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catnip

Mahogany, is it for suitable for a violin back?

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     I have made violins from pearwood, birch, ash, beech, quilted maple, and walnut so long as the wood has good character or grain.   I have access to a mahogany board that has extremely unusual character but before I invest the time in using this wood as a violin back I would be interested in any feedback or experience in using mahogany.  I know that it is quite commonly used in guitar making but I was wondering about its suitability in violin making

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I go by how resonant the wood is.   I used American Sycamore, and the board I had was very resonant.  The only problem is the look.  It looks like lacewood or something.  Not bad; just unusual.  Tradition seems to rule in the violin world.  Cherry works too.  I can't imagine that their would be some problem with mahogany, as long as it was a good, sound, resonant piece of wood.  

But I still have all 7 violins I've made in the basement!

Ken

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Yes of course.  Will it sound like a violin that people are used to hearing?  no.  Like Ken_N said, tradition dictates certain wood.  Mahogany carves well and has been used in musical instruments for many years.

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2 hours ago, catnip said:

     I have made violins from pearwood, birch, ash, beech, quilted maple, and walnut so long as the wood has good character or grain.   I have access to a mahogany board that has extremely unusual character but before I invest the time in using this wood as a violin back I would be interested in any feedback or experience in using mahogany.  I know that it is quite commonly used in guitar making but I was wondering about its suitability in violin making

I'm glad you asked because I have some figured Honduran Mahogany (Swietenia macrophylla) that is extremely resonant.

According to the Wood Database it's hardness is - 900 lbf  right between Bigleaf - 850 lbf  and Red - 950 lbf maple.

I have researched the internet and only found one mahogany fiddle so I guess it depends. Are you making a 4 or 5 string? I'm tempted to use mahogany but would also like to know if anyone hear has actually used it to make a fiddle.

Have you noticed anything tonally negative in the other non trad woods that you have used? Do you know what species your Mahogany is?

 

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Unless you have some compelling reason to use it, I'd avoid anything called mahogany which has a resemblance to the mahogany on the Cites lists. Even "ebony" is coming into question these days.

As soon as synthetic substitutes for ebony violin parts have been validated well enough, I'll be on board. I really don't want my clients to run into any sort of problems with things I have made, including border crossings, and selling across US state lines.

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Thanks for posting that link about the different mahogany.   Here is a picture of what the back might look like.  I am using a negative template which allows me to easily move the position of the back to see all the possibilities.

IMG_0631[1].JPG

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David,  Thanks for posting the reference to CITES.  If I make the violin it will be for myself.  Like Ernie said it may be a five string... I have not decided yet.

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He had it labelled as "Mahogany - crotch figure".  I planed the edge to see if it was quartered or flat-sawn.  It is difficult to see mahogany edge grain but appears to be semi-quartered.   Not a problem for me as I have used both flat-sawn and semi-quartered wood.

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4 hours ago, catnip said:

Thanks for posting that link about the different mahogany.   Here is a picture of what the back might look like.  I am using a negative template which allows me to easily move the position of the back to see all the possibilities.

IMG_0631[1].JPG

Oh that's so beautiful!  :wub:

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I have some nicely quartered light colored walnut that will match the mahogany back, but could use standard quartered "wild flame" maple and stain it to match the back. 

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3 hours ago, Marty Kasprzyk said:

Looks like a big board.  Make a big viola instead of a violin so you can use even more of the pretty wood.

The BTU content of mahogany is probably similar to maple.

It is a large board but the "wild" flame is only along the central part.  There is enough length for two backs but I only intend on making one for now

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On 10/22/2017 at 1:12 PM, Thomas Coleman said:

Yes of course.  Will it sound like a violin that people are used to hearing?  no.  Like Ken_N said, tradition dictates certain wood.  Mahogany carves well and has been used in musical instruments for many years.

 

On 10/22/2017 at 12:42 PM, Ken_N said:

Tradition seems to rule in the violin world.

Ken

Certainly in the European classical music corner of the violin world.  I bet jazz and rock and "world music" violinists wouldn't care or would prefer a non-traditional instrument.

The world needs to hear those violins in your basement Ken. They deserve to be heard and to see the light of day.  Change your target market and use some creative salesmanship.  Tell the prospect to guess the wood AFTER he/she plays the instrument.  At the very least donate the violins to charity auctions and get a tax receipt for the fair market value.  The basement?!  Egads, man!  That's where the furnace and Dad's toilet belongs - not works of art.

Go, Ken, Go! Fight and Win! Yaaay, Ken!

Yours truly,

Randy O'Malley 

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The Music School I work at has two 3/4 Cellos with back Wood that I suspect could be mahogany, or otherwise some similar Tropical wood. One of them is quite good, the other quite weak in Sound, but I think the thin graduations on that one are the cause.

Edit not: I see this is an old thread, @catniphow did the Instrument turn out?

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On 10/22/2017 at 3:36 PM, catnip said:

Thanks for posting that link about the different mahogany.   Here is a picture of what the back might look like.  I am using a negative template which allows me to easily move the position of the back to see all the possibilities.

IMG_0631[1].JPG

That's a pretty piece of wood!

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Had an interesting violin some years ago that was made in Washington DC in 1932. Had a lovely one piece flamed Koa back. It was a small model but had quite a nice sound. Non traditional woods have been used before, so why not?

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I taught a master class and one of the people there had an all mahogany violin. I didn't play it but I recall it had a really sweet sound that stood out from the other instruments, made me perk up. I liked it. No idea about power or projection of the instrument.

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14 hours ago, jezzupe said:

Ya ,we exist...and you can make awesome fiddles out of Mahog

So you have made one? What material did you use for a neck?

The mahogany I have is so very resonate, and beautiful in appearance. I want to make one and probably will. My plan is the make one from trad maple and spruce and the next with alternative wood.

@catnip Could you post a sound clip of your mahogany fiddle?

 

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This thread makes me think back thirty-five years ago, when I was doing one of my pre-doctoral projects at the Victoria and Albert Museum, and seeing wood used for much more decorative purposes. There was a bass viol with a two piece Sycamore back and two piece pine belly. It is instrument number 398-1871 and was made by Paul Hilz in Nuremberg in 1639. It has a lobed body and originally had serpentine sound holes. It was later converted into a cello. I believe it is catalogued as a "festooned cello" and has several carvings including a rose and eagle which are gilt and the instrument is trimmed in ebony and ivory. It didn't do anything for me then, but I guess I have more of an aesthetic and technical appreciation for it now. I just remember the department had a number of pieces which I thought were overwrought in my young know-it-all mind. Today, I love all of the experimental wood instruments. They will have interesting stories in a hundred years!

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