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Jacob

Spruce grain

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Jacob, Your photo is very typical of what I get and use. The only time I get precisely what I want is by buying in in person. I also agree with Martin that there are other visual properties that add to the attractiveness of spruce. At VSA shows, I have been noticing some minor features (hazelfichte, knots) that add to the visual appeal of antiqued violins. It's the sum of the parts that produces a good looking plate. 

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I picked an even more extreme set out of a bargain bin at VSA last month:

post-25192-0-24419500-1481997804_thumb.jpg

The widest grain is about 1mm, and the narrowest slightly under .5mm.  The narrow grain also doesn't have much dark winter grain, so it's almost impossible to see.  

 

I don't mind it aesthetically, although I suppose I have a preference for around 1mm, maybe going up to 1.5mm at the edges, and I'm not a fan of wider grain than that (aesthetically).

 

I don't see how grain spacing can influence sound on its own, without showing up in the physical wood properties.  And since I don't see that the spacing is correlated to wood properties, it's all about aesthetics when it comes to grain spacing.

 

 

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It should be possible for spruce suppliers to give you what you want....hope the myth that they cut  the tree themselves is long gone...It is bought in the wood yard where you can see the growth and split

Not true in my case. I hunt every tree on foot and I rarely find one close to the road. I have never set foot in a lumber yard. I carried 20 feet of this log off of a mountain last summer, each 80 lb chunk being a one mile round trip. Bad business model? Probably. Do I have nice legs? Absolutely.

post-28827-0-52332800-1482003008_thumb.jpg

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Not true in my case. I hunt every tree on foot and I rarely find one close to the road. I have never set foot in a lumber yard. I carried 20 feet of this log off of a mountain last summer, each 80 lb chunk being a one mile round trip. Bad business model? Probably. Do I have nice legs? Absolutely.

Forget the wood, let's see your legs ...

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I think that bit of spruce looks quite acceptable assuming all else passes muster.  If it were mine, I would cut off one or two bassbars off the thick side of the wedge, thus moving the wider grain more into the bouts of the eventual table.   Good for tone?  Perhaps.  I like tight-grained bassbars.   I met a famous maker in Cremona once who swore that you must cut off some of the wood near the sapwood in order to get the best out of a billet.   FWIW :)

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Kevin,

Seeing  the spike knot in that cant I wonder if you are familiar with the work of Alex Shigo and Karl Roy regarding the far reaching effects of  defects in tone wood. They claimed that the tonal qualities of the wood were affected negatively for quite a distance above and below a knot. Don't know if it is true or not but they were no dummies and as a wood guy you might be interested in reading the paper.

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I think that bit of spruce looks quite acceptable assuming all else passes muster.  If it were mine, I would cut off one or two bassbars off the thick side of the wedge, thus moving the wider grain more into the bouts of the eventual table.   Good for tone?  Perhaps.  I like tight-grained bassbars.   I met a famous maker in Cremona once who swore that you must cut off some of the wood near the sapwood in order to get the best out of a billet.   FWIW :)

Let me see if I'm following this right ...

The thick side of the wedge would show the finest grain, given that the wider grain is closest to the heart and therefore the thinnest part of the wedge.

So if you cut some wood off the sapwood edge, you would be removing some of the tightest grain, and bringing more wide-grain wood into the table.

Is that what you mean?

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My sincere thanks for the informative and helpful responses to my original question. I'm a lot more at ease now with the billets I've received.

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I picked an even more extreme set out of a bargain bin at VSA last month:

attachicon.gifIMG_4237.JPG

The widest grain is about 1mm, and the narrowest slightly under .5mm.  The narrow grain also doesn't have much dark winter grain, so it's almost impossible to see.  

 

I don't mind it aesthetically, although I suppose I have a preference for around 1mm, maybe going up to 1.5mm at the edges, and I'm not a fan of wider grain than that (aesthetically).

 

I don't see how grain spacing can influence sound on its own, without showing up in the physical wood properties.  And since I don't see that the spacing is correlated to wood properties, it's all about aesthetics when it comes to grain spacing.

Ain't that Sitka spruce, Don? Or perhaps whatthey call Lutz. Doesn't look like Eropean spruce to me.

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Hi Martin,

 

Yes, that's what I was describing. 

 

Kelvin

Let me see if I'm following this right ...

The thick side of the wedge would show the finest grain, given that the wider grain is closest to the heart and therefore the thinnest part of the wedge.

