Introduction: 2x4 Electric Violin

"You were so preoccupied with whether or not you could that you didn't stop to think if you should."

That is the 2x4 electric violin in a nutshell. An affront to both 2x4s and violins alike, but not without its charm.

This project actually turned out better than I had expected - I'm fairly pleased with how it looks, feels, and plays. Is it the best violin I've ever played? Not by a long shot. But it was very fun to put this thing together from a piece of scrap lumber in my garage.

I'm so proud to be the Grand Prize Winner of the Instructables 2x4 contest! Thank you all who viewed and voted! I encourage anyone with the interest and the tools to try their hand at making an electric violin - it's surprisingly easy. I've also just listed it on etsy if anyone would like to purchase one: https://www.etsy.com/listing/266861772/electric-violin

-Aaron

Step 1: Materials

Tools used:

  • Band saw
  • Belt sander
  • Wood carving knife (I used a pocket knife)
  • Coping saw
  • File + rasp
  • Power drill
  • Clamps
  • Sand paper (60 grit and up)

Materials:

  • One 2x4
  • Violin fingerboard (with nut attached)
  • Violin Chinrest
  • Violin bridge w/ pickup
  • Violin strings
  • Violin shoulder rest
  • Wood glue
  • Paint, clear finish

To play it, you will also need a bow, which is beyond the scope of this instructable. You will also need an amplifier and a pre-amp (because the signal from the pickup is too weak for a normal amp), although if you play this violin in a quiet room you will still be able to hear it - just like an electric guitar without an amp.

Step 2: Design

*WARNING: My sketches are not to scale - they are visual guides only*

The first thing you must do is decide on the design. Fortunately, due to the dimensions of the wood, you don't have a whole lot of choice in the matter. My own design is based on some rather minimal electric violin designs I've seen around the web. There's no shoulder bout and no faux-violin body simply because there was no room on the board for it. If you want more options for your instrument shape, I would suggest making the base of the instrument like I have here and then crafting the other shapes out of another piece of wood and gluing them on.

Electric violins, by their nature, don't need to be as meticulously crafted as traditional violins because the sound wave propagation is not determined by the shape/density of the body of the instrument but by the small pick-up on or in the bridge. This allows for great flexibility in how you design the shape of your violin.

There are still a few dimensions to keep in mind for optimal setup.

  1. The distance from the bridge to the nut is approximately 13in
  2. The bridge will have to sit lower than the fingerboard (notice that on traditional violins the neck is attached at an angle - this is not necessary for an electric violin, but you must account for the height of the bridge when designing your violin)
  3. The G-string should be 5mm above the fingerboard and the E-string should be 3mm above the fingerboard. Some luthiers mave vary these dimensions slightly.
  4. Also, remember that the tension of the strings will put the instrument under considerable stress. At the very least, there should be a straight mass of wood all the way from the head to the tuners to prevent warping of the body. Aside from that, shape it how you want - you can carve a likeness of Steve Urkel and glue it to the shoulder bout and it would be OK (and, frankly, pretty awesome)

A few more things to keep in mind:

  1. Carefully mark your center line - it will make lining up the finger board much easier once you've started shaping the body.
  2. While it is certainly possible to make a fingerboard, for this project I did not want to get into that. I know a luthier and she let me dig through some of her discarded fingerboards for one that I could use. They can also be purchased for about $10 on Amazon or Ebay.
  3. Trace the fingerboard on the 2x4 and mark where the top and bottom of the nut are. Also mark where the bridge goes.
  4. If you want your pegs/tuners to be on the head of the instrument, unlike my design, you will probably want a tailpiece. This can also be purchased from a number of online sellers.

Step 3: Shaping the Body

Body

Once you've finished your design, transfer it to the top of your board. Because I do not have a planer and I consider the flatness of the neck to be one of the most significant parts of the instrument, I drew my design so that the flat surface of the neck (which is later glued to the fingerboard) is the face of the 2x4. I then angled the body slightly to make up for this.

Using a band saw and/or coping saw, carefully carve out the shape of the instrument. Leave a little extra room on each side of the fingerboard - we will later sand the neck to size with the fingerboard attached.

