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Carbon Copying the ‘Stradivarius’ Sound

  • Friday, 11th September 2009
  • Reading time: about 3 minutes

Researchers at The University of Nottingham have used carbon fibre technology to produce a violin which they aim to rival the sound of a traditionally-made Stradivarius.

Special Professor John Dominy, Department of Mechanical, Materials and Manufacturing Engineering, collaborated with violin-maker Peter Killingback and a team of researchers to produce a prototype carbon fibre violin which was unveiled at the International Conference on Composite Materials in Edinburgh.

The composite violin is made up of five carbon fibre parts; front panel, back panel, rib and left and right halves of the neck and peg box. (The wooden fingerboard was been retained so that the violin feels as normal as possible to the player). The component parts were produced by making a mould in MDF on a Computer Numerical Controlled milling machine using data measurements from the original Lord Wilton violin. The moulds were then rubbed down by hand, primed and spray-painted to give a highly polished finish.

Layers of carbon fibre ‘fabric’ impregnated with epoxy resin were laid into the mould and then vacuum-cured in an oven to set. Water-jet cutters were used to produce the ‘f’ shaped holes in the front panel. Each part was then machine finished and bonded together with epoxy adhesives.

Up to present, other stringed instruments have been made out of composite materials including a carbon fibre laminate, but the team says that little significant research has been carried out on how to create a consistent, high-quality sound with robust and hardwearing manmade materials.

Over the past year Professor Dominy has led a programme of analytical work to develop an instrument with vibration and acoustic characteristics to match a high quality traditional violin.

The team believes that a carbon fibre-epoxy resin composite would be a cheaper and more reliable material, with a much faster manufacturing time.

Professor Dominy said, “There’s been much research over the years on how modern wooden violinmakers can reproduce the sound of the Italian masters of the 17th and 18th centuries, but almost none on the serious use of alternative materials like carbon fibre at the high end of the market. Our prototype is already impressing violinists who’ve tried it. We now want to continue testing to ensure a top quality violin with an excellent sound before joining forces with a local manufacturer to test the market.”

The violin project has been funded by the Nottingham Innovative Manufacturing Research Centre (NIMRC), based at the University. It has taken nine months of research to develop, with help from specialist manufacturer Carbon Concepts Ltd.

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