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Highly resonant wood could be commercially produced for Stradivarius-quality "fungus violins"

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December 9, 2011

Scientists are developing a method of treating wood with fungus, so that violin-makers cou...

Scientists are developing a method of treating wood with fungus, so that violin-makers could use it to build Stradivarius-quality instruments

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Earlier this week, we brought you the story of a radiologist and two violin-makers, who used computed tomography (CT) imaging to create a copy of a 1704 Stradivarius violin. The instrument that they produced was almost an exact replica of the original, as far as the shape, thickness and volume of its wooden parts was concerned. As one of our readers pointed out, however, much of the tonal quality of Stradivari's instruments was likely due to the microstructure and resonance characteristics of the wood of which they were made, caused by the growing conditions at the time. Well, it turns out that someone is working on reproducing that aspect of the violins, too.

Francis Schwarze, a scientist from Switzerland's Empa research institute, teamed up with a Swiss violin-maker to create what are being referred to as "fungus violins" - admittedly, perhaps not as catchy a name as "Stradivarius." Schwarze treated spruce wood with Physisporinus vitreus, a white-rot fungus that destroyed certain structures in the wood. Two violins made from that wood were then played at a conference in 2009, alongside a genuine Stradivarius. In a blind listening test, both a panel of experts and the audience reportedly stated that they preferred the sound of the fungus violins to that of the historical instrument.

While the preparation of the wood for those two violins was a lengthy process, Empa is now trying to standardize and streamline the wood treatment technology, so that the modified resonance wood could be produced on a scale approaching mass production. Among other things, the research team is looking into the extent of fungal activity within the wood, how sound travels throughout that altered wood, and the ways in which the sound is perceived by luthiers (makers of stringed instruments), musicians and listeners.

The three-year project began in September, and is being led by tonal wood expert Iris Brémaud. Empa's next-generation fungus violins will be built under the supervision of Swiss instrument-maker Michael Baumgartner.

About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away.   All articles by Ben Coxworth
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4 Comments

This is great. The world will benefit by having beautiful instruments to play and listen too. Another bonus is, since apple isn't involved there wont be billions of dollars of patent infringement cases pending. It's a good day all around.

Clint Ferreira
10th December, 2011 @ 04:30 am PST

There's a very good article in the Volume 16 Number 2 issue of Skeptic Magazine called "Stradivarius Pseudoscience: The Myth of the Miraculous Musical Instrument, by R.L. Barclay".

The article isn't available online, but basically it breaks down the myth surrounding these instruments by highlighting certain points about their history, such as the fact that pretty much all Stradivarius instruments in existence have had restoration work done on them throughout the centuries, and that much of these restorations were done by luthiers who purposely changed their sound characteristics to suit the styles of the epochs in which they were being played.

This means that most, if not all Stardivarius instruments aren't 100% original, having had substantial parts changed with new ones, with wood that wasn't not only from the same epoch, but perhaps in many cases not even from the same region.

Tozé Soares
11th December, 2011 @ 05:32 pm PST

@Toze Soares

You mean the Strads have more in common with "This is THE axe that my grand father had" - but grand dads mythical family heirloom axe has also had 2 heads and 3 handles.

I think people tend to fall in love with the mystical bullshit they are fed, especially the BS from the people selling the instruments to them.

No doubt that Straddi made great violins, after all I taught him everything he knew - but so do heaps of other people - and the blind tests have been done add infinitum between the expert listeners and the expert players listing to other expert players on the "behind the curtains" tests....

And really - there is no such thing as a "correct" instrument, but there is a whole range of really well made instruments - and it's been flatly proven that in the blind tests, the experts can't pick the difference between the "myths and legends" of the Straddy and a piece of cleverly reshaped floor board.

Mr Stiffy
12th April, 2012 @ 03:21 pm PDT

Let's not forget, owners of these expensive masterpieces disallow borrowers from making any adjustments to them. So if the Strads on loan needed adjusting beyond tuning due to the plain/train/automobile ride to the test site, then the makers of the lesser known instrument gets a stroke of luck... and forever the internet is abuzz with ill-informed results.

So far in two articles about this "test", neither disclosed if both instruments were properly adjusted beforehand.

Bender Rodriguez
6th August, 2013 @ 07:54 pm PDT
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