I've known people to experiment with different woods for banjo pots, necks, and bridges. Do y'all know of fiddle makers who do this? I met a fiddle maker in Alabama who, if I remember correctly, had fiddles for sale made of apple and persimmon wood.
There's a member here who uses local woods, walnut being one I recall. Not sure who though...
I think there are several. Hopefully they'll join in.
I have made a back and neck out of California Bay wood. I once made a top out of Redwood as well. The Redwood topped fiddle had Rosewood sides, too. There were no real problems but I don't feel the need to experiment much in that direction. The woods I usually use are Sitka Spruce from Ketchikan, and Western Big-Leaf Maple from northwest Oregon. Those are my local version of traditional European woods.
The Guy is pretty amazing - can't get any more basic than Home Depot.
Edited by - RichJ on 07/23/2021 11:18:34
Doug Cox has made a lot of violins with domestic woods. He’s used some things like hop hornbeam and mountain mahogany for the fittings or fingerboards as well.
Lots of viola makers use poplar for backs, ribs, and necks. At the shop we get excellent ones from Sean Peak, and they’re often sold before we even get them. Some of the old Italian makers used oppio, a cheaper wood with less figure available in Italy. Willow is sometimes used, although it’s rarer. Birch can be a good wood if you find the right pieces. I’ve seen a few rough fiddles made in the mountains of other woods like mahogany or cherry. I’ve heard of redwood tops, but have also been told it’s a mediocre tone wood. A maker in my area harvested some of it when he was in violin making school out west. He ended up just wanting to get rid of it.
A friend of mine carved a scroll out of Brazilian rosewood. He had intended to make a back and ribs out of it as well but changed his mind after finishing the scroll. Now it’s just a window ornament.
It’s not an exotic choice, but I came across an old German cello with a spruce back once. It sounded terrible. There’s more room for experimentation in the back than in the top. If the top isn’t a good tonewood, the instrument will always be weak.
Originally posted by The Violin Beautiful
If the top isn’t a good tonewood, the instrument will always be weak.
I think that's exactly right. And Redwood is such a variable wood that I think it would be hard to make a blanket judgement about it. Most Redwood would never make good tonewood. But I've played a very nice A style mandolin with a Redwood top. My Redwood fiddle was acceptable, I thought. Still, those are exceptions, experiments. Spruce is the wood for tops unless you want to play around.
I am not convinced on red wood. It just does not have the strength to prevent distortion. Birdseye maple is good for back and sides, although it is harder to finish. Home depo and Menards sometimes have great spruce cuts but you have to look for them. I used to use Simon's tops, since he stopped selling I have been getting tops from International Violin. I have used Bubinga for back and sides. It has many problems and not recommended.
my best sounding one has a cherry back, I will do that again
I'm currently making a fiddle with a western red cedar top and walnut sides, back and neck, and I 'm quickly learning why makers settled on spruce and maple a long time ago.
The cedar is a little less dense than spruce, less rigid and the transverse sound velocity is slightly higher. It tends to chip and split under the knife more than spruce, but that may be because the wood is about sixty years old, some of the time spent outside. The top tends to crack when applying any pressure graduating so you have to be more careful than with spruce. I'm leaving it slightly thicker to compensate for the change in density and I've already found the resonant frequency with f holes cut and bass bar in is lower than what I had with spruce. I hope that's not a bad omen. It does have a nice ring when tapped.
The walnut is eastern black walnut, aged about 25 years. I found it has to be cut very thin for the sides, otherwise bending doesn't work out well, with the grain bunching on the inside of the bend or scorching of if the heat is turned up. It's more grainy to work with, the plane is more prone to tear outs whereas maple is creamy to work with by comparison. I have real doubts about a walnut neck. It's softer wood than maple and less dense so I'm thinking it might bow under tension after time. I'm considering using a maple neck and staining it to match the maple. I'll see how I feel about it.
It's going to be a fiddle, so I'm considering using a set of antique machine pegs with old ivory handles I've had in the box for years. They're better made than the newer ones and they seem to be coming back into style, so with a bone nut it might go well with the general style. It's my fifth instrument so we'll see how it sounds.
I have a friend with a cherry fiddle and a walnut fiddle. They both sound great. I had a cherry fiddle that I sold to a friend who just loved it. He has since passed and I offered to buy it back from his widow, who says she has a museum of instruments in her house. I am fine either way, but it is a very nice fiddle.
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