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Query re: Identifying good quality Ebony


PhilipKT
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12 minutes ago, Blank face said:

I gave you exactly this answer before, that the frog must be of good quality because it lasted a very long period without damage, and explained my experiences with different sorts of ebony. Maybe you didn’t read carefully? So maybe I should be offended for being ignored so rudely.:rolleyes:

If you recall in another comment I responded to that.

If there is no structural difference between one chunk of Ebony and another, and then that is an answer to my question, but at least one reply indicates that that is not the case.

So some of the answers I got to my question contradict each other. And Jacob And I both gave examples where wood is definitely Divided into categories of quality.

The frog in the original photograph has definitely survived 100 years or so, so that means it is certainly adequate, but that doesn’t mean it is anything more.

I am fond of you, Herr Gesicht, And I have absolutely no desire to be contentious. 
We can leave it here.

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"nice wood" is a comment I heard a thousand times from somebody looking at a violin or bow. Sometimes I can see what they are talking about visually, sometimes it is associated with instruments with good sound or playing properties. Often though, I think its just something people like to say.

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During this whole thread, the words of Justice Potter, echoing Justice Stewart's  "Casablanca Test" (concerning pornography) have continued to go though my head... to define the difficult to define... but, if you must, by all means carry on! :) 

 "I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description; and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it"

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6 minutes ago, deans said:

"nice wood" is a comment I heard a thousand times from somebody looking at a violin or bow. Sometimes I can see what they are talking about visually, sometimes it is associated with instruments with good sound or playing properties. Often though, I think its just something people like to say.

"nice wood" is what people say when they have no idea what they are looking at, or when they don't really like it :lol:

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7 hours ago, PhilipKT said:

If you recall in another comment I responded to that.

If there is no structural difference between one chunk of Ebony and another, and then that is an answer to my question, but at least one reply indicates that that is not the case.

And your answer confirmed that you either didn’t understand or didn’t read. For example nobody said, that there’s no structural difference between one chunk and another. The answers were just a bit more complex than you expected.

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8 hours ago, PhilipKT said:

What did Paul Childs mean?

We can't know!

Maybe he meant he liked it aesthetically. Maybe he meant that there was a structural characteristic that in his opinion contributed to the bows function. Maybe he meant that amongst historic exemplars of that makers work this kind of wood is associated with nicer craftsmanship. Maybe he meant the market will pay more for some characteristic that that wood displayed. Maybe some weighted combination of all the above.

The fact that we can't be certain as to his exact meaning isn't the same as saying his words have no meaning at all. We understand that there was something that was for him both important and good about the wood.

It would perhaps be more helpful (and interesting) to ask individual bow makers to answer "what do you look for in a piece of ebony when carving a frog?" than to search for universal absolutes.

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I'm just going to interject my own thoughts here pertaining to ebony... you are welcome to agree or disagree.

While this philosophical discussion is interesting, I think the truth is that many here have had the opportunity to see various examples of ebony used for bow frogs, fingerboards and fittings. The most difficult type to find is the stuff that is sometimes described as "black ivory" (very small pores, even color, lack of significant silica, evenly dense). I see it used on a good number of nice old French bows by the makers we tend to covet and on some older fingerboards and fittings. I have a nice little block of it to show clients when they are interested in what has changed, material availability wise, over the years, and a some fingerboard blanks (too few) I was able to stash away 30 some odd years ago that I only use on very, very nice fiddles. Now, I'd ask, should you encounter such stuff, would you not consider it high quality?

Personally, as I quoted earlier: "... I know it when I see it."

Parallels can be drawn to other raw materials (maple, spruce, boxwood, pernambuco, etc) using various criteria and traditions of it's use in our industry... and taste is certain to enter the picture (and should, IMHO). That doesn't mean that what is currently available, with some effort, is not appropriate for the work at hand, or that a open grained chunk necessary indicates an inferior frog, or that a piece that does not correspond to my description above isn't absolutely perfect for another use, but it does indicate a "bar" from which each of us can make a judgement for ourselves.

To take this (mostly) out of the arena of bowed strings, one of the long table benches I made for my shop is fir... It's old growth fir (some I was able to source from wood dealers, the rest is scavenged from old houses that my brother was rehabbing in Baltimore). Compared to the stuff that's currently commercially available, there is absolutely no comparison... old growth is tighter grain, more even in density, more attractive, and simply a superior material... for my intended use.

