FORUM

Please have a look at our Forum Rules. Lets keep this forum an enjoyable place to visit.

A A A
Avatar

Please consider registering
guest

sp_LogInOut Log In sp_Registration Register

Register | Lost password?
Advanced Search

— Forum Scope —






— Match —





— Forum Options —





Minimum search word length is 3 characters - maximum search word length is 84 characters

sp_Feed Topic RSS sp_Related Related Topics sp_TopicIcon
making 8 string acoustic + electric viola
looking for advice or things to look out for when making a hybrid 8 string viola
Topic Rating: 0 Topic Rating: 0 Topic Rating: 0 Topic Rating: 0 Topic Rating: 0 Topic Rating: 0 (0 votes) 
Avatar
Nick
Member
Members
March 14, 2017 - 7:12 pm
Member Since: March 13, 2017
Forum Posts: 9
sp_UserOfflineSmall Offline

I've done some stringed instrument repairs, and made a few parts, but I next to no experience with this.  However, I'm competent with woodworking.  I'm planning to make a 8 string viola acoustic electric.  probably 16", though maybe 16.5".  I'd like it to be pretty, probably incorporate purple into its design.  This instrument would be general purpose, for recording and accompanying (hence the range and it being hybrid).  a 5 string (as I already have) is nice for including a bit of the cello range with the viola, a 6 string can do the same with the violin range too.  I'm looking to include a full bass range so that it can match my singing voice a bit better, while maintaining a violin range too, and that would require at least 7 strings.  The last string is because I don't like the asymmetric look of an odd number of strings.

I may build a violin or viola first for practice before tackling such an odd project as this.

What I'm asking here is:

1) what are some things I am unlikely to think of when modifying designs of traditional violas for this project? (like wider fingerboard, more bass beams needed?, larger than 16" better for sound?.....)

2) where is the best place to find *decent* but cheap aged wood and tools for this?  What tools will I need? (I like this list:https://www.violins.ca/tools/recommended_violin_tool_list.html).  My goal is to make something of playable, professional quality, but not world class.  I'd like to spend less than $1000, preferably around $500 for this.

3) thoughts on best ways to incorporate electronic component into it? I'm sold on the piezoelectric sensor in the bridge, but where to put a line out and where to put volume control panel and 9 volt battery (I would like to have those on this, unless someone says that's a bad idea)

4) deisign ideas: I'd like to add some detail to the scroll for any violin I make just as a bit of a maker's signature.  Is that taboo, or not recommended...? And what are some ideas? Also, I like purple, I'd like this to be noticeably purple, but still professional/suave/demure enough to be used in concert, i.e. not *too* flashy.  Maybe just purple on more easily removed parts like pegs and chin rest and tailpiece.  What about engraving or fancy inlaid wood on the edge...? I want this to be uniqua and beautiful, but not overbearingly flashy.  So what are your favorite designs? (please post pictures of your favorite violins to look at.

5) what else should I be asking?

Thanks in advance!

DIY everything musical, church musician.

When the going gets tough, the tough get going; the smart left a long time ago

Avatar
Fiddlerman
Fort Lauderdale
March 15, 2017 - 8:51 am
Member Since: September 26, 2010
Forum Posts: 12583

Very ambitious ideas and list. Looking forward to hearing about your project.

I think you are asking plenty of great questions and you seem to have read up on this quite a bit.

We had a luthier back in the day that is now selling fantastic tone wood from Bosnia. I can give you his contact information if you PM me.
The wood is not cheap but it's among the best.

"The richest person is not the one who has the most,
but the one who needs the least."

Avatar
Nick
Member
Members
March 15, 2017 - 10:09 am
Member Since: March 13, 2017
Forum Posts: 9
sp_UserOfflineSmall Offline

Thanks.

I noticed in your ad on the website you mention your dad's 10-point checklist.  Is that a trade secret, or might we know what that checklist is?

DIY everything musical, church musician.

When the going gets tough, the tough get going; the smart left a long time ago

Avatar
Nick
Member
Members
March 15, 2017 - 3:15 pm
Member Since: March 13, 2017
Forum Posts: 9
sp_UserOfflineSmall Offline

Had an idea: Bluetooth transmitter in the instrument...

i might even add that to my silent electric viola

DIY everything musical, church musician.

