December 16, 2009

From Roland White:

Re: Fungus-treated violin beats Strad in blind test (Sept. 15): I am a fiddler with over 30 years of playing and listening experience. Violins and the Art of the Luthier have always fascinated me especially the debate and quest to replicate one of the great violin masterpieces.

From the top tier of historic Luthiers, Stradivarius, Gunarius, Amati, and a few others the wood of choice for their Violins was Spruce for the tops, and Maple for the back sides and neck. It is surprising to me that this experiment was conducted with a non- traditional wood of Sycamore.

Although I am sure it is an adequate wood with decent musical properties I have never known of any Luthier claiming any fame or creating significance using this wood as the backs for their instruments, especially for Violins. In my research the only reference to Sycamore for Violins is the one made from the Sycamore tree that grew outside Arthur Conan Doyle’s home, however nothing is said of the tonal qualities of the instrument.

Further I have never come across any historical references that the Master Luthiers treated their wood with fungi, or any other material to improve the tonal qualities of their instruments.

I have however found many historical and modern references relating to the wood that these historic Luthiers used to be from a mini ice age that affected the growth pattern of the Spruce and Maple used to make these magnificent instruments.

Another important fact that has not been considered is that if this historic period produced wood that improved the tonal qualities of these instruments, why didn’t all the Luthiers, famous and not, compare with the instruments of the great masters and contemporaries like Gunarius, Amati and Stradivarius himself. Is it not reasonable to give more credit to the empirical knowledge that the Master Luthiers acquired in constructing their violins with the wood of their region and the gifted and accumulated knowledge of their craft?

Lastly, the fungi treated Sycamore Violin has not endured the tests of time whereby its fungi treated wood has improved the tone over time or that it maintained its structural integrity like the Historic Masterpieces, carved with the wood produced in nature without the influence of altering its natural characteristics with fungi or any other modification of the wood.

Although I am quite sure that the Mr. Rhonheimer is a Master Luthier these facts in my opinion still favor the expertise and craftsmanship of the Historic Masters over the modern maker striving to one up the best that History has to offer by altering the natural properties of the wood itself.

I’m sure that Mr. Rhonheimer would not agree that the wood trumps his skill as a Luthier, nor would I expect that every Luthier using Fungi Treated Sycamore would make an instrument surpassing the Violin Masters of Old.

Roland White • Fiddler
Bend, Oregon


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