With so much precision craftsmanship and tradition packed into each string instrument, it’s no wonder violins in particular changed so little for five centuries. Despite such rich traditions and sound quality, necessary change has had to come fast in recent decades.
The shift is due to the overharvesting of wood, which has led to the reduction of critical animal habitats in key geographies, plus concerns stemming from climate change. Many violinists and other string musicians also worry about international politics, specifically how the sourcing of raw materials should be ethical to avoid corruption and suffering.
Let’s take a quick inventory of centuries of classic violin making, then delve into recent concerns and changes in craftsmanship that have been enacted in an effort to increase sustainability without negatively impacting sound quality.
Five Centuries of Tradition
Violin making as we know it dates to roughly 500 years ago, when Italian luthier Andrea Amati ushered in an era with his innovation of a four-string violin. Grandson to Andrea, Nicolò Amati continued the family legacy by becoming a master luthier who crafted popular violins in the mid 1600s that remain sought after to this day.
The most popular violin maker of all time is Antonio Stradivari, an Italian who served as an apprentice to Nicolò. Stradivari was at the height of his popularity in the late 1600s and into the first third of the 18th century. Today, many Stradivari violins remain that are playable, and they are extremely collectible and valuable with The Messiah violin topping the list. Estimated to be worth about $20 million, The Messiah is made of maple and spruce, and is valued so greatly because to this day it remains in like-new condition. Violins crafted by Giuseppe Guarneri in the 1700s are also highly sought after.
The luthiers above, and many of their peers, crafted string instruments with premium-quality raw materials without much thought given to sourcing or sustainability. Due to recent globalization, and growing interest in sustainability and reducing the effects of climate change, luthiers began changing their methods and raw materials late in the 20th century.
What Are the Raw Materials of a Violin?
The main raw material needed to manufacture a violin and most violin bows is wood, which comes from cut down trees that are milled before being conditioned for many years — sometimes decades — for use in violin making. Popular wood species to pick from are maple, spruce, ebony, rosewood and willow. A favored combination is choosing spruce for the top and maple for the bottom of a violin. These wood choices are popular because light and resonant wood is needed to create the rich sound that’s associated with how air vibrates and is released from a violin’s F holes.
In addition to its body, a violin also has fittings which include tuning pegs. Fittings are oftentimes made of wood, but some contemporary violins are made with plastic fittings. The violin also consists of the neck, often made of maple, which includes a fingerboard that is frequently crafted from ebony. The bridge of a violin is also wood — usually maple.
Are Violins Sustainable?
Some violins are made by luthiers with sustainability in mind, but not all. However, with sustainability and climate change becoming increasingly popular topics worldwide, it is now common to see violins crafted with sustainably harvested wood and even some synthetic materials. For example, for generations violin strings had been traditionally made of catgut, which is horse or sheep intestines, but now nylon or steel strings are available to choose from.
Choosing a carbon fiber violin is now a viable and sustainable option, too. High-quality carbon fiber violins offer great tone and playability, plus they are resistant to changing weather conditions like extreme heat or blistering cold, making them a superb choice for outdoor performances. There are even carbon fiber violins made to look like wood, so they won’t stand out from other violins during an orchestra performance.
In addition to violins, the raw materials used for bow making are also an increasing concern. Bows have long been made with overharvested pernambuco wood, or its cousin brazilwood. However, many string musicians have switched to carbon fiber bows which offer similar performance quality to pernambuco, but are cost-effective, durable alternatives that don’t require endangered wood that’s in short supply.
Another violin and bow making concern stems from using ebony, which is an overharvested tropical hardwood that has become unsustainable. Instrument-grade ebony is in short supply, so many violin and bow makers have sought out suitable alternatives.
Sustainable Carbon Fiber Violin, Viola and Cello Bows
In each of its carbon fiber bows, CodaBow uses Xebony®, a proprietary blend of natural fibers and resin which boasts rich luster and natural, instead of ebony. Each carbon fiber bow for the violin, viola or cello we make also carries the GlobalBow® designation, which ensures the bow selected has no endangered, monitored, or regulated wildlife or fauna species within.
Always give your best performance with a CodaBow while resting easy knowing you are using a bow with sustainably made materials that provide top performance quality. Explore our award-winning collection, or visit your local CodaBow dealer to try one of our bows in person.