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Aspen as tonewood?


PhilipKT
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Makers of the past tell us stories about how misleading the term ‘tonewood’ became through commercial interests. 
 

Tonewood is spruce for the top which governs most of the ‘tone’. The rest is, if not completely different in physical properties, pretty much a matter of choice. Different species of willow, beech, chestnut, aspen, poplar are all useable for cellos as some pretty famous makers of the past demonstrated to us. And more often those woods have flaws like knots and other irregularities. You should ask a wood dealer, but maybe when cutting up a maple trunk chances for unforeseen surprises are maybe smaller.

I used as a quick test on my new concept violin a flat walnut board for the back and got a surprising good sound.

 

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7 hours ago, Andreas Preuss said:

And more often those woods have flaws like knots and other irregularities. You should ask a wood dealer, but maybe when cutting up a maple trunk chances for unforeseen surprises are maybe smaller.

Probably because when tonewood dealer finds a knot in cello sized maple they cut it down into clear violin/ viola wood and sell it for better profit than downgraded cello wood. Poplar or willow is not so famous for smaller instruments so they are not as picky...

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Aspen covers several dozen varieties of Populus as well as being a commercial name for several other species. If you mean P. Tremuloides (quaking Aspen) I would say pretty poor choice as it has a poor strength to weight ratio and a dry brittle consistency rather than the more resilient springier strength of some of the other poplars or willows. Many woods are suitable for the lower pitched instruments but violins really need harder and to some degree heavier woods to sound right with normal construction and thicknessing. However individual characteristics are always more important than nomenclature and it might be possible to find a piece of quaking aspen which would work well.

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6 minutes ago, Don Noon said:

According to a wood density chart, aspen is about as dense as spruce, at .42.  I suspect it might be OK for backs in larger instruments, assuming the strength and stiffness isn't too low.

Ok yes,  good no. Other than cottonwood quaking aspen is the worst of the many varieties of poplar and willow that I have tried.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Traditionalists sometimes get a bit emotional when people use something other than maple and spruce, but there are numerous timbers with similar physical properties to them, and fine for use in instruments.

Maple and spruce just happed to be local to the early violin makers, so they became the standard, not because they are inherently better than other timbers, but because that’s what the tradition and mystique was built on.

No doubt if the violin had of been invented in Australia, King Billy Pine tops and Blackwood Backs (as in my profile pic) would now be the standard, and considered superior to maple and spruce by traditionalists.

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I've played few (archtop) mandolins made of aspen that were exceptional sounding. I have split a lot of EU aspen (populus tremula) for firewood and the wood was slightly harder than the other poplars here (p. alba or p. nigra). The other poplars often have the interlocked "ribbon" grain and many hidden pin knots while the aspen was mostly nice straight and clear, but I have split some incredibly curly pieces as well. Aspen is much harder to get in cello size, mostly violin/viola sized trees.

Another interesting tree similar to this is alder (alnus glutinosa around here).

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On 9/29/2021 at 2:28 AM, HoGo said:

I've played few (archtop) mandolins made of aspen that were exceptional sounding. I have split a lot of EU aspen (populus tremula) for firewood and the wood was slightly harder than the other poplars here (p. alba or p. nigra). The other poplars often have the interlocked "ribbon" grain and many hidden pin knots while the aspen was mostly nice straight and clear, but I have split some incredibly curly pieces as well. Aspen is much harder to get in cello size, mostly violin/viola sized trees.

Another interesting tree similar to this is alder (alnus glutinosa around here).

The P. nigra  I have cut was in the 0.42 g/cc range; whereas the P. tremulla  was about 0.52.  I have a couple of cello backs from the latter.  I like the density, and I think should be good for cello,  but is still not dense enough for good firewood :D.

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It's not an aspen but I think port orford cedar might be an interesting choice, it is as stiff as maple and has good wear properties, it tends to polish instead of fray. It's often used for making arrow shafts. It's been used before to make violin fronts but I think it is more interesting as a back material.

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On 10/3/2021 at 8:27 AM, John Preston said:

The P. nigra  I have cut was in the 0.42 g/cc range; whereas the P. tremulla  was about 0.52.  I have a couple of cello backs from the latter.  I like the density, and I think should be good for cello,  but is still not dense enough for good firewood :D.

I beg to differ.  We first need to define what a "good firewood" is.  If you are freezing your ass off a low density wood in thin pieces will burn quickly and get you warm fast.  If you are trying to stay warm all night a dense wood in thick splits will burn slowly and will help you through to morning when you can throw some more low density stuff on the fire. Both kinds of wood are good.

 

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9 hours ago, Marty Kasprzyk said:

I beg to differ.  We first need to define what a "good firewood" is.  If you are freezing your ass off a low density wood in thin pieces will burn quickly and get you warm fast.  If you are trying to stay warm all night a dense wood in thick splits will burn slowly and will help you through to morning when you can throw some more low density stuff on the fire. Both kinds of wood are good.

 

You are correct!

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  • 5 months later...

I have two Australian made fiddles,   one possibly by Guy Booth?   (no. 3 made in 1995) very warm sound,  great for fiddle music!   I also have an Anders Nielsen which looks to be made of silky oak?   yet to hear how that one sounds as it's been a wall hanger for many years,   so glad it wasn't sacrificed for a cold winter! 

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