Double-Blind Audio Brains

Spinning_DancerI was reading the news on Zite this morning, and serendip’d upon this article in The Strad which describes a double-blind test with violinists, comparing several modern violins to those made by Stradivari and a del Gesu.  The scandalously shocking surprise was that many accomplished players unknowingly preferred the modern instruments over the high-value vintage rarities.

Now, I’m not a violin player, but I can appreciate a story about challenging the preconceptions of value in hyper-expensive vintage items over well-crafted lower-priced contemporaries.  It’s not so much that they were pitting the modern luthiers against the celebrated ancients;  these were doubtless all well crafted instruments.  The experiment was really challenging the human perception and preconceptions of the study participants.

650px-Mond-vergleich.svgIt’s an interesting philosophical/psychological question whether it’s even possible for the human brain to be objective about anything.  There is a disconnect between perception and reality—our brain is an imperfect interface to the world around us, doing its best to interpret the signals it receives, and occasionally totally falling down on the job.

I’m sure you’ve seen these great mind-bending optical illusions, like the spinning dancer above (which way is she really spinning?  I see her spinning counter-clockwise, but my wife and kids see her spinning clockwise), or the Ebbinghaus Illusion at left (yes, the orange balls are actually the same size).

But have you heard any good auditory illusions lately?  Try these:

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Building an Acoustic Guitar, part 3

Marc at The Wood Whisperer has posted the final part in the video series Birth of a Guitar, documenting Rick Urschel’s classical guitar project.   If you’ve been watching, part 2 ended on a cliffhanger, Rick having mistakenly glued on the fretboard before tapering it.  Disaster!  This video starts with Ricks laborious fix with Japanese saw, chisel, scraper and sandpaper.  Then Rick goes on to shaping the neck with a spokeshave, installing fret wire, and positioning the bridge.  The finish starts with pore-filling with pumice, then applying 5 coats of shellac and 5 coats of satin polyurethane.   Finally, Rick installs the nut, tuning machines, and uses a fancy vacuum press to glue down the bridge – how cool is that!?  You can also see Rick’s homemade walnut guitar stand.  

The final result is beautiful, and a testament to Rick’s persistence, patience and determination!  This really makes me appreciate how much effort goes into building a handmade guitar.  Even after all that effort, there’s some kind of “rogue” harmonic thing going on with the open G string that he was unable to figure out.  If you have any ideas, contact him!

Take a look:

Birth of a Guitar, part 3

Luthier in a Candy Store

In years past, Grizzly had an enormous booth at the NAMM trade show demonstrating all their power tools, table saws, planers, sanders, shapers, etc.   While they were absent this year, there was still plenty to excite and inspire.

For the aspiring luthier or woodworker, there’s nothing more appetizing than stacks of gorgeously figured exotic hardwoods. 

Taylor Build-To-Order Resources Taylor Build-To-Order Resources

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Building an Acoustic Guitar, part 2

Marc over at The Wood Whisperer has posted part 2 in the video series Birth of a Guitar, documenting Rick Urschel’s classical guitar project.   This time, Rick makes the kerfing, builds the back and the sound board with rosette, all the bracing, bindings, the bridge, fretboard.   If you thought from part 1 that it was gonna be all power tools, you’ll find a lot more hand tool and finesse work in this video.  Really inspiring stuff.  We get to see some of Rick’s clever jigs – like one to produce a raised curve in the top, a diy tilt-base for the trim router, a fret-slot cutting sled, and again the hot lightbulb-in-a-pipe wood bending jig.  Warning, massive amounts of blue tape will be consumed 🙂

One of the most interesting parts of the video is how Rick recovers from a couple big mistakes.  Every woodworker, from beginner to expert, makes mistakes, in every project.  I’ve heard said that the measure of a fine woodworker is how well they hide their mistakes.

There’s a huge amount of material here, and Marc has sped up a lot of of the video to almost comical speeds.   And best of all, it ends on a cliffhanger!  Take a look:


Building an Acoustic Guitar

It has long been a dream of mine to combine two of my hobbies – guitar and woodworking – and build my own guitar from scratch.   Some day…

Today, Marc over at the The Wood Whisperer posted part 1 in a new video series Birth of a Guitar, documenting Rick Urschel’s classical guitar project.    The video really shows how many steps are involved in building an acoustic guitar, and how many diverse skills are required.   Just imagine what it was like building such a guitar in the days before power tools!  Even with modern tools, it’s a gargantuan effort.

Birth of a guitar