While I’ve never had the opportunity to hear one in person, nearly anyone involved in the world of music is aware of the near-legendary quality of the instruments created by Italian violin maker Antonio Stradivari. It appears that scientists may have narrowed down one intriguing factor in what makes a Stradivarius sound the way it does — it’s all in the wood.

…a tree-ring dating expert at the University of Tennessee and a climatologist at Columbia University offer a new theory — the wood developed special acoustic properties as it was growing because of an extended period of long winters and cool summers.


Grissino-Mayer at Tennessee and Dr. Lloyd Burckle at Columbia suggest a “Little Ice Age” that gripped Europe from the mid-1400s until the mid-1800s slowed tree growth and yielded uncommonly dense Alpine spruce for Antonio Stradivari and other famous 17th century Italian violinmakers.


“I think it is very, very interesting, and it seems to me a valid observation,” said Helen Hayes, president of the New York-based Violin Society of America, which hired Grissino-Mayer to examine “The Messiah.”

“But on the other hand, nobody in this field … would ever say that if you put the best wood in the world in the hands of a mediocre maker that you would get a good instrument,” she said. “So it is never a complete explanation. Nor is the varnish nor any of the other things they have talked about. I would dare say there is no one piece of the puzzle.”

(via Marginal Revolution)