Figuring Out Figure: Fiddleback
Fiddleback is a figure pattern specific to musical instrument builders, in particular luthiers. Classical stringed instruments — violins, cellos, upright basses, etc. — are traditionally built of quartersawn European Maple, also known as English Sycamore or European Sycamore. The billets that the backs and sides of these instruments are made from are hand-rived with a froe, a hand tool similar to a drawknife that is pounded with a mallet to produce stress-free, perfectly quartered lumber.
Student models are often made from non-figured, less expensive lumber, but the better instruments are built with curly quartersawn sets, below. This figure is known as fiddleback.
North American luthiers have expanded the definition of the term to include quartersawn curly lumber of any species that is used to build stringed instruments. Below is an example of fiddleback ovangkol, a lumber used by more contemporary builders.