Research conducted by AGH UST acoustic engineers will support luthiers

Modular guitar - AGH UST student’s Master’s project

Modular guitar measurements being conducted in AGH UST echoless chamber

An acoustic engineering student at AGH UST is currently conducting research into the modular guitar. Its specialised construction will make it possible to determine the impact of individual elements of the instrument on its acoustic parameters. Knowledge of this relationship is crucial for luthiers, who, knowing these details, will be able to create instruments that will be – literally  better fine-tuned to the individual needs of musicians.

For centuries, luthiers have created musical instruments relying mostly on the experience of their predecessors combined with their own musical intuition. In the case of the violin, the optimum construction has already been worked out, yet younger instruments – like the classical guitar – have not reached their definitive shape yet. Their construction process is constantly evolving while the knowledge we possess today makes it possible to add changes and improvements faster than ever before, which is – at least partly – thanks to science and research into the acoustics of musical instruments, which is done using all available tools. For a number of years, the craftsmen who produce instruments have argued as to the extent to which the particular elements of the guitar are important and relevant to its sound, while scientists have been trying to address this issue from their own perspective. This is also the purpose of research conducted by Monika Sobolewska, currently 5th. year student of acoustic engineering, as part of requirements for her Master’s degree. The Project Coordinators are Adam Pilch, DSc. and Professor Tadeusz Kamisiński of the Technical Acoustics Laboratory, Department of Mechanics and Vibroacoustics. The project is co-authored by a Kraków-based luthier – Piotr Aleksander Nowak.

The structure of the modular guitar incorporates all traditional elements of the classical instrument. Where the two constructions differ is how the boards are joined with the sides and how the guitar’s neck is mounted. Instead of gluing the body, the instrument’s creators have used push-in joints inspired by Japanese techniques of wood joinery. The modular solution will enable the researchers to undertake comprehensive research and measurements of a wide range of acoustic parameters. The research is being conducted in the echoless chamber of the Faculty of Mechanics and Vibroacoustics. In addition, the research into the properties of the guitar involves a robot designed by Mikołaj Wilczyński – student of automation engineering and robotics. The robot’s task is to remotely pluck the guitar’s string in the right position. The fact that the solution is fully automated will enable measurements based on emitting repeatable sound, which should underlie the objective analysis of its parameters.

Using the research method proposed by our student, one will be able now to determine the relationship between the construction of an instrument and its acoustic parameters. This, in turn, will be of great importance to luthiers – thanks to the specific knowledge, they will be able to create even more superb instruments based not only on many years’ experience but also on hard scientific data. Piotr Aleksander Nowak, the luthier involved in the research project of our student, has observed that:
 Luthiery is a craft at the borders of engineering and art. It is not our intention to strip luthiery of the magic that accompanies making musical instruments. Still, our project will help us dispel several myths related to guitar construction. Armed with knowledge, and not only intuition, it will be easier to fine-tune instruments to the specific expectations of musicians who will play them, which is how the research will benefit the very artists too.