Sept. 30, 2021
How tree rings can encode a violin's age and place of origin
A stringed instrument holds many clues about when and where it might have been made. The wear on the body, the opacity of the wood and the type of varnish used, for example, can all hint at its origin. In recent decades, a technique called dendrochronology, which dates an instrument using the tree rings on its body, has gained popularity. When Paul Sheppard, a dendrochronologist at the University of Arizona dates violins, he starts by looking at the instrument under a microscope and marking off sets of 10 rings with sticky notes, which won't damage the instrument. Then, he measures the width of each ring. "The craftsmanship of the violin-makers is so extraordinary that … it's pretty easy to count the rings and see them," said Sheppard.