Digital Amati: project luthier

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A decade ago, François Denis’s Traité de Lutherie showed how the old Italians used Euclidean geometry to design their instruments. Now a computer program based on these principles allows luthiers to construct and adapt patterns quickly and easily. Its creator, Harry Mairson, explains the genesis of Digital Amati

For several years now, makers of violin-family instruments have been finding new and different ways of incorporating 21st-century science into an age-old craft. CT scanning, fine acoustic measurements and progress in wood technology have all played their part in advancing the art of the luthier but, so far, the possibilities offered by computer science have been relatively unexplored. A new software project, which has been in development since 2012, seeks both to aid makers in designing classical stringed instruments, and to help researchers in their understanding of stringed-instrument forms.

In just the past few years, the so-called ‘Digital Amati’ software has been utilised in a number of innovative ways. I used it to design a version of the 1700 ‘Cristiani, Stauffer’ Stradivari cello, scaling the instrument down proportionally from its original 770mm length and 417mm stop, to 740mm and 400mm respectively; we discovered that reducing it in this fashion resulted in most dimensions (except the lower bout length) ending up similar to those of Stradivari’s later B-form models. At the 2015 Oberlin violin making workshop we used CNC technology from this redesign to produce commensurate internal forms; versions of this reduced-size Stradivari have now been made by at least five of the participants that year, including myself. A year later, the software was used in the design of the ‘Obiealto’ viola (The Strad, November 2016), where I assisted the Oberlin makers in experimenting quickly with numerous variants in the viola form.

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