Northwestern Partners With Scientists, Engineers and Instrument Makers for CT Scan on Collection of Rare, 300-Year-Old Violins
This week technologists at Northwestern Memorial Hospital performed CT scans (formally called computerized tomography) on several unlikely subjects: four historic violins dating back to the mid-1700’s and valued at approximately $36 million collectively. One of the instruments was the $18 million “Vieuxtemps” Guarneri del Gesu, considered the “Mona Lisa” of violins. A team of scientists, sound engineers and violin experts led by violin maker Joseph Curtin met at Northwestern where the CT scans were performed to identify how the instruments function and to evaluate the current quality of sound production of each. Only recently have violin dealers begun collaborating with scientists in unlocking the secrets of great Italian instruments.
“CT scans have proven to be an extremely valuable tool in studying musical instruments,” said Terry Borman, a violin maker and CT expert involved with the study. “The key is that it’s done in a non-invasive way.”
“Although this is the first time we’ve performed a scan on a rare violin, it’s not the only time that our team has tested historical artifacts, such as paintings and sculptures,” said Vahid Yaghmai, MD, medical director of radiology at Northwestern Memorial. “We are pleased to assist in the efforts to discover more information about these exceptional instruments.”
A CT scan combines a series of X-ray views taken from many different angles to produce cross-sectional images of the subject. The images that result are virtual slices, similar to a loaf of sliced bread. The slices can be examined individually or 3-D images of the entire “loaf” can be generated as well.
In the case of the violin, a CT scan provides the closest possible scrutiny of several elements of instrument design such as the shape of the overall outline of the instrument, curves or arching of the front and back plates, thickness and density of the wood, and the variations in thickness and density. Previously the instruments were examined using tools that could potentially scratch or damage the surface and yielded a relatively small amount of information compared to the CT. The “Vieuxtemps” violin is offered by Bein & Fushi Rare Violins of Chicago and is currently for sale.
“The study is fascinating because of what it can do for modern violin makers to expand their knowledge base; they’ll have a perfect fingerprint of some of the world’s finest instruments,” said Geoffrey Fushi, of Bein & Fushi Rare Violins.