Breaking into the World of Perfection. Innovation in Today's Classical Musical Instruments

K.T. Bijsterveld*, M. Schulp

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Professional music journals frequently publish descriptions of newly registered patents concerning classical musical instruments. Only a few of the many proposals for innovation actually enter production. The large number of ideas for improving musical instruments such as the violin, the flute and the bassoon contrasts strikingly with the stability of the often age-old design of these instruments. Notably, the instruments of the symphony orchestra have basically retained their features since the mid-19th century. Compared with many other artefacts of Western culture, such stability in design and outlook is remarkable. Why is this? And what strategies do today's innovation-seeking instrument makers use to break into this world of perfection? How, in other words, do they innovate and sell in a tradition-bound field? Moreover, how could insights in such strategies be valid for fields of technology-development in which tradition and craft have a similar significance? To address these questions, we examined music journals and, based on interviews and promotional literature, we explored the views and opinions of 12 instrument makers and promoters of unusually constructed flutes, bassoons, saxophones, violas, guitars and oboe-reeds. To account for their work, we will focus on the role of attachment to technology, on the go-betweens whose creative marginality enables them to connect technological and musical cultures and on the relevance of recasting tradition so as to innovate and sustain tradition at the very same time.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)649-674
JournalSocial Studies of Science
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2004

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