Indigenous African woods suitable for violin construction

STELLENBOSCH, South Africa -- Wood used for a musical instrument needs to meet certain physical and acoustical properties and not all wood species are suitable as tonewoods.

While guitars are often made from various (indigenous) wood species, violins worldwide are made from imported Spruce for the front plate and Maple for the backplate. This wood tends to be slow grown, very old, and is typically dried naturally for up to 50 years. In a research project of the past two years, researchers at Stellenbosch University characterized various indigenous (South) African wood species and determined how they fit into different classification schemes to determine the suitability of the wood to be used as tonewood.

Four species gave promising results: Yellowwood and Blackwood for the front and Sapele and Hardpear for the back. None of these were, however, several decades old, or dried. The wood was carefully handpicked and kiln-dried to obtain the best possible raw material. The first violin was made from Yellowwood and Sapele by Hannes Jacobs in Pretoria - one of the best luthiers in South Africa - and the sound compares very well with his traditional instruments.

The second violin will be made in the Department as part of various student projects and a local luthier will assist with the final finetuning and the assembly.



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Larry Adams | Editor

Larry Adams is a Chicago-based writer and editor who writes about how things get done. A former wire service and community newspaper reporter, Larry is an award-winning writer with more than three decades of experience. In addition to writing about woodworking, he has covered science, metrology, metalworking, industrial design, quality control, imaging, Swiss and micromanufacturing . He was previously a Tabbie Award winner for his coverage of nano-based coatings technology for the automotive industry. Larry volunteers for the historic preservation group, the Kalo Foundation/Ianelli Studios, and the science-based group, Chicago Council on Science and Technology (C2ST).