It's long been known that as an instrument ages it purges the moisture within, making it lighter in the process. Also, the more it's played, the more it begins to resonant as the vibrations are set in the wood (you can get more detail from The Ultimate Guitar Tone Handbook). But there's more to it than that, as any vintage collector will tell you. There are some vintage instruments that just sing while others aren't on the same level.
Now a team at the Center for Molecular Medicine in Berlin believes they've found the answer - fungi. After analyzing wood from various vintages of violins, Professor Francis Schwarze discovered that the one thing that everyone has been overlooking all these years is the fact that back in the Stradivarius' day, two species of fungi (think mushrooms) were normally found in the wood, and it decayed it in such a way that an instrument's tonal properties improved. The fungi reduce the density of the wood (just like the moisture being naturally purged) and increased the speed that the sound traveled through it. The interesting by-product is that the wood still remained as strong as ever.
So why don't we have natural wood fungi today? Most wood today is treated with an ethylene oxide gas before it's processed, which instantly kill all the fungi.
To put it to the test, the team exposed a new violin to the two fungi for a period of 9 months and then held a blind test against a Stradivarius. Although a test like this is always subjective, a panel of experts were fooled into thinking that the new violin was also a Strad.
Will this work on acoustic guitars as well? Maybe. Violins are typically made out of spruce and sycamore, and acoustic guitars typically use spruce for the tops, so it seems like an exposure to fungi might work (more on acoustic guitar woods in this post). Any takers out there?
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