Category: Construction Materials
Published on Friday, 15 January 2010 17:37
Written by Bruce Gale
Musicians often express strong opinions about the type of materials their instruments should be made of. Very often, a particular type of wood or metal is regarded as critical in determining the timbre of high quality wind instruments. A perusal of the catalogues of many well-known manufacturers suggests that commercial designers agree. This is a very controversial area, however. Since the late nineteenth century, generations of sceptical scientists have sought to challenge these ideas by conducting double blind tests involving musical instruments made out of paper, plastic and even (in one famous case) cheese! The music world, however, has remained unmoved
The most crucial variables determining the timbre of brass instruments are their size and shape.
Some of the ideas held by musicians about the sound characteristics of various construction materials are therefore repeated
on this website. However, it is worth bearing in mind that not all of these assumptions have been proven scientifically. Moreover, in cases where the construction material really does turn out to be important acoustically, the effect is only secondary.
It is generally accepted among acousticians (but not musicians!), for example, that wall material vibrations play only a very minor role in sound production in woodwind instruments.
It is true that differences in material, thickness and finish have been known to affect the radiated spectrum of brass instruments. But it is not yet established that they are all musically significant. By far the most crucial variables determining the timbre of wind instruments are their size and shape. Only in the case of the soundboard resonances of stringed instruments does the scientific evidence appear to coincide with popular wisdom amongst musicians.