Here's an article from 2001 about how modern science is finally beginning to solve the mystery of how Antonio Stradivari crafted such extraordinary instruments.
THE secret of why the sounds of Stradivarius violins have never been surpassed may be hidden in their maker's unwitting attempt to protect them against woodworm, a scientist has discovered.
Joseph Nagyvary, a biochemist at Texas A&M University in College Station, has devoted his life's work to finding out why instruments made by a semi-literate boy in 17th century Cremona are so dramatically better than anything built since. ...
Now Dr Nagyvary believes he has discovered the secret. The answer is borax, the preservative Stradivari used to protect his wood. Whereas wooden artefacts from other northern Italian cities were riddled with woodworm, those from Cremona and Venice had very little. ...
At a recent symposium in Texas, Zina Schiff, a noted violinist, played a Stradivarius and a violin made by Dr Nagyvary, switching between the instruments throughout the performance.
Dr Nagyvary's violin was cut by a computer-controlled carving machine and used wood soaked in brine to emulate Stradivari's wood supplies. "There is a lot of historical evidence that all the logs came down a waterway, and they were stored in the Bay of Venice, sometimes for a very long period."
Miss Schiff said after the performance that she doubted whether anyone could tell the difference between the Stradivarius and Dr Nagyvary's violin.
The phenomenon of Stradivarius instruments has always fascinated me, not because of their musical qualities (which I'm not qualified to appreciate) but because of the anthropology behind their preservation. I wonder how long the instruments will be playable and maintainable?