Making copies: Sounds like a match?
If someone makes an exact copy of a Stradivari, will it sound like a Stradivari? Sam Zygmuntowicz attempts to answer the question by making duplicates of the ‘Titian’ and ‘Willemotte’ Strads, as well as the ‘Plowden’ Guarneri ‘del Gesù’
This article first appeared in our November 2021 issue
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Violin makers have flirted with science for a long time, and that relationship has only intensified with the passing years. In 2009 my project ‘Strad3D’ brought together the 1715 ‘Titian’ Stradivari, the 1735 ‘Plowden’ Guarneri ‘del Gesù’ and the 1734 ‘Willemotte’ Stradivari in Dr George Bissinger’s lab, where they underwent 3D laser vibration scanning, CT scanning and sound analysis, to which we added traditional photos and measurements, plus musical reference recordings.
With research like this, there are certain questions that sceptics always ask. Does acoustic analysis deepen our understanding in a useful way? Can new violins really capture the characteristics of old instruments? Does all this inquiry actually help us make better instruments? To find out, I decided to use the Strad3D resources to make faithful copies of those three original violins. Perceptions of any violin can be intensely individual, and vary with the player, repertoire or venue. But as models for my new instruments, I endeavoured to consider the three originals not just as individual specimens but as a grouping, to compare and contrast construction details and the resulting sound.
In this article, I’ll first examine the old violins, and describe my own process while constructing the new instruments. I’ll briefly explore sound and timbre subjectively and analytically. Finally I’ll compare the finished copies to each other, and to their original models. Will they show the same relative colours of sound as the original models?
Qualified scientific researchers associated with the Oberlin Violin Acoustics Workshop have added greatly to our basic understandings of sound and violin function. But for makers to answer their own questions at the bench, we must venture on to thin ice, to draw our own ideas from the violins that we study. Pure science is not my process and perspective here, but rather analytical speculation based on personal observations, to be taken as such…