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Handmade Stringed Instruments for Traditional Music

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The woods used in my instruments have been chosen as a result of many years experimentation by instrument makers past and present. They are not random choices but are used to provide the specific qualities required of a particular instrument.

I buy timber that is quarter sawn with a straight and even grain, and most importantly is from a sustainable and ethical source. It is stacked and seasoned for a number of years in a stable and dry environment before use.

There are three main choices of woods for instrument tops, European and Sitka spruce and Western Red Cedar. I make most of my instruments with European Spruce due to its overall power, projection and tonal qualities. However, both Sitka Spruce and the Cedar have their own particular characteristics and advantage, and both should definitely be considered.

The back and sides of an instrument with the soundboard complete the body. The density of the wood used for the back and sides and its ability to reflect the vibrations from the top will have its own influence on the tonal character of the instrument. For my instruments I favour Indian rosewood. It is a dense and resonant wood and imparts a richness to the tone of the instrument. I also occasionally use Maple which is a lovely tonewood which has a clear and bright tone.

I use Brazilian mahogany or maple for the necks on my instruments. Both woods are light in weight and also have excellent strength and stability. Fingerboards and bridges are made from ebony, a dense, durable black wood. All purfling and binding, soundhole rosette, and headstock decoration is made from solid wood.

A Note on CITES
It’s a sad fact that some of the woods traditionally used in the construction of musical instruments are now becoming endangered and consequentially their use is being restricted and controlled.

My stocks of wood have been purchased prior to CITES restrictions and so can be exported anywhere with the required CITES documentation. However more woods are being added to the endangered list every year so I am now looking into suitable alternatives.

Tobin Instruments Indian Rosewood Tobin Instruments Cedar Tobin Instruments Sitka Spruce Tobin Instruments European Spruce Tobin Instruments flame Maple

European Spruce
Creamy white in colour with a lovely even grain pattern. Great projection and vibrancy with good tonal clarity and balance. There is an even warmth to the tone and it has great sustain.

Sitka Spruce
Darker in colour with a lovely orangey brown hue, straight even grain. Very responsive with a clear open tone and great clarity. Good power and projection and sustain.

Western Red Cedar
Beautiful rich and dark orange colour with very straight even grain. Softer than the other Spruces and less powerful, it has a clear sweet bright tone, rich mids and warm bass.

Indian Rosewood
Wonderful colours of rich browns and purples with a striking grain pattern. The ideal wood for the back and sides. Very resonant with great sustain, rich warm tonal colour and clarity.

Creamy ivory in colour and often (as seen here) with a lovely figuring and flame. Not as dense as Indian Rosewood, but still a great tonewood. Good projection, clear and bright tone.