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Japan Music Science

Spider Silk Spun Into Violin Strings 49

jones_supa writes "A Japanese researcher wanted to see how spider silk would convert to strings of a violin. Dr. Shigeyoshi Osaki of Nara Medical University used 300 female Nephila maculata spiders to provide the dragline silk. For each string, Osaki twisted thousands of individual strands of silk in one direction to form a bundle. The strings were then prepared from three of these bundles twisted together in the opposite direction. The final product withstood less tension before breaking than a traditional gut string, but more than an aluminum-coated, nylon-core string. This kind of spider-string is described as having a 'soft and profound timbre.'"
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Spider Silk Spun Into Violin Strings

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  • Play music (Score:5, Funny)

    by ackthpt ( 218170 ) on Monday March 05, 2012 @08:42PM (#39256043) Homepage Journal

    And catch lunch at the same time! No more starving musicians!

  • by cvtan ( 752695 ) on Monday March 05, 2012 @08:43PM (#39256051)
    I need a pithy quip involving spiders and violins. Where is the Phil Silvers handbook of humor when you need it?! Damn!
  • The sound (Score:5, Funny)

    by Kohath ( 38547 ) on Monday March 05, 2012 @08:55PM (#39256163)

    They sound like the horrific screams of a thousand terrified flies.

  • Imagine the possiblities for 8-legged pizzicato.

    Come to think of it, I am not especially fond of pizzicato.

  • gut versus nylon (Score:4, Interesting)

    by dbc ( 135354 ) on Monday March 05, 2012 @09:03PM (#39256257)

    Somehow that doesn't make sense to me. Gut strings are somewhat delicate. They have been largely replaced by nylon cores flat-wound with flat wire (aluminum or silver) for old instruments, and more modern instruments that can stand the high tension are wound on steel cores. I thought that nylon core strings could stand higher tension that gut strings. They certainly last longer. Nobody uses gut any more.

    • Re:gut versus nylon (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 05, 2012 @09:23PM (#39256417)

      Interesting, it's been a long time, but when I played it was all gut, except the E string which was steel. I figured that other than for students, that would likely always be the case due to the intrinsic classical nature of classically played violin. Combined with the effect of a well made / good instrument only getting better with age...when properly cared for...but I googled a bit, and it does indicate the steel and synthetic are much more common these days.

      I'm no expert, but my second violin had steel strings, and it was similar, though not nearly as dramatic, as a honkey-tonk piano compared the timber of a grand piano a'la comparing steel to to the gut strings. Both pleasing if for completely different reasons and experiences.

    • there are gut strings still being made for those who prefer that tone -however, they do not last as long, or hold tune as well as the various synthetic-core and metal strings now available:

      that said, many of the above are for Viola da Gamba, which is not a widely played instrument.

      I'm just sayin'
      • Re:gut versus nylon (Score:5, Interesting)

        by dbc ( 135354 ) on Monday March 05, 2012 @11:16PM (#39256985)

        "not widely played".... um, yes, that is certainly true. There are a few players out there. I've seen and heard a Hardanger fiddle, which is in that family.

        My daughter's violin teacher, old enough to have grandchildren in college, and who played in the San Jose orchestra when *she* was in high school, uses gut strings on her main instrument - Pirastro Olive's. But she is a hold out on gut strings. When above I said "nobody uses them" I should have said "nobody except the last few hold outs". I can't think of anyone else I know using gut. Almost all our teacher's students are playing on Thomastik Dominants, which are steel core.

        It is interesting that baroque era violins had a more shallow neck angle and a lower bridge. There is less overall string tension, so the top plate is generally carved much thinner. Most old instruments have had a neck reset to the modern angle, and of course have been fitted with the taller bridge that goes with it. You have to be careful with those instruments because a modern steel string like a Dominant will apply more force than the top can survive.

    • Re:gut versus nylon (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 05, 2012 @09:53PM (#39256587)

      I'm a serious violin student (studying violin performance in grad school now) and I use gut strings wound in steel for my three lower strings and a plain steel e on the highest string on my modern (made two years ago) instrument. Your statement that 'nobody uses gut any more' isn't true at all for violin playing, although perhaps for guitar it may be true. The problem with plain steel strings is that the sound is very simple. It might be stable and loud but it doesn't have the same complexity that gut strings (and modern synthetic imitations) have.

