Wood for the fittings

The violins “fittings” include the fingerboard, pegs, tailpiece, chinrest, endpin. All of the black parts you see in the photo. The fingerboard and pegs in particular get a lot of wear over the years and need to be made of a hard material. The most commonly used wood on a standard violin is ebony which is very dense, hard and has a smooth texture. It’s a tropical hard wood, most of which comes from West Africa and Southern India, and some from Sulawesi, Indonesia. There is of course a limited supply of this wood and efforts are being made in the violin making world to manufacture a viable alternative to ebony. Thinking about this dwindling resource was part of what lead me to come up with the Redwood Violin Project, in which all the materials would be sourced locally.

I anticipated that coming up with a local alternative to ebony would be one of the more challenging tasks in the project. I was definitely going to have to draw on local knowledge, so I put out a call to the Sonoma County Wood Workers Association. I got a lot of suggestions for a substitute: Live oak, persimmon (which is related to ebony), olive, madrone, manzanita. I went to couple of woodworker’s shops to look at samples, and my search ended when we visited Mike Center in Santa Rosa.

Mike showed me samples of, toyon, persimmon, olive and manzanita. I subjected them all to a fingernail test and the olive and manzanita were the two that I couldn’t dent. I decided to go with the manzanita which has a smoother texture. Partly the choice was emotional, I’ve always loved manzanita bushes which you can see in town and in the wild spaces in the area. The have a red, peeling bark and leathery leaves and clusters of lovely bell shaped flowers. The wood is very popular with woodworkers because of its color and density. The big downside of manzanita wood is that the limbs dont get very big and the grain is squirly.

Manzanita wood is hard with a smooth texture and a striking red color.

Luckily the parts that I need to make are small, and picking through Mikes collection we managed to find enough suitable pieces to make all of the fittings.

Pieces of manzanita generously donated by Mike Center.

With a redwood top and manzanita fittings this is going to be a very Red Violin