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Don Rickert Musician Shop

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New International Explorer Travel Violin by D. Rickert (Don Rickert Musician Shop)

The New International Explorer Travel Violin by D. Rickert  Mountaineer International front final

The newest instrument by D. Rickert Musical instruments is the International Explorer Travel Violin. It is available at the Don Rickert Musician Shop.

Like its larger-bodied sibling, the International Travel Violin, this new travel violin was designed for violinists and fiddlers wishing to travel without worry with their instruments by air:

  • To destinations outside of the U.S., especially Europe
  • From one European region to another or from one country to another
  • On any small plane (< 50 seats), regardless of destination, within the U.S. or abroad

AND

  • Desire an all wood, luthier-built instrument with a 4/4 playable string length,

AND

  • Require an instrument with the sonority and timbre as close to that of a full-size instrument as possible for a small instrument.

As with its predecessors, the Mountaineer series (I through VIII), the International Explorer Travel Violin is the instrument of choice for adventurer-musicians for whom any of the following apply:

  • Willing to sacrifice the full-size violin sound of the International Travel Violin or the Ranger C3 (but still sounds pretty good) in favor of considerably greater durability. The new International Explorer Travel Violin is ideally suited for outdoor adventure, where weather, rough conditions, rough treatment (e.g. being dropped onto the ground or into water) etc. are part of the deal.
  • Are seeking a travel violin that is less expensive than either the International Travel Violin or the Ranger C3. Indeed, the International Explores is hardly cheap, with a sell price of more than $1400; however, it costs about $700 less than its more expensive siblings.

Introduction and Summary

This completely new instrument has a full-size playable string length of 12.75 inches. The cool thing about the International Explorer Travel Violin is that it has a body length of approximately 13 inches (normal 4/4 violin has a 14” body) and a cleverly shortened “scroll-less” pegbox. The result is a full-size instrument with a total length of only 20”! This allows the use of a case that is a mere 21” in length. It will fit into many TSA-certified 22” (height) carry-on roller bags! We will be happy to give you recommendations for our favorite carry-on bags.

FREE Test Fitting!: If you wish, we will send you a heavy-duty 4” x 21” craft tube for a test fitting with your carry-on baggage. Let us know if you would like to do this before we start building your instrument.

If you already have, or wish to use a slightly smaller carry-on bag, the International Travel Violin can be made even shorter than 20” on a custom basis, often at no extra charge.

You can, of course, take this instrument as your carry-on item in one of our available cases. In most air travel scenarios, you can also take a bow tube for a full-size bow along as well.

The bottom line is that you can take our International Explorer Traveler Violin as a carry-on item on most airlines anywhere in the world without worry, provided that you are not flying on what would be classified as a small plane (< 50 seats). Then, it is a crap-shoot. Also, regional flights throughout Europe and elsewhere often do not allow carry-on baggage of any kind, except for small electronic devices (laptops, tablets, phones, etc.), which always MUST be carried on the plane as a “personal item” (i.e. these items cannot be checked baggage).

If you ever would have to check-in your instrument for the cargo hold, our cases are strong enough to protect it.

See carry-on baggage size and weight limits for a good sampling of airlines all over the world.

Note: For the U.S. airlines on the list (see the above link) and, indeed, any U.S. airline, the carry-on baggage limits do not generally apply to small musical instruments, per U.S. law and associated FAA policies (FAA Air Transportation Modernization and Safety Improvement Act of 2012, Section 713).

Detailed Description

The new International Explorer Travel Violin by D. Rickert looks essentially like a slightly shorter (but still a full 4/4 playable scale!) and wider at the middle version (with a truncated pegbox) of its renowned predecessor. Because we compensated for the shorter body length by making it wider, the International Explorer has a sound that is virtually identical to the Mountaineer Backpacker Fiddles.

Dimensions

  • Overall length: 20” (50.8 cm)
  • Body length: 13” (33.02 cm)
  • Nut width: 24 mm
  • Width at middle: 2.8” (71.12 mm)
  • Rib height (at ends): 1.18” (30 mm)
  • Rib height (middle): 1.53” (39 mm)

Note: all dimensions have been carefully worked out so that the International Explorer, with chin rest attached (and, of course, the shoulder rest removed) fits perfectly into our 4” diameter case. In fact, since there would be room to spare, and in keeping with the theme of use in extreme conditions, we add some extra padding in the case when ordered with this instrument.

There is also room for your bow and the detachable shoulder rest.

The case can be made to match the length of bow you will be using.

Playing Characteristics and Ergonomics

With its custom center-mounted chin rest and the adjustable shoulder rest in place, holding and playing the International Explorer Travel Violin feels pretty much like playing a regular violin. The Velcro-attached adjustable dense foam shoulder rest is easily removable for stowing the instrument in its case. The shoulder rest is actually more comfortable than many rests for regular violins.

Sound

The International Explorer Travel Violin sounds pretty good for a fiddle of its size. While such a small instrument could not possibly sound as powerful and full-bodied as a good full-size violin (those pesky laws of physics), The International Explorer Travel Violin has a surprisingly big and warm sound. In other words, it is rather sonorous. It is plenty loud enough to jam with other musicians.

See the demo videos at the end of this listing.

Fittings

  • Wittner FineTune internally-geared tuning pegs
    • These incredible tuning pegs have a gear system in the buttons. The gearing ratio is a very respectable 8.5:1. A cylinder in the middle of the peg shaft turns in response to turning the button. The pegs are celebrated for their kindness to the peg box. They are held in by friction. Some top violinists have even installed them on priceless antique violins. They look pretty much like ebony.
  • Custom-made chin rest
    • The chin rest is a “flat Flesch” type of rest, which we carve and re-shape to fit the tail of the International Travel Violin perfectly.
  • Tailpiece
    • The default tailpiece is an ebony “Hill” style. If a pickup volume control is installed, the tailpiece is a special poly-carbonate tailpiece by Wittner.
  • Adjustable shoulder rest
    • The new shoulder rest, attached with industrial strength Velcro, is much simpler to use and is actually more comfortable than any of its predecessors.

Case

  • A case is included with purchase of the instrument.
  • As described above, there are a number of case options, including a plethora of colors and lengths. We have Super Duty and Ultra-lite cases.
  • Order the case separately. See the related products at the end of this product listing. You will NOT be charged for the case.

