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Different wood for a build anyone?


JonGeo

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I just bought my first Tonewood set to build my first violin.. I’m amassing the tools and resources.. study study study… listen listen listen.. and prep. The direction and decision to make this a reality has been in no small part due to the insights and support I’ve encountered in this community as well as the support from my family. 

So in an effort to keep the momentum going as I learn about different Tonewood sources.. I’m wondering.. has anyone ever built a violin with a hardwood other than maple? What was your experience? How did things turn out?

I ask because you never know what nugget of surprisingly useful information will pop out.

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I’m just replacing a nut on a violin that I think was cherry.. a whole violin made of that would be stunning.. 

a friend of mine up the road from me is quite the wood worker.. he been very helpful in teaching the nuances of woodworking.. anyhow he has some walnut scraps that he gave me so I’m thinking I might try making the nut out of that and see how it goes. 

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Well..."stunning" isn't enough.

The violin (or whatever instrument) is a tool. It has to be fit for purpose. What it looks like is secondary.

There's a reason violins have been made of maple and spruce for hundreds of years, and why, of all the kazillion wood combinations that have been experimented with...violin makers keep returning to maple and spruce.

If your goal is primarily to be "stunning", I think making "treasure boxes" would be a better option.

I love pretty boxes. :wub:

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4 hours ago, JonGeo said:

I just bought my first Tonewood set to build my first violin.. I’m amassing the tools and resources.. study study study… listen listen listen.. and prep. The direction and decision to make this a reality has been in no small part due to the insights and support I’ve encountered in this community as well as the support from my family. 

So in an effort to keep the momentum going as I learn about different Tonewood sources.. I’m wondering.. has anyone ever built a violin with a hardwood other than maple? What was your experience? How did things turn out?

I ask because you never know what nugget of surprisingly useful information will pop out.

Chestnut. 
 

But don’t use it. It’s the toughest and most stubborn material I have ever encountered. 
 

otherwise makers in the past have used beech, cherry, plum, and other stuff.

 

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I'm surprised to see cherry mentioned so often, I've never seen an instrument made of that wood in person.

In cellos, I've seen poplar and beech used for backs and both worked very well acoustically. Especially beech is very plain, but that also has its charm. Both have historical precedents, even from italy.

My impression is that in the bigger instruments (starting viola), woods other than maple can work very well acoustically, while for the violin it is hard to find something that works as good as maple.

But I'm only a player.

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21 hours ago, GerardM said:

There’s a chap on YouTube Graham Vincent he uses reclaimed timber for his instrument’s. Cherry, Apple, Spanish cedar etc etc. He also plays them so you can hear the difference sounds produced by the type of wood used.

This is what got me thinking about this topic. When I fly into Vancouver I see all these logs that have washed up on the shore line by the airport and I think to myself.. I wonder what non conventional means of Tonewood procurement there are, that would work with violin making.. 

20 hours ago, Rue said:

Well..."stunning" isn't enough.

The violin (or whatever instrument) is a tool. It has to be fit for purpose. What it looks like is secondary.

I love pretty boxes. :wub:

Your right, I miss spoke.. obviously making a whole violin out of one type of hard wood is a bad idea.. the research is in on that I think.. lol as long as the conventions of violin making were respected I would think using a different wood from time to time could add a certain uniqueness to a build… and who doesn’t like pretty boxes.

17 hours ago, Don Noon said:

I'm sure there are plenty of wood types other than maple that can function acoustically and structurally well for a violin.  

I'm also sure that none of my clients would want it.

Don.. you have a way with saying so much in so little.. always enjoy reading your comments.

 

Where I live burning firewood is the most common means of home heating. There are 2 guys within walking distance of my house who cut and sell fire wood. It would be nothing to go over and ask them to keep an eye out for certain kinds of wood or to chop off a piece of a log that I can take home and cut up for Tonewood.. I just don’t know exactly what to look or listen for yet. But there is a variety of wood to choose from. As I was stacking my own firewood last month I couldn’t believe how much birch, ash, poplar, apple, maple even willow there was in the pile.. I was thinking.. I wonder if I can use this stuff? Not small stuff either. 
 

