Sign in to follow this  
Elaine

Curly or Birds-eye maple

Recommended Posts

Elaine   

I have seen a very few violins made with curly or birds-eye maple instead of the more traditional grained wood. They were drop dead gorgeous. Why isn't it used more often?

Elaine

Norman, OK

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Ben   

Hi.

Sometime the very highly flamed wood isn't as stable, and won't hold up through bending. Usually violins made from birds eye have ribs of more common maple.

Ben

[This message has been edited by Ben (edited 01-18-2000).]

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
I Play   

I read the burls and birds-eyes are like the tumors on a human being. It is more expensive because it is rare. The density and irregularity of it would also make it hard to work with and to produce good tone. Wood makers would slice it real thin and sell it as a veneer.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Hi,

I'll throw in my two cents here, for last summer Feng Jiang and I made a copy of a Sancto Seraphin violin complete with birds-eye back and ribs. We had a lovely time planning the violin with the customer, choosing wood, and making the violin.

As you say, birds-eye is drop-dead gorgeous, though as with all beauty, it's probably in the eye of the beholder. Birds-eye was used in the past by fine makers in Italian and German schools, but of course only infrequently. I doubt that this is a consequence of rarity, but rather the fact that "birds-eye" shows up best when wood is cut on the slab rather than the quarter. A slab back poses different challenges for the luthier, for it inherently is a little weaker than a back cut on the quarter, and the luthier must therefore graduate it accordingly. Another little quirk of this wood is that when you carve and bend it, the individual "bird's eyes" have a tendency to want to pop out.

Birds-eye is really not that uncommon. As with finding first-class curly maple back, the problem is always finding that perfect piece.

I agree with you that they are beautiful, but not for all.

Hope this helps,

Kelvin Scott

kelvins@umich.edu

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The main problem with birdseye maple, especially in the U.S. is it's specific gravity. Birdseye only occurs in the species of maple that is generally considered to be to heavy for violin construction, acer saccharum. In Europe, it is extremely rare--I have yet to run across it in the widespread species Acer pseudoplatanus, and I've looked at thousands of trees. It does occur in Acer hyrcanum, but I cannot speak from personal experience as to how rare it is. I seldom see it on the tonewood market, so I can only assume it's rarity. It is the "correct" weight for building violins, however, and like it's North American counterpart, must be cut on the slab to display the birdseye figure.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

There are five commercially harvested maples (acer) in North America, four Eastern and one Western (Bigleaf maple--I'll use popular names here instead of the latin)...Of the four Eastern species, two are classified as "hard" and therefore heavy (the Black and the Sugar) and are considered by most to be too heavy for violin making (please take all of this with a drop of maple syrup--there are countless exceptions to the rule!). The two "soft" species are the interesting ones to makers, namely the Silver and Red Maple. These maples can approximate the qualities that we find so enduring in Bosnian maple (wide flaming, tight grain, cool looking medulary rays under varnish, and "correct" weight), but can also display characteristics that we find so unappealing in Chinese wood, the dreaded "worm track"--5 mm long reddish lines running parallel to the grain. Who wants to build a bench copy of a fine Italian violin that looks Chinese coming out of the chute?

The Bigleaf is another animal entirely...wide graining (2-3 to the inch is not uncommon) and distinctive under varnish, is is generally used in violas and 'cellos, although when cut on the slab it can fool the dendroligist who tries to ID it in an instrument. It's wild flaming and wide grain makes it my favorite wood to see in a 'cello--the two seem to be made for each other...Check out <http://www.rockisland.com/~tonewoods>

for furthur info.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Well yes Rock maple, the only American maple with birdseye figure, does have higher specific gravity numbers than other maples like Bigleaf but if you look at the charts Rock maple also has higher Modulus of Elasticity numbers. This means that if you have a piece of Rock maple and a piece of Bigleaf maple of equal length and width and of equal stiffness they will be of approx. equal wieght. I think that the main reason that Rock maple isn't to popular with violin builders is because the stuff is a lot harder to carve than any other maple.

I don't have any expirience carving birdeye maple yet. I have ten one piece violin/viola backs in Rock maple but everyone who has bought one of my violins has wanted Flamed maple not Birdseye maple for the back. If I don't get any orders for Birdseye maple violins soon I'll end up building myself a violin or viola from it just I can get to use some of it.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I've also heard stories of the post blasting out one of the "eyes" in a birdseye maple violin back, although this could just be another in the long list of "wood myths"...

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
la   

In response to Kelvin - I wonder how the "popped-out" 'bird's eyes' would affect the tone - like a lacework of tiny soundholes on the back of the violin (where they don't belong?)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The popping out of individual bird's eyes that I mentioned only happened on the ribs when we were rough planing them. With care we were able to bring the ribs to thickness without any problems. Something to be said here for very sharp tools.

The tone of the birds-eye Seraphin copy that I mentioned before was very pleasant and presented no surprises. This is my only experience with making a violin with this wood, but like Mr. Johnston I too have stash of this attractive wood and I hope that sometime in the future I have an opportunity to make another.

Kelvin

kelvins@umich.edu

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
Sign in to follow this  

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    No registered users viewing this page.