Then flip the workpiece on its side and draw the profile of the instrument. Cut it out with the saw. (Keep in mind the radius of your bandsaw - I knocked the blade off track at least 2 times while trying to make a tight curve. Later I just used the coping saw to clean that bit up.)

Now is also the time to drill the holes for the strings/pegs. For my design, I drilled 4 holes in the head to hold the ball-end of the strings (note that this is reverse of how a traditional violin is strung). I also cut a small channel on the bottom of the head so the balls don't protrude. Change drill bits and drill holes for the tuning pegs behind the bridge.

Neck

To make the shape and contour of the neck, I turned to my knife. If I had a dedicated wood carving knife, I would have used that, but all I had on hand was my trusty opinel pocket knife. Overall it worked pretty well, although that thing does have a thin blade which made some of the shaping a little more difficult. Careful with splintering - I don't do much carving so I don't know if this is a normal thing, but several times I was whittling an edge and seemed to catch a splinter that just got bigger and bigger until it took out a chunk of wood exactly where I didn't want to.

After the knife, I used a file/rasp to tidy things up a bit.

In order to finish the shaping of the neck, we need to attach the fingerboard temporarily. Using a small amount of glue (we will be removing the fingerboard in a minute, so don't go nuts) attach the fingerboard to the neck and clamp it. Let it set for a bit then use your sander to trim down the edges of the neck until it is flush with the fingerboard. Remove the fingerboard and don't forget to sand down the glue left on the underside. Remove the fingerboard once you've made the sides of the neck flush (I used a chisel and carefully wedged it).

Drilling

Two things must be drilled - holes for the strings at the top of the neck, and holes for the geared tuners near the chinrest. I don't have a drill press, so things weren't perfectly aligned, but it's not so far off that it really bothers me.

For the small string holes, I used the smallest bit I had.

For the tuner holes, I ended up using a 9.5mm brad point bit, which was just slightly too small. I was able to eventually (and with great effort) get the tuners to fit through the holes, but it would have been much better to use a 10 or 11mm bit. When drilling, try as much as possible to make the holes at a 90 degree angle to that part of the work piece. You want the gear box to sit flush beneath the wood.

Sanding

You know what to do. Start low and work your way up. I started at 60 and for most of the instrument didn't go higher than 150. I mean, it's only a 2x4.

For the neck, I went up to 600. Your hand spends a lot of time moving around the neck so it only makes sense to make this part as comfortable as possible.

Finish

I decided to use a traditional clear finish on the neck and paint for everything else with black spray paint.

Step 4: Assembly

Tuners

This was kind of a bear because my drill bit was just barely too small and I was too lazy to get back in the car and make another trip to the depot. It worked out in the end - I just used pliers to help get everything in place. Don't forget to put the washer over the top of the tuner before screwing in the bushing. Since I basically had to jam, twist, and bribe my tuners to get into position, I didn't bother with the small screws that attach the tuner to the "headstock". If you followed my directions and used a larger drill bit, you will want to screw the tuner in place to keep it from moving and buzzing.

Fingerboard

We'll need to use a little more glue this time. I laid two thin strands of glue running the length of the neck (be mindful of where the body stops being in contact with the fingerboard). Clamp it down, clean away the squeezed out glue, and let it set for a bit. I took of the clamps after about 45 min. It would be wise to wait to string the violin (at least not at full tension) until 24 hours after you applied the glue.

Bridge

The bridge blank I ordered needed to be shaped before I could use it. I marked the area I wanted to eliminate and then set to work with the belt sander. Use the belt sander for the top curve and the contour of the profile, but not for the feet. For the feet, I used an old luthiers' trick: attach a piece of sandpaper with double sided tape on the place the bridge will sit. Then move the bridge back and forth along the sandpaper until the feet have the same contour as the body.

Using a file, make four notches along the top ridge of the bridge for the strings. If in doubt, check pictures of violin bridges online to see how it should look.

When you position the bridge, you may want to remeasure it's position - at this point you won't have any of your original pencil markings to help you and bridge distance is one of the few dimensions we need to be mindful of (~13 inches from nut to bridge).

