Friday, August 5, 2011

Happy Birthday Norman Pickering!

My mentor Norman Pickering turned 95 last month! To do his life justice would require several long books but here are some highlights. An early hand injury playing baseball ended his aspirations as a professional violinist, and he switched to the French Horn. After receiving his engineering degree, he graduated from Juilliard (he was a classmate of the late cellist Bernard Greenhouse), then played horn in the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra in the late 1930s before joining the E.G. Conn company in 1940. There he did research into musical instruments and helped design many instruments, including a role in the design of the famous Conn 8D French Horn, used by most of the major United States Orchestras. He also taught at the famous Interlochen music camp. With the start of World War II, the E.G Conn factory was converted to making precision gyroscopes used in airplane navigation, sparking his interest in flying and aviation. He returned to the New York City area and was a regular substitute during the 1940s in the New York Philharmonic, the Metropolitan Opera and other orchestras. His dissatisfaction with the quality of audio reproduction led him to design the first lightweight, high fidelity phonograph pickup cartridge. Versions of the Pickering cartridge are still sold today. He was one of the founders of the Audio Engineering Society in 1948. He was conductor George Szell’s personal recording consultant for several years. He did research into violin acoustics and somehow found the time to make over 50 violins and violas. He was active in the Violin Society of America since its early days and served as President. One of his significant accomplishments was to popularize violin acoustics to violin makers. He also was a pioneer in using ultrasound to image the human eye.

D’Addario entered the violin string business with the purchase of the Kaplan String Company in 1981. They became aware of Norman’s research into strings and hired him in 1983. He designed all of D’Addario’s bowed strings until I started at D’Addario in 1999. The Helicore string line is one of his most well known accomplishments in string design. I owe my success at D’Addario and the violin acoustics world to Norman.

Although his arthritis limits his physical activities, Norman is still mentally as sharp as ever! Happy Birthday!


  1. I too experienced Norman's musical and technical brilliance, he sat in once in our (amateur) chamber session, playing beautifully on a striking looking viola. When we asked about the maker of the beautiful instrument he said that he had made it -- and we lsughed, at first not believing him. I certainly want to send him my best wishes.
    Could you forward a message to him, I think my e-mail address is way outdated. Ken Milford
    (, 212 6910015, 463 West Street, NY NY 10014

  2. I own one of Mr. Pickering's violas and I was fascinated to read more about the maker. Is he still alive? The viola is presently for sale. It is one of his earlier instruments, having been made in Oceanside, NY in 1949. I would love to find a buyer who has an personal attachment to this interesting man. You can contact me at