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Musical Instrument Design

Book by Bart Hopkin, with an introduction by Jon Scoville.

188 pages, paperbound, 8 1/2″ x 11″, extensively illustrated with charts, diagrams and drawings. Published by See Sharp Press, 1996. 

This book is a key resource for anyone interested in musical-instrument making. It provides a good, strong overview of design principles for acoustic instruments of all sorts, with extensive, practical, hands-on information, generously illustrated. This is the only book that does this: there are many books that offer plans for making specific instruments, but no others that lay out underlying design principles in such a comprehensive way.

The book covers the familiar musical instruments, and a host of new and unusual ones as well. Scattered throughout the main text and the sidebars are ideas and informal plans for diverse instruments you can make. The chapter headings are: 1) Musical Sound Perception, 2) Acoustic Principles, 3) Tuning Systems and Pitch Layouts, 4) Idiophones, 5) Beaters, Scrapers & Friction Makers, 6) Aerophones, 7) Membranophones, 8) Resonators & Radiators, 9) Chordophones, 10) Special Effects, 11) A Few More Thoughts. At the end are several appendixes and charts with practical reference information that will make the book a useful handbook long after the first read-through. These include a chart laying out frequencies and wavelengths for pitches through the musical range, another chart giving the essentials for various western and non-western musical scales, an appendix devoted to tools and materials with an extensive where-to-find listing, another devoted to electric amplification systems (pickups and such), plus glossary, bibliography and index. The writing is accessible and friendly without sacrificing seriousness of purpose, and the math, where it appears, is pretty benign.

Author Bart Hopkin’s own explorations in instrument-making have been extensive and highly varied, and he has the successes and the failures in abundance to show for all that he has learned. More importantly, since 1985 he has been the director of the publishing organzation Experimental Musical Instruments, and for fourteen of those years he was publisher and editor of the quarterly journal of the same name. In the course of that work, he has been in constant contact with musical instrument makers of all sorts, as well as acousticians, scholars and theoreticians. The cumulative know-how and experience of these people – particularly the several experts who read, critiqued and corrected the manuscript prior to publication – inform the text throughout.

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