Why using aged wood to make a violin?
Hello and welcome back to my blog!
This is Edgar, from Cremona (Italy) and here I am working to make the best instruments with the best seasoned woods from the world!
In the world of violin-making there is a big myth about wood: it seems like everybody, even if they don't play any instrument, thinks a big secret to a great sounding violin is how much is the wood seasoned.
A big part of this is that when you get a new instrument you don’t want it to twist and turn within two or three years after receiving it.
That is why it is so important that the wood is seasoned: it is stable and will not move so much!
When I started to make violins, we are talking about the 80s, everybody was overlooking on how a well-seasoned wood is important to work and create great instruments.
I think we all took it for granted and we did not realize that you need well-seasoned wood. Only when you start working with it everyday you can actually understand the differences.
What differences? For starters, you immediately feel the response of the word, how it is cut, how the chips are flying away, how it sounds… just by touching it and looking at it you cannot tell how old a piece of wood is, or even if it was artificially dried!
A small digression on artificially-dried wood: if it's artificially dried you can feel it while working because it feels a bit like paper, very fragile and not pleasant to work with.
So, to sum it up, to create a good instrument you need to be working with great wood, which needs to be well seasoned. The next question is how you make sure it is well seasoned. The best answer to this is: never trust anybody with your wood. The best way is to season it yourself! What I suggest is buying fresh wood and letting the years go by and work their magic. I promise you will see a big difference.
Of course you will ask: what should I do if I want to start building an instrument tomorrow? Well, I have a nice story for you!
At the beginning of my career I was searching for wood to work, so my father helped me and gave me 10.000 German marks to buy the first batch of materials. To me, that was so much money and I was already looking forward to all the wood I could have bought for that amount.
So I left with my Ford Fiesta, all the way up to Germany! I went to Lawrence, who had the best woods in the whole area. I stayed there all day long, up until five o'clock in the afternoon because there was so much choice!
I went back to Austria to show my father what I bought 10.000 marks and… I opened my Ford Fiesta, he looked inside and there were only some pieces! Enough maybe for two cellos and of course a few violins, but not so much! That was probably the best wood I have worked with in my life.
So, this was a long answer for a quite simple question: you will experience how expensive it is to have a well-seasoned wood!
Now things have changed for me: I try to buy big quantities of fresh wood and small quantities of seasoned wood in order to work all the time with seasoned wood!
Recently, which in violin making is actually 15 years ago, people discovered that Stradivari actually worked with fresh wood. This was very surprising for us violinmakers!
I don't want to say we have to work with fresh wood, most of the time you will work with seasoned woods. But, especially in the beginning, it's a little bit painful that you don't get wood for a cheaper price.
Now let me tell you one last great story about wood. There was a business owner from Italy that showed up in my workshop with a specific kind of wood. He told me no one wanted to work with that wood and so he was expecting me to also reject his offer.. well, he came to the perfect violinmaker because I can’t say no to a challenge!
He told me that this is a wood from New Zealand from Kauri, which is a type of huge tree that was buried underneath the surface of the Earth! It was taken out by scientists, who did a lot of tests and then was carved into lots of different things. We met again and after some time I made two instruments out of this wood: one he bought for himself and the other one I built for charity.
It is pretty interesting because this wood was studied by the University of Rome for its unique characteristics and they measured the carbon to trace the age.. well, it is 48.000 years old!
Working with this wood was really interesting because it's very brittle, so you can work it like normal wood as long as you go with the grain but, as soon as you go 90 degrees from the grain, it becomes like cement!
If you want to see this wood in "real life", check this video out and let me know what you think.
I’ve got to tell you that if you want a nice set to build your own instrument I have also different bundles of well-seasoned wood to purchase and to use for your next violin, the link is here: https://www.violincellomaker.com/products/complete-kit-for-violin-b
In conclusion, we could say that every violin built with any kind of wood is seasoning anyhow, so it's only a question about the first ten to thirty years where it might make a difference!
Do you think this difference is huge? Does it really make such a big difference? What do you think about the old Masters using fresh wood? Let me know below in the comments!
Have fun and see you soon,
Ciao from Cremona,