Jim Woodhouse: Why does a lute sound different from a guitar?

When: Wednesday 16th December, 2015 @ 5:10 PM

Where: Room G.07, Informatics Forum, University of Edinburgh

Seminar Title

Why does a lute sound different from a guitar?

Seminar Speaker(s)

Prof. Jim Woodhouse (University of Cambridge)

Seminar Abstract

The vibration of a stretched string is a classical problem, and the simplest version of a physics-based description is a familiar part of undergraduate courses. However, things are more complicated in the world of real musical instruments. This talk will explore the various influences on sound quality in plucked strings, and will show that while many aspects are quite well understood, there remains a puzzle.

It is well known to players of plucked-string instruments that lighter-gauge stringing gives a brighter sound, exemplified by the typical difference of sound between a lute and a classical guitar. However, the usual undergraduate theory has no dependence whatever on the diameter or tension of the string. Detailed measurements on plain nylon strings of different gauges will be used to explore this phenomenon, and probe the limits of idealised theories, both linear and nonlinear. Finally, a tentative explanation of the puzzle will be advanced, which has implications for players and instrument makers.

Speaker Bio

After a first degree in mathematics at Cambridge, Jim Woodhouse did a PhD and post-doctoral work on the acoustics of the violin in the Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics at Cambridge (this work being inspired by a hobby interest in building instruments). He then worked for several years on a variety of structural vibration problems for a consultancy firm before joining the Engineering Department of the University (in 1985) as Lecturer, then later Reader and Professor. His research interests all involve vibration, and musical instruments have continued to play a major role.