Bow

The size of bow you will use depends on how long of a case that you can work with. If you intend to use a 21” case, you will need to use either a take-apart bow, carry your bow(s) in a separate bow tube or use an Incredibow. A ¼ size bow only requires a 24-25” long case. A ½ size bow requires about 27” in case length. A full-size bow requires a 31” long case. Incredibows are actually a very good option. These unique bows look something like Baroque bows. They are very populate among fiddlers; not so much with classical violinists. Incredibows are available in a variety of lengths, including a 19.25" size, which will fit into our short 21" cases. They are also available in various weights and tensions, which is quite helpful in compensating for short length. You should check out Incredibows. We have a lot of experience with them and can help you select the best size, weight and tension for your needs. Feel free to contact us.

Those of you who know us are aware that we really discourage the use of lousy bows. We also believe strongly that a bow for a travel violin should NOT be wooden.

See the Bows section of the Don Rickert Musician Shop.

Optional Built-In Pickup

As with all of our travel violins, we expect that many customers will opt to have a pickup installed. There are many pickup options. Please contact us if you wish to add a pickup.



The New International Travel Violin by D. Rickert Musical Instruments (Don Rickert Musician Shop)

The New International Travel Violin  International w scroll plan and side final 2

The newest instrument by D. Rickert Musical instruments is the International Travel Violin. It is available at the Don Rickert Musician Shop.

This new travel violin was designed for violinists and fiddlers wishing to travel without worry with their instruments by air:

  • To destinations outside of the U.S., especially Europe
  • From one European region to another or from one country to another
  • On any small plane (< 50 seats), regardless of destination, within the U.S. or abroad

AND

  • Desire an all wood, luthier-built instrument with a 4/4 playable string length,

AND

  • Require an instrument with the sonority and timbre close to that of a full-size instrument.

Introduction and Summary

This completely new instrument has a full-size playable string length of 12.75 inches. The cool thing about the International Travel Violin is that it has a body length of approximately 13 inches (normal 4/4 violin has a 14” body) and a cleverly shortened “scroll-less” pegbox. The result is a full-size instrument with a total length of only 20”! This allows the use of a case that is a mere 21” in length. It will fit into many TSA-certified 22” (height) carry-on roller bags! We will be happy to give you recommendations for our favorite carry-on bags.

FREE Test Fitting!: If you wish, we will send you a heavy-duty 4” x 21” craft tube for a test fitting with your carry-on baggage. Let us know if you would like to do this before we start building your instrument.

If you already have, or wish to use a slightly smaller carry-on bag, the International Travel Violin can be made even shorter than 20” on a custom basis, often at no extra charge.

You can, of course, take this instrument as your carry-on item in one of our available cases. In most air travel scenarios, you can also take a bow tube for a full-size bow along as well.

The bottom line is that you can take our International Traveler Violin as a carry-on item on most airlines anywhere in the world without worry, provided that you are not flying on what would be classified as a small plane (< 50 seats). Then, it is a crap-shoot. Also, regional flights throughout Europe and elsewhere often do not allow carry-on baggage of any kind, except for small electronic devices (laptops, tablets, phones, etc.), which always MUST be carried on the plane as a “personal item” (i.e. these items cannot be checked baggage).

If you ever would have to check-in your instrument for the cargo hold, our cases are strong enough to protect it.

See carry-on baggage size and weight limits for a good sampling of airlines all over the world.

Note: For the U.S. airlines on the list (see the above link) and, indeed, any U.S. airline, the carry-on baggage limits do not generally apply to small musical instruments, per U.S. law and associated FAA policies (FAA Air Transportation Modernization and Safety Improvement Act of 2012, Section 713).

Detailed Description

The new International Travel Violin by D. Rickert looks essentially like a slightly shorter version (with a truncated pegbox) of our renowned Ranger C3 Travel Violin. No one has yet challenged our claim that the Ranger C3 is the best sounding travel violin in the world. The International Travel Violin is built on the same principals as the Ranger C3. The two instruments sound virtually the same. Of course, the larger Ranger C3 is somewhat more acoustically powerful—a laws of physics thing.

Dimensions

  • Overall length: 20” (50.8 cm)
  • Body length: 13” (33.02 cm)
  • Nut width: 24 mm
  • Width at middle: 3.2” (81.28mm)
  • Rib height (at ends): 1.18” (30 mm)
  • Rib height (middle): 1.53” (39 mm)

Note: all dimensions have been carefully worked out so that the Ranger C3, with chin rest attached (and, of course, the shoulder rest removed) fits perfectly into our 4” diameter case.

There is also room to spare for your bow and the detachable shoulder rest.

The case can be made to match the length of bow you will be using.

Playing Characteristics and Ergonomics

With its custom center-mounted chin rest and the adjustable shoulder rest in place, holding and playing the International Travel Violin feels pretty much like playing a regular violin. The Velcro-attached adjustable dense foam shoulder rest is easily removable for stowing the instrument in its case. The shoulder rest is actually more comfortable than many rests for regular violins

Sound

The International Travel Violin emits almost the same volume as a regular violin. The timbre is amazingly close to a better than average full-size instrument. It is full-bodied and focused. Its sound can best be described as somewhere in between our Neil Gow Pochette and our Deep Body Custom Travel Violin.

Rickert Deep Body Travel Violin (5-string version) Played by Nathan Aldridge (YouTube)

Darci Jones Playing a Neil Gow Pochette by D. Rickert (YouTube)

Fittings

  • Wittner FineTune internally-geared tuning pegs
    • These incredible tuning pegs have a gear system in the buttons. The gearing ratio is a very respectable 8.5:1. A cylinder in the middle of the peg shaft turns in response to turning the button. The pegs are celebrated for their kindness to the peg box. They are held in by friction. Some top violinists have even installed them on priceless antique violins. They look pretty much like ebony.
  • Custom-made chin rest
    • The chin rest is a “flat Flesch” type of rest, which we carve and re-shape to fit the tail of the International Travel Violin perfectly.
  • Tailpiece
    • The default tailpiece is an ebony “Hill” style. If a pickup volume control is installed, the tailpiece is a special poly-carbonate tailpiece by Wittner.
  • Adjustable shoulder rest
    • The new shoulder rest, attached with industrial strength Velcro, is much simpler to use and is actually more comfortable than any of its predecessors.

Case

  • A case is included with purchase of the instrument.
  • As described above, there are a number of case options, including a plethora of colors and lengths. We have Super Duty and Ultra-lite cases.
  • Order the case separately. See the related products at the end of this product listing. You will NOT be charged for the case.

