Stellenbosch University Professor Crafts 3/4 Violin from Wood of African Trees

South African researcher Dr. Martina Meincken is investigating the potential of alternative tonewoods for use in instrument construction



Dr. Martina Meincken, an Associate Professor in the Department of Forest and Wood Science at the University of Stellenbosch (SU) in South Africa, has made two violins out of various indigenous African woods. The violins were made as part of a research project which investigates the acoustic qualities of different wood types in instrument making.

The project first began during an COVID-19 initial lockdown in 2020. Meincken collaborated remotely with ex-SU student and luthier Hannes Jacobs, who at that time was living in Pretoria.

“I wanted to show that wood science is not just about building materials, but also features in other, potentially more interesting spheres of our life,” said Meincken of the project.

The second violin, recently completed, is a 3/4 size and made from various African woods such as Knysa Blackwood, Hardpear, West African Sapele, and Candlewood. By contrast, most modern violins are made from spruce and maple, and these materials are often dried over a period of years.

The construction process of the second violin was also a collaborative effort: Meincken made the ribs, while some sections were planned and cut using 3D construction software. Another luthier, Hadley Duminy, handled the final assembly and applied a varnish substitute made of beeswax and turmeric.

While the process of crafting the violin was part of Meincken's day job as a researcher, the project also had a second motive: to provide a violin for Meincken's young daughter, who was in need of an instrument to play on.

“My ten-year old daughter Alexandra plays it daily," says Meincken. "It has a full sound and is a bit softer than the first one. I think it works perfectly for jazz, but classical music sounds good as well," she added.

Meincken has posted a video showcasing the tone and construction process of the first violin, which you can view below.