When the going gets tough, the tough get going; the smart left a long time ago

Avatar
Charles
Honorary advisor
Members

Regulars
March 15, 2017 - 7:40 pm
Member Since: June 7, 2016
Forum Posts: 225
sp_UserOfflineSmall Offline

Whoo, boy! This one I'll be at a while. I am NOT a luthier, let alone one who has experimented with lots of variations. I've read some, and I'm going to throw out some ideas and thoughts I have, in the hopes that they'll help. I'm going to reply to your questions out of order, with the simplest/quickest responses first.

Nick said

2) where is the best place to find *decent* but cheap aged wood and tools for this?  What tools will I need? (I like this list:https://www.violins.ca/tools/recommended_violin_tool_list.html).  My goal is to make something of playable, professional quality, but not world class.  I'd like to spend less than $1000, preferably around $500 for this.

Pretty much everyone I've heard talk about tools references stewmac.com. Don't skimp on the tools, but you shouldn't need to - they don't don't run all that much, and they'll last a long time.

My teacher mentioned getting "white" violins (ie, unfinished ones). When they haven't been shaped at all, they're not terribly expensive ($40-50), and I don't imagine violas would be tremendously more, probably in the $60-70 range, possibly up as high as $120 if you wanted a 21 inch one.  Shaped ones, which only need to be stained and varnished, run a good bit more. You'd have to hand build a fingerboard, and possibly a neck.  I tried searching for them but had limited success. I'll ask him for websites next time I see him, but that won't be for two weeks. ("White violins" got me a bunch of violins painted white - "unfinished" got better results, but very few of them were the bare bones sort.)

I'll have more to say about the subject if the wood later, though. I don't think you're going to want to start with concert quality stuff.

 

3) thoughts on best ways to incorporate electronic component into it? I'm sold on the piezoelectric sensor in the bridge, but where to put a line out and where to put volume control panel and 9 volt battery (I would like to have those on this, unless someone says that's a bad idea)

 

There are solid blocks above and below the waist of the violin/viola, on both sides. These are structural, and have little or no impact on the sound of violin/viola/cello.  As long as you don't take out so much wood as to weaken things too much, they're a good place to hollow out spaces for the electronics. If the electronics are very small, you can put them in with the 9-volt battery (or explore some of the more modern battery types that are smaller - you may not need as much as 9 volts). Probably, you'll want the battery in one block, the electronics and jack in another, and the volume and tone controls each in one of their own. You'll want the controls to be on the side you're bowing from. (See my comments below on options for holding the instrument.)

 

4) design ideas: I'd like to add some detail to the scroll for any violin I make just as a bit of a maker's signature.  Is that taboo, or not recommended...? And what are some ideas? Also, I like purple, I'd like this to be noticeably purple, but still professional/suave/demure enough to be used in concert, i.e. not *too* flashy.  Maybe just purple on more easily removed parts like pegs and chin rest and tailpiece.  What about engraving or fancy inlaid wood on the edge...? I want this to be unique and beautiful, but not overbearingly flashy.  So what are your favorite designs? (please post pictures of your favorite violins to look at.

It's going to go from the bottom string of a cello to the top string of a violin, and be purple. Anyone wedded to strict tradition will have run screaming long since. You can do the scroll however you like. 🙂  In fact, I'd recommend drawing design elements from violas (and cellos, and violins), but it's not going to be any of those instruments, and trying to force it to be any of them is not likely to improve it. Let it be what its nature demands that it be, and then decorate it as you see fit.

1) what are some things I am unlikely to think of when modifying designs of traditional violas for this project? (like wider fingerboard, more bass beams needed?, larger than 16" better for sound?.....)

The fingerboard issue is going to be hairy. Make it too narrow or too large a radius of curvature, and the bowing gets impossible. Make it too wide or too small a radius of curvature, and the fingering gets impossible.  You might want to consider playing it like a cello. Most people have more difficulty playing the bass-most string on their instrument. Between needing to twist the hand and harm more, and reach further with the fingers, that string that is furthest away in the violin/viola position is tough. With an 8-string, it's going to be significantly harder. If it's played in cello position, though, all the horrible ergonomics go away. It's still not as easy to play the furthest string, but it's much easier that it would be in viola style.

There's also some reason for considering going to full-blown cello (or at least something like a 3/4 cello). An article I read on the acoustics of violins/violas/cellos mentioned (among many other things) that wolf tones are caused by the resonance of the body with one of the notes. They happen because violas, and especially cellos, are too short.  A standard violin is 14 inches. A viola is a perfect fifth below a violin.  A perfect fifth is a 3/2 ratio, so a viola needs to be 3/2s the size of violin, or 21 inches.  They make 21 inch violas, but they're very rare, because very very few people can play one that large.  A cello is an octave below a viola (2 to 1). So a cello should have a 42" body.  A full-size cello actually has a 30" body. 