Bow

The size of bow you will use depends on how long of a case that you can work with. If you intend to use a 21” case, you will need to use either a take-apart bow, carry your bow(s) in a separate bow tube or use an Incredibow. A ¼ size bow only requires a 24-25” long case. A ½ size bow requires about 27” in case length. A full-size bow requires a 31” long case. Incredibows are actually a very good option. These unique bows look something like Baroque bows. They are very populate among fiddlers; not so much with classical violinists. Incredibows are available in a variety of lengths, including a 19.25" size, which will fit into our short 21" cases. They are also available in various weights and tensions, which is quite helpful in compensating for short length. You should check out Incredibows. We have a lot of experience with them and can help you select the best size, weight and tension for your needs. Feel free to contact us.

Those of you who know us are aware that we really discourage the use of lousy bows. We also believe strongly that a bow for a travel violin should NOT be wooden.

See the Bows section of the Don Rickert Musician Shop.

Optional Built-In Pickup

Many customers opt to have a pickup installed. There are many pickup options. Please contact us if you wish to add a pickup.



The Latest on Travel Violins and Fiddles by D. Rickert Musical Instruments (Don Rickert Musician Shop)

Introduction

Travel violin on rocks 2Travel 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.

Travel Violin marque

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).

Burrell pochette image

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.

Kira playing travel violin

Kira in Conques Abbey

Kira playing travel violin 2

Kira in Conques Abbey 2

What Is a Modern Travel Violin or Backpacker Fiddle?

Dancing master with pochette sized

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.

Ergonomic Attributes

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

Mountaineer M3 no 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

Mountaineer M3 with fittings

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:

  1. Instruments primarily used for practice when traveling
  2. Instruments for players for whom timbre, sonority and power approaching that of a full-size instrument is a priority

Instruments primarily used for practice

Mountaineer VIIIThese 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.

 

Frequent flyer NOT assembled

Frequent flyer NOT assembled

Frequent flyer assembled

Frequent flyer assembled

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

Ranger C3 Front 1These 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.

Cheers,

Don Rickert



Things to Know About the Baroque Pochette (Don Rickert Musician Shop)

What Is a Pochette or “Kit” Fiddle?

Some pochettes sizedPochettes are 18th Century instruments whose popularity was primarily from the early 1700s through the 1780s; however, there are surviving examples dating back to the 1600s. The pochette (French for “pocket”) was a small violin-like instrument designed for easy portability. They are also known as “pocket fiddles” and “kit fiddles”. Pochettes were always quite a bit smaller in girth than full-size violins; however, their overall length, as well as playable string length varied from quite short (about that of ½ size violin or viololino piccolo, or even shorter) to the length of a regular fiddle. The longer pochettes were generally the later ones. Short scale pochettes were usually tuned to a higher pitch than a full-size violin.

How Did the Pochette or "Kit Fiddle" Get its Names?

Pochettes were small enough in girth to fit into a longish sheath sewn into one's coat. The sheath came to be known by the instrument's name: "pochette". This is the origin of the modern English word "pocket". Pochettes were also known as "kits" or "kit fiddles", primarily in England and, to a lesser extent, in Scotland. The name "kit" is an example of impossible-to-comprehend (to anyone but an Englishperson) English humor. The idea appears to have been that, if a full-size violin is analogous to a cat (a reference to "cat gut" strings...actually never made from cat guts, but rather sheep intestines), then a small violin would be, by analogy, a "kit", the English and Scottish nickname for a kitten.

Some surmise that the word “kit” may simply be slang for a mispronunciation of “pocket”, as in “pock-it”. This naming evolution is similar to how “loo” became slang for a toilet—in Britain, “waterloo” is a humorous reference to “water closet”, at one time the name for the closet-sized room in which an indoor commode or “Crapper” (the actual surname of the presumed inventor) would reside.

Who Played Pochettes?

Neil Gow playing fiddle

Pochettes seem to have been popular among fiddlers who traveled frequently by foot or horseback. Arguably, the two most famous players of pochettes were:

  • Niel (aka Neil) Gow(1727–1807), one of the founding fathers of Scottish fiddling
  • Thomas Jefferson(1743-1826), a principle author of the Declaration of Independence and the 3rd President of the United States

Jeffersons kit possibly

Jefferson's Pochette (Possibly?)

It is well documented that Neil Gow often played a pochette while on the day long hike to Blair Castle to play for dances, and then on the way back home. One of his proper violins was apparently kept at the castle. That very same fiddle resides, on display, at Blair Castle today.

In his later years, Jefferson, both a violinist and fiddler, often road on horseback from Monticello to Charlottesville for sessions in various pubs. Lore has it that he often made this trip with one of the two pochettes that he is known to have owned. The pochette was carried in a leather saddle case devised by Monticello’s master craftsman, one of Jefferson’s sons by Sally Hemming . . . but that is a whole different story!

The pochette’s real popularity was driven in large part by itinerant Dancing Masters (private dance instructors), who preferred very portable violins that could be carried, with its typically short bow, in a sleeve (called a pocket or “pochette”, as many were French) sewn onto the Dancing Master’s coats.

The Socio-Political Events that Gave Rise to the Profession of Dancing Master (and Indirectly, the Pochette) in the 18th Century

Articles of Union for pochette articleThe Union of Scotland, England (including Wales) and Ireland as Britain occurred in 1707. Queen Anne, who had already acceded to the thrones of England, Scotland and Ireland in 1702, became the first monarch of Britain (and last Stuart monarch), as Anne, Queen of Great Britain and Ireland when the Treaty of Union took effect in 1707.

The Treaty of Union resulted in, among other things, England and Scotland having a shared Parliament. Suddenly, there was high motivation among the mercantile class in Scotland to learn to speak like the English (i.e. without a Lowland brogue) and to learn the latest English dances. These were things that the Scottish aristocracy, by and large, already knew how to do. Dancing at lavish parties was very much like the game of golf is today in the world of business networking.

Rise of the Dancing Masters

Dancing master with pochette sizedSo, in major cities such as Glasgow and Edinburgh, there emerged a widespread perceived need for elocution (i.e. diction, pronunciation, grammar) coaches and dance instructors. The profession of Dancing Master filled at least the dancing part of that perceived need, and people were prepared to pay good money to have that need met. Most of the Dancing Masters were either French or Italian music tutors who knew enough about English dancing to sell themselves as qualified Dancing Masters. I am pretty sure that, at least in Britain, there existed no guilds overseeing the qualifications of Dancing Masters.