So if you cut some wood off the sapwood edge, you would be removing some of the tightest grain, and bringing more wide-grain wood into the table.

Is that what you mean?

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Not true in my case. I hunt every tree on foot and I rarely find one close to the road. I have never set foot in a lumber yard. I carried 20 feet of this log off of a mountain last summer, each 80 lb chunk being a one mile round trip. Bad business model? Probably. Do I have nice legs? Absolutely.

Kudos to you for doing that!

But I've never gotten wood that I liked as much from selecting and processing trees myself, as I have from selecting wood, in person, from wood dealers.

 

And if Stradivari made something like 1200+ instruments, I doubt that he was spending much time tromping around the forests with an axe.

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Ain't that Sitka spruce, Don? Or perhaps whatthey call Lutz. Doesn't look like Eropean spruce to me.

 

Sure doesn't look like Sitka to me, and I was not aware Rivolta was dealing in anything other than European spruce.

 

Not true in my case. I hunt every tree on foot and I rarely find one close to the road. I have never set foot in a lumber yard. I carried 20 feet of this log off of a mountain last summer, each 80 lb chunk being a one mile round trip. Bad business model? Probably. Do I have nice legs? Absolutely.

Kudos to you for doing that!

But I've never gotten wood that I liked as much from selecting and processing trees myself, as I have from selecting wood, in person, from wood dealers.

 

I have a few sample of Kevin's wood, and the properties measured out quite good (I haven't made a violin out of it yet, though).  There are plenty of other considerations that picky makers look for... grain spacing, evenness of the grain, fall/spring growth ratios, and twist, to name a few.  So it's much more efficient to just visit a tonewood dealer and look at them than to try to find a good log out in the woods.

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I think that bit of spruce looks quite acceptable assuming all else passes muster.  If it were mine, I would cut off one or two bassbars off the thick side of the wedge, thus moving the wider grain more into the bouts of the eventual table.   Good for tone?  Perhaps.  I like tight-grained bassbars.   I met a famous maker in Cremona once who swore that you must cut off some of the wood near the sapwood in order to get the best out of a billet.   FWIW :)

 

Removing the sapwood is neither good nor bad, and certainly not necessary, or at least the classical Italian makers, including Stradivari and Del Gesu', didn't think so.

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I think nice Alpine spruce can be huge in diameter but the grain will still be fine, at least away from the pith.

For the Strad-like classic transition from narrow to wide, you just need to find the point towards the centre of the tree where the growth rings are inevitably wider apart. They in turn inevitably end up on the flanks because the split billet is narrower there.

These days it seems that most tonewood comes from plantation trees of relatively narrow diameter, and that is indeed the only kind of wood such trees present.

For any kind of even-grained top you would need a tree of maybe 20" diameter, even more if you want to discard the sapwood. For a wider spacing you would need lower altitude wood or just wood that grows faster for some other reason.

 
I don't think that huge, narrow grain spruce trees exist nowadays (talking Alpine Spruce here) and if you find a large one, (again depends what you  call large) they do not tend to be narrow grain.
 
I am actually thinking, that for the majority of wood used in violins in Italy during the 18th century, most trees were not huge at all, and I think, far smaller that 20" in diameter.
 
I say that as the majority of these soundboards are in two pieces, and most have wide grain at their oldest rings, suggesting closeness to the pith, and their youngest ring is often very close (dimensionally) to the bark.   These trees may be 120 to 150 years old, occasionally older (or indeed much younger), but they are not big, and suspect many were smaller than about 14" in diameter.
 
For growth at high altitude, old doesn't mean large, and I only very rarely come across growth spanning over 250 years, extremely rarely over 300. (talking less than 1 per thousand). 

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Yes I had sort of assumed this, because otherwise the tendency to have grain widening towards the flanks simply doesn't make sense.

My feeling is that even in Stradivari's day, good tonewood was from managed trees, ie trees which had been husbanded throughout most of their lives, spacing controlled and brashed regularly to avoid knots. 

The really big alpine trees from old growth forest (by that I mean self-sown and unmanaged) are pretty useless for anything other than picnicking underneath ... they can be very slow grown but also riddled with knots. Baltic timber is a bit different because for 6 months of the year the bottom couple of metres is choked by snow, kind of "self-brashing"!

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Yes. I think managed fast growing trees are indicated.

