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Working with willow

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Hello Maestronetters,

I've recently been experimenting with willow for the back and ribs of my violas. [...]

Thanks for sharing the information, Theo.

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Making a cello with a willow or poplar back, do makers copy old masters where the original has a willow/poplar back, or do you use a model of your liking? I know that Melvin copies a Ruggeri that has a poplar back. I would be interested to know which Strads have a willow back and how to obtain the measurements. Do makers ever share measurements of instruments that they have measured themselves?

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A very interesting thread. I have enjoyed reading about opinions on the tone of different woods for cello backs. I'm working on a ca. 1835 3/4 size cello I bought recently, and I think it has a willow back although I'm not certain. It is figured and to be honest, it looks a bit like oak. The instrument was imported by the Klemm music store in Philadelphia, and with their German background I would expect that their instruments were made in Germany. I will post a picture of the back tomorrow. Thank you for the mature discussion in this thread and others.

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2 hours ago, Andreas Preuss said:

Willow is not Willow. There are many species with quite different properties. For reference I suggest to look here.

https://www.wood-database.com/?s=Willow

There are at least 5 different types and what most people don't know  poplar is a species of Willow.

Andreus,

Here in North America willow is Salix and poplar is Populus. Also some of the woods sold as poplar are actually of the Magnolia or Liriodendron families. I don't know what is what in Europe but would be surprised if willow and poplar are the same genus although commercially one might be substituted for the other.

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1 hour ago, nathan slobodkin said:

Andreus,

Here in North America willow is Salix and poplar is Populus. Also some of the woods sold as poplar are actually of the Magnolia or Liriodendron families. I don't know what is what in Europe but would be surprised if willow and poplar are the same genus although commercially one might be substituted for the other.

Nathan,

my knowledge comes from reading Wikipedia:

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Populus_nigra

poplus nigra belongs to the family of salicaceae or in normal English willow trees. 

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7 hours ago, Andreas Preuss said:

Nathan,

my knowledge comes from reading Wikipedia:

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Populus_nigra

poplus nigra belongs to the family of salicaceae or in normal English willow trees. 

Willow and poplar are in the same taxonomic family but not the same genus. I think Salicacae includes both genus Salix (willow) and Populus (true poplars) and  as I mentioned there are other commercially sold "poplars" that are neither of those but I assume are also in the same family.

Perhaps Jim Bresette could chime in here being an ecologist and all.

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3 hours ago, nathan slobodkin said:

Willow and poplar are in the same taxonomic family but not the same genus. I think Salicacae includes both genus Salix (willow) and Populus (true poplars) and  as I mentioned there are other commercially sold "poplars" that are neither of those but I assume are also in the same family.

Perhaps Jim Bresette could chime in here being an ecologist and all.

It seems that it depends on if you look on family or genus. 

In any case I mentioned it because from a technical standpoint we believe that 'willow' means 'the lightest wood'. However there are types of Willow strong and solid as maple for example 'diamond willow' .  (I worked with that stuff and was pretty surprised  when first put my gouge into it.)

On the other hand I found out  (when working on the super light violin project)  that European poplar is a fraction lighter than the lightest Willow. 

 

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4 hours ago, nathan slobodkin said:

Willow and poplar are in the same taxonomic family but not the same genus. I think Salicacae includes both genus Salix (willow) and Populus (true poplars) and  as I mentioned there are other commercially sold "poplars" that are neither of those but I assume are also in the same family.

Perhaps Jim Bresette could chime in here being an ecologist and all.

 

56 minutes ago, Andreas Preuss said:

It seems that it depends on if you look on family or genus. 

In any case I mentioned it because from a technical standpoint we believe that 'willow' means 'the lightest wood'. However there are types of Willow strong and solid as maple for example 'diamond willow' .  (I worked with that stuff and was pretty surprised  when first put my gouge into it.)

On the other hand I found out  (when working on the super light violin project)  that European poplar is a fraction lighter than the lightest Willow. 

 

Nathan is right of course.  I saw the post at work but was waiting until I got home to give a detailed response.  However, I don't think Andreas is interested in the taxonomic differences and the level of relatedness between or among species.  Based on the above post, Andreas is simply interested in the physical and working properties of wood independent of a species taxonomic classification.  I'm still happy to explain the Linnaeus or more modern classification system ad nauseam should there be interest.  Just like trying to talk violins with non-violin people, I've learned to not go into ecological details unless folks are really interested otherwise their eyes start glazing over fairly quick. :)

Cheers,

Jim    

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1 hour ago, Jim Bress said:

 

Nathan is right of course.  I saw the post at work but was waiting until I got home to give a detailed response.  However, I don't think Andreas is interested in the taxonomic differences and the level of relatedness between or among species.  Based on the above post, Andreas is simply interested in the physical and working properties of wood independent of a species taxonomic classification.  I'm still happy to explain the Linnaeus or more modern classification system ad nauseam should there be interest.  Just like trying to talk violins with non-violin people, I've learned to not go into ecological details unless folks are really interested otherwise their eyes start glazing over fairly quick. :)

Cheers,

Jim    

Absolutely right. Cheers :)

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I am wondering if any members here who specialize in making viols have used willow or similar woods; and what their experiences were?

