Probing the Secrets of the Finest Fiddles

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Science  18 Jun 2010:
Vol. 328, Issue 5985, pp. 1468-1470
DOI: 10.1126/science.328.5985.1468

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The Vieuxtemps, a fiddle named after a previous owner and crafted by Bartolomeo Giuseppe Antonio Guarneri, who, along with Antonio Stradivari, is widely considered the best violinmaker ever to have lived, is a superior instrument, a piece of 18th century art, a potential investment, a legend. It's also the subject of scientific study. A team of violinmakers and scientists has put the Vieuxtemps and three other famous violins through tests including computed tomography scans and acoustic measurements. They hope to pinpoint traits that distinguish a great violin from a good one or a Stradivarius from a Guarneri. The project also highlights an emerging trend within violinmaking. For decades, the instrument has fascinated a small community of scientists and engineers. Now, even as the scientific experts age and retire, some leading violinmakers are adopting their conceptual tools and experimental methods and taking a decidedly more scientific approach to their centuries-old craft.