It seems there has been a trend to more spruce tops and less maple ??
I'm just wondering about it as a trend I seem to have noticed the past six years I've been playing and looking at violins. (I didn't much look at them for a few years in between) but now it seems I'm seeing more violins out there with spruce tops- and more with quite large grain.
In classical guitars, spruce has made gains on cedar, though most players still prefer cedar. What's been happening in the violin world? I wonder sometimes if I was seeing false marketing claims, although when I bought my first decent student level violin- it was advertised as a maple top, and it still appears so to me now, while the ads for the same violin these days say the top is spruce now-
Has spruce been traditionally used much, or are things changing?
They just corrected the ad when they learned they were wrong.
There hasn't been any recent change. The combination of spruce top and maple back is traditional and has been the most common for hundreds of years. If you have a violin with a maple top, that would be unusual.
The one I have is a bit under stain and clearcoat, but I can't see any grain- I'm surprised at this news-
I have never encountered a violin with a maple top. I have seen one of mahogany and one of cedar, and they both sounded horrid.
Tight-grained spruce can sometimes be harder and more dense than wide-grained spruce, but there are so many exceptions that I wouldn't rely on it.
A lot of experimenting was done during the first two centuries of violin making, from Amati, da Salo, to Stradivarius and Guarneri del Gesu. We don't have the data for the failures, but we have the final idealized models, and when we depart from those measurements and materials we don't get an improvement. What is especially amazing to me is that an instrument that was designed to play Corselli, tuned to Ab, with all gut strings, is also able to play the Tchaikovsky concerto, after being seriously modified about ~1800.
I DID hear a vinyl made using an all-maple violin, but this was a Thomastik violin https://www.violinist.com/discussion/archive/24606/.
So Nancy is absolutely right. The number of newly made maple top instruments has drastically decreased - since the days of Dr. Franz Thomastik from 1 to 0, what would make 100%! (Can't remember if this took place in the 1920ies or 30ies...?)
The point Nuuska M?
Nancy, the point is that your original question may be less uninformed than it might occur to most readers at first sight.
Okay. Doesn't work. But Google finds it if you copy / paste it.
Nuuska, I think that "weird language" is German?? Never thought of German as a weird language; what characteristics designate a language as "weird"?!
That it's pronunciation is obviously not easy to learn for most people. Especially from a musical point of view, many languages seem more melodic. And what's really weird is what hundred and more ears of linguistic overregulation have done to it, even in the last few years. But I'm heavily biased, since I'm talking about one of the two languages I grew up with, and my main language since I was born.
And here you can find a detailed picture of the bridge region, as well as a technical sketch of how it was supposed to work. And Nancy, I haven't seen one in person yet, and I'm nothing close to an expert at all, but I cannot see how this should have ever worked without some drops of glue...
... for those not speaking German...
A friend of mine had a violin with spruce top
I've read enough references saying violins are sometimes made with maple tops that I have no doubt they are still being made, but I have not seen one myself and every reference I've read over the last 16 years suggests that they are unusual.
Nuuska M, Thomastik violins, made of the same wood throughout (but never spruce throughout), carried on being made by Rudolf Steiner devotees right up into the 1990s, please see my post above. Dieter showed me a photo of a then young man who was making them. I even toyed at the time with the idea of buying, for use in church, a 5-stringed crwth (most sound was produced by the two "S"-shaped bass bars, so the shapes of the plates weren't so determinative) - a sort of crwth pomposa, perhaps?
John, interesting - I really didn't know about that! I thought they were abandoned and forgotten much earlier. Never too late to learn something new...
My luthier has used poplar instead of maple for the back of a 15" viola: the backs vibrations are then slower.
Nuuska and Adrian are correct about poplar. Stradivari used poplar for the backs of a number of his violas and cellos. One of my classmates from Yale plays on a Stradivari viola with a poplar back. Maple and spruce have been traditionally the most pleasant sounding woods for violins.
