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Willow or poplar for small viola back?

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On 2/22/2020 at 1:05 AM, MANFIO said:

I've made small, 15.5 violas with slab cut American red maple, it can be softer and lighter than european maple.

How about using poplar for the neck and scroll on a viola? Is poplar commonly used for this or do makers prefer maple for the neck and scroll for some reason?

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7 hours ago, Mampara said:

How about using poplar for the neck and scroll on a viola? Is poplar commonly used for this or do makers prefer maple for the neck and scroll for some reason?

Definition, that  envolves crisp edges, is important for carving a scroll, and poplar would be too soft for it. The neck could warp too. But some makers may have used it.

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2 hours ago, MANFIO said:

Definition, that  envolves crisp edges, is important for carving a scroll, and poplar would be too soft for it. The neck could warp too. But some makers may have used it.

I don’t think poplar would prevent crisp edges being achieved, spruce can be carved to crisp edges, and it is soft.

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10 hours ago, Mampara said:

How about using poplar for the neck and scroll on a viola? Is poplar commonly used for this or do makers prefer maple for the neck and scroll for some reason?

I'd graft it to a maple neck.

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On 3/2/2020 at 11:09 PM, Mampara said:

How about using poplar for the neck and scroll on a viola? Is poplar commonly used for this or do makers prefer maple for the neck and scroll for some reason?

Not sure I have ever seen a poplar scroll and certainly not a poplar neck. I either use plain maple scrolls or if I am feeling artistic then either a beech or pearwood head with a grafted maple neck

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On 2/20/2020 at 1:24 PM, David Beard said:

However, any softwood for a violin family back remains "contrary to tradition".  Poplar or willow can be great.

The 'T' word - tradition - the enemy of progress. As I stated at the beginning of my post, old growth Pinus strobus(a softwood) is actually slightly denser and harder than some traditionally used hardwoods. Plus, once sun-tanned, dyed, and varnished (perhaps antiqued) the woods all look equally attractive.

Oh, if only people would buy musical instruments with their ears instead of by labels and cultural bias.  Maybe if a dealer told a prospective buyer to audition the instrument while he/she fetches the spec sheet the violin would sell itself.

Excuse me while I go buy the world a Coke.

Sincerely,

Randy O'Malley

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On 3/3/2020 at 6:16 AM, MANFIO said:

Definition, that  envolves crisp edges, is important for carving a scroll, and poplar would be too soft for it. The neck could warp too. But some makers may have used it.

Manfio,

The 'best' carving wood (see Grinling Gibbons and wildfowl carvers) is Basswood/Linden/Lime, which is softer than poplar.  Red Cedar and White Cedar also take sharp edges ( see Native N. American carving). Creating the scroll in poplar is not a problem.  Durability in use of crisp scroll edges would be the issue; and that depends on the player/owner.

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OK so it looks like one can use poplar for this purpose but it may not last as long as something harder like maple. It probably also explains why tonewood dealers rarely sell poplar neck blocks, I can`t recall ever seeing one for sale. I have recently acquired two beautiful Lombardy poplar slabs, there's potentially a couple of violas hiding in each. I will find some plain maple for the neck and scrolls and see how that goes, prefer not to graft stuff if it can be prevented. Thanks to everyone for the input, its much appreciated.

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I'm afraid I don't usually like poplar or willow for the small instruments.  Maybe a very firm piece of poplar, but I'd need to  love it.

For heads I've used hard beech, walnut,  almond,(I think) and maple,  but always with a maple  neck. I have made cello heads from poplar, but  hard poplar. 

Randall,  most of the traditions we observe are based in solid practicality.  Pine splits with the grain, and is very  much stiffer lengthwise than across, so it isn't used for backs. The two pine backs I've seen were on German cellos, both brutal, and one witha post crack  from end to end.

Head wood must be chosen to accommodate  good working  pegs. Lime, willow, and usually poplar are too soft really, and wont last long before  they  need  repair. 

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14 hours ago, Randall The Restorer said:

The 'T' word - tradition - the enemy of progress. As I stated at the beginning of my post, old growth Pinus strobus(a softwood) is actually slightly denser and harder than some traditionally used hardwoods. Plus, once sun-tanned, dyed, and varnished (perhaps antiqued) the woods all look equally attractive.

