When Souls of Fire played, 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 feeding back. This leads towards a solid, or enclosed body with no openings. I decided to arrange things so that every part of an acoustic violin that the performer touches while playing are 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 reinforced 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 very general idea of the shape. After this I built a balsa wood (non playable) mock-up strung with old guitar strings, with a cheap fingerboard and some old machine heads.
The mock-up 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 mock-up 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!
After I got it back 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.
|Custom built GRP monocoque.
|Barbera transducer system.
|Left hand mini Schaller
Cath used the violin for about eight years before retiring it, and in that time we have only had to replace the jack socket, and glue the finger board back on (oops!).
Cath played the violin though a Korg A5 multi-effects pedal and a VOX AC10 valve amplifier.