Luthiers: have you ever experimented with violin materials?
To cool things down for some people and to establish a nice conversation, I'd like to know if luthiers, I mostly expect veteran luthiers, have ever started to experiment really drastically about violin materials.
In example, making the top and bottom from ebony, compensating the differences by making it thinner or thicker, and you know...
Violins have not changed pretty much anything in 300 years, but one very easy "tempting" thing to do is to use other materials you have around. Easy because you follow the same path, adapting of course to the differences you find.
I for example imagine a black violin made of ebony, how would it sound and behave. Can you even varnish ebony like you varnish maple or spruce?
Where the idea of using spruce and maple comes from?
Since violin making seems a really, really hard task to accomplish, I guess a lot of you will say that it's not even worth it to experiment with such radical ideas. But I don't know, so much time making a repairing violins can make you do these kind of things.
Most everything has been tried. I've seen fiddles of US origin made from many different native woods. Saw fiddles with a rosewood back/sides, koa back/sides, pernambuco back/sides. Of course we have experimented. It seems that by the time Strad came along, Maple and Spruce were fairly standard already. Larger instruments are made from a greater variety of woods, pear, fruitwoods, poplar, willow, walnut-and I have seen Italian violins from the 19c or before made from all of these woods. del Gesu used Beech on at least one instrument.
A luthier in my area who died a couple of years ago, Daniel Foster, showed me a cello he was making out of Lombardy poplar. It looked beautiful. I never got to see the finished product, though, and in fact I'm not sure he completed it.
"Where the idea of using spruce and maple comes from?"
You might check out the newest material being used for bowed string instruments i.e., CARBON FIBER. Some good things have been said and published about these instruments. Those who are making and studying them have done a lot of study of the vibration and acoustic properties of the materials they design and use. The properties of alternative woods suitable for use would also have to have similar properties. These properties can be measured without making an entire instrument from them.
Yeah, I knew about CF violins and bows, indeed I knew about CF violins before CF bows. I once went to a Brazilian music clinic for violins and there I tried one CF violin, although I don't remember the sensation or sound, it was years ago. Specially in violins, I don't find CF violin appealing at all, and let's be honest, we get very influenced by the looks, in all aspects of life, including music, may be the most. It's really hard to say "NO!" to an instrument you find amusing, may be as hard as saying "YES!" to an instrument you find kind of dead, ugly, irrelevant in appearance.
Ebony is going to sound SO bad if you make a violin out of it.
@Andrew, I tested the Lucchi meter extensively with laminate components of my case manufacture, and came to the conclusion that more than stiffness it was indicating density. Basically, of two strips of wood of identical length, width, and thickness, one would give a higher Lucchi reading if it was heavier but not necessarily stiffer.
David Burgess wrote: "Spruce is still favored for "soundboards" whether on fiddles, mandolins, guitars, pianos, or harps."
Why ebony wouldn't work for top or bottom?
This one has got to be on the list!
My luthier in Paris made a 15" version of his two cornered Lyra Viola, using poplar instead of maple. It was sold almost immediately so I couldn't try it, but the softer wood was to vibrate more slowly and get more depth out of a small viola.
I've see Cedar used for the top. I would imagine not the easiest material to work with as it easily splits. Don't know how it sounds.
Sounds like an aluminum violin, too. I know that guy -- I'll have to ask him how it handled :-D
Wasn't there a story that Heifetz played an aluminum violin in a concert or two in his youth?
Oh, wow, is that really glass?
Balsa wood violin: 2009, American Journal of Physics:
Paul N. wrote:
Wow, that balsa violin actually sounds pretty damn decent!
But, would you call that a "violin"?
Paul N, today there are some extremely tough types of glass around which are shatter-proof under almost all circumstances, so that is one problem we don't need to worry about.
The instruments I regard as great have consistently been made of spruce and maple. I don't see much point in trying to recreate that greatness using much else. That said, instruments I regard as awful have also been made of spruce and maple!
Learning how to make a violin is tough... the learning curve towards good sound and playability is slow... when a maker gets there, he will have in mind what kind of spruce and maple he wants to replicate the good results he got in previous instruments. Risking with different material (even different maple or spruce, that can vary a lot in density, for instance) is not a good idea for most of us.
^ A non-refundable deposit!
Hahahaha, well, may be in the future I will try it, if I ever get into violin making, which right now seems a seriously impossible task to accomplish all by myself.
Many in the Irish Traveller community were skilled in working with tin, and they produced some tin fiddles like this one:
Paul, I just make violas, I am a viola maker.
Ebony would certainly be a pain to carve, due to the density and strength.
I seem to remember a plastic violin made by or called a Macafieri. Does that ring a bell with anyone else?
Also I remember apocryphal stories about throwing aluminum double basses into the lake at Interlochen to watch them float.
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