I think this is stemming from the fact I bought my first tone wood set. I’ve been reading for months about tonewood applications but learning theory is one thing applying practical knowledge is quite another and brings about a whole other set of considerations and questions.. 

20 hours ago, Andreas Preuss said:

Chestnut. 
 

But don’t use it. It’s the toughest and most stubborn material I have ever encountered. 

 

Duly noted.. good to know. :)

 

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On 12/7/2023 at 11:33 AM, JonGeo said:

I just bought my first Tonewood set to build my first violin.. I’m amassing the tools and resources.. study study study… listen listen listen.. and prep. The direction and decision to make this a reality has been in no small part due to the insights and support I’ve encountered in this community as well as the support from my family. 

So in an effort to keep the momentum going as I learn about different Tonewood sources.. I’m wondering.. has anyone ever built a violin with a hardwood other than maple? What was your experience? How did things turn out?

I ask because you never know what nugget of surprisingly useful information will pop out.

I made my first fiddle out of walnut. Number six? was made of cherry. They both sounded like a fiddle, and not noticeably different than one made of maple. At least I didn’t think so at the time. I still have the cherry fiddle in one piece and it may actually sound noticeably different if I compared it with intent on finding the difference.  
    I would have to resurrect the walnut fiddle as the top was ruined by water stains, and it’s not worth the time and effort required just for a test. 

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4 hours ago, baroquecello said:

IMy impression is that in the bigger instruments (starting viola), woods other than maple can work very well acoustically, while for the violin it is hard to find something that works as good as maple.

I presume that the historical acceptability of non-maple in the larger instruments might be related to looking for lower density alternativess, which I think could work better.  At least, it could be lighter.

As for non-maple on violins, my guess is that there isn't any sonic beneifit to other densities, therefore no strong historical use of alternatives, therefore the vast majority of high-level modern makers wouldn't use alternatives either.   Alternative violin wood then would be found almost nowhere other than in hobbyist instruments.

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4 hours ago, Andreas Preuss said:

Your clients might not recognize flamed wood from different wood species. Only if wood is without flames clients get suspicious.

Whether they recognize it or not is somewhat irrelevant.  They want a traditional orchestra instrument, and it they find out later it's abnormal wood, they won't be happy.

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Eliminating choices is very important.

Since I was cash poor, I experimented with anything that was available. There is a fragment of something with Walnut top which was stolen from a dining table insert/ leaf.

There are some parallels with the plucked instrument world. Though many do not creating an arching, they are willing to experiment and there are buyers who are also curious. Sometimes we live in a timid world.

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On 12/9/2023 at 11:12 AM, GoPractice said:

Eliminating choices is very important.

Since I was cash poor, I experimented with anything that was available. There is a fragment of something with Walnut top which was stolen from a dining table insert/ leaf.

There are some parallels with the plucked instrument world. Though many do not creating an arching, they are willing to experiment and there are buyers who are also curious. Sometimes we live in a timid world.

 

No one has mentioned pearwood yet. 

 

Old solid wood table tops are a great source of instrument woods if they're in good condition. I have used them more for experimentals but there are several Australian woods suitable for mandolin and  fiddle backs, necks and ribs  which are often also found in local table tops.  :)

There is a strong movement amongst Australian makers to use Australian woods, some of them are quite adamant about not using imported woods.  One group of them were encouraged and tutored by a violinist turned maker by the name of Kevin Williams.  I met him a couple of times and saw violins violas and cellos with flamed Tasmanian Oak or Stringybark  back and sides. These are lightweight oak coloured eucalyptus spp which are  very attractive. Queensland Maple which is not a maple at all could be good and Australian blackwood  is very popular  (not with me!)  --- it's an acacia related to Hawaiian Koa. Then there is myrtle beech which is neither a myrtle nor a beech, also known as Antarctic beech, via Gondwanaland. I call it Australian pearwood.

