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A sweeter sound Featured

9:44am EDT July 22, 2002

The musical world praises Stradivarius in much the same way the art community does Picasso or entrepreneurs do Gates.

For three centuries, violinmakers have worked, without success, to uncover the famed violinmakers secrets. Peter Zaret wasnt interested in what Stradivarius did to create his sound, he simply wanted to equal it.

Zaret is convinced he has done just that. For years, the graduate of the Julliard School of Music and Catholic University has focused his attention on the instruments bassbar, a slender piece of wood attached inside the violin. Six years ago, while living in Norfolk, Va., Zaret happened on a design that he says allows him to take a good copy of an Italian violin and make it sound as good, if not better, than a genuine Strad or Guarneri.

But before he got the opportunity to convince the music world he had a better violin (a task he has yet to complete), Zaret had to convince a more important person a patent clerk that his bassbar design was truly new and therefore worthy of a patent.

“It’s their job to play the devils advocate,” Zaret says.

Knowing the process was a complicated one, the former violin performer and teacher contacted a lawyer to help him navigate the tricky path.

Do your homework

There have been 25 patents (including Zarets) for bassbars in the United States, dating back to 1853. Before Zarets, the most recent was in 1983.

In her preparation, Zarets attorney, Linda Blackburn, cited many of the previous patents in the application, explaining why they didnt work or werent as effective as Zarets.

The application was submitted on April 18, 1997, and patent No. 5,831,191 was issued Nov. 3, 1998.

The path to success wasnt smooth. Zarets patent was denied once. In the patent process, thats not unusual. Zaret and Blackburn read through the explanation and disagreed with the patent clerks assertions. They recast the information and resubmitted the application.

Explains Zaret, “We came back and proved that he was wrong. The patent is on the bassbar, which can be modified for other instruments in the viol family, and for the violin with the bassbar.”

Explain the idea thoroughly

Fortunately for Zaret, he didnt need to explain why it worked, only that it was different and that it significantly changed the sound of the instrument. He uses words and phrases like fuller, richer and lower the voice to describe the resulting sound.

Zaret knows the bassbar affects the way the strings vibrate, but even though his father was a physicist, he doesnt know why. He developed his design simply through trial and error.

But not everyone is a believer. During the past three centuries, there have been many attempts to replicate the sound of Stradivarius violins. Many believe, Zaret confesses, that he is simply the next in a long line of impostors.

“People believe youre a crackpot if you say you can duplicate those old instruments,” he says. “Believe me, I dont have all the answers. But I have two or three more than anybody else. The essence of my patent is very simple.”

Put the patent to work

All this hasn’t come without a price. Obtaining a patent can be expensive, even if its not rejected the first time. Zaret estimates he spent $6,000 to $7,000. Eventually, he hopes it will pay off and the music community will come around. That would justify his claim that he can make a violin sound as good as a Stradivarius.

Zaret is willing and able to put his bassbar up against a Strad. Zaret purchased an authenticated Stradivarius several years ago and is willing to play both it and one in which he has installed a bassbar. The results have been impressive and Zaret does have some support for his contention.

He sells and repairs violins and other members of the viol family in his Lyndhurst shop. His advertising literature boasts letters from several internationally known violinists, including Isaac Stern, who wrote, I tried your violin briefly and it has an extraordinarily vibrant sound.

Violinist Robert McDuffie penned, “I want to thank you for showing me your violins with your new bassbars. It was a great pleasure to play on the instruments. I didnt have to force the sound. It came out with a natural beauty.”

As further proof, two members of the Cleveland Orchestra play violins with his bassbar.

How to reach: Peter Zaret Violins Inc., (440) 461-1411

Daniel G. Jacobs (djacobs@sbnnet.com) is senior editor of SBN.