A Stradivarius is the best violin a player could ask for thanks to a very specific biological reaction in the wood used to construct them during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. But a new study reveals that fungus might be the trick to making new violins that sound nearly identical.
Science Daily reports Professor Francis W. M. R. Schwarze discovered a way to use a fungus treatment on two of the most common kinds of wood used for violin making so their biological structure would be ideal for a violin, and the results were even comparable to a Strad:
He discovered two species of fungi (Physisporinus vitreus and Xylaria longipes), which decay Norway spruce and sycamore -- the two important kinds of wood used for violin making -- to such an extent that their tonal quality is improved. "Normally fungi reduce the density of the wood, but at the same time they unfortunately reduce the speed with which the sound waves travel through the wood," the researcher explained. "The unique feature of these fungi is that they gradually degrade the cell walls, thus inducing a thinning of the walls. But even in the late stages of the wood decomposition, a stiff scaffold structure remains via which the sound waves can still travel directly." Even the modulus of elasticity is not compromised; the wood remains just as resistant to strain as before the fungal treatment -- an important criterion for violin making.
"Low density, high speed of sound and a high modulus of elasticity," is what signifies good wood for violin making. This process recreates the same treatment effect the "long winters and the cool summers," had on the wood Antonio Stradivari used to make his famous violins. Previously, researchers have tried for years to figure out how or why the wood used by Stradivari has such an amazing structure for violins, but haven't been able to come up with a rock solid answer. When Schwarze took his fungolin and put it against a Strad in a blind test the panel of judges and the audience thought the fungus violin was actually the Strad.
No word yet on how this will affect the value of existing Stradivarius violins, or when a fungolin will make its debut on Law & Order.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.