Introduction: Electric Violin

Picture of Electric Violin

(Audio on step 6)

This electric skeleton violin uses a piezoelectric pickup. The body and neck are solid maple and the darker wood is mahogany.

I eventually finished it in November of last year after a two year build. It could have probably been done a lot quicker but exams and school got in the way. The body is made from a solid piece of maple. It was cut out using a band saw and a scroll saw, (I went through a fair few scroll saw blades!). The body was then shaped using a variety of hand tools. I aimed to try to use as few power tools as possible. The neck, fingerboard and pegs are explained further on.
The main book I used to make this was the Fiddlemaker's Worksheets by William K. Robertson. I highly recommend it to anyone wanting to make a violin, be it acoustic or electric. It has all the dimensions needed, the techniques for getting the correct finish and much more. The basic plan for this one came from tracing around a friends violin, (a very simple way to get started!).

Update: I have recently done a basic model of this in CAD. It is dimensionally accurate and is available to be downloaded in the following location https://gallery.autodesk.com/fusion360/projects/sk...

Step 1: Initial Drawings

Picture of Initial Drawings

As mentioned earlier. A simple way to get started is to trace around another violin. This, in combination with dimensions measured from the violin and from the worksheet book, can produce a simple starting template. Squared paper is extremely useful at this point!
The length of the body of the violin is 35cm and its width is about 21cm.

Step 2: Neck

Picture of Neck

I used computer software to model several parts of the violin. Any 3d imaging software is useful to produce accurate designs. I used Solidworks but there are plenty of free programs out there e.g. Google sketch up, Autodesk 123D, AutoCAD (30 Autodesk programs are available if you are student, http://students.autodesk.com/?nd=download_center). However, a very simple way of drawing 2D models accurately is using Microsoft Word and adjusting the lengths etc. in the properties section. This is really useful for producing accurate templates for cutting around. 

This part of the violin is quite tricky to get right. I would recommend finding an old bit of wood to practice on. Harder wood is better as it is easier to carve without large 'chunks' coming off. Softer woods can split easily and this can make the carving process harder. When I did mine I did two practices before starting on the maple. It makes it a lot easier to figure out what order you need to do things in. 

Here are the basic steps I followed:
1. Cut the side view out using a band saw (easiest option)
2. Drill out holes for the pegs, 5 mm diameter (a bench/pillar dill ensures the holes are aligned)
3. Cut the top view out
4. Chisel out the peg box 
5. Using cabinet rasp begin to round the underside of the neck. 
6. Using gouges and a rounded file begin to curve the underside of the head (image 2)

It is best to leave it fairly rough as there will be a fair amount of fiddling around getting the set-up right before actually attaching the neck. It just means you're less likely to mess up your nice smooth finish!   

Step 3: Fingerboard

Picture of Fingerboard

Sorry for the poor image quality. I thought it would come out better than that! All the dimensions you need for this part are on the photo. 
For this part you need a hardwood otherwise you'll get lots of dents on the surface.
The image below includes the nut as well. The curvature of fingerboard is produced using a plane. The best way to test if you have the correct  radius is to print of a template and run it across the surface.
For the final set-up on the fingerboard use a rule side on (shown in photo 2) and make sure that the surface of the board is slightly concave. This is best achieved using sandpaper as it easier to judge how much wood you're taking off. The final distance between the board surface and the rule should be about 0.5-1.0 mm.
This part of the violin is not varnished! it only requires oiling to bring out the colour. 

Step 4: Pegs

Picture of Pegs

The first picture below shows the basic dimensions for the pegs. Initially they need to be about 20mm longer than shown. This allows for easier fitting. 
There are several tools you'll need/make in order to produce your pegs. 

Reamer (photo 2) 
This reamer is made from an old pair of scissors. An angle grinder was used to get the correct taper of 8.5 to 5.5mm (ish...) over a distance of 7.5 cm. I have to thank TimAnderson for his instructable on making this and the peg shaver (https://www.instructables.com/member/TimAnderson/)
This can then be used to make the peg shaver and getting the correct taper on the peg holes in the violin head. 

