Bilbao Project

Members of the Bilbao Project

Project development

• WHAT do we want to do? By building systematically 6 instruments, we want to relate the intrinsic and geometric characteristics of the materials with the tonal qualities of the complete violin.

• WHY are we going to do it? We want to answer one of the questions that are still unsolved. In the research conducted by Jesus Alonso Moral (Stockholm 1984) and later by Andrea Ortona (Cremona 2012) it was not possible to get all the answers about the behavior of the violin. Today, the measuring methods have advanced far enough to have a very accurate control of the different processes and the materials to be able to get these answers.

• WHAT FOR are we going to do it? Today, we have enough knowledge about the behavior of the top of the violin box but not about the back. This research will allow us to have enough control in the choice of the materials and the geometric variables to get instruments with a desired tonal quality.

• HOW MUCH are we going to do? The aim is to build first six instruments, controlling all the variables involved in the process and complete the research with four more instruments with the help of the data obtained from the first three.

• HOW is it going to be done? Measures will be taken and the Modal analysis will be performed at different stages of the construction of the violins: tops and backs without thiknessing, with different graduations, with the harmonic bar strong and tuned, top and backs under free and pinned boundary conditions, mounted box with and without soundpost and without mast, and finally measures of the complete instruments and listening comparisons.

• WHERE is it going to be done? The research work will be conducted in the Violin Making School of Bilbao BELE, although some steps could be made in some other location.

• WHEN is it going to be done? The project has begun in September 2016 and will last 22 months, ending in June 2018. (see Project chronogram)

• To WHOM it is addressed? The results of this research will reach the entire community of luthiers, seeking the best tonal quality for his creations, as well as the community of musicians looking for the excellence in the instruments that are going to be played.

• WHAT WITH is it going to be done? For the project we have got a European grant through the SEPIE (Spanish Service for the Internationalization of Education) and ERASMUS +. We will have a budget and 59,270€ grant to develop and execute all the phases of the project.

• WHO is it going to do? Given the precision requirements of the research, we will have the collaboration of the last courses students of BELE to perform the research, with the coordination of the BELE Teachers and the cooperation of the transnational members of the project.




Our inherited knowledge and what is taught in different violin making schools originates in a few treaties, documents, measurements made in the nineteenth century of the best instruments and some molds made by those who were the most famous Cremonese violin makers of the XVI-XVIII centuries. Thanks to the new technology and the efforts of luthiers interested in science and scientists fully involved in violin making, Many of the “secrets” of these instruments have now emerged, with respect to tonal quality. Still, there remain some mysteries to be discovered in order to build high quality instruments with accurate control. One of the least investigated topics is the direct correlation between the properties of materials, the perceived tonal quality and performance characteristics. The sound radiation is the result of vibration of the structure and can be used directly as a measure of quality or character. However, the perfect coupling of the top and bottom wood has not yet been investigated though this is one of the crucial questions that violin makers ask themselves. The excellent sound of some instruments depends on the first three or four vibration modes of the complete box, in which the bottom, with top and garlands, fully determines the formation of these modes. Jesus Alonso Moral made a first investigation in 1984, in Sweden, as part of his PhD, combining three different tops with three different ribs and three different backs -soft, normal and stiff- to try to understand the interaction between them related to the tonal quality of the instrument. Today precision in measurements is greatly improved. The theories about the behavior of the violin are more accurate and we have a more rigorous perceptual evaluation protocol based on the psychology of perception. Andrea Ortona conducted a similar experiment along with 20 students in Cremona but it was not possible to control all of the parameters.


The key objective is two-fold: on the one hand the control of the violin maker on the construction parameters, so that the demands of performers and listeners on the tonal quality of the instruments are satisfied, and on the other hand the implementation in the Study Plan (Curriculum) of a methodology to widen the capabilities of the students and also increase the prestige of the school, increasing in this way the employability of the students attending the studies.


The members have been selected by their experience in each of the different phases of the project: Roberto Jardon Rico for his experience in handling CNC, George Stoppani for his experience in the creation of the revolutionary modal analysis method and subsequent interpretation, Jim Woodhouse -from The Chancellor, Masters and Scholars of the University of Cambridge- as a research advisor, Andrea Ortona for his experience in managing a similar educational project in Cremona school, and finally Claudia Fritz -from Universite Pierre et Marie Curie, Paris 6- for her experience in the assessment of the perceptual quality and Unai Igartua (degree in physics and studies of violinmaking) as the teacher of Acoustics in the Violin Making School of Bilbao and coordinator of this Project.


Ten violins will be built, using wood with carefully selected properties. First, six violins with identical tops and different backs and later four violins with different tops on three identical backs will be made. Both tops and backs will be built by CNC to a pre­selected form to accurately control this variable. Then they will be tuned and measured in different stages: thicknesses, frequencies and masses, in the Violin Making School of Bilbao by the students, with supervision and collaboration of the project members. Finally a double-blind perceptual quality test will be performed with the collaboration of professional musicians and specialized audience. Once this phase is finished the intellectual products and their dissemination will be created.


If the results are conclusive and they respond to the working hypothesis, the impact on the violin maker community will be very important regarding to the control and quality level of the products that will be obtained.

Also, the skills acquired by the students and by future generations will increase their employability and the quality of their products. Moreover, the Study Plan (Curriculum) will be adapted to the new teaching methods.


-Increase of the skills in the (Curriculum) Study Plan.

-Better training of the students.

-More prestige for the school with a consequent increase of the student’s employability.

-More Control of materials and processes, and better quality products made by violin makers.

-Satisfaction of the music sector.