Step 5: Closing Remarks

I wanted to record a video so you can hear the results, but I broke one of the strings when I was putting it on. I thought it was an e string, but it's possible that it was a thin a string. That's what happens when you try to use old unidentified leftover strings. I'll get a new set of strings and make a video - it really does sound good.

The next step is to get a pre-amp. I'm planning to use an arduino to make a combination pre-amp and effects processor, but you could just as easily buy one and install it.

I also intend to mount an old shoulder rest to the bottom so it's a little easier to play.

I hope you enjoyed reading my instructable! If you build one, I'd love to see pictures!

Comments

author
Consultutah (author)2016-07-08

How did you attached the strings at the top of the neck?

author
MichaelB688 (author)2016-06-03

Congratulations on your win!

I didn't have any size or material constraints, but I copied your design because it is practical, and has elegant simplicity - Bravo!

author
DanYHKim (author)2016-04-06

It's beautiful.

You really deserve the Top 2x4!

author
Cpat150 (author)2016-02-04

Congrats on your win!! I was rooting for you. Now we just need to get a cello. :)

author
afryklund (author)Cpat1502016-02-05

Thanks! When I get some more time, I think I would like to try a cello and viola.

author
warriorethos2 (author)2016-01-31

afryklund, great job on the 2x4 electric violin. Your instructions and pictures will make it easy for anyone to build an electric violin. Any tips on maintenance of the electric violin? Good luck in the contest.

author
afryklund (author)warriorethos22016-01-31

Thanks! I think it was pretty easy to put together. Aside from tuning the strings and cleaning the rosin off, it pretty much takes care of itself.

author
demondwag (author)2016-01-22

I've always wanted to learn to play a violin. And this seems like I might be able to afford to build one of my own.

author
steviesteveo (author)demondwag2016-01-26

Learner violins are pretty cheap. I wouldn't rule those out.

author
afryklund (author)demondwag2016-01-23

Go for it! It's a pretty easy project!

author
tcup (author)2016-01-24

I would love to have one of these, brilliant! I am unable to do all that work, being female and having no woodworking skills what-so-ever. Would you or do you know anyone who would build one for me? The cost might be a concern though.

author
Mark 42 (author)tcup2016-01-25

Look for woodshop classes at trade schools and junior colleges (community colleges).
You might be able to volunteer as a teacher's aide at a high school woodshop class - just tell the teacher you would be happy to help in exchange for learning new skills.

In my area, we have the Center for Wooden Boats, which is a working maritime museum, and they offer woodworking skills classes.

You might even find some sort of woodworkers club in your area - most skilled craftsmen love to share their knowledge.

author
Mark 42 (author)Mark 422016-01-25

The only reason being female makes it more difficult is because females generally are not guided in the direction of industrial arts so are not as likely to have experience with woodworking. Also, if your peers are doing certain things while you are growing up, you're more likely to be interested in the same things they are.

So it's not an issue of whether a woman could do it, it's mare an issue of whether a woman is likely to have any experience with woodworking.

I always tried to encourage my daughter (and my son) to take interest in electronics, woodworking, mechanical systems (erector set!) etc.

My daughter has the knack for it, but isn't very interested.
But I keep trying!

author
tcup (author)Mark 422016-01-25

Thank you Mark42 for your reply. I am able to do anything that I set my mind to, and presently, I have no real interest in woodworking. I've done my share of that sort of work while my husband and I were remodeling our house. I did nearly everything he could do. I helped gut the walls, put up insulation, did the spackle work and then the decorating, I didn't do the plumbing. After my husband passed away, I had a power surge and I, personally, had to replace the ballasts in all the florescent light fixtures throughtout the house, I even had to replace the power switch and relay for one of my ceiling fans. I did that myself. I knew what to do from watching my husband and knew I could do it. So, not doing woodworking has nothing to do with me being female, it has to do with the fact that I'm really all that interested in it. A few years ago, before computerized cars, I rebuilt the carborator and installed an alternator on my car. While I am patting myself on the back (lol) I also carry 40 lb. bags of pellets 2 daily, for my pellet stove. I have moved a full ton into my storage area. I'm 64 and can do it. So, I can do anything I want to and my gender has nothing to do with it.