Peg shaver (https://www.instructables.com/id/Cookie-Tin-Banjo-Part-2-Make-a-Tuning-Peg-Shaver/)
This tool can only be made once the reamer has been made. To make, simply drill a 5 mm hole in a piece of hardwood. Then, using your reamer, taper the hole. It is a good idea to mark on the reamer where the 8mm width ends. This insures that you only taper the hole that far. The next step is best achieved using a band-saw or mill but a 'bog standard' hand saw works too! You need to cut horizontally just above the hole. Then using a plane or a sander take the surface down until the full length of the hole is visible. Finally, clamp a plane blade above the hole to create a sharpener/shaver. Full photos on the link above. 

Lathe 
Simple pegs can be produced without a lathe, but I found that they were never quite true and were very difficult to get the detail I wanted. I found that a lathe was the easiest way to produce the shape of the peg in the image below. The head is done completely by eye but if you have a cutting jig available to you, the diameters below can be accurately achieved.

I used files and sandpaper to get the flats on either side of the peg head. I haven't really got any dimensions for this bit. It's really down to what you think looks good and feels right. After all it's your violin, it should be how you want it! 
The final stage is to put the peg through the peg shaver to get the correct taper. They are now ready to be fitted to the violin!   

If pegs seem like too much effort don't fear! Photo number 4 shows a ukulele machine head. These are the perfect size for a violin and allow quick and easy tuning. The only possible adjustment needed would be a hole half way down the peg, (shown in the photo).
REMEMBER: if you are drilling your own hole you will need to chamfer the edges with a larger drill bit otherwise your strings may snap. 

Step 5: Electronics

Picture of Electronics

For this section, there are many different ways to go. I went for a simple piezoelectric pickup from eBay and simply wired it straight to the 1/4" audio jack. This does require some form of pre-amplification but I didn't have enough space in the body to fit all of the electronics for an internal amplification unit.

There are several violin amplification kits available. They have everything you will need to amplify your instrument. Just remember to factor in the size of the device when designing the body!

Step 6: The Rest Is Up to You!

Picture of The Rest Is Up to You!
There are such a wide variety of designs that the rest of the violin is really up to you. The stages covered in this instructable are the basic stages which are fairly universal to most violin designs.

The chin rest and tail-piece both heavily depend on what design of violin you are going for. I'm currently working on one which won't have a tail-piece and the chin rest is separate from the body. I will hopefully get some instructions up for how to make a chin rest and tail piece at some point but exams are looming!

The body can be as interesting and wacky as you want! It's provides the most fun to be creative with and will be the main part that sets it apart from any other violin. The only main warning here is to keep the centre of the body strong, you don't want it snapping after all your hard work! If you find that the body is looking too weak it is possible to put a metal strengthener down the centre, hey it could be a feature! The only other thing to watch out for is that you keep enough room for the electronics. 

The final finish is also very much down to your own taste. I used an amber oil varnish, which is traditionally used on acoustic violins, to finish this one. That along with a French polish (Colron French Polish sold at DIY shops) produced a lovely glassy finish.  However, coloured dyes, sprays and oils can be used and hey, who even said it had to be made out of wood!

Hopefully, I've given you enough to get started on. Let me know if you have and questions. 

Here is an audio/video of it being played by a friend.

 

Comments

markpope (author)2017-07-20

Is the neck glued to the body? Is it notched or is a dowel used for strength? My son has carved the neck and body and a violin maker gave some advice I don't trust.

Toms Workshop (author)markpope2017-08-16

Apologies for the delayed response. For this particular project I used 7mm dia. dowels to connect the neck to the body. This was glued with standard wood glue and a combination of claps to get the pressure from the neck to the body.

It is standard construction for a violin to use a notch and gluing but I wasn't confident enough on this one to do that so went for the dowel and glue option.

