Scientists at Stellenbosch University in South Africa embraced the project as a way to investigate new potential tonewoods and their acoustic properties


A violin has been crafted by a team of scientists at Stellenbosch University made from the wood of indigenous African trees.

The 3/4-sized violin was the second of its kind to be made and construction began during lockdown in 2020. The project served many purposes, primarily to investigate the acoustic properties of wood from African trees and to evaluate which were suitable for tonewoods, but also to allow project leader Professor Martina Meincken to create an instrument for her 10-year old daughter to play. In addition, the violin was chosen because ’they are the most difficult shaped among all string instruments. Everything is curved in every possible direction. A guitar, for instance, just has a flat plate’

In a departure from traditional spruce, maple and ebony, the front is made from Knysna Blackwood from the Dalbergia melanoxylon tree, while the back is made of Hardpear (Olinia ventos), an evergreen forest tree found from the Cape to KwaZulu-Natal. West African Sapele (Entandrophragma cylindricum) wood was used for the ribs and neck, and the fingerboard is made from Candlewood.

Constructing the violin was a feat of teamwork - Meincken made the mould, around which the ribs were formed. Various sections were programmed into a 3D construction software to then be cut by a computerised numerical control (CNC) machine. After much re-jigging by hand, the parts were assembled by local luthier Hadley Duminy.

The violin is not varnished, but instead treated with a mixture of beewax and turmeric of Duminy’s own creation.

After its first notes were played in the form of a Bourrée by J.S. Bach, Meincken is pleased with the outcome, stating, ’My 10-year old daughter Alexandra plays it daily. It has a full sound. I think it works perfectly for jazz, but classical music sounds good as well’

Read: Ask the experts: What should a luthier look for when choosing tonewood?

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