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X-ray Computed Tomography of Bowed Stringed Instruments

Steven A. Sirr, John R. Waddle
From: Medical Problems of Performing Artists: Volume 14 Number 1: Page 8 (March 1999)

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Abstract: Since 1988, more than 150 bowed stringed instruments, ranging in quality from inexpensive student instruments to exquisite old Italian violins crafted by Antonio Stradivari and Nicolò Amati, were analyzed with x-ray computed tomography (CT). CT evaluation yields high-resolution, cross-sectional images of normal stringed instrument structure, damage (cracks, wormholes, and wood deformity), and repair (glue, filler material, wooden cleats, and patches). Significant differences of normal structure are noted between Cremona masterpieces and inexpensive student instruments. Accurate, noninvasive measurements of wood thickness and density can be easily obtained with CT (p , 0.0001). Damage greater than was expected by visual inspection was detected in nine of 12 soloist-quality instruments more than 100 years old. This damage ranged from a few internal wormholes (67% of instruments) to extensive lattice of wormholes and repair (8% of instruments). CT scanning of old tone wood prior to carving may reveal various internal defects such as pitch defects and softening of wood from fungal infestations. Three-dimensional (3D) volume-reconstructed CT images provide "virtual violins," and accurate plastic models may be generated from routine CT data. Because of the complexity of CT imaging and interpretation, the authors believe that CT scanning of bowed stringed instruments should be interpreted by experts qualified in radiology and the art of violin making. In conclusion, CT provides the modern luthier with a unique noninvasive tool that is able to characterize normal instrument structure, damage, and repair. The authors believe that CT-derived information can be used to accurately reproduce original masterpieces. CT analysis should be considered prior to purchase of expensive stringed instruments

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