Kidhacker (author)2016-10-13

Would this work

http://www.ebay.com/itm/Electric-Violin-Pickup-4-4-Bausch-Bridge-Preamp-Tone-Volume-Knob-Endpin-Jack-Set/391495817339?_trksid=p2047675.c100005.m1851&_trkparms=aid%3D222007%26algo%3DSIC.MBE%26ao%3D1%26asc%3D39836%26meid%3Da15d33a5c9ff484e81fd35ae43352f00%26pid%3D100005%26rk%3D5%26rkt%3D6%26sd%3D220838924337

Toms Workshop (author)Kidhacker2016-10-14

Yep, that should do the job fine. The only thing you will need to do is work out where the electronics will fit. Other than that you'll be ready to rock :)

Kidhacker (author)Toms Workshop2016-10-20

thanks

Ace Gambit (author)2016-07-28

Looks Awesome! You can definitely tell you put a lot of time into this. Have you considered using an electromagnetic pickup though? it sounds like you're getting a bit of background noise with that piezoelectric pickup.

a2plis (author)2016-01-18

What do you think about buying this fingerboard,

http://www.ebay.com/itm/4-4-Size-Violin-Fingerboar...

,this neck

http://www.ebay.com/itm/1pcs-hand-carved-Student-M...

,and those

http://www.ebay.com/itm/1-set-new-rosewood-Violin-...

Could it be, that for $5 you can get true ebony? Would a violin with those parts be worth making?

Toms Workshop (author)a2plis2016-01-20

Hey bud,
All look ok and should be fine for use on your project. I'm not 100% on the fingerboard, it seems like a cheap price! You will be fine with the board as long as it is hard enough to withstand the pressing of the strings. To be fair you could make one fairly easily, it is one of the easier parts to make and quite good fun. I have the drawings for the board which I think are in this ible, if not I can add them this weekend when I'm back in the UK.

The neck, chin rest and pegs look fine (I generally look at the % rating of the seller too to see how reliable they are). Again the chin rest is also quite good fun to have a go at ?

I'll have a better look this weekend but for the prices on there it seems pretty good (even if you use them as templates for making your own)

a2plis (author)Toms Workshop2016-01-20

Thank you very much for your reply. I will think about either buying a more expensive fingerboard, or ordering this one, checking if it's real thing, and if not, using it as a template. Let's just hope the photos of other stuff aren't fake, as they look really nice (e.g. the scroll apparentlyhaving all the proportions, and angles correct). Again, thanks for help.

db8y97 (author)2016-01-17

Is the body 1 piece of maple (minus the mahogany of course). I am drawing this up now. I sort of cheated though and bought the neck, chin rest, fingerboard from ebay. Thanks!

Toms Workshop (author)db8y972016-01-18

Correct :) I got it from a coffin maker. it makes the whole body very strong, however it could be just as easily done with multiple parts glued together. You could get some pretty funky patterns going like that :)

AntonN8 (author)2015-12-09

do you have any plans that i can use ?

Toms Workshop (author)AntonN82016-01-03

Hey man,

I've had a look, the particular ones I found on eBay don't seem to be available but here are some links to get you started:

http://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/1-Pure-Tone-Violin-Bridg...

http://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/JACK-PLATE-SOCKET-for-ST...

I'm afraid that I don't have any plans for the violin. I am in the process of making some new ones for my latest one, however I will get round to producing some for this one. I kinda just went with the flow on this one. The measurements above show all the basic ones you need. I'll see if I can grab some more for you next time I'm home :)

AntonN8 (author)2015-12-09

Hi what pick up did u use and where did you get the crome platecould you tell me the link thanks

reiangel (author)2014-10-09

It's Amazing.

Where did you find the book ?

Toms Workshop (author)reiangel2014-10-11

Thanks very much. I borrowed it from a violin repairer friend but I have seen them come up on eBay every now and again, they're like gold-dust though :( I was hoping that a company might sell a digital copy but I haven't managed to find one. If you have any luck can you give me a shout, I'd really appreciate it.

reiangel (author)Toms Workshop2014-10-13

Yeah ... it's really expensive, but however I'll try to get a copy.

No problem, I'll keep you in touch :)

creativity4u (author)2014-07-03

And i burnt words onto the side

Hey,

Really sorry for not replying to everyone. Things have been very hectic this year for me and I haven't been keeping up with Instructables as much as I'd have liked, sorry.

