David Politzer

Research Interests

Theoretical Physics, science of music (which is where the really good stuff is posted. If that link goes dead permanently, almost all is also available from caltechAUTHORS on library.caltech.edu and some from arxiv.org.

I received a charming T-shirt which would almost certainly prompt a conversation about information and black holes anywhere you'd wear it.

My public lecture, "The Dilemma of Attribution," delivered in Stockholm on December 8, 2004 as per the will of Alfred Nobel is available here in four formats:

as LaTeX, as postscript, as pdf, and as html.

Delivering said lecture:

photo copyright Nobel Foundation

"...step forward to receive your Nobel prizes from the hands of His Majesty the King."

Back at work, June 2005:

(These three photos copyright Peter Badge, the photographer)

posing for J. Vermeer, 1/1/08; photo copyright A. Politzer

Three years after eating

Two weeks later

Ready at last


same pot + 2 years

Caltech Alumni Sminar Day, 5/17/08. This and other photos by Bob Paz.

modified Goodtime (August 2010):

It needed an armrest (September 2010):

April 2011:

all new frets for a 1925 tubaphone (August 2011):

I didn't know I needed one until I fixed up a friend's Fairbanks Electric. I got this one from Intermountain Guitar & Banjo of Salt Lake City, made a ferrule and arm rest, and restored the dowel brace.

Ssshhhh! The head is carpet glued to plywood, rubber backing side out. (November 2011)

The case of Dr. Frankenstein, 1 1/2" wider and 5" shorter than a tenor, ...(April 2012)

...contains an early S.S. Stewart banjeaurine:

new-found appreciation for dental hygienists (June 2012)

No, wonders never cease.

April 2013 -- Eight months, on and off, but finally playable: my own Fairbanks Electric banjeaurine (affordable because it needed new neck lamination and reenforcement, fingerboard reglue, minor rim (different serial number) repair.

Spring 2013 -- an eBay orphan arrived on my doorstep bereft of five tuners, nut, one fret, bridge, tailpiece, and tailpiece anchor and also with a cracked dowelstick. Most likely, it's an inexpensive 90 year old masquerading as a 140 year old. Nevertheless, it's rich in banjo mojo.

December 2013 -- I faced off the edges and glued it up. So now Rick can have one of his own.

July 2015: Perhaps hoping to tap into the excitement attending the approaching turn of the century, Sam Stewart introduced a new model in 1896, The 20th Century. The ad copy read "Up to date... and a little in advance" -- reasonably priced at $30 but "the best instrument for the money manufactured." Steward didn't make it but died suddenly in 1898, at the age of 43. By its serial number, this particular instrument was made within a few months, plus or minus, of his death. The previous owner who actually played it had it for over eighty years, bought used in the 1920's. It came to me missing one moon and the ebony neck wedges, a bit tarnished, but overall in good shape. Following the advice of Joel Hooks, who plays classical-style banjo, I made a bridge in the original Stewart style, as advertized in his banjo gazette.

Set up thusly, that banjo can really bark (LOUD!)-- if one so desires.

For $99, you can buy a scissor jack from Stewart-MacDonald to help with gluing down loose internal braces. I made this out of a small turnbuckle to repair a baritone ukulele.

I came across this neck (or stick)- on-top design on line and recommended it to my students who had no building experience but wanted a stringed instrument that actually could be played. The amount of necessary carpentry is minimal. The genius of the design is the floating bridge, which connects the strings to the soundboard without touching the neck. I made this one as a demo for my class, using only hand tools. The bridge wood (and tailpiece) came from the headstock cutout, which I did with a coping saw. Of course, it's electric, with a peizo potted into a bottlecap.

Another eBay orphan (sporting the 1886 patent of Henry Hoseus of Brooklyn, New York) whose saga is described in detail in the SEPTEMBER 2016 entry of Banjo Physics 411.

Within the span of a few weeks, I had three exchanges with people interested in internal resonator construction. I thought I might try putting one on a favorite banjo. A lighter bridge than what had worked previously rendered it sublime. (October 2017)

...and why stop there?

They're multiplying!

As is inevitable, the second one benefits from experience.

But I'm with Fred Bacon, Kate Spencer, Mark Sturgies, Ed Brit, Carl Baron, Polle Flaunoe, and a host of others. It's just a really great sound. (November 2017)

And, for a limited time (for non-commercial purposes only), the original, long-lost, 1986 cult classic by Professor Politzer and the Rho Mesons, The Simple Harmonic Oscillator, copyright S. Lewicki, D. Politzer, and D. Priest.


politzer at theory.caltech