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8 hours ago, violguy said:

I am wondering if any members here who specialize in making viols have used willow or similar woods; and what their experiences were?

I don't specialize in violas but I guess I do sort of specialize in willow and poplar instruments. It has been many years since I have made a cello or viola with anything else.

As with cellos I think the softer woods make for a warmer sound. They can have plenty of power but seldom have the 'Bite" of maple instruments. If I want more of a focus or edge I will use maple or beech ribs. As has been pointed out the range of hardness and weight of the two species are extremely wide with some varieties being almost as hard as maple and the other end being extremely light and soft. I adjust graduations accordingly and all can make great instruments. One of the sales people at Reuning's who sold my cellos for years  told me the lighter willows sounded "huskier" but didn't necessarily prefer one over the other.

I don't have experience with European willows or poplars I use the North American varieties.

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1 hour ago, violguy said:

I am wondering if any members here who specialize in making viols have used willow or similar woods; and what their experiences were?

Viols or violas?

i have used all sorts of woods for violas. In general it seems that quarter sawn maple is not the best choice when aiming at a warmer sound color.

I have used chestnut on a Storioni copy and since then I am almost hundred percent sure that what is described as Oppio in many books is in reality chestnut. It works acoustically well but is extremely difficult to work with.

On a Grancino copy I used Willow from the garden of our country house in Odenwald. It seemed that it was a hard unflamed Willow type, presumably Diamond Willow.

otherwise slab cut maple worked for me as well.

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7 hours ago, Andreas Preuss said:

Viols or violas?

i have used all sorts of woods for violas. In general it seems that quarter sawn maple is not the best choice when aiming at a warmer sound color.

I have used chestnut on a Storioni copy and since then I am almost hundred percent sure that what is described as Oppio in many books is in reality chestnut. It works acoustically well but is extremely difficult to work with.

On a Grancino copy I used Willow from the garden of our country house in Odenwald. It seemed that it was a hard unflamed Willow type, presumably Diamond Willow.

otherwise slab cut maple worked for me as well.

I did specify viols

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On 5/1/2019 at 6:49 AM, nathan slobodkin said:

I don't specialize in violas but I guess I do sort of specialize in willow and poplar instruments. It has been many years since I have made a cello or viola with anything else.

As with cellos I think the softer woods make for a warmer sound. They can have plenty of power but seldom have the 'Bite" of maple instruments. If I want more of a focus or edge I will use maple or beech ribs. As has been pointed out the range of hardness and weight of the two species are extremely wide with some varieties being almost as hard as maple and the other end being extremely light and soft. I adjust graduations accordingly and all can make great instruments. One of the sales people at Reuning's who sold my cellos for years  told me the lighter willows sounded "huskier" but didn't necessarily prefer one over the other.

I don't have experience with European willows or poplars I use the North American varieties.

Nate, how would you compare quarter sawn willow to plain sawn willow (assumed normal) and quarter sawn maple. I have a two-piece quarter sawn maple back and one-piece quarter sawn willow (Salix alba) back waiting to be made into a cello for me. 

Thanks,

Jim

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I am currently making two cellos, same model, arching, etc. different woods. One is standard maple (european) and the other is pear. I am excited to hear the difference in sound and I will report back when done.

 

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42 minutes ago, arglebargle said:

I am currently making two cellos, same model, arching, etc. different woods. One is standard maple (european) and the other is pear. I am excited to hear the difference in sound and I will report back when done.

 

Pear wood wide enough for a cello? I have pear envy.

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On ‎5‎/‎2‎/‎2019 at 10:04 PM, Jim Bress said:

Nate, how would you compare quarter sawn willow to plain sawn willow (assumed normal) and quarter sawn maple. I have a two-piece quarter sawn maple back and one-piece quarter sawn willow (Salix alba) back waiting to be made into a cello for me. 

Thanks,

Jim

Jim,

Is Salix Alba the weeping willow? If so I have never used quarter sawn only plain sawn. I would think the quarter sawn would be slightly stiffer than plain sawn and both would be about as different from maple as you could get being much lighter, softer and more flexible.

While I have made cellos out of both plain sawn and quartered Black Willows and also of various Poplars without any problems I know that Roger Hargrave has said that quartered poplar will split easier that plain sawn. Not my experience and I always go for quarter sawn ribs but if Roger says something you have to at least pay attention.

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27 minutes ago, nathan slobodkin said:

Jim,

Is Salix Alba the weeping willow? If so I have never used quarter sawn only plain sawn. I would think the quarter sawn would be slightly stiffer than plain sawn and both would be about as different from maple as you could get being much lighter, softer and more flexible.

While I have made cellos out of both plain sawn and quartered Black Willows and also of various Poplars without any problems I know that Roger Hargrave has said that quartered poplar will split easier that plain sawn. Not my experience and I always go for quarter sawn ribs but if Roger says something you have to at least pay attention.

It’s white willow from Europe, not a weeping willow. I have some notes on graduation of willow that you’ve written.  Do you graduate quarter sawn willow differently from flat sawn, or does it depend on how that piece of wood feels?

Thanks,

Jim 

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