If you make this beastie with, say, a 16" body, it's going to be 16/42 as large as it ought to be, acoustically. You're not going to have a wolf note or two, you're going to have a whole pack.  The bigger you make it, the better. And the bigger you make it, the more it makes sense to play it cello style.

I've seen a couple of videos of a cello-like instrument with 7 or 8 strings. Don't remember any mention being made of a special name for it, though.

If you DO make this viola-sized, octave strings are going to be an absolute necessity. They're expensive.  (They're basically the length of regular viola strings, but heavier, so that under reasonable tension, they'll play an octave below normal ones. Obviously, if you go for a more cello-sized instrument, you can use cello strings.) Since wolf tones are an issue of resonance at a frequency, I'd assume you get those with octave strings just like you do the more normal-sized deep-toned strings.

I'd VERY strongly recommend using traditional building techinques (hide glue, especially). One reason those have lasted as long as they have is that they allow you to completely disassemble the instrument, make modifications, and put it all back together. (Or less drastic subsets of that.)  I think you're going to be doing a lot of that. For a viola, you can find lots of info on how to do it, including info on variations on the main theme.  For something like this, a great deal of it you're going to have to figure out by experimentation.

For that reason, I'd give serious consideration to forgetting about good wood until instrument #3 or 4 (and maybe later than that). The issue you mentioned about bass bars is a good example. I suspect you're going to have one bigger bass bar - but multiple ones might very well work better. I suspect the only way to tell will be to try various options.

I've heard that around World War II they made cellos out of plywood. They were student grade instruments, and nobody brags about how wonderful they sound, but they were playable.  If you want a notch up from that, take two or three kiln-dried 1x6s, glue them together, rout them out to close the thickness you're going to want, then hand finish them. After you've finalized your design and worked the bugs out of it, THEN spend several hundred bucks on good wood and build one that's professional-grade. And the larger you decide to make the thing, the more strongly I advise that. A cello's worth of even 10-year old wood will probably run you $500-600, with you having to do all the carving on it.

5) what else should I be asking?

I don't know anywhere near enough about it to answer with any authority, but here's a few things I'd want to know if I were doing it:

* What makes different frequencies resonate. Are there shapes that will let a wide variety of frequencies resonate, or a group of shapes, one for each range? (I've seen one instrument that had several "bulbs" coming off of it, that I think were intended for that purpose. No information on how well it did or didn't work.)

* String instruments as we currently know them were optimized for volume. With electronic amplification in the mix, that's not really needed. Could you get better tone (across a wider range of frequencies) by sacrificing some of that volume?

* Part of the difficulty in doing eight strings is having them all the same length across such a wide range of pitches. Could a slanted nut and/or bridge, or staggered nuts be viable?  It'd take a whole new way of playing, but playing the full range from the bottom of the cello to the top of the violin on 8 strings will be quite non-standard, too. To make it playable, you might need to have the pegs all be at the top, even though the nut was much further down. Pegs in the middle would very much get in the way.

* Here's one you definitely should be asking: Has anybody already done this? I know I've seen cello-like instruments with at least 6 strings, and possibly as many as 8.

 

Ok, I think that's enough brainstorming for one day. Hope it helps.

Avatar
Nick
Member
Members
March 15, 2017 - 9:12 pm
Member Since: March 13, 2017
Forum Posts: 9
sp_UserOfflineSmall Offline

oh yay, plenty to think about.

 

I've seent the tools at stewmac, and I think I can find most of them cheaper, but yeah, at some point I'll have to just pay up.

 

I want to actually do the building myself, as I've modified others before, and this one will take so many changes right from the start...

I would like this instrument to be concert quality, I'll get back to that in a moment

 

heh, yeah, tradition isn't gonna play much of a role here, true.

now the size had crossed my mind.  I've been planning to do research on what makes a viola sound, but haven't done that just yet.  I'll probably run a simple CAD design before building it, just to get the acoustics somewhat close.  I have very big hands (I also play the piano) and have been able to play a 1/4 size cello comfortably on my shoulder.  I've never played a 21" viola, but I'll be asking around for one to try.  I own a 16.5" and have no issues reaching notes on it.  I imagine I will also space the strings a little less, which will require care when playing it, not to accidentally hit other strings.  I'll probably make a mock-up on a 2 by 4 or something to see what the biggest size I can play comfortably is, and go with that for the size.  Yes, I had already resigned myself to the fact that I'll probably have to use octave strings.

