What Does a Pernambuco Violin Sound Like?

Violins are made from thin sheets of stressed/bent wood (usually spruce), and have a distinctive sound. In the Brazilian state of Pernambuco, local folk musicians use a locally-made violin which is carved from a single block of wood. Such a violin would have completely different resonant characteristics from a standard vioin. has anyone ever played one? Do they produce a decent sound?

Quality violins are generally made with carved spruce tops, carved maple backs, bent maple sides, solid carved maple necks, and assorted other wooden parts including the fingerboard, tailpiece, bridge, etc.

I don’t find any mention of that wood being used for anything but bows. Do you have more information, botsgotme?

Yeah, pernambuco is valued highly for bows. Use of that wood can jack up the price by many multiples if it is made by a reputed bow-maker.

Pernambuco is a variant of rosewood, if I recall, like cocobolo. If you head over to the Acoustic Guitar Forum, you can search on Pernambuco in both the General Discussion forum and the Custom Build forum. In both forums (fora?) it is discussed as being primarily for bows, but highly prized for guitars - but endangered and hard to find big pieces of.

So basically it would be a top-tier tonewood in the Rosewood family. If someone is carving an instrument out of a single piece of wood, that design approach would have a HUGE influence on tone - far more than the wood being used. If the build is done with such craft that it can exploit the qualities of a good tone wood, then you would get a good rosewood-sounding instrument. But since the violins that are most-prized - vintage and new - are simply not constructed that way, I doubt a single-piece violin would sound similar to a trad violin, regardless of tonewood.

Finally - “if built well, you would get a good rosewood-sounding instrument.” I state that above, but to get really, really geeky, that would present its own issues. Rosewood, if used properly, provides lush harmonic overtones. Think of it as like playing through an amp with a lot of reverb, dialed up to 6 or 7 so it is lush and wet-sounding. Tons of sustain, with lingering ambient tones across the full tone spectrum, with typically a “scooped mids” profile, with more vibrational energy going to the Lows and Highs, and less to the Mids.

But that’s a problem ;). Good archtop designs - violins, cellos, guitars, etc. - could not be designed for a more different approach. The mechanics of an archtop design translate to less sustain, less harmonic overtones, and a tone hump in the mids, with less energy in the lows and highs. To achieve this, archtops are typically made of maple back and sides - even more dry-sounding than mahogany, i.e., further away on the “rich vs. dry” spectrum vs. rosewood. Archtops are designed to focus as much energy as possible to the Fundamental tone (i.e., if playing an A, that main A 440Hz tone) and to deliver as much of that energy as possible at the time of initial attack.

To illustrate: imagine a pro bowing a violin - it is immediately BIG and LOUD, and immediately STOPS when the player stops bowing. The pro WANTS this, because if they are playing like Paganinni - i.e., a bazillion technically precise notes - you can’t have them sustaining over each other and muddying up the tone. Also, because all of the energy is focused up front, they can reach the back seats and be heard. If the initial attack gets less energy, with more coming over time as the note sustains, you can’t hear a violin in a room of any size.

Hmm - guess I had a few thoughts about that. Hope it was helpful.

Thanks…i have heard these “folk” violins played-they have a completely different sound. i am wondering if any of the great violinists (Pearlman, Jascha Heifitz, etc.) have ever played them in concert.