When Souls of Fire play, the most often asked questions after the gig are about the type of music, the next most frequent are along the lines of 'What is that thing Cath Watkins is playing?". So, by popular demand, here are some notes on Cath's electric violin.

Design philosophy

To be useful in an amplified band, the violin must be able to be amplified above the volume of the drums without feed back. I decided to arrange things so that every part of an acoustic violin that the performer touches while playing is present on this design, but most of the rest is stripped away, leaving just enough to hold it all together and look stylish.

Design

The chosen material for the body was glass re-inforced plastic (GRP) which would allow for a complex shape and be strong enough. I started designing the body on paper, but this was only useful in getting a general idea of the shape. After this I built a balsa wood (non playable!) mockup strung with old guitar strings, with a cheap fingerboard and some old machine heads.

The mockup was tried by Cath (usually after the pub), and her comments used to rebuild it for the next day. After a number of rebuilds (some extensive), we arrived at a shape that we were happy with.

Building of plug/prototype

When building a complex GRP structure, the first move is often to build a solid version in (say) wood, called a 'plug', from which the moulds will be constructed in GRP. The plug for the violin was built in mahogany, copying the shape of the balsa wood mockup and refining it a bit.

In the interests of making sure the shape was right before going to the effort of building the moulds, the plug was fitted with fingerboard, machine heads, strings, chin rest, etc. and tried out in a live environment for three months. It was going to be three weeks, but Cath liked it already and wouldn't let me have it back!

When she did, I stripped off all the fittings, made good any bumps and dents, and polished it up to a high standard before using it to make the moulds (a story in itself).

Building of final version

After I had taken the GRP body from the moulds and bonded the two halves together, fitting the hardware was straightforward, screwing fittings into the reinforcing pads I had built into the inside of the body. The only complex area was the mounting for the machine heads.
The position of the machine heads was crucial in holding the bridge pick-up in the right place, but as the strings are at different tensions, finding the ideal configuration was more by trial and error. I think I built about a dozen rough ones before we were happy.

Technical specs

Body : Custom built GRP monocoque.
Bridge pickup : Barbera transducer system.
Machine heads : Left hand mini Schaller
Last notes

Cath has been using the voilin for about three years now, and in that time we have only had to replace the jack socket, and glue the finger board back on (oops!).

Additional notes.

Cath plays the violin though a Korg A5 multi-effects pedal and a VOX AC10 valve amplifier.

E-mail me at simon@oddmags.com