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Arash

Working with willow

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Hello,

Here, on MN, and elsewhere willow is often recommended as an alternative to maple for cello and viola backs. I know that willow can have rather pronounced knots. My gut feeling is that one should not worry about the small knots, which may make nice visual features, but what about larger/largish knots? Are they a problem when preparing the back? Will it be a problem to get the surface smooth? Or, when is a knot in a willow back a problematic knot? I would be grateful for your thoughts.

Thanks.

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Why are you looking at willow as an alternative? Cost? You have a willow in your yard? :)

The problem with "non-traditional" woods is that players and sellers tend to avoid them unless they look or sound spectacular.

Mike

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Mainly cost. And then I think: if it costs less, looks beautiful (IMHO), supposedly produces a warmer tone and is a dream to work with, why should I not go for it. But I am happy to be corrected.

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Alkis Rappas won a silver medal for tone at the recent VSA competition....viola with a poplar back.

Marilyn Wallin did a viola a few years ago with a gnarly poplar back...most folks would have thrown that piece of wood in the stove for kindling. Here are pictures of a Nate Slobodkin cello with willow back.....

Lots of precident for these woods in cello and viola. Varnishing is different, but not difficult.

on we go,

Joe

post-6284-0-05370600-1355322228_thumb.jpg

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Thanks, Joe. That cello back is fantastically beautiful (and without any knots). I understand people make violins with poplar too, but both willow and poplar seem to be mostly recommended for violas and cellos. Melvin uses poplar for his cellos and he too seems to be very happy with the tonal quality of poplar.

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Hi Arash,

I have made a few cellos of willow from Italy, and have been pleased with them and sold them.

I find the willow sold by the Italian woodmen for cellos to be very soft and light, and you have to acomodate this in the thickness. I went on feel for this, making the plate to have about the same heft and flex as maple. I ended up with about 13 mm in the centre,and over 10 for the whole central area. The willow tree is prone to rot in the centre, and the wood can look nearly ok, so take some strips from the piece, especially in the centre and at the edges, and make sure they don't snap across the grain.

Willow and poplar are often matched with beech sides, and that's well worth doing, because willow sides can be very plain, and have a shine to them that can look flat under varnish. The ribs can look like a cheap guitar, till they get beaten up and warped with age.

I think it would be worth trying some English willow. It's harder, and though it's whiter, I think it might be very good. If you find a good source, please let me know!

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It's important to choose the right model if you intend to use willow. Willow tends to produce a more diffused, less focused, warmer and darker sound. If that is matched with a model that tends to also be darker and more diffused the result could be a not very desirable instrument. But matched to an aggressive, focused model, it can bring warmth, greater ease and quicker response to the instrument.

Knots can be an issue, keep them small and away from the sound post or other areas of stress.

Oded Kishony

post-95-0-11961500-1355328059_thumb.jpg

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Thanks, Joe. That cello back is fantastically beautiful (and without any knots). I understand people make violins with poplar too, but both willow and poplar seem to be mostly recommended for violas and cellos. Melvin uses poplar for his cellos and he too seems to be very happy with the tonal quality of poplar.

When I first started getting things together to make my first violin I had looked at some pieces of poplar and noticed it had a wonderful ringing tone when you tapped it.. I thought it might make a good instrument wood. The density is somewhere between spruce and maple. The problem for me was finding two pieces in the stack at the hardware store that would make a nice "matched" pair. Biggest problem was there was a lot of green discoloration which I didn't care for. Do they sell it in 1/4 cut wedges I wonder? I guess you could use a wider 10" board slab cut for an instrument.

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Lots of precident for these woods in cello and viola. Varnishing is different, but not difficult.

on we go,

Joe

post-6284-0-05370600-1355322228_thumb.jpg

How do they "match up" the sides in these instruments? Are we still talking maple? Maybe less of a flame and more figured?

:)

Joe

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Hi Arash,

I have made a few cellos of willow from Italy, and have been pleased with them and sold them.

I find the willow sold by the Italian woodmen for cellos to be very soft and light, and you have to acomodate this in the thickness. I went on feel for this, making the plate to have about the same heft and flex as maple. I ended up with about 13 mm in the centre,and over 10 for the whole central area. The willow tree is prone to rot in the centre, and the wood can look nearly ok, so take some strips from the piece, especially in the centre and at the edges, and make sure they don't snap across the grain.

Willow and poplar are often matched with beech sides, and that's well worth doing, because willow sides can be very plain, and have a shine to them that can look flat under varnish. The ribs can look like a cheap guitar, till they get beaten up and warped with age.

I think it would be worth trying some English willow. It's harder, and though it's whiter, I think it might be very good. If you find a good source, please let me know!

Thanks for all the information. I was going to post more practical questions later, but can now start collecting useful data.

Someone had once suggested on MN that if you live in the UK, you could find cheap but good willow in sawmills. I have failed to find a sawmill nearby and as a result I have failed to locate (English) willow. Will make sure to post here, if I find something.

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It's important to choose the right model if you intend to use willow. Willow tends to produce a more diffused, less focused, warmer and darker sound. If that is matched with a model that tends to also be darker and more diffused the result could be a not very desirable instrument. But matched to an aggressive, focused model, it can bring warmth, greater ease and quicker response to the instrument.

Knots can be an issue, keep them small and away from the sound post or other areas of stress.

Oded Kishony

Thanks, Oded, for mentioning these two points: cello model to take into account the sound quality of willow and avoid knots.

Beautiful cello. I assume you made it.

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When I first started getting things together to make my first violin I had looked at some pieces of poplar and noticed it had a wonderful ringing tone when you tapped it.. I thought it might make a good instrument wood. The density is somewhere between spruce and maple. The problem for me was finding two pieces in the stack at the hardware store that would make a nice "matched" pair. Biggest problem was there was a lot of green discoloration which I didn't care for. Do they sell it in 1/4 cut wedges I wonder? I guess you could use a wider 10" board slab cut for an instrument.

