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Joseph Curtin

Joseph Curtin
Nationality American
Education Otto Erdesz
Known for Violinmaker
Movement Violin Society of America
Awards MacArthur Fellows Program

Joseph Curtin is an American contemporary violinmaker who lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

He was a 2005 recipient of a MacArthur Fellows Program "genius grant".[1] He has also directed workshops on violin design through the Violin Society of America, a group of builders.

Curtin is known[by whom?] for using technology such as MRIs, Lasers, and other scanning devices to measure the acoustics of violins, to aid in his designs.[2][3] Curtin uses the information gathered to create replicas of famous antique violins, as well as research for more avante-garde designs including instruments made out of carbon fibre.[4]

Early luthery

Joseph first learned violin making from Otto Erdesz, who was married to his viola teacher. Erdesz gave Curtin material for his first twenty violins.

Curtin & Alf

Curtin was co-founder with Gregg Alf of the firm Curtin & Alf. In 1993, a Curtin and Alf violin made for Elmar Oliveira set a record at a Sotheby's auction for the highest price paid for a violin by a living maker.[5] Alf and Curtin dissolved their partnership after twelve years, but occasionally collaborate on a project together.

Player preferences among new and old violins

In 2010, Caudia Fritz and Curtin organized a double-blind study which was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in which 21 professional violinists tried to identify which violins were old (including 2 Stradivarius and a Guarneri), and which were new, and which they preferred.[6] 13 of the 21 violinists preferred the new violins. One of the Stradivarius violins was the least preferred.[7] The violinists could not reliably identify which instruments were old, and which were new.[8]

Earl Carlyss, a member of the Juilliard String Quartet, was critical of the study saying "It’s a totally inappropriate way of finding out the quality of these instruments", and that what makes the older violins better is how they sound to an audience in a concert hall, not if the violinist likes it, in a hotel room.[9]

John Soloninka, who was one of the violinists who played in the study, said "It was fascinating. I too, expected to be able to tell the difference, but could not" and that "If, after this, you cling to picayune critiques and dismiss the study, then I think you are in denial. If 21 of us could not tell in controlled circumstances and 1500 people could not tell any differences in a hall, and this is consistent with past studies...then it is time to put the myths out to pasture."[10]

In a similar 1977 experiment, Isaac Stern and Pinchas Zukerman and a classical violin dealer Charles Beare listened to a Stradivarius, a Guarneri, and a (then modern) 1976 British violin. They were also unable to identify which instrument was which, and two of them mistakenly identified the 1976 violin as the Stradivarius.[11]

Digital recreation of violin sound

Curtin worked with Gabi Weinreich, John Bell and Alex Sobolev to capture the sound characteristics of many classic violins. They used this data to create a signal processor, that could convert the sound produced by a standard digital violin, and make it sound like a Stradivarius or other classic violin. Neuroscientist Daniel Levitin and author of "This is your brain on music" was presented with recordings of an actual Stradivarius and a recording of a processed violin, and guessed incorrectly as to which was the classic violin.[12]

Notable players

The following are notable violinists who use or have used violins made by Joseph Curtin.


  1. ^ Shave, Nick. "An instrument maker and a scientist talk about their passion for violin physics" (PDF). The Strad. Archived from the original (PDF) on April 30, 2012. Retrieved January 3, 2012.
  2. ^ Revkin, Andrew (November 28, 2006). "String Theory: New Approaches to Instrument Design". NY Times. Retrieved January 3, 2012.
  3. ^ Curtin, Joseph. "Measuring Violin Sound Radiation Using an Impact Hammer" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on April 30, 2012. Retrieved January 3, 2012.
  4. ^ "The Science of Sound: Examining the Role of Materials in Musical Instruments". Retrieved January 3, 2012.
  5. ^ Taylor, Kate (November 5, 1993). "Strad Copy Sets Sotheby's Record". The Globe and Mail. Archived from the original on December 29, 2011. Retrieved January 3, 2012.
  6. ^ "Double-Blind Violin Test: Can You Pick The Strad?". NPR. Retrieved January 3, 2012.
  7. ^ "Stradivariusa po dźwięku nie poznacie..." Retrieved January 3, 2012.
  8. ^ "Stradivari voller Klang oder nur klangvoller Name?". Deutschlandradio. Retrieved January 3, 2012.
  9. ^ Wade, Nicholas (January 2, 2012). "In Classic vs. Modern Violins, Beauty Is in Ear of the Beholder". NY Times. Retrieved January 3, 2012.
  10. ^ "Violinists can't tell the difference between Stradivarius violins and new ones". Discover Magazine. Retrieved January 3, 2012.
  11. ^ "Million-dollar Stradivarius loses out in play-off with modern violin". Sydney Morning Herald. January 4, 2012. Retrieved January 3, 2012.
  12. ^ []

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