Definately plan to use traditional building techniques, and have decided for 2 reasons to do a couple of regular instruments first: first, to practice making them, second, to generate a bit of capitol to cover the tools and materials that this frankenstein is going to require.

 

now to your last comments....

8 strings is done on the viola d'amore, though not across such a pitch range, and occasionally on viols, though usually the gamba (which would be placed on the floor or held between the knees). One easy option is to give a guitar-style head, and shoot tradition in the head (pun intended)--but we already decided that wasn't gonna be an issue.

an 8 string modern viola has been done, but is being sold for more than I would care to pay, and is only made (by the only maker I found so far) as an electric instrument.  I would like this to acoustic as well.  I've played 5 (I own one, actually) and 6 string violas, and have held in my hands a 7 string acoustic/electric viola....so I know I'm not asking much of technology.  If I must, I'll make this 7 string...cuz who really needs an Eb1? (well, I can sing lower than that, and I'd like this to be able to accompany my voice....but the cello and string basses will be projects for another year).

DIY everything musical, church musician.

When the going gets tough, the tough get going; the smart left a long time ago

Avatar
Nick
Member
Members
March 15, 2017 - 9:31 pm
Member Since: March 13, 2017
Forum Posts: 9
sp_UserOfflineSmall Offline

btw, these guys make non-traditional instruments like what I'm talking about. They have made 8 string before, but looks like that would be a "custom." They also do not make acoustic.  And they would start the pricing around 6000 pounds.  Not an option.

http://www.violectra.co.uk/

DIY everything musical, church musician.

When the going gets tough, the tough get going; the smart left a long time ago

Avatar
Fiddlerman
Fort Lauderdale
March 16, 2017 - 12:47 pm
Member Since: September 26, 2010
Forum Posts: 12583

Nick said
Thanks.

I noticed in your ad on the website you mention your dad's 10-point checklist.  Is that a trade secret, or might we know what that checklist is?  

Nick, my dad would be me, myself and I. 🙂

Actually my son, Michael, is the one talking about his dad's 10 point checklist.

It's definitely no secret. 🙂

sp_PlupAttachments Attachments

"The richest person is not the one who has the most,
but the one who needs the least."

Avatar
Nick
Member
Members
March 16, 2017 - 8:25 pm
Member Since: March 13, 2017
Forum Posts: 9
sp_UserOfflineSmall Offline

Thank you, and sorry for the incorrect attribution.  I guess in my min I had been using a single entity for the poeple at the workshop=fiddlerman=the people who made the ad, even though the family was explained in the ad.

I'll use the 10 point checklist on this project as much as I can, Thanks 🙂

DIY everything musical, church musician.

When the going gets tough, the tough get going; the smart left a long time ago

Avatar
Nick
Member
Members
March 16, 2017 - 8:48 pm
Member Since: March 13, 2017
Forum Posts: 9
sp_UserOfflineSmall Offline
10sp_Permalink sp_Print
0

my research finds that the size of the lower instruments is mainly for volume, rather than balance or quality of sound, though both are affect.  It should probably safe to do a viola of this size so low, it will just have volume issues on the low end (which will be balance issues)...but this is electric....I can always preamp the bass

 

I found a shop nearby that sells octave strings.  I'll try a set on my my current viola and see if it is worth buying a cello bow or a viola bow (as the viola I'm making will be in both ranges, using both strings).  I have a cello player friend who i think would let me borrow her bow (maybe not her one of a kind Robert Morrow bow that was so good he didn't plan to sell it until he heard her play).  I have a tendancy to use cello rosin for volume on my lower instruments already, and that may make enough difference already.

DIY everything musical, church musician.

When the going gets tough, the tough get going; the smart left a long time ago

Avatar
Charles
Honorary advisor
Members

Regulars
March 17, 2017 - 8:26 am
Member Since: June 7, 2016
Forum Posts: 225
sp_UserOfflineSmall Offline
11sp_Permalink sp_Print
0

That the smaller size doesn't negatively affect the tone of the lower notes much is a pleasant surprise.

I just had a thought. A number of things (like the tone, wolf notes, etc) can be checked on one of the regular violas you're talking about building as intermediate steps. It's the number of notes that's going to be problematic for resonance, not the number of strings. Test it with the octave strings, then test it with viola strings. That should give you an idea what it will sound like across the entire range.

