Stradivarius trees: Searching for perfect musical wood

Switzerland is home to some of the best violin makers in the world. But how do they know which tree will make a top quality violin? A wander through the forest with a master tree picker gives an idea of the enormous experience and instinct required.

Just any tree will not do when combing a forest in Switzerland for the perfect musical wood – its age, the weather and even the position of the moon help to craft the warmest, fullest notes.

Lorenzo Pellegrini shook his head and walked away, knee-deep in snow. He was not going to waste his time on that tree. Too many branches. Branches mean knots in the wood. And knots in the wood spoil its resonance.

Pellegrini is a tree picker. He will find you the spruce in 10,000 that is just right. He will find you the “Stradivarius tree”.

“Lentement, lentement, lentement,” he says. “Slowly, slowly, slowly”. That’s how violin trees should grow. “Up in these mountains, they grow so slowly sometimes they stop growing altogether. They just gather strength. There are trees up here that are a thousand years old,” he says. His blue eyes are wide with wonderment. “Can you believe that?”

Pellegrini has been working the Risoud Forest since he was nine. Growing up in Italy’s Abruzzo mountains, he and his family would go deep into the woods each year, hours and hours from the nearest village, build a cabin to live in and stay there for eight months, cutting down trees, chopping up logs.

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