create their distinctive sounds”. I’m rather suspicious that the computer-controlled carving machine was able to reproduce these minute features, as well.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Hmm. I get that you could use a CAT scan to determine wood density, thickness, etc. — and with that data construct a new violin with pieces of wood of equal (or similar) density and thickness.

    But the article also mentions “worm holes, small cracks and other damage that helped create their distinctive sounds”. I’m rather suspicious that the computer-controlled carving machine was able to reproduce these minute features, as well.

  • Spaulding

    Of course the most important part of the violin isn’t the instrument but the player. A story is told about a Heifetz giving a master class was talking to a student about tone and she said that is easy for you to say you are playing on a Stradivarius I am playing on a cheap cigar box. Wordlessly Heifetz took the students violin and played a the piece in question, sounded like he always does , handed the violin back to the student and said, “so.”

  • Spaulding

    Of course the most important part of the violin isn’t the instrument but the player. A story is told about a Heifetz giving a master class was talking to a student about tone and she said that is easy for you to say you are playing on a Stradivarius I am playing on a cheap cigar box. Wordlessly Heifetz took the students violin and played a the piece in question, sounded like he always does , handed the violin back to the student and said, “so.”

  • http://www.bikebubba.blogspot.com bike bubba

    I was wondering when someone would come up with the idea of using an end mill to make a great violin! Very cool, though as tODD says, you aren’t exactly going to replicate a 1mm circuitous worm hole that way.

    Regarding the quality of the instrument, my family had the pleasure of learning from a luthier (violin-maker) about the instruments, and he graciously let my oldest daughter play a little on a series of violins–each new one about 2x as expensive as the previous up to about $5k or so(he both makes violins from scratch and also reworks factory made violins so that the player has what he needs).

    As far as I could tell, the difference as you go up in price is that the attacks (beginning of a note) become MUCH sharper as you go up in price, and the overall volume of the instrument goes up with price, too. In other words, you’re paying more for (among other things) the improved resonance of the instrument–and in such a way that it doesn’t sound like it’s made out of tin or something.

  • http://www.bikebubba.blogspot.com bike bubba

    I was wondering when someone would come up with the idea of using an end mill to make a great violin! Very cool, though as tODD says, you aren’t exactly going to replicate a 1mm circuitous worm hole that way.

    Regarding the quality of the instrument, my family had the pleasure of learning from a luthier (violin-maker) about the instruments, and he graciously let my oldest daughter play a little on a series of violins–each new one about 2x as expensive as the previous up to about $5k or so(he both makes violins from scratch and also reworks factory made violins so that the player has what he needs).

    As far as I could tell, the difference as you go up in price is that the attacks (beginning of a note) become MUCH sharper as you go up in price, and the overall volume of the instrument goes up with price, too. In other words, you’re paying more for (among other things) the improved resonance of the instrument–and in such a way that it doesn’t sound like it’s made out of tin or something.


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