I knew a professional violinist who'd had a violin made from Osage orange wood. The maker claimed it ruined a set of tools, but the violin sounded well.
I've seen and played fiddles with tops made from yellow pine. They were decent.
Adrian, would a "slower" vibrating back have a predictably different effect on the sound? E.g. more smooth and warm, on the cost of projection?
Nuuska, I imagine it would resonate at lower frequencies than a corresponding maple back, although perhaps less loudly, and with slower attack?
Poplar is generally a lower density wood than maple, but with similar stiffness... somewhat midway between maple and spruce. I have never used it on an instrument, but I would guess that how it sounds depends on what the maker does with it. Another guess: if it is made lighter than a maple back, that might favor the middle frequencies and weaken the highs, for a warmer sound.
That sounds like good for viola... I came across several contemporary makers who use it from time to time - but only "online" never had the chance to play one. At least in the german speaking part of the continent it doesn't seem to be very common.
One of my violas is, at best guess by two luthiers so far, a World War I-era German instrument that somehow fetched up in Sverdlovsk, RU somewhere along the line. I've been tempted to contact the former owner and find out what (if anything) he knows about its history … but the relevant point here is that the one-piece back appears to be of poplar. The instrument is just shy of 16" on the back, and has relatively low/narrow ribs. Sometimes I could wish it were a little louder, but its tone in general is deeper and warmer than I would have expected given its dimensions.
I've seen instruments with maple (traditional), poplar, ash, willow, walnut, and even oak. The idea of having a hardwood back is that, theoretically, the hard wood vibrates at a faster rate (for the higher notes transferred to its vibrating surface by the sound post; and that a spruce top (or other soft wood) vibrates more easily with a slow vibration (the low notes spread across the top by the bass bar).
Spruce has one of the highest strength-to-weight ratios among woods, and seems to have found high favor for soundboards (tops) on everything from pianos to harps to violins.
...and spruce was the preferred structural component of aircraft when they were made of wood.
I believe to remember that spruce has the longest fibres and therefore the best elasticity, which helps in its duty as an acoustic "membrane". But others will know better.
Banjos are Loud.
Not sure, are banjos considered musical instruments? Or rather something like a wash rumpel, that CAN optionally be used for musical purposes? And if so, what might have been its original determination...?
Nuuska, I am currently too sober to adequately explore thoughts such as these. ;-)
Just a quick technical note: "vibrate slower" in the sense used in this thread is nonsense.
Carmen, althouh I agree with your argument, it can be applied only in a very very narrow range. Or otherwise why should it be that difficult even to make a spruce top that acts alike another spruce top?
"...why should it be that difficult even to make a spruce top that acts alike another spruce top?"
My deceased friend Dan Foster was making a poplar cello when I last saw him. I don't know whether he finished it. Dan was an experienced maker with a few awards to his credit. He wouldn't have tried something like that if he didn't think it would produce a good-sounding, well-playing instrument. The top was still spruce of course.
Personally, I'd probably pick smaller grained spruce over larger grain- but then the final varnish or clearcoat makes a lot of difference too. I think larger grain wood is generally softer somehow, and more prone to split along the grain.
Nancy, some of my better sounding fiddles have come from rather wide-grained spruce.
"Well it isn't, IF both sheets of spruce have the same density, the same stiffness, the same internal damping..." - So we could agree that with slightly different samples of spruce of slightly different properties the calculations ation would be different? And that these two pieces of spruce would still match much closer than any piece of spruce would with any piece of hardwood (e.g. maple)? Because that's what it was about, and I don't believe it's "nonsense". You can't make everything out of anything just by changing the measurements.
Not two identical pieces of wood out there, my luthier uses to say. Even neighbouring pieces from the same stem...
I would think that in order to get the same amplitude of vibration from a maple top as from a spruce top the maple would have to be so thin that it would not be strong enough.
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