Graphite-Epoxy Violin by Carleen Hutchins,
Montclair, New Jersey, 1974, in Collaboration with
Daniel W. Haines, University of South Carolina, Columbia
NMM 10182. Violin by Carleen Hutchins, Montclair, New Jersey, Daniel W. Haines, Columbia, South Carolina, and Hercules Materials Company, Inc. (Allegheny Ballistics Laboratory), Cumberland, Maryland, 1974. A graphite-epoxy composite top applied to this prototype was determined to be a successful alternative to the traditional use of spruce for the violin belly. Gift of Carleen Maley Hutchins, Montclair, 2002.
A 1971-1974 grant from the National Science Foundation enabled Daniel W. Haines, University of South Carolina engineering professor, and his student Nagyoung Chang, to research and develop a synthetic substitute for the traditional spruce used in violin and guitar manufacture. After much experimentation, Haines and Chang found that they could create a suitable graphite/epoxy "sandwich" by layering a fiberboard material between two layers of a graphite/epoxy flat tape with parallel fibers manufactured by Hercules, Inc., Columbia, South Carolina. Carleen Hutchins, and Donald A. Thompson of C. F. Martin Guitars, were subsequently invited to join the experiment in which both a violin and a guitar fitted with graphite/epoxy bellies were produced.
Hutchins provided the researchers with one of her Stradivari-model violins for the experiment. According to Paul Laird's account of the process, "Hercules, Inc. formed the composite violin plate in a 350 degrees Fahrenheit oven over a solid metal violin top mold with a low arch similar to that used by Antonio Stradivari. The composite plate possessed a clear tap tone, necessary for a fine violin top, and an analysis of its modal characteristics proved similar to a fine spruce violin plate. Hutchins cut F-holes in the soundboard and attached a spruce bass bar with an epoxy glue that Morton Hutchins spent two months developing. Subjective tests of the instrument indicated that it has a lovely, dark tone with a dominance of the lower partials, perhaps because the composite material has a rather high along-the-grain damping quality. The violin also has a uniform response throughout its range and speaks well."
According to Laird, "as favorable as both the guitar and the violin were judged following scientific and playing tests, the graphite/epoxy composite proved to be quite difficult on the skin of those working with it, and the project ceased after building the prototypes. A further problem occurred when a competing firm beat the [University of South Carolina] research team in securing a patent." Nevertheless, the application of graphite/epoxy materials in the manufacture of guitars has become commonplace, while several contemporary violin makers continue to experiment with its use.
Three views of the pegbox and scroll of Hutchins' graphite-epoxy violin.
For additional information about this violin, see:
Haines, Daniel W., and Nagyoung Chang, "Application of Graphite Composites in Musical Instruments," Catgut Acoustical Society Newsletter, No. 23 (May 1975), pp. 13-15.
Haines, Daniel W., Carleen M. Hutchins, Morton A. Hutchins, and Donald A. Thompson, "A Violin and a Guitar with Graphite-Epoxy Composite Soundboards," Catgut Acoustical Society Newsletter, No. 24 (November 1975), pp. 25-28.
Hutchins, Carleen M., and Virginia Benade, eds., Research Papers in Violin Acoustics: 1975-1993. (Woodbury, New York: Acoustical Society of America, 1997).
Paul Laird, "Carleen Maley Hutchins: Other Research and Collaborations," Ars Musica Denver, Vol. 6, No. 1 (Fall 1993).
Go to description of The Carleen Hutchins Collection and Archive at the National Music Museum.
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