Students Hack an Unusual Violin

[Sean Riley] is a violinist who had a problem. He wanted to play one particular piece, but he couldn’t. It wasn’t that he lacked the skill — he a doctoral student at the University of Texas and has two degrees in violin performance from The Julliard School. The problem was that “The Dharma at Big Sur” by [John Adams] is made for an instrument with six strings, while most violins only have four. So he did what any of us would do. He stopped by the local hackerspace and fabricated one. You can hear (and see) [Sean] performing with the instrument in the video, below.

The University of Texas operates “The Foundry” which is a hackerspace with all the usual items: laser cutters, 3D printers, and the like. It is open to all their students and staff. [Sean] needed some help with the engineering, and was lucky to find a mechanical engineering senior, [Daniel Goodwin], working at The Foundry.

It took them a year and help from a sculptor, [Rebecca Milton], but the result was an unusual-looking six-string violin. The electric violin is a combination of 3D printing, cast porcelain, and a handmade pickup. It is great to see a multi-disciplined group come together to create something new and unique and really shows the power of these hackerspaces.

This reminded us a little of the F-F-Fiddle and the more traditional-looking Hovalin. If you are feeling sorry for yourself because you don’t have access to a great space like The Foundry, may we introduce you to the world’s tiniest violin?

Photo: University of Texas at Austin Libraries.

17 thoughts on “Students Hack an Unusual Violin

  1. Details of the violin would have been nice. This films is nothing more than a wave to the inflated egos of the people who created it. Yawn. A white stick with 6 strings and what looks like vestigial insect arms protruding from it. Sounds like any other violin to me.

  2. 6 string electric violins are around for a long time. The problem on this one I think, and jacques1956 noticed, it is bad for some bowing positions. Especialy if you play the upper strings. There are better designs out. Also electric violins are easy to build. The whole 3D printing is just show to get some attention. See this one for a good one, and also an awesome player ;) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0ZkxHNIIIL4

  3. The manufacture of six-string violins isn’t that different from the manufacture of standard four string violins. I’m surprised they didn’t use a preexisting violin and mod it (by adding a wider fingerboard, a wider neck, bigger peg box, wider bridge, wider tailpiece, etc….) to fit the description. It would be more expensive, but that instrument would last much longer and would have a better sound. I feel that the traditional Maker (Luthier) community dosn’t interact with the rest of the making world as much as it should. In high school I jobshadowed a maker and was quite impressed by the woodworking skills used (and how much functionality was placed over aesthetics.) It is quite a high-tech field and many of the skills used apply to many other areas of fine woodworking.

    1. I would agree, which is a shame because I first learned soldering and all of my electronics knowhow off of a crappy $50 strat knockoff. Passive setups are so easy and clean to work on and all immediately obvious and it’s really really hard to screw anything up, and there’s a ton of documentation and people of all skill levels who do it.

  4. Maybe this violinist didn’t do any research about electric violins or maybe he really wanted to make his own. The problem with the author of this article and the violinist is how they think or are spinning this as being groundbreaking or innovative. There are luthiers who have been making 6 string electric violins for decades. Here is one excellent maker. https://www.electricviolinshop.com/violins/violins-by-brand/jordan-electric-violins.html

  5. Hey! I’m the violinist in the video.

    I came across this article and saw the comments and figured I could actually answer some of the interesting points made by everybody here. The original video was made to promote UT libraries which it does really well. This video in the article is the shorter version which makes it seem as though I created something out of thin air with magic and genius. Here’s a longer version that helps clears that up: https://vimeo.com/252227458
    We will be releasing more info on Danny and Rebecca’s work as well. They have been amazing throughout the entire project.

    6 string electric violins have existed for hundreds and hundreds of years. Currently they are played by some amazing jazz and rock musicians my favorite being jazz violinist Tracy Silverman. He’s incredible, go listen to his live YouTube music. I’m a classicaly trained musician and I discovered a piece written in 2008 for 6 string electric but didn’t want to shell out a lot of cash for an awesome one. Making it seemed like the next logical step. 3D printed violins are also not new however I’ve not come across 6 string ones yet. 3Dvarious is a great example of a beautiful 3D printed 4 string violin.

    There arnt any stl files of 6 string violins out there that we were aware of so we did have to design it from scratch but what actually makes the violin unique is that it was made as a canvas for whatever music is being played. In particular this one was made for the piece mentioned in the video. There is a detachable block we can print out for any sculpting artist and, inspired by the music, they can create something that changes the look of the violin. Those porcelain bones are attached to that removable block. If I gave each of you one of these blocks we would have some of the coolest looking aesthetic mods for this violin, each very different.

    It was also all done in a library maker space. The music was found there, the printers were on the floor below, we studied how to make it there, I ran into the designer in that space and we pieced a lot of it together there.

    The bones are aesthetic and don’t get in the way of the playing in the least. Standard violins are perfect instruments. Simplicity was key in making a functional new violin, why add things that arnt neccesary in imitation of something that didn’t need more innovation? So the entire violin is simple focusing on what is needed to work with the exception of the artists work inspired by the music.

    Interestingly, we have melted it once and I broke it the night before a performance. We pressed a button and a few dollars of filament later we had a new violin. Way better than buying a new one or having somebody repair it. Violin repairs for a scratch on my other violin can be about 200$. Crushing it can be a 20,000$ fix. Not ganna lie, I like the 10$ print.

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