The Secret of the Strad's Superiority

Scientist find mellow tone is in the wood

By Peter Fearon,  Newser Staff

Posted Jul 2, 2008 11:49 AM CDT

(Newser) – Stradivarius violins—300 years old and valued at least $3 million each—are universally recognized as producing the richest sounds. Now, the Daily Telegraph reports, scientists believe they know why. X-rays of several old and new instruments show the wood used by 17th-century violin makers has a more uniform density than modern violins. How that was achieved remains a mystery.

"If you look at the wood you can see patterns of the year rings in the wood," said the Dutch computer scientist who led the study, explaining that less dense rings occur in spring, when trees are growing rapidly, and more dense rings in winter. The density was more consistent in the older models. "I think this is a step forward in trying to reproduce this sound," he said, "But then you need to have a CT scanner. That's the practical problem."

Violinist Joshua Bell embraces his 1713 Stradivarius, purchased several years ago for more than $3 million. Scientists believe they have uncovered the secret behind the sound of a Stradivarius.
Violinist Joshua Bell embraces his 1713 Stradivarius, purchased several years ago for more than $3 million. Scientists believe they have uncovered the secret behind the sound of a Stradivarius.   (AP Photo/Gino Domenico)
Tamsin Waley-Cohen of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra plays a Stradivarius violin. Scientists believe they have uncovered the secret behind the sound of a Stradivarius.
Tamsin Waley-Cohen of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra plays a Stradivarius violin. Scientists believe they have uncovered the secret behind the sound of a Stradivarius.   (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)
Tamsin Waley-Cohen of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra plays a Stradivarius violin. Scientists believe they have uncovered the secret behind the sound of a Stradivarius.
Tamsin Waley-Cohen of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra plays a Stradivarius violin. Scientists believe they have uncovered the secret behind the sound of a Stradivarius.   (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)
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