You can easily get one piece slab backs for violas and cellos; that's at least my understanding. But from all that I read, poplar is less commonly used on violins. Others will correct me, if I am wrong.

As for the ribs, again, as far as I have seen, you find "matching" willow ribs as well as poplar. But a lot of people seem to prefer other woods as well, such as beech, right? I like willow ribs, they can look beautiful.

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Thanks, Oded, for mentioning these two points: cello model to take into account the sound quality of willow and avoid knots.

Beautiful cello. I assume you made it.

Yes I did make the cello. The model is the late Strad cello model often referred to as the "De Munk" most recently used by Steve Iserliss.

I would not use alternative wood to make a violin. In my opinion the acceptable sound of a violin is more narrowly defined than a cello or a viola and alternative woods don't result in a mainstream violin sound.

Here is a different alternative wood. I've made a couple of cellos from cherry wood. I've been very pleased with the results.

Oded

post-95-0-16607300-1355344660_thumb.jpg

post-95-0-41933000-1355344822_thumb.jpg

oops that's a picture of me holding a chicken.....;- )

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I think poplar is considered acceptable for violas and cellos because some think it allows the instrument to acheive a darker sound. Not sure about willow. Not considered acceptable for violins, though. Unless you're using it for blocks/linings/corners. :)

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Here is a different alternative wood. I've made a couple of cellos from cherry wood. I've been very pleased with the results.

Oded

post-95-0-16607300-1355344660_thumb.jpg

post-95-0-41933000-1355344822_thumb.jpg

oops that's a picture of me holding a chicken.....;- )

I had seen the cherry cello on your website and quite liked it. Very beautiful. But I think finding cherry backs is not easy :)

Beautiful chicken too. I don't suppose it is varnished :) We used to keep chickens, they are nice and beautiful animals with tasty eggs.

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Hi Arash,

David Dyke here in the UK can be a very good source of willow and poplar. He knows what luthiers need and where to get it and his prices are very reasonable compared to what we might spend in fuel visiting wood yards ourselves unless we get lucky! http://www.luthierss...pplies.co.uk/ Below is a clip of one of my Celli made using David's poplar. The cello is a copy of the talented musician's father's Ruggeri.

My own approach to using willow or poplar ....might vary a bit with some posts so far from makers whose work I really like and respect. I am not looking to compensate too much for not being maple...otherwise use maple! .some good thickness in the middle can be good but normal grads in the bouts can work OK even tho the free plate might feel like floppy card board.... ! I am not sure that the use of these woods will result in a mellow sound always.

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"Poplar" can cover a very wide range of wood properties, depending on the species. 'Lombardy poplar' (not sure if it's a true poplar Liriodendron ) for instance can be more dense and stiffer than maple.

Nice video Melvin!

Oded

I think Liriodendron is the typical hardware store 'Tulip Poplar'. Real poplars would have a name begining with populus such as Populus Nigra which has cultivars relevant to this discussion, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lombardy_Poplar

I've used tulip poplar for some guitars. Some of it is very soft and similar to true poplar in color, stiffness, and hardness. Other pieces of tulip poplar are as tough to carve as rock maple and are very heavy too.

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Melvin,

Thanks for sharing your thoughts on using poplar. It's good to see a poplar cello in action and it has such a beautiful sound. I will get in touch with David regarding willow.

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I've made about 80 willow cellos and 50 of poplar. Over all I like willow better partly because as others have pointed out poplar includes a wide variety of woods and I'm a big fan of working with similar materials over and over to eliminate the variables and achieve predictable results. There are also many kinds of willow available but the differences between them are narrower. As for the OP's question about knots Oded is correct that you need to avoid knots in the soundpost area but the small knots are quite nice and sometimes can yield a birdseye figure or sprays of tiny knots which are really beutifull. I definitely adjust the Grads to leave the central bout area strong enough to withstand soundpost pressure The 13 MM. center someone mentioned is certainly in the ballpark.

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I've been thinking about making a cello from Bass wood. I've seen some a while ago that had very prominent and beautiful modulary rays. Seems to me that Basswood is similar enough to willow. Anyone tried it? Opinions?

Oded

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Interesting idea Oded, I have used basswood once for cello linings. One thing I noticed is that it tends to "crumple" in the curves when bent, I thought more so, and more abruptly, than willow linings. Were you thinking of basswood ribs for this hypothetical cello? If so, it might be worth seeing how rib stock reacts to the bending process.

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Interesting idea Oded, I have used basswood once for cello linings. One thing I noticed is that it tends to "crumple" in the curves when bent, I thought more so, and more abruptly, than willow linings. Were you thinking of basswood ribs for this hypothetical cello? If so, it might be worth seeing how rib stock reacts to the bending process.

I would probably make the ribs of a different wood. Beech, if I can find some or maple. Willow is a tougher wood than bass. It's used to make cricket bats !

I need to find out more about bass wood. I made an experimental violin (after Douglas Martin type design) which turned out quite nice and seems more stable and durable than balsa,

What struck me about the basswood is how beautiful the modulary rays looked. Basswood is also known as linden.

Basswood is said to have a density of 560 kg per cubic meter. How does that dompare to maple density, anyone care to do the math?

Oded

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Peter,

We have a lot of good basswood around here so I have made a lot of drawer stock from it. The "crumbliness" is likely a result of drying too fast. Properly air dried it is quite flexible. However there is a large variation from tree to tree. Janka hardness runs from 910 - 1470. Cut on the quarter 1" stock takes 3 years to air dry....covered and out of the sun...north eastern USA.

Joe

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