      I have had experience using plain gut strings and what really kills them is fraying from sweat, not tension. After playing heavily on plain gut strings for a while the outer strands will start unravel and form little 'hairs' foreshadowing the eventual failure of the string. Gut strings wound in steel (like the ones I use) solve this problem by shielding the gut. The steel also helps tuning stability as gut is more affected by swings in humidity than steel.

  • TFA includes a sample that I found intriguingly mellow yet possessing a pleasing range of overtones. It seems that Dr. Osaki is branching out a bit with his technique for harvesting the silk draglines, but I wonder just how practical it is to produce these strings on a large scale. It might be initially that we would see them only on very high-end instruments.
    • ... but I wonder just how practical it is to produce these strings on a large scale.

      It would be tough with natural spider silk draglines.

      But both the chemical and mechanical structure and construction mechanisms of spider silk are now reasonably understood, and arbitrary protein synthesis by genetic engineering of bacteria is well developed.

      So now that the concept is proven it should be straightforward to make synthetic dragline violin strings if a market for them develops.

      • Dragline silk is not the more delicate flexible stuff, right?

        I'm under the impression it's THAT stuff that's so damn difficult to make, not the dragline?

  • by c1t1z3nk41n3 ( 1112059 ) on Monday March 05, 2012 @09:11PM (#39256323)
    If you are wondering how it sounds you can check here. []
  • by garyebickford ( 222422 ) <> on Monday March 05, 2012 @09:18PM (#39256379)

    TFA says '3000 to 5000' strands of silk just to make one of the three strings that are twisted the other way (just like a class three-strand rope). I'm duly astonished - I knew spider silk was skinny, but it must be much smaller than I had ever envisioned. So I looked it up, and found stated diameters from 0.15 mm (small, but macro) down to the finest at 10 nanometers!

    I also learned about work from 2003 using that 10 nm silk as a core to make hollow optical fiber, which they hoped to make fiber with a diameter of only 2 nm.

  • Someone found a good use for spiders!
  • by meerling ( 1487879 ) on Monday March 05, 2012 @09:32PM (#39256489)
    Here's a link to the page with the audio if that's what interests you the most.
  • Now we know what a goblin spider's shamisen sounds like.
  • Spider silk body armor.

  • Fishing with kites and spider silk

  • Meh... (Score:3, Funny)

    by aaronb1138 ( 2035478 ) on Tuesday March 06, 2012 @02:40AM (#39258387)

    Doesn't this researcher know all the materials science industry cares about right now is what you can do with carbon nanotubes? Spider silk is so 90's.

    Man, I feel old.

    (kidding, not trolling. except the old part)

  • by Anonymous Coward

    I always wondered where they got strings so thin for the world's smallest violin. Now I know...

  • by Jawnn ( 445279 ) on Tuesday March 06, 2012 @10:28AM (#39260609)
    Someone (Monster Cable maybe?) needs to jump on this immediately. The "soft and profound timbre" description is a good start, but there is a big stinking pile of ready-made audiophile terms to describe the sonic qualities of everyday things made from esoteric materials. Sure the folks who've convinced millions to pay (far too much) good money for audio cables would be a godsend to the spider-silk violin string market.
  • What if we could some how extract the protiens from snake oil and make strings with that? snakes are long and tough, and some of them make cool noises. Maybe we could rub snake oil into the wood as well.

    Whenever you hear something about violin sound, your BS meter should be going off the scale. Many tests have shown that professional musicians have a really hard time distinguishing between new and old instruments, strativaris or modern copies, etc. Almost all violins are made with the same materials and

    • They specifically said in TFA that the difference was the prevalence of harmonics, which should be easily measured with a scope.

    • Almost all violins are made with the same materials and are copies of the same designs. So long as they meet some baseline of quality in construction and materials, it becomes largely a matter of personal preference for the performer in terms of what sound they like and what instrument they want to play.

      You do realize these strings were made from a material that has never before been used (nor anything similar to it)?

      You are essentially saying that a violin made from wood and one made out of aluminum will sound exactly the same.

  • However, all evidence is that people want cheap rather than good, so I don't expect these to come on market any time soon. Besides, those with no hearing will complain (as indeed I note they already have) that they can't hear the difference, actual measurements notwithstanding.

    Having said that, it would be interesting to see what material science can do to work on the concept. Spider silk is good but fragile - making it suitable for a single performance at The Proms at the Albert Hall but not really useful

The intelligence of any discussion diminishes with the square of the number of participants. -- Adam Walinsky