So, it was in the urbanized part of Scotland that the profession of “Dancing Master” appears to have really taken off. It should be noted that there were Dancing Masters in places other than Scotland; however, Scotland after the Treaty of Union, was the epicenter, at least during the Baroque and pre-Modern periods.

Dancing Masters typically visited clients’ homes. They were, in significant ways, the 18th Century equivalent of personal trainers who come to clients’ homes. The successful Dancing Masters were booked from morning to night. Carrying a full-size violin from appointment to appointment was a real chore, especially given the heft of a case capable of protecting a violin and bow from the Scottish weather (not pleasant much of the time). Manufacture of violin cases on anything approaching a large scale would not occur until the 19th Century. If you wanted a violin case during the Baroque period, it had to be custom-made.

The Baroque Violin Case

Baroque caseI have carefully studied the construction and common usage of existing violin cases from the Baroque period, including those made by the workshops of Antonio Stradivari. First, these cases were quite expensive, often costing much more than a violin that a Dancing Master could afford, and they were intended primarily as decorative storage containers for well-appointed music rooms. Indeed, they did not always have carrying handles. Most significantly, Baroque period cases were quite heavy, somewhere in the range from 10 lbs. (4.5 kg.) to 15 lbs. (6.8 kg.).

Leather-Covered-Art-Case croppedThe potentially available cases were definitely not built to withstand rain, freezing rain and snow—the standard weather for much of the year in the Scottish Lowlands. The contemporary musician, armed with full understanding about the limitations of Baroque cases, should understanding why carrying around a full-size violin for an entire day’s worth of client appointments would have been effectively impossible, even if one could afford such as case.

The Pochette: Solution to a Real Problem

Pochettes or kit fiddles had already been around at least since the late 1600s. It is easy to understand why they were almost universally adopted by the 18th Century Dancing Masters.

How Does a Baroque Period Pochette Sound?

The short answer is nasty! So, here is the longer answer.

Early pochettes

Burrell pochette image

Most Baroque and Pre-Modern period pochettes and replicas sound horrible beyond comprehension (and we have heard many!). A toy kazoo, toy piano, comb and waxed paper, or slide whistle would have sounded better.

Pochettes, particularly the earlier ones, often had substantially shorter playable string lengths than a full-size violin. The later ones, on the other hand, generally had a full 4/4 string length, but with much skinnier body, and usually a shorter body (in the 11.5" to 13" range) than a full-size violin, which has a 14" body. Except in very cases, Baroque-period pochettes lacked the two things that we now know are essential to good sound production, a sound post and proper bass bar. Short bows were often used to play pochettes, without a doubt contributing to a less than optimal sonority.

So that you can fully experience the range of sound quality for Baroque and Pre-Modern pochettes, take a look and listen to the videos below.

Great musicians - ludicrously small instruments!

 Here is a really small pochette from the 1600s.

 A slightly better-sounding pochette - really fine playing!

A later model - marginally acceptable sound (the instrument, that is - playing is great!)

Had They Only Know About the Physics of Violins!

The poor sound of historic pochettes and their replicas is curious to us. More than a decade ago, we were able to design and make a very sonorous and nice-sounding pochette by essentially copying the external dimensions of a late 18th Century Scottish pochette (in the Burrell Collection in Glasgow). The only substantial changes we made were to fit the instrument with a proper bass bar and sound post. We also enlarged the sound holes to the extent necessary to afford setting and adjusting the sound post. This, of course, made the sound holes more appropriately-sized (i.e. larger!) for good sound production.  This instrument, which we still sell today as the Neil Gow Pochette, is available in the Baroque Instruments category of the online store for the Don Rickert Musician Shop.

If you are interested in knowing just how good a Baroque pochette replica can sound, see the following video.

Darci Jones playing a late 18th Century pochette replica by Donald Rickert

The Ergonomics of Historic Pochettes

With the 17th and 18th Century pochettes, ergonomic concerns were apparently not considered at all. Ergonomics (the British term) and Human Factors (the preferred American term), or the study of the relationship between people and things, are 20th Century fields of expertise. The only concern in the 1700s and 1800s was making the pochette small enough to be easily portable. Indeed, the whole idea of making a tool fit its user was not yet part of the zeitgeist—one simply learned how to use available tools and other objects. The idea of “human-centered design”, a basic principle for modern Industrial Designers (those who design objects for people to use, including musical instruments) would not emerge until the late 20th Century.

One could even argue that the violin itself is ergonomically sub-optimal. This is why so much attention has been devoted to making the violin more usable in the last century (e.g. chin rests, ergonomically-correct shoulder rests, etc.). In the case of pochettes, a playing technique involving resting on the instrument on the arm and tucking the tail into one’s underarm evolved. In order to envision this playing technique, imagine the “on-the-arm” instrument hold that some violinists and fiddlers in various musical genres use even today. One can clearly see this extremely awkward hold and playing technique in the videos above.

Conclusion

This concludes my brief introduction to that diminutive Baroque period relative of the violin, the pochette, a.k.a. kit fiddle. My next article will delve into the modern descendent of the pochette, commonly called a “travel violin” or “travel fiddle”. I will post a link here when the follow-on article about modern travels violins is posted.

Modern backpacker and travel violins are the highly-evolved great-great-great grandchild of the pochettes of the late 17th through the late 18th Centuries. Most modern travel violins or fiddles bear a strikingly similar appearance to their Baroque period ancestors. The similarity stops there. Indeed, there are significant differences. Most, but not all, modern travel violins are designed in such a way as to capitalize on what has been learned in the past 250 years about the physics of bowed instrument sound production. What this means, essentially, is that they can, but again, not always, sound MUCH better than Baroque pochettes, even the good ones.

Many, but certainly not all, designers of modern travel violins and fiddles, pay great attention to the ergonomic aspects of these small instruments. Primarily, these "human-centered" ergonomic design efforts are focused on removable chin rests and shoulder rests that, when installed on the travel violin, replicate the critical ergonomic improvements expected in a full-size violin or fiddle in modern configuration. Furthermore, the critical ergonomic dimensions of full size violins, such as body length, overall length and playable string length are, in most cases, rigorously adhered to.

Shameless Promotion

In the past 13 or so years, D. Rickert Musical Instruments has designed and made a large number of Baroque pochette replicas (about 40). We have designed and produced an even far greater number of state-of-the-art modern travel violins (more than 125).

Current product offerings can be viewed under the Travel and Backpacker Fiddles category of the Don Rickert Musician Shop website.



Octave Violins, Octave Violas and Hybrids from Don Rickert Musical Instruments (Don Rickert Musician Shop)

Note: See the Don Rickert Musician Shop for current product offerings.

