Your Fiddle's Secrets Revealed-For a Price and with Hi-Tech Tools
Sullivan, Patrick, Strings
As instrument prices rise, an Arkansas luthier offers a new business furnishing a more complete picture of your instrument's true nature
Imagine you're buying a house. You're about to fork over $500,000- or maybe three or four times that. Do you close the deal without having an independent expert use the latest techniques to determine whether the building has a termite infestation or a damaged foundation?
No way, says Arkansas luthier Terry Borman. "And if the seller of the house said, 'I'll take care of the appraisal - let's just close the deal,' I think most people would be uncomfortable with that," Borman says. "Yet that's often the way it works for stringed instruments right now."
His solution is Instrumental Insight, his new business that uses computed tomography (CT) scanning, as well as dendrochronology and ultraviolet varnish analysis, to examine violins, violas, cellos, and virtually any other instrument made of wood. "The purpose is to give a completely independent evaluation," he says.
A trip to the hospital kicks things off. "We have access to CT equipment in just about any city in the world, so we go to where the musician or dealer is," Borman explains.
After placing the instrument in a foam cradle and scanning it, ? or man's team uses specialized software to turn data into thickness maps, elevation maps, and other images. This analysis can reveal important secrets that otherwise may be difficult to find, such as a top with areas of thinning wood or a soundpost patch beneath a breast patch.
"Patches fail," Borman says. "But if you didn't know about patches underneath patches, you wouldn't even know where to look to fix a problem like a buzz." Borman's company also offers dendrochronology reports, which use tree-ring analysis to establish the earliest probable manufacturing date, and UV varnish analysis, which can reveal where touchup varnish has been applied, for example.
"CT scans have their uses," appraiser Philip Kass notes. …