Spider silk is known for having a high tensile strength, high elasticity, and being able to maintain both of those qualities even in cold temperatures. As a result, it could have wide applications in things like ligament repair, and even biosteel, but who would have thought that it could also be great for violin strings? Shigeyoshi Osaki at Nara Medical University in Japan did, and after studying spiders and their silk for 35 years, he’s managed to figure out a way to create sets of spider strings. Why would you do that? Well, they sound really, really good.
After years of dealing with the beasts, Osaki learned how to get Nephila maculata spiders to, uh, “dispense” particularly long strands of dragline, the strongest variety of spider silk. By twisting up to 15,000 of these strands together, Osaki was able to create an entire set of violin strings. When woven together, the individual strands of spider silk actually mush together, so to speak, making for stronger, more compact strings. Strands of steel or nylon remain will remain as bunches of cylindrical strands when woven into a single string. The silk strands, however, compress into polygon shapes, thereby fitting together particularly well.
Violin strings were traditionally made from sheep gut, so spider silk isn’t that strange by comparison. And like their fleshy analog, spider silk strings are said to have a particularly brilliant timbre and generate a much higher quality sound than steel or nylon strings. That being the case, these spider silk strings may be the next hot thing in violin string technology. Especially because they can match, if not exceed, the durability of nylon or steel strings while providing the same kind of sound quality as the more fragile gut string.
The downside? Well, aside from requiring spiders for production — gross — spider silk strings don’t exactly come cheap at the moment. Osaki is trying to figure out a way to step up production, but if that involves some kind of spider farming, I don’t think anyone should let him continue. Spider silk strings also have a different feel from any other kind of strings, so some players might be unnerved by it.
Nevertheless, it seems that making music is another thing we can add to the list of spider silk accomplishments, right up there with trapping insects, keeping ants at bay, and catching dewdrops. The extent to which the spider strings advance violin technology probably isn’t something that most of us will be able to appreciate, but I’m sure it’ll make some silk-loving, violin music connoisseurs very happy. That is, so long as they don’t mind thinking about spiders the whole time they hear that lovely, lovely music.
(via New Scientist)