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How woods can save forests

As tropical hardwoods become endangered, the likes of spruce, maple and boxwood are being scientifically modified to offer luthiers alternatives to rosewood and ebony. Tom Stewart explores the brave new world of sustainable fittings
An 1861 violin by Paris maker Charles Gaillard with a fingerboard and tailpiece made from compressed wood

Ebony trees take between 60 and 200 years to reach maturity. Even then, only one in ten trees felled has a black ‘core’ of sufficient size and quality for use in instrument making. ‘The rest are just left on the forest floor to rot, ’ says Munish Chanana, co-CEO and head of research and development at Swiss Wood Solutions (SWS). A spin-off from Swiss university ETH Zurich and Empa, the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology, SWS was founded in 2016 to develop natural alternatives to tropical hardwoods. ‘Only Madagascan ebony is protected by CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) legislation at the moment, ’ says Chanana. ‘But there’s little doubt the worldwide ebony trade will soon be restricted, as the sale of rosewood was in 2017.’ Given the extremely slow speed at which tropical hardwoods grow, it goes without saying that stocks have been depleted much faster than forests have been able to recover. ‘The problem is compounded by the vital role these trees play in the ecosystems where they occur, since they provide habitat and nutrients for a wide range of highly adapted species, ’ Chanana adds.

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About The Strad

We conclude our investigation of Stradivari’s moulds and examine some radical teaching methods. Vadim Gluzman, Philip Dukes and Matthew Barley are interviewed and there’s our annual Accessories supplement, featuring carbon fibre bows, wolf eliminators, mutes and lots more.