author
MansorN (author)tcup2016-01-24

Dear lady have you heard about 3D printing machine please get one .What you need to know is to learn using the CAD (computer aided design) or you can download available free file electric violin.I have printed one turn out awesome just buy the amp, string, bridge and the others if not just get second hand violin.Hope this will enlighten you.Good Luck and all the best!!!! Join the maker group

author
tcup (author)MansorN2016-01-25

That sounds wonderful I'll have to check it out! Hopefully they won't cost very much.

author
MansorN (author)tcup2016-01-25

Hi tcup it doesn't cost much you can get below $500 USD to $2000 USD.This technology is called Additive so no power tool required and even kids are able to use it.For the CAD software you can download the free version type.You can join the Maker group for free drawing file you can go to Thingiverse.com.Lastly apologise for the late reply as i'm in Singapore.Hope this will enlighten you also check out about 3D printing you will love it.

author
tcup (author)MansorN2016-01-25

Wow, MansorN, there is no way that I can afford that much! I'll just do without that particular technology. Thank you for your reply, I appreciate your input.

author
tcup (author)MansorN2016-01-25

That sounds wonderful I'll have to check it out! Hopefully they won't cost very much.

author
MansorN (author)tcup2016-01-25

Hi tcup the CAD software download free version or student version from Autocad so just need to buy the machine and most Maker Movement are not profit making movement.

Cheers

author
imreprobate (author)tcup2016-01-24

Excuse me for saying this but being a female holds zero relevance when it comes to making things. As for no skills, this is remedied by several methods. A local 'tech' school may have carpentry classes which usually include cabinet making, which this is, technically. Or, you may ask a carpenter friend to teach you some of the methods of woodworking. Or you might try and hire on with a remodeling firm and learn on the job. Where there is a will, there is a way...

author
DocR (author)imreprobate2016-01-24

Yes I also had to do a double take on the "female" point.. thinking there's still people that think like this? But then I saw our commenter has 15 grandkids so indeed she's from a generation that belittled the female sex... I don't think it's too late though, to learn this skill,either. Go show em yer stuff..Granny! .. Regards.. "Grampa"

On the subject of the violin.. the most famous guitar model ever made started out as a 2x4 also. That's the "Les Paul". So our instructables contributer is in good company indeed!

author
tcup (author)DocR2016-01-24

lol, thank you for your reply. I must say that my generation was the "Women's Lib" generation. I also helped to remodel my house with my husband, we worked side by side throughout. I just don't like to work with certain power tools, alone (hubby is deceased), they make me nervous. I am mentally not in the right "space" to do the work for the electric violin if I'm not determined enough to do the job, I won't get it done.

author
DocR (author)tcup2016-01-24

Check! Message received and understood! I'm glad you had a supportive and balanced household.I don't want to stray too far from the main theme of instructables here, but, the reasons there were protests at all during the Women's lib era was because these thought patterns were atill deeply ingrained in the population.On more than one occasion I had to explain to my female friends that *asking* me for permission to attend a so-called "bra burning" rally was genuinelly missing the point! ;-) I'm glad we've moved on.. being asked for permission to do anything from a female partner, unless simply done out of mutual respect, gave me the creeps...

Back to instructables here.. I certainly understand the need to be in the right "space". Despite spending some years in my retirement doing renovations on multimillion dollar condos and beach houses, i never really got over my uncomfortability factor with power tools :sigh:

author
tcup (author)imreprobate2016-01-24

Thank you for your encouragement. However, I really have no interest in learning this particular skill, it more complicated than I care to deal with. I helped to remodel my entire house so I'm no stranger to carpentry, electrical, dry wall, and plumbing work. I don't like certain power tools. So this particular skill is beyond what I will do.

author
afryklund (author)tcup2016-01-24

I'm considering possibly setting up a way to make these available for purchase. I'll let you know when I get something figured out. Thanks!

author
tcup (author)afryklund2016-01-24

I would love to own one of these! The only drawback I see is that I'd need an amplifier. I'd need suggestions for that.

