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