This is something I built as a school project. I have built a follow up project since, and itavoids a lot of mistakes I made in this one:
My woodworking skills and access to machinery being limited, I spent a considerable amount of time planning and further simplifying the structure of the electric violin I was about to build.
You may want to read up on the parts of a regular violin:
I'd like to thank the folks at bluestemstrings.com, for providing an excellent set of plans free of charge to the general public. They were of immense use to me.
I would also like to thank Ocean Music Ltd. for providing the fittings for this project. (http://www.oceanmusiclk.com/)
Disclaimer: I am not responsible for any damage to property or persons caused while following these instructions.
Step 1: Materials
1. Two and a half feet of 2*2 inch tonal wood (more on this in the next step)
2. A (25*15)cm piece of any hardwood
3. General purpose rasp
4. Large Clamp
5. 50ml sanding sealer
6. Three pieces of 50 grit sandpaper, two pieces of 100 grit sandpaper, two pieces of 200 grit sandpaper
7. Two part epoxy
8. Dilute Potassium Permanganate (optional, for staining wood)
9. 150ml Varnish
13. Premade violin parts: endpin, chinrest, tail gut, tailpiece, fingerboard (about $30 if purchased individually)
14. Piezoelectric pickup (more on this in next step) ($10 on ebay)
15. Guitar tuning pegs (two left and two right) (you may use ukulele tuners if you wish) ($10-$25)
16. Violin strings, E,A,D,G gauges ($10-$50)
17. An acoustic violin for comparison while building (optional).
Step 2: About tonal wood and pickup
Tonal wood: Types of wood with particular qualities which make them suitable for instrument making. Examples are maple and mahogany. I chose the wood of the Jack tree, which is used in traditional music instrument building throughout South Asia.
Pickup: this is a sensor which converts/translates the mechanical movements of a string to electrical signals. "Piezoelectric" and "Magnetic" are two types of pickups.The former uses a property of certain ceramics and the latter uses magnetic fields to detect mechanical motions.
I found an inexpensive piezoelectric pickup on ebay, but you can find good instructions on how to build one on the internet (try the much loved google search). Magnetic pickups are something you may try out if you feel like it.
**edit: a professional electric violin/cello maker "bulmung" (comment is on first page) recommends piezoelectric pickups with the sensor built directly into the bridge. Shown in a picture below.
** surfinbela shared a link to magnetic pickups: http://www.uli-boesking.de/rebo/
Step 3: Draw Plans and trace onto wood
I got some great plans at:
and modified them to my needs. I encourage you to do the same and to come up with some crazy/unusual design (the sound doesn't depend much on the shape). Or you can directly use the plans provided.
The plans should be printed/ drawn life size and traced onto the wood you're using.
Step 4: Cut out and Sand
Use a bandsaw to cut carefully along the lines you have just traced (like me, you can politely ask a wood workshop person for the use of one of these in case you don't have one.)
I must warn you that these machines are extremely dangerous and will slice off various parts of your anatomy like butter, so if you have never used this before, its better to watch and learn or have an experienced person next to yo while you're working.
The only bandsaw I could find was er... an old model, to say the least. It left gouges in the wood that took forever to rasp and sand out.
If you use the correct type of blade, and a new machine, you will have very little sanding to do.
To get a great polish, work your way up from 50 grit to 200 grit sandpaper.
Step 5: Glue and Varnish
Glue together all the parts using epoxy (very tough stuff) and a clamp to hold the pieces together while drying. The amount of time for this depend on the brand you use.
Do not varnish till all the epoxy has cured. Otherwise, you end up with bad looking varnish (due to chemical reactions, mixing etc.).
Saddle: glue on a piece of wood about 4 millimetres high as shown in the last picture of this step. The tailgut will ride on top of this. Lightly varnish this too.
Step 6: Special note on fingerboard
The fingerboard angle and position is not very easy to standardize. Basically, there should be an inclination of about 2 degrees with the lower side towards the neck.
Before starting, I recommend that the place where you're going to glue the fingerboard is slightly larger than the fingerboard.
I was not very happy about the fingerboard angle I ended up with, so I created a raised surface on top of the existing exposed area using epoxy and sanded it down flat. After this only did I glue on the fingerboard.
After gluing on the fingerboard, the sides of the neck were sanded down flush with the sides of the fingerboard.
Step 7: Drill Holes
Use an electric drill to drill the big holes. Go very slowly where the wood is thin, or the wood will crack (it's back to the drawing board after that).
For the screws of the pegs, the holes needed are extremely small, so use a hand tool .
For the endpin, the hole should be slightly smaller than the endpin. After that ideally you should use a reamer to taper the hole. Otherwise use a knife to very slowly and carefully taper the hole.
The hole for the pickup should ideally be at the position indicated in the plans provided in step 3. But the most important thing is the scale length (length of open strings) to be close to 327mm.
Step 8: Final Assembly
If you did not do so in step 5, securely glue on a "saddle", on top of which the tailgut rides. This can be a scrap piece of hardwood 4mm tall. Lightly varnish this.
1. Bang in the endpin.
2. Shape the top nut of the fingerboard and cut grooves for the four strings. Remove any sharp parts within the grooves that the string may snag onto. (There are articles written on this, so read up and you'll be fine.)
3. Set up the tailpiece as shown in the picture
4. Cut and shape the bridge (this may have to be done several times). Violin bridge shapes: http://www.violinbridges.co.uk/ . Instructions: http://www.ehow.com/how_5721187_cut-violin-bridge.html
5. Attach the tuners by following the instructions that came with them.
6. Attach the pickup and place bridge on top of it. (Your case may differ.)
7. Wind strings onto the tuner lightly.
8. Lightly anchor the other end of the strings to the tailpiece, going over the bridge in the middle of the instrument.
9. Tighten the strings bit by bit, going from first to second to third to fourth then to first string and so on. Never keep a single string in high tension because it will break. Maintain the tailpiece "floating", just clearing the saddle (see picture). Keep the bridge at right angles to the surface.
10. Finally, attach the chinrest using the small clamp provided.
Step 9: Notes on bridge and nut and string height
I prefer the strings to be quite close to the fingerboard so that its effortless to press the correct notes.
Accordingly, I cut the bridge at a height which would bring the strings close, but not too close to the fingerboard.
I say this again, the fingerboard angle is not 100% standardized, so you may compensate for any mistakes made in fingerboard angle by cutting the bridge differently. This is acceptable in an electric violin, because the sound created is less dependent on the body than in acoustic violins.
The nut is another point where I broke out in sweat. If you study another violin or look at pictures of violin nuts (there's one on the previous step), you can see that the grooves are cut so that the string just sits in it. The contact between string and groove should be very smooth (hint: use the graphite of any pencil to aid smoothness) . Ideally the nut should hold the strings very close to, but not quite touching the fingerboard.
About string spacing on the nut - leave about 3 mm space at the sides. Divide the remaining space into three and see if it comes close to 6mm. If so, go with this. Otherwise, you may reduce the space at the sides by just a little.