Introduction

Darol Anger and Vasen with Octaves

Darol Anger and Vasen w/ Rickert Octaves

In 2006, one of the first things we at D. Rickert Musical Instruments set out to do is to design and build the best acoustic octave violin possible. The octave violin or octave fiddle is tuned an octave lower than a regular violin; therefore, it is a tenor range instrument between the viola (alto range) and the cello (baritone). Octave violins are often incorrectly called “baritone violins”. In our early days, octave violins and early versions of our travel fiddles were the only instruments that we made.

What Is an Octave Violin or Octave Fiddle?

Natalie Haas playing Rickert Octave

Natalie Haas w/ Rickert Octave Violin

When I use the phrase, “octave violin”, I am referring to a very specific type of modern instrument. An octave violin or octave fiddle, if you like, is a modified violin or at least a violin-sized instrument played under the chin. It is set up for and uses larger diameter strings and is tuned an octave lower than a violin in standard configuration. It is played like a regular violin, as it usually has the same critical ergonomic dimensions as a standard violin. The most significant of these dimensions are a body that is about 14 inches long and a playable string length of about 13 inches.

We call larger instruments by other names.

Specifically . . .

Viola:

Dr. Jeff playing large viola

A larger instrument, generally with a body length in the 15-inch to 16.5-inch range, and tuned a perfect 5th lower than a violin, thus, making it an alto range instrument. The viola’s playable string length ranges from approximately 13.5 inches to 15 inches.

Tenor Viola (aka Tenor Violin):

Generally, a modern tenor viola is either a 15.5-inch or 16-inch viola that is set up with special larger diameter strings and is tuned exactly like an octave violin—that is, an octave lower than a violin.Tenor Viola by D. Rickert

The ancestor of the modern tenor viola, the Baroque tenor viola, was a much larger instrument (17.5-inch to 19-inch body!), usually with a disproportionately short neck. The best-known surviving Baroque tenor violin is the “Medici-Tuscan” tenor viola, made in 1690 by Antonio Stradivari. It has a body almost 19 inches long. There was a resurgence of interest in tenor violas in the 19th Century. These later tenor violas from the 19th Century are often fretted and intended to be played on the lap. It is my belief that the earlier Baroque tenor violas were, given their size, especially the 1690 Strad, also played on the lap or even da spalla (suspended from a strap draped on the player’s shoulders).

Octave Viola or Baritone Viola: A.K.A. "Chin Cello"

T_Rex_Plan_viewThis is a modern development and is often called a “chin cello”. It is usually either a 16-inch or 16.5-inch viola that is set up with special larger diameter strings and is tuned exactly like a cello—that is, an octave lower than a viola in standard configuration. Often, but not always, such instruments have a wider body than a regular viola.

Octave-Tuned Viola Pomposa or 5-String Octave Viola:

Viola Pomposa 16 1

A modern 5-String Octave Viola is usually either a 16-inch or 16.5-inch instrument that is often somewhat wider in girth than a regular viola. It is set up with special strings, allowing it to be tuned such that the four higher strings sound an octave lower than a violin (like a tenor viola) and the set of four lower strings sounds an octave than a viola (like an octave viola).

Hoffman front and side

Viola Pomposa by J.C. Hoffman (1724)

The ancestor of this instrument is the Baroque Viola Pomposa. One of oldest surviving examples is attributed to Johann Christian Hoffmann (1683-1750) and was made in 1724 or thereabouts. The instrument is quite large, its body measuring about 18 inches in length. The ribs appear to be in the range of 60mm to 70mm. Many experts agree that the instrument was probably made with higher ribs (about 80mm) and later cut down for the sake of playability. The heinous insults that cutting-edge luthiers have had to endure!

Interestingly, the viola pomposa made by J.C. Hoffman was commissioned by J.S. Bach. It is also considered by some to be the among first violoncellos da spalla. It is now fairly well established that the violoncello da spalla was intended to be suspended by a leather strap (more or less like a contemporary guitarist) when played.

We Definitely Still Make Octave Violins and Fiddles

In addition to octave violins we also make all of the related larger instruments described above. See the Octave Violins, Violas and Octave Violas category of the Don Rickert Musician Shop website.

Furthermore, we will soon be introducing meticulously authentic reproductions of these instruments’ Baroque ancestors. See the Baroque Instruments category of the Don Rickert Musician Shop website.

Origins of Modern Octave Violins and Fiddles

The practice of setting up standard violins with large diameter strings in order to play an octave lower appears to have been around for quite some time, possibly a century or more. There is anecdotal evidence that more than a few early 20th Century jazz violinists/fiddlers created their own octave violins in such a manner. There was even a large viola-sized octave-tuned German instrument in the early 20th Century called an “Octavgeige”, which is simply German for “Octave Violin.” The luthier who produced these instruments was Johan Reiter (Mittenwald, Bavaria). The great jazz violinist and Professor at Berklee College of Music, Christian Howes, owns one of these rare instruments. It is my opinion that Reiter’s Oktavgeige was really just a 20th Century variant of the tenor viola (aka tenor violin), described earlier.

Darol_anger

Darol Anger

To the best of my knowledge, the first modern octave violin was a specially-strung electric violin used by Jean Luc Ponty on a 1975 recording. The instrument Ponty used was a Barcus-Berry Octave Violectra, introduced in the 1960s. The earliest known detailed description of the modern acoustic octave violin was a 1992 article in Strings Magazine by the famous Violist/Fiddler, Darol Anger. Darol Anger has been playing octave violin, which he refers to as the “baritone violin”, at least as far back as his earliest work with the Turtle Island Quartet in the 1980s. Darol was a significant supporter of us when we introduced our first “purpose-built” octave violins in 2006. I will get into what purpose-built means in this context forthwith.

Re-Purposed Standard Violins

As Darol Anger and others have shown, it is possible to simply replace the strings on your violin any of the available brands (Super-Sensitive, Thomastik-Infeld or Helicore) of octave strings and, voila, you have an octave violin. In reality, you will have to have at least some moderate luthiery work done, such as widening the nut and bridge grooves. Yes, this is only reversible by replacing the nut and bridge! Furthermore, unless your string height is quite high already (that would rule out most fiddlers I know, including myself), you will probably need a higher bridge. No matter what, the converted instrument is going to be rather weak (i.e. disappointing), the predictable result of stringing a regular violin to play a range well below that for which it was designed. There was a reason that the such great masters as Gasparo da Salò (1542 - 1609) and Antonio Stradivari made such a large octave-tuned instrument as the tenor viola (aka tenor violin).

