When Science and Music collide

“Classical violins created by Cremonese masters, such as Antonio Stradivari and Giuseppe Guarneri Del Gesu, have become the benchmark to which the sound of all violins are compared in terms of their abilities of expressiveness and projection. By general consensus, no luthier since that time has been able to replicate the sound quality of these classical instruments. The vibration and sound radiation characteristics of a violin are determined by an instrument’s geometry and the material properties of the wood. New test methods allow the non-destructive examination of one of the key material properties, the wood density, at the growth ring level of detail. The densities of five classical and eight modern violins were compared, using computed tomography and specially developed image-processing software. No significant differences were found between the median densities of the modern and the antique violins, however the density difference between wood grains of early and late growth was significantly smaller in the classical Cremonese violins compared with modern violins, in both the top (Spruce) and back (Maple) plates (p = 0.028 and 0.008, respectively). The mean density differential (SE) of the top plates of the modern and classical violins was 274 (26.6) and 183 (11.7) gram/liter. For the back plates, the values were 128 (2.6) and 115 (2.0) gram/liter. These differences in density differentials may reflect similar changes in stiffness distributions, which could directly impact vibrational efficacy or indirectly modify sound radiation via altered damping characteristics. Either of these mechanisms may help explain the acoustical differences between the classical and modern violins.”
A Comparison of Wood Density between Classical Cremonese and Modern Violins, Berend C. Stoel of the Department of Radiology, Division of Image Processing, Leiden University Medical Center, Leiden, The Netherlands and Terry M. Borman of Borman Violins, Fayetteville, Arkansas, United States of America, PlosOne, July 2, 2008

Apparently even trees grew better in the old days.

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