Sycamore in production violins


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Being on something of a sycamore binge this year, I couldn't help but notice it's been utilized a bit more than many may realize. The bulk of our shop's rental fleet consists of Eastman model 80 and 100 violins and violas. I've been confident for quite sometime that plane was sometimes substituted for maple with the model 80 violins and violas, which I have absolutely no problem with, BTW. With the Eastman shop being in Beijing I'm guessing the species utilized would be platanus orientalis, an Asian/European species of plane, which is referred to as sycamore in North America. I also had an entry-level Carlo Robeli violin (Sam Ash trade name) come through the shop two weeks ago, it also utilized some type of plane, perhaps the same variety used in the Eastman instruments.

If workshops are apparently utilizing plane with acceptable results, I'd like to see them be more open about utilizing "alternative" woods and work to promote the use of them, especially if they're reasonably plentiful compared to the more traditional cuts of wood. Some American boutique guitar makers are utilizing American sycamore with good results and are openly promoting the use of them. 

On the home front, I received a gorgeous piece of heavily-flecked American sycamore from one of my tone wood enablers just today, enough for two violin and two viola backs plus neck blocks and ribs. Nice stuff...

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I think the violin in OP pics could be beech (fagus) wood rather than plane. It shows strong medullaries but not as bold as a plane tree (platanus). Plane often shows the "ribbon" figure (stripes along axis) while beech is typically rather plain.

That said, both are ocasionally used by violin makers. There is a famous GDG violin with beech back (Terminator).

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From what I can see there are two different (?) instruments in the OP. If not I am confused! Anyway I agree with HoGo that the instrument in the first picture has got beech back. Not quatre sawn but beech. I have been quite successful with using beech in small viola backs, they give the instrument quite warm sound but also a bit of a weight. As HoGo says there is a famous Del Gesú violin with beech back and also there is a Paolo Testore viola with back plate of the same wood. 

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53 minutes ago, Wood Butcher said:

I'd expect that the Eastman is made from a plain type of Chinese Maple. No doubt there are a lot of species there which we don't know much about.

By and large, I'd expect that to be the case. Much of what I see that resembles sycamore is in instruments produced 5-10 years ago, not sure if they were marketed as maple at that time. It's also occurred to me that plane trees could be referred to as a variety maple in China, which would make the claim "accurate" from one point of view. I've also seen Eastman instruments and other Chinese-made violins and violas that look like they were made with poplar, flamed or not.

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