Derek McCormick’s Violin Blog

Making a violin and other violin-related topics

THE WOOD

Spruce front of violin by Marc Laberte

Spruce front of violin by Marc Laberte

Back of violin by Blondelet
Back of violin by Blondelet

The two major wood species used in making a violin are maple and spruce. Other woods which may be present in the finished instrument include ivory, willow, pear, and rosewood amongst others.

THE BACK  As regards sound production, the back is less important than the front and the wood is often selected for aesthetic rather than acoustic properties. Occasionally maple trees suffer from a growth abnormality which results in a wavy pattern when the tree is quartersawn. This is known as “figure” or “flame” and it is responsible for the beautiful optical effect in the finished violin. When the violin is moved colours appear to change and their is the illusion of great depth in the wood. Well flamed maple is very expensive because of its rarity – only a very small proportion of trees possess this desirable abnormailty. Much of the maple used in violin making comes from forests in the Balkans and also other areas such as the Meuse region of France. The Blondelet violin (left) shows a nicely flamed back. Whilst maple is the predominant wood used for the back other woods have been used, such as the closely related sycamore and more rarely, poplar.

THE FRONT From the acoustic point of view the front of the violin is of prime importance. Spruce is by far the most commonly used wood for this purpose. Particularly desirable is spruce grown at high altitude (more than 1000m) because under these conditions growth is slow and relatively regular producing the the relationship between density and stiffness which make it ideal for musical instruments. The spruce that I use originates in the Jura mountains of eastern France  and from time to time I travel to that beautiful region to select and buy wood at the Bois de Lutherie sawmill. The proprietor, M.Bernard Michaud is an expert forester and in November each year he explores the forests and selects the trees that he thinks will produce the best tonewood. They are felled and taken back to his sawmill where they are sawn and naturally seasoned in great open barns.

Spruce forests in the French Jura

Spruce forests in the French Jura

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