Oh, if only people would buy musical instruments with their ears instead of by labels and cultural bias.  Maybe if a dealer told a prospective buyer to audition the instrument while he/she fetches the spec sheet the violin would sell itself.

Excuse me while I go buy the world a Coke.

Sincerely,

Randy O'Malley

Progress all you like.   I'd rather aim to regain the traditional alpine peaks rather than to explore the unkown valleys surrounding.

We are each free to choose our paths.

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1 hour ago, David Beard said:

Progress all you like.   I'd rather aim to regain the traditional alpine peaks rather than to explore the unkown valleys surrounding.

We are each free to choose our paths.

Thanks for your reply, David.

I suspect someone said something similar to Andrea Amati or Gasparo da Salo when they created the first violins; and to Louis Spohr when he invented the violin chin rest.  It was definitely said to W.A. Mozart, Beethoven, and Stravinsky when they created their innovative styles of music which we now call traditional.

I have found that retaining or regaining often takes more energy than exploring and little new is learned. Reascending "traditional alpine peaks" - actual or metaphorical usually involves treading some unfamiliar ground. How about choosing a bit of both of our philosophies? 

Surely, you have discovered enjoyable food flavours (a new brand of your usual beverage) or music sounds, etc. when circumstances beyond your control steered you away from the familiar. Conversely, good or neutral habits in one area of life can facilitate positive change in another area.

Yours truly,

Randy O'Malley

 

 

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12 hours ago, Conor Russell said:

I'm afraid I don't usually like poplar or willow for the small instruments.  Maybe a very firm piece of poplar, but I'd need to  love it.

For heads I've used hard beech, walnut,  almond,(I think) and maple,  but always with a maple  neck. I have made cello heads from poplar, but  hard poplar. 

Randall,  most of the traditions we observe are based in solid practicality.  Pine splits with the grain, and is very  much stiffer lengthwise than across, so it isn't used for backs. The two pine backs I've seen were on German cellos, both brutal, and one witha post crack  from end to end.

Head wood must be chosen to accommodate  good working  pegs. Lime, willow, and usually poplar are too soft really, and wont last long before  they  need  repair. 

Yup.

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6 hours ago, Randall The Restorer said:

Thanks for your reply, David.

I suspect someone said something similar to Andrea Amati or Gasparo da Salo when they created the first violins; and to Louis Spohr when he invented the violin chin rest.  It was definitely said to W.A. Mozart, Beethoven, and Stravinsky when they created their innovative styles of music which we now call traditional.

I have found that retaining or regaining often takes more energy than exploring and little new is learned. Reascending "traditional alpine peaks" - actual or metaphorical usually involves treading some unfamiliar ground. How about choosing a bit of both of our philosophies? 

Surely, you have discovered enjoyable food flavours (a new brand of your usual beverage) or music sounds, etc. when circumstances beyond your control steered you away from the familiar. Conversely, good or neutral habits in one area of life can facilitate positive change in another area.

Yours truly,

Randy O'Malley

 

 

I favor the quest to restore old methods in violin making because so many of the best fiddles seem to be from those old and lost traditions.  I'm more open to new arts in fields where the old ways don't flaunt such dominating advantage.

Considering how the lessor and even sloppy versions of old Cremona work seem to pace or best the cream of modern work, I feel seeking to restore old ways has much to offer in violin making.  In a way, 'doing as they did' is a radical and innovative proposition -- since no one has for about 250 years.

I don't proscribe mining the past for every field.  Neither do I believe innovation equates to betterment.

 

Again, each to the paths they enjoy.

 

 

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1 hour ago, David Beard said:

I favor the quest to restore old methods in violin making because so many of the best fiddles seem to be from those old and lost traditions.  I'm more open to new arts in fields where the old ways don't flaunt such dominating advantage.

Considering how the lessor and even sloppy versions of old Cremona work seem to pace or best the cream of modern work, I feel seeking to restore old ways has much to offer in violin making.  In a way, 'doing as they did' is a radical and innovative proposition -- since no one has for about 250 years.

I don't proscribe mining the past for every field.  Neither do I believe innovation equates to betterment.

 

Again, each to the paths they enjoy.

 

 

It seems we share some of the same ideals after all.  Firstly, you also use the term "fiddle" without disdain. Secondly, you talk about traditional methods and attitudes of work.  I collect and use antique woodworking tools and demonstrate their use to schoolchildren.  My teenaged son wants to learn blacksmithing.  The old methods are safer: less dust and fewer severed hands and fingers.