I'm done. We now return you to our regularly scheduled broadcast.

Carry on.

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4 hours ago, Jeffrey Holmes said:

Compared to the stuff that's currently commercially available, there is absolutely no comparison... old growth is tighter grain, more even in density, more attractive, and simply a superior material... for my intended use.

So, similarly, the big distinction between grades of ebony is between old growth and modern plantation grown ebony.

I would guess we finished logging the choicest ebony old growth timber over a century ago.

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On 1/19/2022 at 6:04 PM, PhilipKT said:

I don’t think it’s bold at all. Why do we say that this piece of wood is more beautiful than that one? Unless we have an agreed standard? And, for instance, if being dense is good, a piece that is more dense than the other one is better than the other one?

Paul Childs wrote papers for one of my bows and he specifically mentioned that it was “a superior piece of wood.” Now why would he say that if there wasn’t something for it to be superior to? 

Martins point was that the quality of the wood didn’t necessarily have any bearing on the quality of the finished product, And I never questioned that.
I was only asking for some guidance on recognizing good quality ebony.

You're getting to the heart of it. You may have a standard, Blank Face may have a standard, anyone can have a standard. There are more standards than there are people. There are sometimes convergences, where in the same human being, work of art, stick of wood, your standards are met as well as the standards of a great bowmaker. But that doesn't mean the standards are the same.

So no, there are no standards for closeup pictures taken of frogs that any bowmaker adheres to. I guess if it was visibly rotting or had holes, maybe they would all agree upon that, but consider that many actually carve holes in the wood themselves, and not to make it any stronger or functional...

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5 hours ago, Jeffrey Holmes said:

I'm just going to interject my own thoughts here pertaining to ebony... you are welcome to agree or disagree.

While this philosophical discussion is interesting, I think the truth is that many here have had the opportunity to see various examples of ebony used for bow frogs, fingerboards and fittings. The most difficult type to find is the stuff that is sometimes described as "black ivory" (very small pores, even color, lack of significant silica, evenly dense). I see it used on a good number of nice old French bows by the makers we tend to covet and on some older fingerboards and fittings. I have a nice little block of it to show clients when they are interested in what has changed, material availability wise, over the years, and a some fingerboard blanks (too few) I was able to stash away 30 some odd years ago that I only use on very, very nice fiddles. Now, I'd ask, should you encounter such stuff, would you not consider it high quality?

Personally, as I quoted earlier: "... I know it when I see it."

Parallels can be drawn to other raw materials (maple, spruce, boxwood, pernambuco, etc) using various criteria and traditions of it's use in our industry... and taste is certain to enter the picture (and should, IMHO). That doesn't mean that what is currently available, with some effort, is not appropriate for the work at hand, or that a open grained chunk necessary indicates an inferior frog, or that a piece that does not correspond to my description above isn't absolutely perfect for another use, but it does indicate a "bar" from which each of us can make a judgement for ourselves.

To take this (mostly) out of the arena of bowed strings, one of the long table benches I made for my shop is fir... It's old growth fir (some I was able to source from wood dealers, the rest is scavenged from old houses that my brother was rehabbing in Baltimore). Compared to the stuff that's currently commercially available, there is absolutely no comparison... old growth is tighter grain, more even in density, more attractive, and simply a superior material... for my intended use.

I'm done. We now return you to our regularly scheduled broadcast.

Carry on.

Jeffrey, you are kind. Thank you. This is kind of exactly the answer I was seeking. I’m rather surprised it took three pages to get it.

 

As an aside, my grandparents came home from WWII in 1946 and built a magnificent house in oak cliff Texas. The wood in that house is 100% California redwood. The family, much to my grief, is now selling that house as a “tear down”but in no way will that house be “torn down.” Rather, it will be carefully disassembled, and every speck of that California Redwood will be repurposed. Every door in that house is 1.5 inch thick solid redwood, on sturdy bronze hinges… it breaks my heart. But to your point, there is no wood like old wood.

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2 hours ago, donbarzino said:

So, similarly, the big distinction between grades of ebony is between old growth and modern plantation grown ebony.

I would guess we finished logging the choicest ebony old growth timber over a century ago.

Yup... but the bar is set by example.

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