Things like string spacing can be tested without bothering with a full instrument. A piece of pine for a neck and something wide enough for a bridge should be enough to check to see if it can be bowed at that spacing and radius of curvature. (I'm assuming you have a lathe for making fake necks and a belt grinder for fake bridges.) One consideration. If you make the strings close together, in addition to needing a smaller radius of curvature to make bowing possible, you're going to need a lower action to keep the finger-strength requirements from getting out of hand. It's going to be bad enough that you're playing viola strings, and octave viola strings. If you're having to depress two or three at once, that's going to get rough.

If you go for wider spacing, consider going with an asymmetrical neck, one that does not curve down as much on the bass side as it does on the treble. You simply can't get your hand in a position to point the fingers 90 degrees to a sharply curved neck if the curve is away from you. As far as the left hand is concerned, the bass side should actually curve UP. That won't work too well for bowing, of course. 🙂 But with 8 strings, I think trying to make the whole thing symmetrical is going to make it very difficult to play.  (Of course, as I remember, you didn't like 9 strings because of the perceived asymmetry, which means this idea may be as popular as a flamethrower at a matchstick houses competition... 🙂 )

Ooog. Nasty thought. You'll have to probably custom make your own tailpieces. Not too many 8-string tailpieces around, I suspect. Could you put together two four-string ones, I wonder?...  If not, I hope you're good at (and enjoy) woodcarving... 🙂 I suspect a couple of normal 4-string ones could be joined with wooden pieces and work pretty well. Only downside might be that there might not be enough room to do it on the underside, where it would look decent.

Avatar
Nick
Member
Members
March 17, 2017 - 10:12 pm
Member Since: March 13, 2017
Forum Posts: 9
sp_UserOfflineSmall Offline
12sp_Permalink sp_Print
0

Thanks for the ideas. Some of those prototyping ideas had already occurred to me, and yes, I already was planning to make my own tailpiece. Those aren't too hard to do, though, should I be worried about strength when connecting 8 strings to it?

DIY everything musical, church musician.

When the going gets tough, the tough get going; the smart left a long time ago

Avatar
Charles
Honorary advisor
Members

Regulars
March 18, 2017 - 9:58 am
Member Since: June 7, 2016
Forum Posts: 225
sp_UserOfflineSmall Offline
13sp_Permalink sp_Print
0

I wouldn't think the tailpiece itself would be an issue. The tensile strength of wood is fairly high, and I think the tension on most strings is around 40-50 pounds. Even if it's up around 100 pounds (and behind the bridge it might be, those seem to under much higher tension than the sections in front of the bridge) a quick lookup of tensile strength of wood seems to be around 30,000 psi.  You don't have a full square inch, but I doubt that tensile tearing of the tailpiece will be an issue.

Crushing of the surface or the underlying block at the tail is a possibility, although I suspect it would be more cosmetic than structural. If I recall correctly, you normally don't have the tailpiece itself make contact there, you have the wire (I forget its proper name). Maybe a rounded metal piece to distribute the load some?  I think the part I'd be most concerned about would be the end pin and the block holding it.

From what I saw in the article I skimmed, it seemed that in general, the harder the wood, the better it was at resisting both compression and shear. So maple for the end block and ebony or rosewood for the end pin would probably hold up fine.  If you had issues (or wanted to soothe the paranoia a bit), make the hole bigger, put a metal collar in it, and make a somewhat outsized endpin. Or maybe even go with a CF endpin. I doubt you could break one of those. That would also eliminate any concerns about the tailpiece, but I kind of doubt you have the wherewithal to construct your own CF tailpiece. 🙂

Forum Timezone: America/New_York

Most Users Ever Online: 231

Currently Online: K_hand
41 Guest(s)

Currently Browsing this Page:
1 Guest(s)

Members Birthdays
sp_BirthdayIcon
Today None
Upcoming coolpinkone, Panda-P, OP Alaraasakka

Top Posters:

coolpinkone: 3978

Mad_Wed: 2849

Barry: 2666

Fiddlestix: 2647

Oliver: 2439

DanielB: 2379

Kevin M.: 1969

cdennyb: 1808

TerryT: 1720

Ferret: 1575

Member Stats:

Guest Posters: 2

Members: 6515

Moderators: 0

Admins: 3

Forum Stats:

Groups: 16

Forums: 56

Topics: 6834

Posts: 84973

Newest Members:

accompaniments, penelopeeb3, teiDaymn, MichaelWrasy, beckyps69, GeorgeRic

Administrators: Fiddlerman: 12583, KindaScratchy: 1696, BillyG: 2148