When radiologist Steve Sirr from FirstLight Medical Systems in Minnesota ended up with a violin in the emergency room, he couldn't help putting it through an X-ray computed tomography (CT) scan. But it was more than a one-off experiment: the idea led him to team up with two violin makers to create the most accurate replicas to date of a Stradivarius violin.
Using the 3D scanning technology, Sirr and his team were able to determine the precise shape, rib structure, wood density and volume of air inside a Betts Stradivarius violin. In this video, you can fly around a psychedelic 3D model of its body that they produced from the scans.
To create a replica, the virtual model is fed to a bespoke Computer Numerical Control (CNC) machine designed by violinmaker Steve Rossow, another member of the team. Based on the images, the device directs a lathe and carves each piece of the violin out of various types of wood. Then the segments are assembled and varnished by hand.
Thanks to the new technique, copies are so realistic that the team has branded each piece to prevent counterfeiting. Previously, replicas were produced by accessing an instrument for a short period of time and using a traced outline of the violin.
The team has just completed their fourth copy of the Stradivarius but it won't be the last. "Nowadays, musicians aren't able to afford their own Stradivarius anymore," says Rossow. "It's important for musicians to have access to these things."
The researchers will be presenting their findings at the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA) annual meeting this week in Chicago.
If you enjoyed this video, see how hand-hacking is helping budding musicians or check out the discovery of the Oram synthesizer, a pioneering electronic instrument.