The Engineering of a Musical Instrument

Georgia Tech researchers are at the craft of how to build a better instrument

Georgia Tech researchers are using their engineering expertise to study how to build better musical instruments.

Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) Professor William Hunt has teamed up with Professors Ken Cunefare and Paul Neitzel, both of Mechanical Engineering (ME), as well as undergraduate ECE student Stephen Welch, to investigate the acoustic modes of vibration of certain instruments including guitar, piano and upright bass.
"We're investigating the physical acoustics of these wooden, string instruments with the ultimate goal of developing engineering constructs that will allow manufacturers (e.g. Steinway) to improve both the sound quality produced by the instrument as well as the playability. Aesthetics will play a key role in our work," said Hunt. "We hope to push the envelope of what is known and understood at the present time and exploit this knowledge gained to the create of a grander sound."

Hunt and his research team are part of the new Georgia Tech Center for Music Technology.
"Our approach is simultaneously old school and innovative," Hunt explained. "It is more common that engineers and computer scientists enter this arena and focus on electronic music production or computer composition of musical scores. The great thing for our team is that we are all musicians of varying skill levels and passionate about music. Unfortunately/fortunately, the undergraduate involved, Stephen Welch, is far superior to his professor in musical skill."

Hunt says the research is under way and perhaps the biggest challenge is going to be translating the scientific and engineering measurements to a set of constructs that can better guide instrument manufacturers.

"We don't know where this will ultimately end up, but we know where we want the road to lead---toward better musical instruments that will dazzle musicians and audiences alike," Hunt said.

The Georgia Institute of Technology is one of the world's premier research universities. Ranked seventh among U.S. News & World Report's top public universities and the eighth best engineering and information technology university in the world by Shanghai Jiao Tong University's Academic Ranking of World Universities, Georgia Tech’s more than 20,000 students are enrolled in its Colleges of Architecture, Computing, Engineering, Liberal Arts, Management and Sciences. Tech is among the nation's top producers of women and minority engineers. The Institute offers research opportunities to both undergraduate and graduate students and is home to more than 100 interdisciplinary units plus the Georgia Tech Research Institute.