Other than European silver fir, spruce has traditionally served as the tone wood of choice for making the tops of string instruments. As a matter of fact, spruce is most commonly used since it is easier to find premium quality spruce is more readily available than fir. Good spruce for violin making is most often found in mountain forests, where the climate conditions and the properties of the soil allow the trees to develop an especially good structure for instrument making. The most sought-after pieces of wood come from old tree trunks whose wood is not expected to undergo any more extreme changes; the ideal age is thought to be 250 years! Wood of the German spruce varietal known as “hazel spruce” is highly sought after not only because of its beautiful grain but because its properties are especially ideal for making instruments.
Selecting the proper trees is a process usually undertaken by special tone-wood experts, although many luthiers also look for wood for their instruments themselves in the forest. The right kinds of trees are very rare, since there are many specific local conditions and individual characteristics which play a part in shaping each individual tree. Moving the chopped-down trees is often a complex procedure as well, and only the lower part of the trunk without any branches can be used. Once you take into consideration the long drying period needed before the wood can be used, it becomes clear why tone wood is an extremely distinctive and thus costly product.
Many excellent properties are attributed to the kind of wood known as moon wood, which is currently undergoing a renewed surge of appreciation. The term describes nothing more than a traditional approach to harvesting in which trees are only felled in the period from October to January and only during a new moon. This is the period in which the trunk contains less water than at any other time, which has a positive effect on the material’s stiffness. Trees harvested in this fashion are called moon wood.