New Project - 5-String Electric Viola

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Eric Knapp
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New Project - 5-String Electric Viola

Post by Eric Knapp »

I've been distracted from making my OM by a request from this lovely young person. She's my daughter and is on summer break. She wants a 5-string electric viola. She plays the regular viola and is quite good. We're doing this together and we're going to have to make this up as we go.

This pic is of her shaping the neck on the prototype I decided we should make. We have no idea how the spacing of the strings will feel and what the overall shape should be. She knows a few things she wants. One, she wants the 5th string to be the low note, not a higher one like we see on so many 5-strings. Also, she wants the neck to extend farther into the instrument than an acoustic viola. She see electrics that mimic the body shape of an acoustic and thinks that's silly. She wants to be able to reach higher on the fingerboard. The third thing is she want it to be comfortable on her shoulder.

This prototype is made out of some really clear pine and is going to let us experiment without being afraid of wasting hardwoods. We want to get the angles right and make sure she likes the feel. I think I have her convinced that when making experimental instruments you have to be prepared to start over a few times. She is a person who has to do things herself and wants to learn woodworking too. When I was hurt in the shop several years ago she was worried I was going to get rid of it. She wants to be the next one to get all these tools. Some of them came from my grandfathers, grand-uncles, and father. She seems aware that the history is very cool and wants to be part of it. She's always aware that there aren't too many dads out there with a full shop capable of doing this including wood and even a stack of ebony fingerboard blanks.

She is shaping the neck with a freshly sharpened spokeshave that is probably 80-years old. If you haven't noticed, I like this kid.
Shaping The Neck
Shaping The Neck
I know there are some accounts of building electric violins and violas here and in the archives. I think I have them all and they are encouraging. I'll document this as I can. If you have any advice on something like this I'm all ears.

Thanks,

-Eric

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Mark Swanson
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Re: New Project - 5-String Electric Viola

Post by Mark Swanson »

The most challenging part of this is getting a decent pickup. Electric violins have issues that other instruments don't, have you looked into how you'll tackle that?
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Eric Knapp
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Location: Wisconsin, USA
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Re: New Project - 5-String Electric Viola

Post by Eric Knapp »

Mark Swanson wrote:The most challenging part of this is getting a decent pickup. Electric violins have issues that other instruments don't, have you looked into how you'll tackle that?
I have not. We’re at the very beginning trying things to see if she likes the feel of it. I have been reading posts about making electric violins and violas and they all have some sort of pickup. I’ll go back and read up some more.

Thanks,

-Eric

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