What qualities of wood make a good instrument ?

December 2009

There is no doubt that the density of the front is important in producing the best kind of sound. The teacher-makers at Newark School of Violin Making have established this over a period of thirty years or so. As far as I am aware, no-one has measured the density of instrument fronts made in the 17 or 18th centuries and, even accepting that natural ageing processes might change density, it is going to be very difficult to obtain data on this question.

The next best approach is to obtain some wood which is known to be old, very old, about 300 years old an make an instrument from it. There was a rumour that an Irish maker had bought a barn known to be a least 200 years old, and although of pine, he used the well seasoned timbers to make fronts for fiddles. The resulting instruments were sought after because of the fine sound they made. I wonder what the truth was ?

Nobody alive has heard a Strad as it sounded when played in the late 17th or early 18th century when the wood was relatively young, so we have no real knowledge of what the aging process has done to the acoustics. What we can say is that the Strad instruments went well with the 'newer' string tensions, elongated neck and changed neck angle.

I am looking for some very old spruce or close grained pine, i.e. cut a long time ago, to see if this makes a significant difference to the acoustic properties of a violin compared to a violin made with recently cut wood. This 'experiment' would be even more fruitful if I could find some very old maple!

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