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Joseph Curtin

Joseph Curtin
EducationOtto Erdesz
Known forViolinmaker
MovementViolin Society of America
AwardsMacArthur 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 luthiery

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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