:)

There aren't many suitable soundboard woods growing in Aus. Some makers use and love King William pine and Celery Top pine even Huon pine but I am not convinced  about them for violins. 

That will buy me an argument. 

I last saw Kevin 4 years ago, a crusty old character. If still alive he will be nearly 100. 

https://www.woodreview.com.au/profiles/kevin-williams-musical-instrument-maker

 

It' good for castanets!

:P

 

 

 

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One of the best violins I have played/heard had a king billy pine top (was a full australian timber violin)-i have a standing offer on it.  Almost impossible to buy the stuff and understand there is huge variability in quality. I also understand the best back material from Australia to be tasmanian blackwood (though dont think it was used on the fiddle i mentioned above). Tasmanian Blackwood is easy enough to find but rare to have figure. Jarrah was used for fingerboard and fittings.

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As was said above, search out Graham Vincent on youtube.  He makes some nice fiddles out of various woods and it seems to be his niche market.  

I am personally very interested in this topic, and since I am a (very) amateur maker with no intentions of selling any of my products (lest they disappoint someone), I love experimenting with different woods.  I am a scientist by trade, and we like data and experiments, so playing with different woods is big fun to me whether the result is great, or not.  In the game of finding out something with little data, a negative data point is just as valuable as a positive data point.  I think we see less experimentation beyond maple since the vast majority of good makers are selling their products, and buyers are largely from the orchestral persuasion....so less inclined to be interested in something that stands out from the crowd in either sound or appearance.  I often wonder if fiddle/bluegrass players would be more inclined to be interested in alternative woods, but I also think that they're less interested in spending the cash it takes to buy a bespoke instrument.  

I am currently working on a walnut fiddle with a one piece back.  I was struck with the contrast of the purfling white with the walnut, so I decided to make the neck block from a thin strip of maple sandwiched between two pieces of the walnut.  Yes, I know it isn't most people's cup of tea, but as I said, I am entertained by experimenting.  I bought some beautiful flamed poplar at VSA that I will be working on next year (for a violin, and a viola).  

I will attach a picture of the body before glue up and edgework.

Matt

IMG_8253.jpg

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33 minutes ago, Matthew_Graesch said:

As was said above, search out Graham Vincent on youtube.  He makes some nice fiddles out of various woods and it seems to be his niche market.  

I am personally very interested in this topic, and since I am a (very) amateur maker with no intentions of selling any of my products (lest they disappoint someone), I love experimenting with different woods.  I am a scientist by trade, and we like data and experiments, so playing with different woods is big fun to me whether the result is great, or not.  In the game of finding out something with little data, a negative data point is just as valuable as a positive data point.  I think we see less experimentation beyond maple since the vast majority of good makers are selling their products, and buyers are largely from the orchestral persuasion....so less inclined to be interested in something that stands out from the crowd in either sound or appearance.  I often wonder if fiddle/bluegrass players would be more inclined to be interested in alternative woods, but I also think that they're less interested in spending the cash it takes to buy a bespoke instrument.  

I am currently working on a walnut fiddle with a one piece back.  I was struck with the contrast of the purfling white with the walnut, so I decided to make the neck block from a thin strip of maple sandwiched between two pieces of the walnut.  Yes, I know it isn't most people's cup of tea, but as I said, I am entertained by experimenting.  I bought some beautiful flamed poplar at VSA that I will be working on next year (for a violin, and a viola).  

I will attach a picture of the body before glue up and edgework.

Matt

IMG_8253.jpg

My first fiddle was walnut. I had a mandolin that I liked the sound of and I thought it had a walnut back. (It turned out to be mahogany with a dark stain, but I was half way through the build.) Anyway I like(d) the sound of the fiddle, but I later tried to stain the top with water stains and ruined it, and haven’t made a new one for it. Please let us know how your walnut fiddle sounds!

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