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.
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.
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
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).
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.
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!).