As a member of The (antique) Tool Group of Canada I learned and taught about various traditional trades and crafts. Living museums (especially the maritime type) are my favourite places. I also restore antique and vintage cedar-canvas canoes.   I still write letters with my late father's fountain pen on handmade paper that was made with handmade tools.  I still shoot black & white 35mm film and develop it in my basement darkroom. I hand - grind my coffe to brew in a French Press.  On the other hand, as a Respiratory Therapist in the ICU and OR I use the most sophisticated machinery on the planet to save lives. 

Your approach to tradition and innovation is a thoughtful, careful one - worthy of respect. My issue is with traditionalists who suffer from mental inertia or bigotry. I also take umbrage with people who insist on change just for the sake of change.

As for my idea of slab cut Eastern White Pine for a back, or quartered for a top, it applies to tonewood quality specimens of a New World species. I think if the old masters saw and felt boards like those in my collection they would have given them a try.  Being Ontarian I like to use Ontario (Canada) woods (sort of a 100-Mile Diet for luthiers). 

The way I see it, suggesting a different wood species for fiddles or guitars isn't breaking with tradition.  Suggesting carbon-fibre or aluminum would be a definite  departure.

May I recommend Roy Underhill's, The Woodwright's Shop books and television show?  You should also enjoy The Forgotten Arts and Crafts by John Seymour. These men are practical philosophers as well as artisans, historians, and teachers.

Finally David, I write my entries, and urge you to continuing writing yours, not to debate or to listen to myself but for the benefit of impressionable, open-minded young people who might read them.

"Don't just curse the darkness. Light a candle."  Unknown

Yours truly,

Randy O'Malley

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20 hours ago, Conor Russell said:

Pine splits with the grain, and is very  much stiffer lengthwise than across, so it isn't used for backs.

Thank you for this information, Conor. 

I am a bit confused, doesn't the spruce and maple we use also split with the grain?

I suggested a one-piece flatsawn back of tight-grained Pinus strobus. How might that work? Also, when you write Pine do you mean an Old World/European species?

Sincerely,

Randy O'Malley 

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3 hours ago, Randall The Restorer said:

Thank you for this information, Conor. 

I am a bit confused, doesn't the spruce and maple we use also split with the grain?

I suggested a one-piece flatsawn back of tight-grained Pinus strobus. How might that work? Also, when you write Pine do you mean an Old World/European species?

Sincerely,

Randy O'Malley 

Yes, maple and spruce do split. Maple is tough, and is usually quite strong enough to resist breaking at the sound post, even though the post is pushing outward on the arching.  In the belly, the spruce arch is more or less in compression,  where it matters.

Spruce, and any of the other pines I know, split readily on the quarter. One good tap on the  froe is all it takes- it's how our bellies are cut. So the sound post wouldn't be long popping through. 

The back of a  violin must be firm and stable,  and offer a solid foundation for the bridge. If it's  too  soft the violin will sound soggy, and have no g string.  

If you want to work with local  materials  in Canada,  might I suggest maple? ( smiley  face)

 

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6 hours ago, Randall The Restorer said:

I suggested a one-piece flatsawn back of tight-grained Pinus strobus. How might that work? Also, when you write Pine do you mean an Old World/European species?

Flat sawn will split even easier. That split direction is exactly the direction how you split your firewood...

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Another aspect of these issues is that traditions often have learning and knowledge hidden within them. Traditions can enshrine choices that have decades, generations, centuries, or sometimes even millenia of learning and experimentation behind them. Traditions can be deeply wise.

In example, many cultures have independently arrived at spruce and very similar woods as an ideal wood for the primary radiant soundboard material in musical instruments.  Such cultural choices are not capricious but embody long and extensive collective learning.

And these same traditions generally arrived at different, non-spruce like woods for the non-soundboard structural body elements of instrument.  The traditional wood choices for these body elements vary more, but still reflect communal learning rather than caprice.  And generally, the woods chosen in these roles are significantly mechanically different than the spruce and spruce-like soundboard choices.

Many different cultures also arrived at stretched skins as good drum heads.  Are we also going to suggest making the drum frame from skins?

One could use stiffened leather to build such a drum, but it's working against the grain. 

Appropriateness in one role does not necessarily imply fitness for a contrasting role.

There is peril and huberous in turning your back on the wisdom within traditions.

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