Awesome! How did it come out? Any photos? I'd love to see your work :)

creativity4u (author)2014-07-03

Looks awesome got one built

tcsinstructables (author)2014-02-26

been trying to get my son to make this,,, he has always been interested in a violin and we have never had the money to buy one... even if he doesnt learn how to play, he would at least be able to learn how to build one,,, maybe even selling them cheaper for other kids wanting to learn now that he is older... but, Id at least want him to learn enough to at least put it in tune... lol... thanks for the instructable... if he doesnt make one, I will... there are plenty of kids that want to learn, that cant afford nice ones,, all electric or not... Id like to also make some cello's... specially after I watched a couple young men called 2cellos on youtube... my style of music, with a classical instrument.... keep up the good work,, my first thing is to start building my own equipment.. thinking on a small bandsaw first... maybe table saw,,, who knows... have to sit down and really figure it out first to see what will be the most needed at first to make the other woodworking equipment I need... not to many people that do things like the old days,, you needed something, you build it or made it... old school,, thats what I love... in the 1930's, you need a tractor, you used a model A ford,,,lol.. you need a table, you made it,, you need equipment to make other things, you made it... I love it when people make tools like table saws, band saws, jig saws from scratch,,, thats why I like vintageprojects.com some plans there for old school doit-selfers...wish I could find more though...thanks again, sorry so long,, enjoy

wtlake (author)2013-08-29

Hi ! so like some others, i have been thinking about making an electric violin. I searched for hours and got not that much information. So i want to hear your opinion.
here are the pickups i could find (in the link) and i could see the link that you recommended. But would like to know how to get all the electronics like in the 5th tip.
in the link where i send you, i have to connect the pickup to the bridge myself, and i'm scared that i could break it or it wouldn't work. So maybe you could send me a link where you got everything or the the bridge and pickup connected already.

http://www.ebay.com/itm/Fishman-V-200-Violin-Pickup-Wing-Slot-Bridge-Sensor-w-Side-Mount-Carpenter-Jack-/360728267128

Sorry for the long comment, but i would be really grateful if you would answer.

Toms Workshop (author)wtlake2013-09-02

Hey man,

Thanks for the comment, sorry for my late reply.

Just to begin with, in you comment you say pickups, are there any more you've found? Also, have you bought the pickup in the link?
In the one I did, as in step five, I removed the jack from the end of the pickup wire (pic 1) and trimmed the wire protector back to show the inner wires. I then connected the two wires directly to the jack socket on the jack plate in this link
(http://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/JACK-PLATE-SOCKET-for-STRAT-STRATOCASTER-Style-Guitars-Chrome-Black-or-Gold-/190883805807?pt=UK_Guitar_Accessories&var=&hash=item2c718fba6f)

HOWEVER, if you have bought the pickup in the link you sent me I would definitely not recommend doing what I did as the pickup I used was a cheap on that cost about £5 and unless you're really confident it's risky cutting up expensive kit :)

Connecting the pickup to the bridge shouldn't be an issue, the pickup itself is fairly robust. Normally it can simply be glued to the bridge.

I have found a couple of reasonably priced pickups with the bridge attached,
http://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/Barcus-Berry-1320-B-Violin-Bridge-with-Embedded-Piezo-Pickup-Jack-Not-Included-/141046222294?pt=LH_DefaultDomain_0&hash=item20d7028dd6
http://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/Shadow-SH940-Violin-Pickup-/360726904788?pt=UK_Musical_Instruments_Preamps&hash=item53fcffbfd4

You could also look at the following link. In this one the bridge simply sits on top of the pickup.
http://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/Quality-NEW-Electric-Pickup-Bridge-Preamp-Set-for-Violin-Musical-Accessories-/400327729525?pt=UK_Musical_Instruments_Sting_Instruments&hash=item5d35646175

With all of these pickups you would have to drill a large enough hole through the body to accommodate the jack on the pickup wire (marked in the picture). Unless you want to remove it and attach it directly to the jack socket.

Let me know what you think. If you have and more questions feel free to ask :)

btiu (author)2013-05-07

That looks so awesome! but i don't think i've got the skills to make something like that.

the Big Cheese (author)2013-04-03

Hey the violin looks great but could I use your technique to make a cello?

Thanks! Yeh, I was actually planning to do a Cello at some point for a friend. It'll look awesome, let me know how it goes :)

clokdoc (author)2012-07-29

It is a lovely piece of work. It reminds me of Sam Maloof with it's soft edges.
clokdoc

Toms Workshop (author)clokdoc2012-08-07

Cheers man! His stuff looks pretty funky ;)

dinhoconrad (author)2012-06-24

I already have a violin, a old one. I can disassemble and do this?

