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Sturgill on Wood

Sturgill on Wood

by David Sturgill

Originally published in Guild of American Luthiers Data Sheet #2, #6, #9, 1974, 1975 and Guild of American Luthiers Newsletter Vol. 2 #2, 1974

See also,
The David Sturgill Story by David Sturgill



Wood for Instrument Making

I consider myself to be extremely fortunate to have had an opportunity to become intimately acquainted with one of the greatest of the American luthiers, Herman Weaver of Baltimore, MD and Washington, D.C. Our friendship grew from the time I first met him in 1940 until his death twenty-five years later. Aside from our warm personal relationship, he took a great interest in my own work and taught me many things from his own background of fifty years experience as a luthier. Many of these things I would have been years discovering for myself or may never have learned.

Herman Weaver, like most luthiers I have known, was also a philosopher, and even this was reflected in his work. He was often unorthodox in his approach to many problems which confront the would-be luthier. While he was a strong supporter of proven traditions, he did not hesitate to experiment and to discard tradition if it was not supported by his own discoveries.

Early in our friendship I started asking him about woods for musical instruments, especially violins. He answered my questions as I asked them, but one day he summed it all up in one paragraph when he said, “wood is something you can learn about, but it is almost impossible to teach anyone else except in generalities. The luthier must have an instinct about woods, he must be able to hold it in his hands and hear in his mind the tones it will produce in an instrument. He must sense the texture and the grain and the character of a piece of wood and I do not know how to teach anyone these things.”

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African Rosewood

African Rosewood

by John Jordan

Originally published in American Lutherie #9, 1987 and Big Red Book of American Lutherie, Volume One, 2000

See also,
South American Rosewood by John Jordan



It’s been over a year since my last installment of this series, “South American Rosewood,” and now it’s time to cover African rosewood. At the 1986 GAL convention, I talked to several wood dealers to clarify and verify some of the information presented here. Also, I talked to many luthiers about what important information they felt was missing or incomplete in the first installment. Requests came for more specific lutherie information: How well does it bend? How good a tonewood is it? Does anyone sell back and side sets?

In preparing this article, I’ve tried to find people who have built with a particular variety to see how they feel about the wood. Also, in instances where I know of someone that sells back and side sets for guitar, I’ve mentioned them. I was pleasantly surprised to find a few guitars at the convention made from less common varieties of rosewoods, so I go on with some encouragement.

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Cutting Michigan Maple

Cutting Michigan Maple

by Elon Howe

Originally published in American Lutherie #37, 1994



In 1983, I had the guts to try to repair my dad’s old fiddle. I reglued it, sanded it, sprayed on a varnish — it looked great. I was later advised that I had spoiled the fiddle by doing the wrong things.

Later on, I bought a fiddle kit. It had the wood, a machine cut scroll, four ounces of varnish, and a half-pound of glue. About six months later I turned out my first fiddle and of course it sounded great. Dan Erlewine, who ran a shop north of us at that time, had to admit that it looked pretty fair. He later admitted he was afraid to see what I might turn out because he knew he would have to be honest. He seemed to be relieved that it didn’t look like a shoe box.

At first, information was hard to come by. Finally, we found an address for Hammond Ashley. He recommended a book called The Techniques of Violin Making by Harry Wake. I got to meet Harry at the Arizona Violin Makers’ Association Competition in Tucson — he even bought some willow wood from me.

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Whence Tree Names

Whence Tree Names

by Nicholas Von Robison

Originally published in American Lutherie #31, 1992 and Big Red Book of American Lutherie, Volume Three, 2004



What’s in a name?” cries Juliet; “that which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” Yet Shakespeare might admit that a rose is not less sweet because we know its name. The system of binomial nomenclature is one of the best inventions. It is effective; it is beautiful in its simplicity. A luthier in New York may talk of trees and wood to a luthier in Faroffistan with precision and mutual understanding. Centuries are tied together between us and the many careful observers hundreds of years ago who left good records in aristocratic Latin, when the common vernacular language was considered not to be a sufficient medium for such learning. To know the names of the forms of life is one of the keenest satisfactions; it brings us into relationship with our materials in another facet of our fascinating occupation. Every binomial has meaning; it is uniquely significant. Consider...

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A Primer on Botanical Pronounciation

A Primer on Botanical Pronounciation

by Nicholas Von Robison

Originally published in American Lutherie #31, 1992 and Big Red Book of American Lutherie, Volume Three, 2004



Whenever luthiers sit down to talk wood, Latinized botanical names are neccesarily bandied about. When I was an undergraduate forestry student I witnessed a fistfight between two classmates who had a difference of opinion on how a certain botanical name should be pronounced, so to deter mayhem in the lutherie community, I offer the following rules and notes.

The accent method of pronunciation is not my own, but that of the great American botanist Liberty Hyde Bailey, whose Hortus series of encyclopedic reference books paved the way for a standardized method of pronunciation by most authorities. His How Plants Get Their Names also gives accent pronunciations as well as the meaning of many generic and specific botanical names. Your local library probably has this along with Hortus Second; and if they are up to date, Hortus Third. Many other botanical and horticultural references have adapted his conventions. His simple chart of sounds:

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