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Violin gets African tone thanks to SU professor
Author: Corporate Communication/Korporatiewe Kommunikasie [Rozanne Engel]
Published: 15/07/2020


Over the years, Stellenbosch University (SU) has been at the forefront of creating unique educational courses that are instrumental in educating the country's future scientists.

Prof Martina Meincken from the Department of Forest and Wood Science is one such scientist who has come up with a unique project to show that wood science is not just about building materials, but can also be used to create beautiful music.

Meincken has initiated the process of making African violins by using indigenous African wood species. The first violin was made over three months from yellowwood and sapele by one of the best luthiers in South Africa, Hannes Jacobs from Pretoria.

Wood used for musical instruments need to have certain physical and acoustical properties and not all wood species are suitable as tone woods. While guitars are often made from various (indigenous) wood species, violins worldwide are made from imported spruce for the front plate and maple for the back plate. This wood tends to be slow grown, is very old and is typically dried naturally for up to fifty years.

According to Meincken, she wanted to show that the quality of the violin can be comparable to those made from carefully aged and dried wood that is conventionally used to make violins.

“There is actually a lot of science that goes into the choice of wood. It was important to showcase our local wood and its properties and more importantly to show that wood (other than the traditional, imported spruce and maple) chosen based on certain physical properties, can be used as tone wood," says Meincken.

 The creation of the African violins stemmed from a research project that Meincken has been involved in over the past two years. The ongoing research project has characterised various indigenous (South) African wood species and determined how they fit into different classification schemes to determine the suitability of the wood to be used as tone wood.

“We measured various physical and mechanical properties of all indigenous species we could find and different classification schemes for tone woods to pick the species that were most suitable," says Meincken.

There are plans to make a second violin by the Department of Forest and Wood Science as part of various student projects. A local luthier will also assist with the final fine-tuning and assembly of these violins.

Meincken, with the help of Louis van der Watt from SU's Music Department, also hopes to organise a concert or presentation in the future to explain the making of the violin and the choice of woods and so that people can hear the sound differences between the African violin and a traditional violin when played.

Click here to see the process of making the African violin.

For more information, contact Prof Martina Meincken at at the Department of Forest and Wood Science or visit: ​