Sure! If you want you can just buy the pickup and electrify the violin as it is. Or, you could use parts of the old violin (neck, shoulder rest, fingerboard etc...) and make your own. Here's a link to the pickup:  http://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/4-4-Electric-Violin-Maple-Pickup-Bridge-Piezo-Pickup-253mm-Lead-w-2-5mm-Jack-/251078556290?pt=UK_Musical_Instruments_Sting_Instruments&hash=item3a7572ba82

stevegossett (author)2012-05-16

Is this modeled after a 4/4 full size? I wouldn't mind knowing how you trimmed the bridge either. How much you trimmed off it as well.

Hi. Yeh, it's based on a full size violin. The bridge was trimmed down using a knife and then tidied up using fine sand paper. When you get a bridge it will be oversized. The amount you take off will very much depend on the style of violin you are building and the angle of the neck. The easiest thing to do is put a ruler along the fingerboard until it touches the edge of the bridge. Draw a line where the ruler touches the bridge so you produce the profile of the fingerboard on the bridge. Then you can draw the profile below above the line you produced with the ruler. the maximum height should be about 7(ish) mm. The best thing to do is compare against another violin before doing the final cut.

gasp (author)2012-05-06

I really suck at playing violin but wow....this is just a beautiful instrument.
Something like that would make me want to practice.

bricabracwizard (author)gasp2012-05-14

Too true!

chakra (author)2012-05-13

everything fine... but WHERE ARE THE ELECTRONICS BUILDING STEP? and where you put it? would have been very useful..

Toms Workshop (author)chakra2012-05-13

Hey man. Good point! Taken some more photos and added a little electronics section. Hope it helps :)

jediwhiz3 (author)2012-05-07

Wow is all I can say. I play the violin and that is an exceptionally good design. I love it and have one question; how much did it cost to make (build)?

Toms Workshop (author)jediwhiz32012-05-08

It cost under £100. The mahogany came from an old cupboard that we had in our shed and the maple I got from a couple of local businesses. The best thing to do is go to a joinery company (or something similar) and see if they have any offcuts. If you tell them what your planning to do more often than not you can come away with a fair amount of wood in exchange for them to see the final product (and perhaps a bottle or two of beer!) Also, looking on eBay, auctions or the tip you can often find old furniture that is damaged/unwanted but perfect for other projects. So the only bits that cost me were the electronics, strings, tailgut, metal attachments and a few extra tools. The main thing is time really! :)

jediwhiz3 (author)Toms Workshop2012-05-10

Okey doke!

urtlesquirt (author)2012-05-09

Add blue lights and you too can be epic violin guy.

That's the next one I'm working on :)

RocKiN Ranen (author)2012-05-08

Do you think that one could modify the dimensions and materials to make a wooden electric viola?

Hey, Can't see why not. I was hoping to do this kind of thing to a cello so as long as you have the dimensions a viola should be fine.

endolith (author)2012-05-06

The shoulder rest is solid wood permanently attached?

What jack did you use for the pickup? Is there a preamp?

Toms Workshop (author)endolith2012-05-06

Hey.
Yes, the shoulder rest is permanently attached. It is glued to the body and conceals the electronics. I used a standard mono 1/4" jack in the wiring. I didn't use a preamp as there was not quite enough room in the body. I was looking to maybe get a pocket preamp for it at some point.

endolith (author)Toms Workshop2012-05-07

Something like this would probably work well: http://www.till.com/articles/PreampCable/

Toms Workshop (author)endolith2012-05-07

Awesome. That looks like it could work perfectly. I'll have to give that one a go when exams are out of the way!

spiritwalker6153 (author)2012-05-07

A beautiful piece of artwork. And it sounds really nice.

cyprian916 (author)2012-05-06

i love the violin. also the music is amazing what is the piece called?

Toms Workshop (author)cyprian9162012-05-07

Um, I'm afraid I don't know. I should have written it down when we did it. She did tell me but I'm useless at remembering things. If I find out I'll add it to the video :)

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