Instructables
Picture of Electric Violin

This is something I built as a school project.

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:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Violin
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Violin_construction_and_mechanics

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.
 
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Step 1: Materials

Picture of Materials
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
10. Paintbrush
11. Thinner
12. Drill
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:
http://www.bluestemstrings.com/pageEV1.html
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

Picture of Cut out and Sand
isuruviolandhorse 014.jpg
isuruviolandhorse 018.jpg
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.

This is awesome, thanks for creating such a cool instructable!!!
mrx919 months ago
man wt about amplifier where u put the pickup jack????
Gimli761 year ago
Did you want to write http://www.oceanmusic.com/ instead of http://www.oceanmusiclk.com/? Beacuse I can't connect with the last one :)
Good instructable by the way.
ray_sami2 years ago
My daughter start violin lessen 2 month ago , i think something like that will be nice birthday gift for her but unfurently i am not good in craft....
if it possible that someone can make for me ?? (how much it will cost) ?

very nice project. keep on

Ray
Half-Life (author)  ray_sami2 years ago
Ebay has some electric violin kits for sale. If you live in US, its less than $100 with shipping
JBowmanDIY2 years ago
i have two questions first.

the first one is, does the type of wood affect the sound of the violin?

and second, are the parts you have for a 4/4 violin?
Wood does effect the sound, not so much for an electric as a acoustic but you still want to invest in a nice tonal wood.
zigzagchris2 years ago
Started work on mine this week. Very excited, all feedback welcome
http://www.instructables.com/id/Electric-violin-projectIm-currently/
Poehls052 years ago
Nice.
do you have any advice on how I could adapt this to make a cello? I have wanted one for years, but space and cost concerns have always stood in the way - this looks like a great way around them.
Half-Life (author)  AdamVanMeter3 years ago
Luckily somebody built an electric cello and documented it: http://www.oriscus.com/dn/opera/ecello.htm

However, a piezoelectric pickup was used in the above link (a very expensive one at that), and from experience I can tell you that a piezo pickup fails to deliver optimal sound. If you do make a cello, go with a magnetic pickup preferably with tone and volume controls. You can make your own (http://bit.ly/fyyRqP) or try a commercially available pickup designed for four strings.

My suggestion is to start researching on the dimensions of a regular cello, and where a cello player holds the instrument. Apparently the top part of the cello soundbox touches the chest and the sides of the lower bout are gripped by the knees. You might want to replicate these critical parts of the structure of a standard cello.

An adjustable endpin is a must, so try looking around hardware stores for something which allows a rod to me moved and held when required.
Hey, electric violin/cello maker here. I believe magnetic pickups would not work, Strings are made of different materials than that of a guitar. Look for piezo pickups built into the bridge itself, those are the best sounding, personal favorite is Barbera pickup, it has 2 piezos per string, but it's very expensive. Also you don't have to stick to 4 strings! I've got a 6 string electric cello I've been playing for awhile, have a range from low F to high E. Finally no need for an endpin either, we make cellos with harnesses so you can move around while playing. Check out the instruments we make http://woodviolins.com/html/CobraCello.html
Magnetic pickups do work! - But as you said, you need strings with magnetic properties: for example steel core strings like Helicore or Pirastro Flexocor. Normal, "commercial" (guitar- mandolin- or bass-) pickups won't work. You'll get a bit of output plucking (pizzicato) and almost no output bowing. But have a look at these pickups and listen to the soundfiles:
http://www.uli-boesking.de/rebo/

They build magnetic cello pickups, too.
Half-Life (author)  surfinbela3 years ago
awesome. thanks.
Half-Life (author)  bulmung3 years ago
Coming from wood violins, this is certainly good advice. Excellent suggestion about the harness.

However I don't see why a magnetic pickup wont work. As long as the strings are made of soft-magnetic material... Since steel is a hard-magnetic material though, finding the correct type of strings would be a problem.

In the end, a piezoelectric pickup seems the easiest way to go. I'll try to implement a magnetic pickup and report back with results.

Once again, thanks for the comment, bulmung.
 
Half-Life (author)  Half-Life3 years ago
I updated step 2 with your advice on pickups by the way.
Awesome, glad I could help!