author
ellendxyz (author)2016-01-24

What you've made, sir, is a backpacking violin! You want a little side business? Make these....and when you do, put me at the top of the list! There are many music stores out there that would love to have this. I buy backpacking instruments and look for them all over (currently having a little dulcimer built for that purpose). Please consider this. This is a lovely little instrument that you made!

author
afryklund (author)ellendxyz2016-01-24

Cool idea! Considering it's pretty quiet on its own and would need an amp, would it still be feasible as a backpacking instrument?

author
ellendxyz (author)afryklund2016-01-25

I've been thinking about your little violin and I wanted to make a further suggestion to the whole "traveling violin" idea. Would it be possible to make a hollow in a possibly longer base, where the bow could be secured and protected? Just a thought.

author
ellendxyz (author)afryklund2016-01-24

10 Set Belcat Headphone Plug In Guitar Amplifier Distortion Clean Sound Black


Just checked this out on ebay.

author
ellendxyz (author)afryklund2016-01-24

Absolutely. You can get small, plug in amps that run on small batteries. Check this out: VOX acoustic mini amp I picked one up on ebay for about $15....I think it was $15. I use it for other backpacking instruments and it works well with headphones. That's all I use for this, but I'm sure there are small amps that could be used without headphones...or, as you say, it can be played without...just quietly, which would probably be fine out in the wilderness. Check ebay, from whence all good things come. LOL

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SaraM6 (author)2016-01-24

Where did you get your bridge with pickup?

author
afryklund (author)SaraM62016-01-25

Either ebay or Amazon, I can't remember. It was only ~$10. The one drawback is that the audio jack is a 2.5mm, which is smaller than the standard 1/8" audio jack. I had to go buy an adapter.

author
RuthR20 (author)2016-01-24

Don't degrade yourself. this is a fine sounding electric violin. Have you PLAYED other electric violins? Yours has a very nice tone, and looks minimalistic in size and design. I was linked to this by a fellow elementary orchestra teacher. I was disappointed when I realized that this is a one-off unique instrument - I was hoping there would be information on where I can buy one for myself. I own a Yamaha "Silent" violin I bought in the 1990's. It's nice, but a little on the "shrill" side. I REALLY like the way yours sounds.

author
afryklund (author)RuthR202016-01-25

Well, thanks! I don't know why it sounds better than the old Yamahas, but I'm glad you like it.

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imreprobate (author)2016-01-24

Nice bit of work with this!

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maxhirez (author)2016-01-24

Very lovely work!

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afryklund (author)maxhirez2016-01-24

Thanks!

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MarkD1 (author)2016-01-21

Hey, Ive kind of wanted to make a violin myself and learn it for fun. or have it around as a 'toy'. Is it possible to make it louder without the amp? What makes this one quieter than acustic violins?

author
GlendonG (author)MarkD12016-01-21

Acoustic violins have a body . That body is a resonating chamber which amplifies the sound . This violin has no chamber at all , and therefore no resonance .

author
arvevans (author)GlendonG2016-01-24

1-January-2016 Having "no resonance" is both good and bad. Without resonance peaks there is not the real violin sound of a bodied instrument, but with no resonance there is also no unwanted resonance peaks to produce excessive loudness at certain frequencies. An amplifier with tone controls can give some tone adjustment to this instrument and speaker box resonances can restore much of the characteristic violin sound.

author
MarkD1 (author)GlendonG2016-01-21

thanks, that makes sense.

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loubee2 (author)2016-01-24

Wonderful! How about a cello version?

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jguerra5 (author)loubee22016-01-24

I'd like to second that request

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Cpat150 (author)jguerra52016-01-24

Me Too!!

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DeeperB (author)jguerra52016-01-24

what a great instrument for busking........stop people in their tracks.,and make them give

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timsway (author)2016-01-24

Wanna form a band? :) https://youtu.be/s638pezSC4o

author
NolanSaito_Builder (author)2016-01-23

As a violin player that is very cool

author

Thanks!

About This Instructable

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Bio: Composer, conductor, teacher and total geek.
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