I remember the first time I restrung a regular fiddle with octave strings. I was feeling confident after having read and studied Darol Anger’s seminal article, Another Voice: The Baritone Violin, Sept/Oct.1992, STRINGS Magazine (currently available online at http://www.standingstones.com/barifidd.html).

This is before I knew any better. The result was so discouraging that I put off for several years any further experimentation with octave violins.

In general, acoustic octave violins that are simply reconfigured regular violins are meek and non-sonorous instruments, which require some kind of amplification when played in an ensemble of instruments. For many designers of innovative musical instruments, development of an acoustic octave violin with good projection volume and powerful deep timbre has been a Holy Grail of sorts. Indeed, this quest once seemed a bit like overcoming the known laws of physics.

Purpose-Built Octave Violins: What We Have Become Known For

Instruments in this category are those that are built solely for the purpose of playing an octave lower than a regular violin.

Fat_Strad_Octave

D. Rickert Fat Strad Octave Violin

While we will do the occasional octave violin conversion on a suitable 14” viola, our main focus is, as it has always been, on octave violins that are designed from the ground up as octave violins. We call these instruments “purpose-built” octave violins. To be crystal clear, our octave violins are different instruments than regular violins. They have very special scientifically-derived bass bars, higher ribs and, in some case, different graduations than regular violins.

In the spirit of giving credit where credit is due, innovations in string technology are the “icing on the cake” that make our powerful and sonorous octave violins possible. There are currently three manufacturers of octave violin strings: Thomastik-Infeld, SuperSensitive and D’Addario. The strings from each of these manufacturers have their own distinct “character.” They all work well as the final ingredient for the magic necessary to produce a great violin-sized octave instrument.

Who Plays Acoustic Octave Violins and Fiddles?

In some cases, beginner fiddlers who cannot stand the high pitch of a violin or the large size of a full-size viola will start their musical journey on an octave violin; however, the most prevalent players are serious advanced amateur and professional musicians, many of whom are recording artists. Many of these advanced amateurs and professionals are, indeed, classically trained violinists.

Most makers of acoustic octave violins target their instruments to skilled “alternative” violinists and fiddlers looking for a new lower voice, allowing him or her to play low pitched musical parts almost as low as a ‘cello, without learning a completely new instrument, as the notes are in the same places on the fingerboard as a regular violin. The only new skill to learn is the proper use of a heavier viola bow. Some (a minority, I believe) octave violin players prefer a regular violin bow to a viola bow. These players are generally highly-skilled musicians who use the lighter violin bow to accommodate a unique playing style.

Classical string players—not so much. Unless the classical violinist, violist or cellist is also involved in playing folk, traditional, rock, jazz or other “alternative” musical genre, he or she is likely to have little exposure to, nor interest in, “non-orchestral” musical instruments. The octave violin, like, say, the accordion, mandolin, guitar or penny whistle, is not used in the modern orchestra and is, therefore, a non-orchestral instrument. Our experience has been that musicians who only play classical music tend to have little, if any, curiosity about musical instruments not used in a contemporary orchestra.

Octave Fiddles are the Ultimate Second Fiddles

A good second fiddler, of which there are far too few, will often mix chordal accompaniment with playing of the primary melody in unison with the primary melody an octave lower (especially when playing an octave fiddle) or a harmony melody. Different regional styles will emphasize different techniques for the second fiddler; for example, in certain regions of Ireland, simply playing the tune in various combinations of unison and an octave lower is favored. In other styles, the second fiddler plays primarily chords; which works particularly well with an octave fiddle. A viola or tenor viola (i.e. larger-bodied variant of an octave violin) is sometimes used as well for the same purpose.

I will conclude this post with a great demonstrating a regular fiddle and a viola, which seems to be in tenor (i.e. octave violin) tuning alternating the first and second fiddle roles. This one you have got to hear! The treble/soprano range (i.e. the fiddle) and alto/tenor range (i.e. the low-tuned viola) instruments just blend together in a magical way.

video from groundhogbrains



Your Amplified Violin Not Working with Effects Processors?: The Problem is With Your Pickup! (Don Rickert Musician Shop)

This is an update of an article published in 2015.

Introduction  Boss octave with red X

Many violinists with an “amplifier-ready” (i.e. has a pickup) instrument try to use effect processors to extend their sound palate. Effect processors are usually called “guitar effect boxes”, because such devices have historically been marketed to electric guitarists. In recent years, there has been a growing number of effect processors marketed for use with amplified acoustic guitars. Such devices are often referred to by their nickname, “stomp box” (referring to the way they are activated, by stomping on a switch with one’s foot). Many amplifiers come with a selection of common effects built into the amplifier housing.

Widespread Mistaken Beliefs

Study of a large number of discussion threads on online violin and fiddle special interest websites reveals that there is a lot of misinformation about violins and effect signal processors on the web. Widespread wrong information on the web?...say it ain’t so! Here are a few:

  • Most effect processors do not work with violins.
  • A bowed note is different from a plucked not and, therefore, somehow does not “track” with many effect processors.
  • All guitars, regardless of their pickups, do work with most effect processors.

Hopefully, this article can dispel these mistaken beliefs and set you on your way towards using just about any effect signal processor with your violin. Warning: You may have to get another violin. This may be the first time that many of you would have to spend serious money in furtherance of your art. We know that it is virtually a part of the fiddlers’ unofficial creed that one should not have to spend money on just about anything. This includes decent strings, tuning pegs that work, good bows or even a quality instrument.

The Classic Effects

These are effects that have been around in one form or another since the 1960s and, in some cases, even longer. They include things like tremolo, reverb, delay, compressors, limiters, overdrive, distortion, echo and basic chorus. The main difference between effects of this sort made 50 years ago and those made today is that the newer ones are more electronically sophisticated and work better. In fact, the earliest echo and reverb units were completely electro-mechanical in nature and prone to mechanical failure (e.g. broken echo unit loop tape or disconnected reverb unit spring)

What the classic effects have in common is that they do not do any heavy duty signal processing that require the processor to accurately detect the frequencies that comprise the input signal. These old school processors will take just about any signal thrown at them, including human voices via microphones, and do whatever it is they are designed to do.

The Classic Effects and Violins

These effects, needless to say, work flawlessly with guitars with just about any kind of pickup(s). Further, I know of no situation where a violin, whether it be an acoustic violin with a pickup or an electric violin (even the cheap ones), has failed to work with any of the “classic” effect processors.

