CT Scan

Posted By on August 16, 2011

This is a high-tech treat.

What you’re looking at is a CT scan of a violin by Nicolo Gagliano, circa 1750. I sold it recently, but not before it had been given the most careful condition report imaginable. There was a little squiggly mark in the lower back, and internally there was a large patch covering roughly half the lower bouts, going from side to side. The worry was whether it was woodworm damage. I thought that it probably was, but still nothing to worry about.

mark in violin back

Woodworm dislike the light, and tend to burrow within the thickness of the back (only occasionally the front: I suppose maple tastes better). So the characteristic little hole that is seen usually means that the wood is hollow underneath, sometimes for several inches up and down the grain. But here the burrow, if that’s what it was, was across the grain and about half an inch of it was visible. Now, if the woodworm had attacked the wood before it was fashioned into a violin back, that’s understandable: once inside a nice thick chunk of wood the worm can turn any which way, and so the finished instrument might have random, though seldom significant, worm damage.

By the way, it is not too uncommon for old-master makers to use wormy wood – Stradivari did, in 1707. I’ve seen three different Strads of this date, all of which used glamorous, though damaged, wood. Stradivari’s original repairs, underneath the varnish, are clearly visible.

Xray or radiograph of violin

Back to the Gagliano. First it was radiographed (X-rayed), which seems positively old-hat these days. It showed nothing significant.

Have another look at the CT scan. It starts with the bottom block and slides up, past the soundholes and soundpost; the corner blocks are evident, then, above, the fingerboard suddenly appears. Be patient as it passes up the neck, because the pegbox and the pegs show very well. Look at the detail: the holes for the strings are clearly visible within the shafts of the pegs . . . and that’s what we wanted, really, because these holes are much the same size as a woodworm run, and, as you can see, there aren’t any runs in the back of the violin. If you look carefully you can just make out the patch I mentioned, halfway up the lower bouts. Surprisingly, it’s not visible at all in the X-ray image.





Violin going into CT scanner

Violin in computerised tomography machine

You have to have friends in pretty high places to do this: the equipment costs the thick end of a million and the expertise to use it isn’t cheap either. So therefore huge thanks to Highcroft Veterinary Hospital and to Nic Hayward from Veterinary Diagnostics for doing it as a favour.

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