I’ve had an on again, off again fascination with balsa wood violins. I’m pretty sure I’m the only person in their mid 20s that reads the paper copy of the New York Times. Anyways, the NYT ran an article about research on how violins work and function, and the man who sort of kicked off the whole mini-revolution in 2005, Douglas Martin. The violins he was creating looked like something out of an architecture school’s student display section; vast sheets of balsa wood, broken up by sticks of balsa to keep it all together. I filed it away mentally, but every few months the topic of violins would come up, I would mention the article, and people looked at me like I was crazy. I finally googled around for the NYT balsa wood violin article and found some pics. I ended up emailing Doug himself and he recommended I start with a regular fiddle and I check out maestronet.com. A few years pass, and my buddy had started work on an electric violin, piquing my interest in unique violins again. Having already tackled the cigar box guitar and tahitian ukelele, this seemed like a good project. Work got busy and it was put on the backburner again. I made a cigar box guitar with F-holes to tide me over. A friend mentioned learning to play the musical saw, which required a violin bow.
So after some googling I found a more recent picture of Doug’s work, and did some additional digging and shot off some emails for source pictures. I shot off an email to Joseph Curtin, one of the best luthiers in the nation, who is doing grant work on balsa topped violins to bounce some ideas off him, and also another email to Doug again, this time with some fairly specific questions. I thought this style of violin building was ideal for the cigar box guitar luthier who was ready for something more complex and more standardized. A CBG only has half the strings needed for a real guitar; these violins have 100% of the required parts, don’t need frets (the biggest problem of CBG construction), and supposedly, with enough tweaking, sound fantastic. Further digging yielded some technical specifications, building techniques, and some great source pictures. Well I finally got my email back from Doug and was inspired to start on my project. I’ll go into construction details of my own here in the next few posts.
- Background story on Balsa Wood Violins
- Joseph Curtin working with Balsa Wood Violins (skip ahead to 2:00)
More Pics below the cut