 

Brescia was a center for instrument making before Cremona, and before violins.  And very early on Brescia was a center for steel making, and Salo developed into paper making.  Lots of wood consumption.  And from Vitruvius it's clear that builders valued clear grain from Roman times.

 

It's reasonable to consider that the locations combining the best growth with the best transportation opportunities might have had managed growth for a very long while.

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Kevin,

Seeing  the spike knot in that cant I wonder if you are familiar with the work of Alex Shigo and Karl Roy regarding the far reaching effects of  defects in tone wood. They claimed that the tonal qualities of the wood were affected negatively for quite a distance above and below a knot. Don't know if it is true or not but they were no dummies and as a wood guy you might be interested in reading the paper.

Nathan,

Thank you for sharing this. I have not found this to be the case in my experience  but I generally split off any off looking material and only process what I consider to be the "ideal" portion of the log well away from any branches. 

 

Kudos to you for doing that!

But I've never gotten wood that I liked as much from selecting and processing trees myself, as I have from selecting wood, in person, from wood dealers.

 

And if Stradivari made something like 1200+ instruments, I doubt that he was spending much time tromping around the forests with an axe.

I am currently splitting my time between being a violin maker and a tonewood supplier. I'd love to send you a few samples :rolleyes: . I show a bit of my process and available logs on my Facebook page linked below.

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It shouldn't be too hard to estimate how wide the trees used by the old makers were. This picture doesn't have the correct lighting but a shot from this angle with lighting that shows the grain on the spruce should work, http://collections.nmmusd.org/Violins/Stradivari3598/3598StradviolinbottomribbuttonLG.jpg

From a shot like this it should be possible to measure the curvature of the growth rings which would then give you an estimate of the tree's diameter. Of course trees are never perfectly round but after looking at enough violins a trend will probably be apparent.

 

As a practical matter if the spruce comes from a small tree then the rings will have a lot of curvature to them when viewed from the bottom of the rough cut wedges. As you carve an arch into the spruce the grain lines will look curvy when you view the plate from the front. So, if you like your grain perfectly straight you should use spruce from a large tree.

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There are still lots of massive old growth Engelmann here in the western U.S. I count the rings whenever I harvest a tree and they generally run between 150-300 years old, usually around 200-250. Grain spacing is a huge gamble and the grain width will vary wildly  even within just a few yards of each other. One tree I cut last summer had a grain width of about 3 mm and just 20 feet away I found one with a tight .5 mm spacing. We have to have some awareness of what is going on on the ground and underground as well. close proximity to a perennial  runoff stream will greatly increase a trees water intake thus creating a wider grain. Soil composition and nearby competition comes into play as well. Here is a standing dead tree I cut last summer. 46" across at the base. Many people say that 1 in 1000 trees are suitable for tonewood. I'd say those odds are a bit optimistic. 

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post-28827-0-63376900-1482189155_thumb.jpg

post-28827-0-52581500-1482189172_thumb.jpg

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On 12/16/2016 at 10:25 AM, martin swan said:

No - I'm still researching it. I agree with Jacob S that it seems most likely to relate to Strnad/Prague, and that's where I'm focusing my efforts, but it's not a slam dunk ...

May I suggest you consider the colonies, mate.  (I use the term "mate" in the most friendly manner).

I've seen and heard similar looking instruments in major museums. They were made by unknown amateurs and forgotten professionals in Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, Ontario, Quebec, New England, Pennsylvania, the Carolinas, Tennessee and the Virginias.

Some of those colonies had sophisticated industries and music cultures long before Stradivari saw his first tree. And the found location of the actual instrument is irrelevant - people and things move both ways across the Atlantic.  

Specific wood species is also no guarantee of an instrument's origin. We have had Acer platanaoides and Picea abies growing wild in North America for centuries - we call them Norway Maple and Norway Spruce.  Plus, the growing conditions of trees in the Appalachian Mountains, and the Canadian Shield is very close to that of the Alps, the Dolomites, and the Carpathian Mountains (just look at a topographical map). 

Please visit me sometime in Upper Canada, Martin. I would love to show you around our forests and museums, and introduce you to some local luthiers and musicians (of all genres).  I'll even give you some tonewood and maple syrup to take back o'er 'ome. Cheers, mate.

Sincerely,

Randy O'Malley , proud offspring of immigrant Irish and Ukrainian peasants

Lakeview, Ontario, CANADA

 

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