The Latest on Travel Violins and Fiddles by D. Rickert Musical Instruments (Don Rickert Musician Shop)
Travel violins and fiddles are specially-designed instruments for adventurers and other travelers for whom small size, extreme durability and easy portability are essential. Travel violins/fiddles are also commonly known as “backpacker fiddles”.
Travel Violins and Fiddles by D. Rickert Musical Instruments
D. Rickert Musical Instruments has been designing and making historic pochettes (e.g. Baroque-period dancing master’s “kits”) and best-in-class modern travel violins (aka backpacker fiddles) since 2005. Continuous improvement based on customer and market feedback and our own continuous evaluation, is just the way we roll. This has led to the design and production of more than two-dozen models over the past 13 years.
We currently make three regular production models of travel/backpacker violin. We also make various custom variants, including “lefty” and 5-string models, as well as travel violas. All of our regular production travel violin models have 14” bodies with 13” playable scale lengths; the same body and scale lengths as full-size violins. All of these instruments are available at the Don Rickert Musician Shop. See the Travel and Backpacker Fiddles category of the Don Rickert Musician Shop website (online store).
While our modern travel fiddles look superficially like Barqoue pochettes (pocket fiddles), they are, in fact, full-length violins intended for backpacking and travel. All of our travel and backpacker violins are full 4/4 length instruments with chin rests and shoulder rest adapters.
They are very popular among traveling classical violinists as well as adventure-loving fiddlers. Unlike the cheap travel fiddles that cost much less than ours on the market, our travel violins respond to the bow like a full-size instrument and are quite sonorous.
Modern backpacker and travel violins are the highly-evolved descendants of the pochettes (pocket fiddles, also known as “kits” or “kit fiddles”) of the late 17th through the late 18th Centuries. The Baroque period in music (1600 – 1750) fell within the time period during which the pochette was commonly used. Anyone interested in learning more about the Baroque pochette should see my recent article, Things to Know About the Baroque Pochette (a.k.a “Kit”).
You may also want to visit the “Baroque Instruments (including pochettes)” category of the Don Rickert Musician Shop website.
The Primary Attributes
When one refers to a backpacker or travel violin, he or she is talking about a small and physically robust instrument that:
- Will withstand far greater physical and environmental impacts than a regular violin or fiddle would normally be subjected to
- Is substantially smaller in width than a regular violin (usually between 2” and 3.5” wide); in other words, “skinny” enough to fit into a high-strength tubular case (usually about 4” in diameter) that is often attached to a backpack or bicycle luggage rack.
- Has the same important ergonomic attributes of a full-size violin in modern configuration
The Physical and Environmental Impacts
The physical impacts include being constantly being jarred due to be being attached to a backpack and even dropped.
Environmental impacts include:
- Extreme high and low temperatures
- Extreme low and high humidity levels
- Radical rapid changes in temperature and humidity
Instrument Size (and Shape)
While some backpacker violins are shorter in length than regular violins, the norm is a playable string length (nut to bridge) identical to a 4/4 size violin, with an overall length approximately the same as a 4/4 violin. Sometimes, backpacker violins will have a slightly shorter body and/or peg box.
Many, but certainly not all, designers of modern backpacker/travel violins and fiddles, pay great attention to the ergonomic aspects of these small instruments. Primarily, these "human-centered" ergonomics efforts are focused on removable chin rests and shoulder rests that, when installed on the backpacker/travel violin, replicate the critical ergonomic dimensions of a full-size violin or fiddle. The overriding criterion we adhere to is that a travel violin, whatever its size, should feel exactly like a regular violin when it is played.
A modern travel violin without its ergonomic fittings
This instrument, one of our designs, is 2" wide but full 14" long body and a full 13" +/- playable string length. Nevertheless, as is, it cannot be played like a modern violin or fiddle.
The same instrument with its ergonomic fittings installed
Owing to the high adjustability of the shoulder rest (fore and aft position, height, lateral angle), this instrument with its fittings installed is actually more ergonomically optimal than the average violin.
Sound (Timbre, Sonority and Power)
When it comes to sound, travel violins fall into two distinct groups:
- Instruments primarily used for practice when traveling
- Instruments for players for whom timbre, sonority and power approaching that of a full-size instrument is a priority
Instruments primarily used for practice
These are slim-bodied (about 2” wide) instruments that, when fully assembled with their chin rests and shoulder rests, simulate the hold, and afford the manner of playing and bowing technique of full-size instruments. This small-bodied class of travel violins is favored by serious violinists and fiddlers wanting a practice instrument (one that plays like a regular violin) with a highly-realist feel, but is as small as possible. In fact, we make one model (on strictly a custom basis), the “Frequent Flyer”, which disassembles such that the pieces can be fit easily, along with a take-apart bow into a rolling suitcase along with other luggage.
Rich sonority is not a high priority for these musicians. Nevertheless, these slim-bodied instruments sound amazingly good, given their small sound boxes.
Instruments with timbre, sonority and power approaching that of a full-size instrument
These instruments are between 3” and 3.5” wide. They cost more than the slim-bodied instruments. Like the small-bodied instruments, their playing characteristics are virtually identical to those of full-size instrument.
Musicians who commission these instruments do, in fact, often use them as practice instruments when traveling. In addition to practicing, these musicians usually intend to play along with other musicians while traveling; therefore, they need an instrument that, while compact, sounds pretty much like an unmuted full-size fiddle and the acoustic power to hold its own in jam sessions and the like.
How Good Can a Travel Violin Sound?: Demonstrations
Many years of continuous design research, involving experimentation with many variables, has gone into achieving good sonority and projection volume from these small instruments whose body size, materials and construction method departs radically from conventional full-size violins.
Most makers of modern travel violins will tell you that they sound good. When we tell you that ours sound amazing, we really mean it. Watch the following videos to hear for yourself what we mean by amazing!
That's it for now. Look for a follow-on article in the next few days about traveling with your fiddle.