Just tested out a magnetic pickup, it does work but it has to be close to the strings. You would have to make your own bridge/cut the legs off a bridge. Also the curvature of the bridge would make it very difficult to pickup all the strings, your lowest and highest string would be much louder than the others.

Also wondering what your playing through? To get the best sound from the piezo I suggest an acoustic guitar amplifier or a keyboard amp.
Why not a tube amp if you want to play rock'n'roll? - Here I play a baritone violin (violin strung with octave strings - these are Thomastik Super Flexible) with magnetic pickup through a Fender Blues Junior:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vrR3CsfD61s
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CqTKWjnrBc4&feature=channel
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qenHv3T75cs&feature=channel

Here both viola and cello are equipped with magnetic pickups and play through tube amps - recorded with a little photocamera:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5IIoorpHptg&feature=channel_video_title
Yes, the curvature - bridges are very individually cut - and asymmetric, while the fingerboard is symmetric. - so a magnetic pickup has to be adjustable to reproduce the sound / balanced output desired. And every violinist has an own idea of sound ... look at the link I gave above.
zack2473 years ago
electric violin.

its one of those things that just doesnt sound right, that alone makes it AWESOME!

great 'ible and a even better idea, 5*s
Half-Life (author)  zack2473 years ago
Thanks a lot zack!!!

However, electric violins have been around for quite a while (so i didn't come up with the concept).

There's an awesome (AWESOME) rendition of "Toxicity" on Youtube featuring electric violins. You should check it out.
For those interested:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WMKmQmkJ9gg
...
wow. that was awesome. you would never expect a violin to be something hardcore like that.
They're tuned down 3.5 steps (ADGC). That helps the weight of the sound a lot. They could just call them electric violas...

Edit: The girl who's playing the rhythm has a 5 string. The girl who's playing lead has no low C. that's why she solos when she does...
akilaweerat3 years ago
hw to like this btw??
Half-Life (author)  akilaweerat3 years ago
voting is over dude, but thanks anyway
akilaweerat3 years ago
haha.isuruuuuuuuu!!!!!!!!!!!!!!violin boyyyy.well done!!!!!!!!
Half-Life (author) 3 years ago
Don't forget to vote if you like this instructable!
sabladask3 years ago
cool;) good instrucatble!
This is an awesome project - for the cutting a powerful jigsaw can be used like a bandsaw by clamping it in to a work bench upside down, it takes you be extra safety concious though as you'll have to lock the jigsaw to on - probably at full power too for hardwood.

It will however produce a smooth cut with the right blade - to save on sanding a fine wood blade will cut slower but smoother...
CranieBMD3 years ago
I like this, I tried something like it a little while back. You could easily make this into an electric mandolin, all you'd need is mando tuners and a flat bridge and I suppose you could add frets. If anyone tries it post pictures!
jhd043 years ago
Cool I'able! I'm'a build me one!

No seriously, wanted an e-olin for years since I went to a Dave Matthews show. I've built an electric guitar, so how hard can this be? Famous last words...
Half-Life (author)  jhd043 years ago
go for it. Did you make the pickup for your electric guitar? If so, could you point me towards some good resources on pickup building?
Mistwalker3 years ago
I've looked at the costs of electric violins online, and they are usually quite exceptionally expensive. I'm curious as to what your overall costs were putting this together. It looks beautiful, by the way.
Half-Life (author)  Mistwalker3 years ago
I spent $50 on this. And thanks.
Allonsy3 years ago
so, would this cost more or less than a decentish electric violin? awesome ible btw.
Half-Life (author)  Allonsy3 years ago
Less. The total for me was close to $50. The price might vary depending on where you live.

The lowest I've seen for an electric violin with ebony fittings is $80, on ebay.
nateO3 years ago
This looks like a fun way to spend my new found sobriety. Who would have thought that my parents could have saved the cash they spent on the violin i played when i was in school. They could have bought me the parts and i could have made my own B.A. electric violin.
ARJOON3 years ago
what a rusty g-clamp by the way nice violin
spookylean3 years ago
This was a school project? Are you going to awesome school?
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