ScienceDaily (Sep. 14, 2009) — At the 27th “Osnabrücker Baumpflegetagen” (one of Germany’s most important annual conferences on all aspects of forest husbandry), Empa researcher Francis Schwarze’s "biotech violin" dared to go head to head in a blind test against a stradivarius – and won! A brilliant outcome for the Empa violin, which is made of wood treated with fungus, against the instrument made by the great master himself in 1711.
Violins made by the Italian master Antonio Giacomo Stradivarius are regarded as being of unparalleled quality even today, with enthusiasts being prepared to pay millions for a single example. Stradivarius himself knew nothing of fungi which attack wood, but he received inadvertent help from the “Little Ice Age” which occurred from 1645 to 1715. During this period Central Europe suffered long winters and cool summers which caused trees to grow slowly and uniformly – ideal conditions in fact for producing wood with excellent acoustic qualities.
Horst Heger of the Osnabruck City Conservatory is convinced that the success of the “fungus violin” represents a revolution in the field of classical music. “In the future even talented young musicians will be able to afford a violin with the same tonal quality as an impossibly expensive Stradivarius,” he believes. In his opinion, the most important factor in determining the tone of a violin is the quality of the wood used in its manufacture. This has now been confirmed by the results of the blind test in Osnabruck. The fungal attack changes the cell structure of the wood, reducing its density and simultaneously increasing its homogeneity. “Compared to a conventional instrument, a violin made of wood treated with the fungus has a warmer, more rounded sound,” explains Francis Schwarze.
I play the alto clarinet (not recently, though). When I started playing in the Huntsville Concert Band some years ago, and started practicing with the band once a week, I improved for awhile, but then stalled, with frequent squeaks. I figured it was because I was only practicing once a week. I was using an old instrument that had been formerly belonged to a high school band. I eventually bought my own instrument, at a pawn shop, and there was an immediate, marked improvement in my playing. I found out by personal experience what a difference the instrument can make.