Dendrochronology Applied to Stringed Instruments

In the past few years, there have been important advances in a number of scientific techniques that can help shed light on the physical properties of instruments. Perhaps the most prominent of these has been dendrochronology, the process of determining the age of wood by analysing the patterns of tree rings. 

Micha Beuting taking data on a violoncello

The Method of Dendrochronology

To build a chronology for the purpose of dating instruments one starts with cores from living trees or cross sections taken from cut spruces. From this material the initial chronology is built. In a next step the tree-ring pattern of older material, for example, wood from keyboard instruments from the 17th and 18th centuries, is overlapped with the inner rings of the living trees to extend the chronology. By repeated application of this same procedure the chronology is gradually extended into the past.

One of the most astonishing findings of researchers can be seenbelow. The sound hole on the left comes from a treble viol in festoon shape purchased in Spain around 1978. The sound hole on the right comes from a treble viol purchased at auction at Bonhams in 1998.  The buyer purchased this second viol, on the hunch that it was a twin of the first one. Dendrochronology has only now revealed not only the date of these two instruments: ca. 1730, but also that the tops were constructed from the very same tree! These two sisters, which had been separated for nearly 300 years, are now happily reunited and making music together again!

Treble viol in festoon form II, ca. 1730
Nicolò Amati
Leopold Widhalm
North Italian ca. 1760,

Violas da gamba:
Anonymous 1730 I
Anonymous 1730 II,

Ventura di Linarolo
Paolo Maggini
Jakob Stainer
Gianbattista Grancino
Johann Seeloss
Treble viol in festoon form II, ca. 1730

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