If you’ve been trying to figure out which tonal wood is the best when it comes to the violin, I’m happy to say I can clear things up.
Maybe you’re on the hunt for a new violin and want to know what wood to look out for, or maybe you’re just curious!
Either way, I’m going to set things straight.
You’ll know exactly what to look for in no time.
What Wood is Used for Violins in 2020?
1. The Best Wood for Violins
You may have noticed the abundance of violins on the market these days. Yeah, having a choice is great and everything but sometimes all of the variety can be confusing! So, the easiest way to figure out which violin you should choose is by learning a little bit about what you should look for. I think tonal wood is the best place to start.
After all, it’s what makes the most difference to the way the violin will sound!
The Most Common Wood Used for Violins
The most common kinds of wood used to make violins are spruce, maple, and ebony. The wood for a violin should be strong, dense, and durable. That’s why violin makers scout out old trees from high altitudes.
So, if you’ve ever wondered why D Z Strad tells you their violins are made from “Himalayan Mountain Spruce”, they’re just showing off! Just kidding, I love Strad.
Other Wood Used for Violins
Although maple, spruce, and ebony are most commonly used for violins. You’ve probably noticed some violins that are made of something totally different. Boxwood, willow, poplar, and rosewood are also often used by violin makers.
Unfortunately, these kinds of wood are a little bit cheaper and not quite as durable!
2. The Best Wood for the Top of the Violin
Spruce is undoubtedly the best wood for the top of the violin. The top of the violin is where you get most of your sound and resonance from, so it’s pretty important to get it right! It’s a soft tonewood with a lovely tight, vertical grain.
The reason violin makers have an affinity for it is because of its high stiffness-to-weight ratio meaning it can carry the soundwaves but still holds the structure of the violin! Spruce is also used for the sound pole and the internal structure (just a little bonus fact for ya).
3. The Best Wood for the Back, Sides, and Neck of the Violin
Maple is the best wood for the back, sides, and neck of the violin. It’s also commonly used for the scroll and inner ribbing (I’m full of the fun facts today, aren’t I)! Maple is strong, stiff, and shock-resistant so it’s pretty durable. Another reason violin makers love maple is because of its very uniform texture and fine grain.
It has these flame-like ripple patterns that act as a natural adornment to the violin. So, whenever you see “flamed maple” in a violins description, it hasn’t actually been set on fire! It’s au natural, baby (I’m way too passionate about violins, I know).
4. What Are the Best Violin Fittings Made From?
A violin’s fittings are important because they’re what help you stay in tune and feel the vibrations! The tuning pegs, fingerboard, chinrest, and tailpiece are usually all made from ebony. But, since the violin has become more popular, different types of fittings are popping up, so what are the best violin fittings made from?
The best tuning pegs are made from ebony because it’s very, hard, stiff, and durable. Tuning pegs need to be able to hold the tension of the violin strings so, as you can imagine, they’re a pretty important component of the violin. Plus, the contrast between the dark ebony pegs ant the light wood of the body of the violin gives the instrument its classic look!
Although ebony is the best wood for a violin’s tuning pegs, boxwood is also commonly used as a cheaper alternative. It’s still pretty strong but it’s not quite as durable as ebony.
The best tailpieces are traditionally made from ebony. It’s the best wood for the tailpiece because it too has to hold to the tension of the strings. However, modern violin makers have begun to use aluminum for the tailpiece. Using aluminum allows them to fix fine-tuners into the tailpiece to make tuning easier for beginners.
When it comes to the fingerboard, the best wood is ultimately ebony. It’s the most durable wood and it allows for the player to feel the vibrations they create through the neck of the violin. Darkened rosewood is also sometimes used to make the fingerboards for cheaper violins.
I wouldn’t recommend that you buy one of those though. It wouldn’t last very long! Stick with ebony, you’ll thank me later.
The chinrest is usually made from ebony to match the other fittings on the violin. However, the chinrest doesn’t affect the sound the same as the other fittings because it’s more for comfort and can easily be changed. So, sometimes violin makers use different woods like rosewood or boxwood for aesthetic purposes.
5. What Are the Best Violin Bows Made From?
So, now you know what to look for when it comes to your violin wood, let’s look at bows. Having a good quality violin bow is just as important as having a great violin!
Pernambuco is the best wood for violin bows. It comes from the heart of the brazilwood tree and is incredibly strong and durable. It’s stronger than brazilwood so it makes a much more expensive bow.
Brazilwood comes from the outer part of the same tree as Pernambuco. It’s a tiny bit softer so it’s usually used to make more affordable, beginner violin bows. Although it’s more affordable, you can still get some brilliant brazilwood bows.
Modern luthiers have begun to make bows from carbon fiber due to its durability and strength. It’s stronger than both Pernambuco and Brazilwood. Plus, it’s lighter too! Violinists living in hotter climates tend to opt for carbon fiber bows because they aren’t affected by humidity or temperature changes.
If you can’t afford an expensive wooden bow, carbon fiber is the way to go (oh, apparently I’m a poet now).
6. How do You Know if a Violin is Good-Quality?
The wood that your violin is made from is, of course, incredibly important. However, even if a violin is made from great tonewood, if it’s not well-crafted it won’t sound good! So, here are my tips for making sure your violin is good-quality!
The purflings are the first tell-tale sign as to whether a violin is good-quality or not. They’re the two lines that go around the edge of the top of the violin. I used to think they were just there to look pretty but they actually do serve a purpose.
The purflings add extra structure to the top of the violin so they should be made of strong wood like ebony and inlaid into the top of the violin. Painted purflings are the first sign of disaster!
Another way to tell whether your violin is well-crafted is to take a look at the scroll. If the scroll is very precise, with nicely shaped edges then you’re onto a winner. The more delicate the scroll, the better the craftsmanship!
Now, this one only works if the violin you’re looking at has a two-piece back. If it does, then take a look at where the two pieces join. If the “flames” of the maple line up, then the two pieces are book-matched. If they’re not, it doesn’t mean the violin will sound bad.
However, a perfectly book-matched back is a sign that the luthier has put a lot of time and care into crafting the violin. It’s not an easy thing to do (not that I’ve ever tried, I just critique other peoples’ work… Oops)!
The Best Wood Makes the Best Violin!
Whether you’re in the market for a new violin or you’ve just always wondered what makes a good one, I hope that cleared things up for you!
Now, when you’re shopping for your new fiddle, you’ll know exactly what to look for. It’s always important to remember that even if an instrument is made from beautiful tonewood, the craftsmanship could still let you down.
That’s why I always recommend checking that the luthier has put a lot of time and effort into your violin before you buy it.
That way, there won’t be any surprises when the package arrives. The best wood makes the best violin but great craftsmanship certainly helps!
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Fiona is a musician and writer. When she’s not working, she’s either playing the ukulele or finding another instrument to add to her collection.