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Masters of Tonewood

The Hidden Art of Fine Stringed-Instrument Making
Jeffrey Greene

BUY Cloth · 192 pp. · 5.5 × 8.5 · ISBN 9780813947464 · $24.95 · Mar 2022
BUY Ebook · 192 pp. · ISBN 9780813947471 · $24.95 · Mar 2022

The wood used by master craftsmen to create many of the world’s legendary stringed instruments—violins and cellos, mandolins and guitars—comes from seven near-mythic European forests. In his latest book, Jeffrey Greene takes the reader into those woodlands and into luthiers’ workshops to show us how the world’s finest instruments not only contribute to great musical art but are prized works of art in themselves.

Masters of Tonewood describes the "hidden life" of stringed instruments, beginning with the unique wood, expertly chosen and sometimes cured for decades, that gives them voices that rivet audiences. Greene takes us to forests in Italy, France, Switzerland, Austria, Romania, Poland, and the Czech Republic. We are introduced to the acoustical and aesthetic properties of the spruce that Stradivari treasured, and the mystery of why just one in a thousand maple trees contains decorative figuring worthy of the highest quality instruments. Greene visits the greatest traditional centers of this craft, from Spain to the United States. He recounts the ideas and experiences of tonewood millers, luthiers, and musicians and discusses their concerns about environmental issues associated with a tradition dependent on ancient woodlands in a modern world.


It is an odd feeling to read a book and feel like Antonio Salieri in Amadeus: to displace one note would be diminishment. I am a fiddle player, and like many people who fell in love with these magical boxes, I spent some time working in luthier shops. Greene’s book offers a very engaging way to enter that world while also providing a unique environmental history on how humans engage with trees. All of this is by way of saying, this wonderful book had me at ‘tonewood.’

Philip Levy, University of South Florida, four-time Florida State Champion Old Time Fiddler

This book kept me up at night.

Mary MacNeil

About the Author(s): 

Jeffrey Greene is the author of French Spirits: A House, a Village, and a Love Affair with Burgundy and In Pursuit of Wild Edibles: A Forager’s Tour (Virginia). A widely published poet, he is the recipient of the Samuel French Morse Poetry Prize and the Randall Jarrell Award in Poetry. He is professor emeritus at the American University of Paris.

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