Low density, high speed of sound and a high modulus of elasticity -- these qualities are essential for ideal violin tone wood. In the late 17th and early 18th century the famous violin maker Antonio Stradivari used a special wood that had grown in the cold period between 1645 and 1715. In the long winters and the cool summers, the wood grew especially slowly and evenly, creating low density and a high modulus of elasticity. Until now, modern violin makers could only dream of wood with such tonal qualities.
That cool weather had a dramatic effect on the density of seemingly "normal" wood the famed violin maker used. Examples of genuine Stradivarius violins are known to sell at auction for several million dollars if sold at all.
Recently, a Swedish wood researcher may have unlocked one of the lasting secrets of the Stradivarius sound. By treating the wood of an inexpensive violin with two types of fungus that decay wood in an unexpected way, Professor Francis W. M. R. Schwarze was able to manipulate the inexpensive violin’s sound to be indistinguishable from a Stradivarius. Schwarze developed the new technique by employing fungi that thin the wood of a violin, but don’t adversely affect the way sound travels through it, producing violins that were regularly mistaken for Strads by professional musicians in double blind studies. The next step is developing a process by which this fungus treated violin wood, or mycowood, could be used to mass produce cheap violins that sound just like their expensive counterparts.
That development could go a long way towards democratizing the violin world. Concert quality violins are a necessity in any young performer’s career, but are so expensive that young players often have trouble affording them. Some have instruments purchased and loaned to them by patrons, while others have seen families mortgage homes to afford a proper violin. If high quality instruments could be made on the cheap with mycowood, many more players around the world could have access to them in short order.
The 2 things I see from this however are a need for an immediate central registration of genuine Stradivarius violins* in order to prevent fraud with the new process and regarding the tonal differences of Stradivarius wood, what if the little ice age wasn't the only thing that caused this quality in the first place?
Sources -> http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/09/120908081611.htm via http://www.geekosystem.com/fungus-stradivarius/ http://web.archive.org/web/20070513143309/http://www.cnn.com/2003/TECH/science/12/08/stradivarius.secret.ap/ & http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stradivarius & http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2004/01/0107_040107_violin.html
Image source -> http://www.stradivarius.org/stradivarius-violins
*I assume a version of this already exists and this discovery is great for classical music, but one can assume that fraud is going to creep up once this process goes public unfairly lowering the cache of a genuine piece of history like a Stradivarius violin.