Unfortunately, these effects that DO work with most violins are NOT, with some notable exceptions (e.g. Eileen Ivers' artful use of distortion and a wah-wah peddle), of much interest to violinists and fiddlers. Really, does a violinist really need a "sustain" effect or a desire for distortion.

The Problematic Effects

The Problematic Effects are those that many violinists desire. We call them the “Cool Effects”. They are also the ones that DO NOT work with most violins. Included in this group of effect processors are:

  • Octave converters (generate notes 1 or even 2 octaves lower than the unprocessed signal)
  • Pitch shifters
  • Harmonizers
  • Detuners (aka “anti-chorus”; by mixing a processor generated note that is slightly pitch-shifted with the original note, simulates two violins playing in unison)
  • Exotic effects, such as an effect that generates the sound of sympathetic strings (can make a violin sound like a viola d’amore or a Hardanger fiddle)

What do these “problematic” effects have in common?

All of the effects mentioned above, and ones similar to them (e.g. overtone generators; sub-harmonic generators, etc.) involve heavy-duty signal processing. It is essential that these signal processors determine, in near real time, the fundamental of each and every tone in a signal. Put another way (and anthropomorphizing a bit), the signal processor needs to “know” exactly which notes it is dealing with…and really fast (a millisecond at most).

Why these effects are a problem for violins

Violins and guitars have this in common: the tones (notes) they generate are NOT a single frequency. Rather, they generate notes that are comprised of a fundamental (the note that is perceived by a human), together with a large number of overtones, which are called “harmonics”. A fundamental and its set of associated harmonics is called a “frequency spectrum.” The human brain is really quite amazing its ability to organize the apparent chaos of a frequency spectrum, allowing a person to perceive a single note. A number of people have deficits in their ability to process and organize auditory stimuli and are, thus, very disturbed by sounds, especially music.

A simplified ideal frequency spectrum for a single violin note, as perceived by a average human, is shown below.

Harmonic_spectra_theoretical_x_y

Note that sub-harmonics (harmonics with lower frequencies than the fundamental) are not shown in the example graphs for the sake of simplicity.

Electric guitars that are set to “flat” (EQ set to neutral for all bands) and the tips of violin bridges (where the strings contact the bridge) produce well-organized frequency spectra where the fundamentals have the highest amplitude (volume), which is usually measured in decibels (dBs). 

The following idealized frequency spectrum graph illustrates this:

Spectrum tip of bridge

A frequency spectrum graph of the sound emanating from a violin top is not even close to a graph based on measurement from the bridge tip. See the illustration below, which shows (using the color red) the points at which the overtones actually have higher amplitude than the fundamental.

Spectrum difference from top and what is needed

The following illustration attempts to convey the magnitude of the difference from what is recorded from a violin top and what is measured from its bridge tip.

Spectrum bridge vs top

It is noteworthy that all of the above frequency spectrum graphs are based on actual frequency spectrum graphs for a specific Stradivarius violin. So we can safely assume that instrument quality is not an issue here.

There is no way that a signal processor whose operation depends on “knowing” the note it is dealing with to do anything useful with such a frequency spectrum emanating from the soundboard (top) of a violin. Interestingly, as mentioned earlier, the human brain’s auditory processing system has no trouble reorganizing the apparent chaos captured in the above illustration into a sound that makes sense. In other words, what a human hears is closer to energy recorded from the violin bridge tip.

The next illustration shows the difference from a violin soundboard (top) frequency spectrum and what is ideal for a signal processor. The heavy blue line indicates the ideal.

Spectrum difference from top and what is needed 2

So, Where Are We?

We know that, for any given note played, measurement of where violin strings contact the bridge yields a very different frequency spectrum graph than a graph based on the sound emanating from the instrument body, particularly its top. It is only the former (i.e. strings touching the bridge) that produces energy that can reliably and consistently be interpreted by certain signal processing devices (i.e. the cool but problematic ones).

All of what has been said appears to explain why effect signal processors work fine with electric guitars, but only with a minority of violins. With electric guitars, generating a signal is all about changes in electro-magnetic energy in response to string vibration. It is the vibrating strings interacting with powerful electro-magnetic pickups that produces the signal. This signal is at least predictable enough for effect processors to do their jobs.

This brings us to violin pickups.

A Brief Survey of Attempts to Make Violin Pickups

Buidling a Better Violin Pickup

Over at least the past 50 years, there have been countless attempts to invent violin pickups that actually work. Generally, there has been no major difference between pickups used on full-on electric violins and so-called acoustic-electric violins.

Curiously, while there have been attempts, magnetic violin pickups similar to those used on electric guitars have never caught on in any significant way.

Most magnetic pickups for violins, since the beginning and today, don’t sound very good (by any definition of the word), at least not without the help of industrial strength equalizer/preamps and other signal processing equipment. Even then, some still sound thin and tinny.

In any case, every attempt that I know of to bring a magnetic violin pickup to market has ended up being mostly rejected by players. An even larger impediment to adoption than sound quality is the fact that magnetic pickups require strings with ferrous (e.g. steel) core and windings. Only a minority of violin strings are made primarily of ferrous materials. Violin strings have cores either of some type of polymer fiber or a non-ferrous (i.e. NOT MAGNETIC) alloy. The windings are more likely to be aluminum, titanium or silver than steel.

Overwhelmingly, pickup designs have, over the years, involved piezoelectric elements that are...

  • Stuck to the bridge
  • Wedged in the bridge wings
  • Stuck to the violin body
  • Situated between the violin’s bridge and top plate
    • Cheap violin under bridge pickup (worthless)
    • High-quality under-the-bridge pickup (sounds pretty good)
  • Embedded into the bridge
    • Single transducer epoxied into a hole drilled or routed into a regular bridge (probably the most popular type used on acoustic violins)
    • Multi-transducer a la Barbera Transducer Systems
  • Other strange methods
    • What looks like a tire inner tube wrapped around the instrument mid-section
    • Small mic on a gooseneck attached to the tailpiece ... mic aimed at violin top, the bridge or, in some cases, at a sound hole.

Images for some of the pickups listed above (click on any of the thumbnails for larger views.)

Schatten stuck to bridge Kremona wedge Stuck to body Under bridge RealViolin Baggs embedded in bridge Barbpicl Band pickup Little mic

The only pickups that work with the cool problematic effects with at least fairly consistent reliability are those with piezo transducers embedded in a wooden bridge. The most familiar names associated with these bridge pickups are L. Baggs, Fishman, Schatten and Barbera. Other less familiar names (but great pickups) are Aceto-Violect (Ithaca Strings) and Bradivarius (Brad Higgens).

