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Spider Silk Spun Into Violin Strings

Soulskill posted more than 2 years ago | from the peter-parker-in-concert dept.

Japan 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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49 comments

Play music (5, Funny)

ackthpt (218170) | more than 2 years ago | (#39256043)

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

Re:Play music (1)

hguorbray (967940) | more than 2 years ago | (#39256259)

You think that's something?

Wait until they breed them big enough to play the violin!

I'm just sayin'

Re:Play music (5, Funny)

philip.paradis (2580427) | more than 2 years ago | (#39256915)

Terrible things can happen when people begin to fiddle with nature.

An ironic joke. (3, Interesting)

Tatarize (682683) | more than 2 years ago | (#39259341)

Interestingly, the best current source of spider silk today are genetically engineered goats which produce the protein in breast milk. Fiddle with nature indeed.

Re:Play music (1)

Squiddie (1942230) | more than 2 years ago | (#39256315)

I don't know about you, but just listening to that makes me itchy. I can't stand anything to do with spiders.

Re:Play music (4, Funny)

FatdogHaiku (978357) | more than 2 years ago | (#39256577)

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

You want flies with that?

Re:Play music (1)

tsa (15680) | more than 2 years ago | (#39261025)

How can you play music when the hairs of the bow stick to the strings all the time?

I just need the right words... (2)

cvtan (752695) | more than 2 years ago | (#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 (5, Funny)

Kohath (38547) | more than 2 years ago | (#39256163)

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

Re:The sound (3, Funny)

EdIII (1114411) | more than 2 years ago | (#39256265)

Now that you mention it, I thought I heard something screaming, "Help Meeeee!" in the background.

Why limit the spider's role to string production? (1)

dsgrntlxmply (610492) | more than 2 years ago | (#39256253)

Imagine the possiblities for 8-legged pizzicato.

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

Re:Why limit the spider's role to string productio (0)

YurB (2583187) | more than 2 years ago | (#39256435)

Imagine the possiblities for 8-legged pizzicato.

Was just about to write this! Completely agree. Then use PureData [wikipedia.org] to amplify, delay, slowdown and multiply this...

gut versus nylon (3, Interesting)

dbc (135354) | more than 2 years ago | (#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 (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#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.

Re:gut versus nylon (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39256539)

On TFA the sound clip to me was played so poorly that I couldn't stand listening for more than a few seconds. Horrible, horrible pitch accuracy.

Re:gut versus nylon (0, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39259541)

I'm so glad I'm not such a worthless snob and could actually listen to it.

Re:gut versus nylon (1)

hguorbray (967940) | more than 2 years ago | (#39256549)

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:

http://www.sharmusic.com/shop.axd/Search?keywords=gut+strings&fq=ATR_CoreMaterial%3aGut&page_no=2

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 (5, Interesting)

dbc (135354) | more than 2 years ago | (#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 (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#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.

Re:gut versus nylon (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39259773)

Not true. Anyone playing in a Baroque period style use gut strings to recreate the original sounds quality. An example of this are the players of the Hanover Band in the UK (http://thehanoverband.com). All the more important when playing on instruments from the period itself - ie, ones made around the 16th-17th century by instrument makers such as Testore and the Guaneri family. Granted, they are indeed fabulously expensive instruments :)

Re:gut versus nylon (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39265967)

jazz bass players use gut strings, you insensitive clod.

DAMN !! THAT SHIT MATTERS !! (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39256285)

Hiyo !! We be spinnin silk for de vyolyn !! The first time ever I saw your face !!

Re:DAMN !! THAT SHIT MATTERS !! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39256913)

WTF?

"Hiyo !! We be spinnin silk for de vyolyn"

Which language is that?

This Has Potential (1)

walkerp1 (523460) | more than 2 years ago | (#39256301)

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.

Re:This Has Potential (1)

Ungrounded Lightning (62228) | more than 2 years ago | (#39259179)

... 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.

Re:This Has Potential (1)

X0563511 (793323) | more than 2 years ago | (#39261767)

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?

silk - 0.15 mm down to 10 nm (4, Interesting)

garyebickford (222422) | more than 2 years ago | (#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.

Audio of it being played. (3, Informative)

meerling (1487879) | more than 2 years ago | (#39256489)

Here's a link to the page with the audio if that's what interests you the most.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-17243105

World's tiniest violin . . . (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39256759)

I don't know how many times I've sat around a bong with friends late at night where the conversation has come back to the age-old "wouldn't it be cool if we could make our violin strings from the silk spiderwebs of the Nephila maculata spider?" Seems like every other late-night gathering of the crowd meanders back to this question at some point, doesn't it? I'll bet we've hit some of those "torsional strength in counter-twisted pairs" arguments fifteen or twenty times themselves. Heh. Good times.

But this guy . . . he hears the question, and he just takes it into his head to go out and find the answer to it. No matter how much work it takes, no matter how difficult it might be, he just keeps at it with a dogged perseverance until he owns it!

And so, for the last five weeks since we found out about him, nobody wants to party anymore. All of the years of good gatherings, good conversations - ended. Over. We all just sit at home now, alone and bored. And angry. Boy, are we angry. I mean, what are we gonna talk about now?!! Nobody ASKED him to answer this question, did they?

Fucker.

Makes me wonder (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39256963)

Isn't it hard to play after your fingers get stuck to the string?

Re:Makes me wonder (1)

X0563511 (793323) | more than 2 years ago | (#39261793)

The silk and the adhesive they place on the silk is not the same thing. Dragline silk does not had adhesive.

fishing with spider silk (1)

avandesande (143899) | more than 2 years ago | (#39257041)

Fishing with kites and spider silk

http://sciencestage.com/v/5685/hd:-spider-web-fishing-south-pacific-bbc-two.html

Meh... (3, Funny)

aaronb1138 (2035478) | more than 2 years ago | (#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)

World's Smallest Violin (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39258681)

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

Marketing gold mine (2)

Jawnn (445279) | more than 2 years ago | (#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.

New idea! (0)

AtomicDevice (926814) | more than 2 years ago | (#39261069)

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 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.

Also everytime I hear 'audiophiles' talk about the qualities of a particular sound (i.e. 'soft and profound timbre') it makes me want to gag. What a load of BS. If you can't be specific in the differences in sound quality (better sustain, flatter frequency response) it's probably because there _aren't_ any differences. If it can't be measured with a 'scope, it's probably just not there. Go take some homeopathic medicine for your magic ears.

Re:New idea! (1)

amliebsch (724858) | more than 2 years ago | (#39261695)

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

Re:New idea! (1)

X0563511 (793323) | more than 2 years ago | (#39261823)

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.

Fascinating (1)

jd (1658) | more than 2 years ago | (#39262487)

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 for musicians in general. A tougher synthetic version is definitely needed, along with other strings of other materials with other sounds.

Ideally, there would be a single model you could produce where you could feed in the material properties and then synthesize the tonal properties. People shopping for strings could then choose by hearing rather than by popular opinion.

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