How A Simple Fungus Might Resurrect The Legendary Stradivarius Violin

Because the few remaining instruments can fetch millions of dollars at auction, scientists have been trying to pinpoint exact what makes a Stradivarius sound so phenomenal in order to recreate them. It's partly due to a rare type of wood used by Antonio Stradivari that a Swiss wood researcher has managed to artificially recreate using a couple of species of fungus.

Working in the late 17th and early 18th centuries, Stradivari had access to a special type of wood that grew between 1645 and 1715 when temperatures stayed on the cool side all year round. During those years, the trees grew very slowly resulting in a particularly dense wood with high elastic properties. Finding wood with similar properties is downright impossible these days, but Professor Francis W. M. R. Schwarze, a wood researcher at the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology, has found a way to artificially recreate it.

It turns out that two species of fungi — Physisporinus Vitreus and Xylaria Longipes — can decay Norway spruce and sycamore trees in such a way that increases the wood's density while retaining its ability to resonate, vastly improving its tonal quality. Lumber that's been treated with the fungi is known as mycowood, and working with modern violin makers Martin Schleske and Michael Rhonheimer, Schwarze created a violin with the material and pitted it against a Stradivarius from 1711. Surprisingly, in a blind test a panel of experts was unable to distinguish the fake Stradivarius from the real thing.

Besides requiring experts to up their game when it comes to spotting fakes, the fungal technique means that all violinists might have the chance to play — and maybe even afford to buy — an instrument that sounds like it was crafted by Stradivari himself. [ScienceDaily via Geekosystem]

Image: Kirsty Wigglesworth/AP


Comments

    I want a guitar made with this stuff. Bring it on!

      Could you imagine the sustain?! It would be a dream come true

      I am building J200 custom guitars with spruce tops salvaged from my grandfathers attic floor, 2ft wide quarter sawn, house completed in 1790. Have never seen anything like it. I am keeping one and another is sold. Currently using Birdseye, tiger, and figured maple on sides and back but would be willing to add exotics, if serious about purchasing.

    Seeing many people can't tell Cat Stevens' music from Bruce Springsteen's in a blind test the report doesn't mean much.

      I'm sure they would have analyzed the sound spectrum too. Still, trained ears can pick up these quirks just as well... Also, it depended on who partook in the blind test... Was it people fully familiar with the original Violin, or was it just random people off the street, who listen to dubstep every day?

        "in a blind test a panel of experts"

    In a blind test I doubt that anyone could tell the difference between a Stradivarius and a cheap violin bought from the local music store. Did you know that a cello and a violin are exactly the same size? It's only the size of the violinists swelled head that makes the instrument look smaller.

      blind test was done recently: http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2012/01/02/144482863/double-blind-violin-test-can-you-pick-the-strad

      TLDR: even professional musicians couldn't tell the difference.

        I didn't know that, I guessed the second one and got it right. But it as much a guess as tossing a coin.

        Maybe I'll retract.

        I watched a show talking about food additives and they tricked an amateur wine tasting group by adding food dye to white wine and got a red wine tasting result. They didn't do experts or didn't show it.

        I reckon it might have fooled some, just like this test.

    I found several 2ft by 6 ft quarter sawn tight grained (at edges 37 growth rings per inch spruce boards with some nail damage, but enough clear sections that careful resawing should give me 4-6 Jumbo tops and about as many standard guitar tops. I have 1954SJ200 and am going to build three. This wood was harvested circa1790. That is when it was built so this tree grew through the (little ice age) and I am hoping that it will have a little Stradivarius magic in it.

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