The only pickups that we know will work reliably and consistently with any effect signal processor we have encountered virtually 100% of the BTS Twin Hybrid pickupstime are those by Barbera Transducer Systems or a custom pickup that is based on the same theory of operation. In fact, we have installed the Barbera pickups on a number of instruments, including experimental violins designed specifically for driving effect signal processors. The pickups have worked flawlessly with octave, harmonizer, detuner, overtone generator and sub-harmonic generator effects (all commonly deemed to be impossible for violins!). We have been able to simulate a contra-bass with a Barbera augmented violin by taking it 2 octaves down and driving a 400 watt bass amp outputting to massive sub-woofer system. This worked without a glitch in an instrument design competition live performance.

Most of the other bridge pickups above will work very well; albeit, not with the near-100% reliability of a Barbera pickup, with the most sophisticated effect signal processors. Pickups that contact the tops of instruments in any way (notably, the otherwise very good pickups by  by Realist) are not generally suitable for live performance when advanced effect processors are involved. It is only the pickups with transducers embedded in a bridge that have a fighting chance in an amplified live performance situations with the cool problematic effect processors.

Why the Barbera Pickups DO Work Well with Signal Processors

Barbera pickups are based on a theory of operation that is the opposite of the approach taken by some other pickup manufacturers. According to Barbera, placing a single large transducer between the bridge and the top plate (the approach used for the Realist pickups) results in what is called a surface sensitization effect; whereby the resonant surfaces of the instrument become microphonically active (i.e. the top of the violin becomes a microphone, in effect). This results in an unfocused signal, as there is very little selectivity in the way that the vibrational information is collected. This means that everything gets amplified, and the very reason why Realist and similar pickups are so highly-regarded for their "realistic" acoustic violin timbre when amplified--sounds like an acoustic violin, only louder!

BTS Solid pickupsBarbera, instead of putting a single transducer under the bridge, embeds 2 or 4 (depending on the model) piezo elements PER STRING near the part where the string contacts the bridge. For a 5-string, that is 10 or 20 transducer elements. As one would imagine, the signal from a Barbera pickup is quite focused, and it is. The output signal contains unambiguous fundamental frequencies (higher amplitudes than the overtones). This is exactly what many effects that simply do not work with most amplified violins require, especially octave changing and harmonizer effects. These "impossible" effects work flawlessly with a violin using a Barbera pickup.

  • Paradoxically, while producing very strong and clear fundamental frequencies for effects boxes, the Barbera pickups do, in fact, interact substantially with the vibrating top of the instrument to produce rich harmonics. It sounds very focused and "clean" to the ear when amplified. It is up to debate whether amplified sound is quite “natural”. It is definitely not exactly the same timbre as the unamplified sound of the same violin when played acoustically.
  • With the right combination of effects boxes, equalizers, amplifiers and signal routing switches, a violinist or fiddler can realistically reproduce a very natural amplified sound of a cello, double bass or even contra-bass (the lowest instrument in the bowed string family). The musician can also do things like add sympathetic string chordal accompaniment in any of the octaves.

Conclusions

The Right Pickup for an Acoustic Violin Depends on What the Player Will Be Demanding From It.

The most important considerations are the following:

  • Live performance, recording session or something else?
  • Size of venue: Are you going to be playing in a pub, a large auditorium or an arena?
  • How loud? - Will you playing a sound-reinforced version of what is essentially an acoustic performance, or high-energy and high-volume (really loud!) performance, such as Celtic Punk (e.g. Flogging Molly, Drop Kick Murphies) or something in between?
  • Desire for a very rich and "natural" acoustic violin sound without requiring too much sound engineer magic - Be aware that you cannot always get what you want. If you are playing a high-volume performance in an arena, forget about a natural acoustic sound without use of special effects for simulating such.

Rating every pickup on every dimension is way beyond the scope of this article; however, I will offer some general opinions to guide you. If you wish to discuss your particular needs, that is what we are for at D. Rickert Musical Instruments. The email address is don@donrickertdesign.com and the phone number is 404-828-0136.

Opinion 1: This is actually a rule. If you use ANY kind of piezo pickup, you MUST use a preamp designed for adjusting the signal impedance. Impedance is an extremely complex topic and my goal here not to bore you into a catatonic stupor, I will try to simplify. Impedance is essentially the degree to which an electrical signal is obstructed (i.e. impeded), so high impedance is not good. Impedance is usually expressed in Ohms. In general, paradoxically, the more powerful a pickup is, the higher its impedance. Piezo transducer pickup output impedance is always quite high. 

The output impedance of a violin pickup can be up to 1 MOhm (that is 1,000,000 Ohms); whereas the typical amplifier works most effectively with something less than 4 KOhms (4000 Ohms) and a sound board (via DI box) NEEDS a signal of 4 KOhms at most. With an amplifier, NOT using a preamp will sound thin and lifeless. If plugging into a DI (i.e a "direct box"), it just will not work without an impedance-matching preamp. The good news is that impedance matching pre-amplifiers do not cost very much. You can get a really good mini preamp that clips onto your belt for $100 or less.

Opinion 2: If you are playing in a recording session and you do not require any of the cool effects discussed earlier, you are probably better off with using one or more high-end microphones used in recording studios and relying on recording engineer mojo.

Opinion 3: If you are going for a really natural violin/fiddle sound, and you are playing a sound-reinforced acoustic performance without effect processing in a small (e.g. pub, square or contra dance, wedding reception) to medium-sized (e.g. a 500 to 1000 sear auditorium), the Realist pickup, or better still, a Realist Pro Amplified Acoustic Violin is usually an ideal choice.

Opinion 4: If you play in any type of "plugged-in" band, the volume will most likely be high enough that feedback will be issue, any of the bridge pickups with embedded transducers mentioned earlier will work well. Further, with these pickups, some cool effect processing, such as as an octave converter, is possible.

Opinion 5: Regardless of the size of venue or the volume at which you will be playing, if you intend to make substantial use of the cool but problematic effects, you will need a Barbera pickup (or a full-on electric violin) in order to ensure reliable and consistent performance.

Opinion 6: If you have an acoustic violin with a Barbera pickup installed, you will want to designate it as a dedicated amplified performance instrument. Due to the mass of a Barbera pickup (about twice that of a normal bridge), the instrument will not sound as good when played acoustically.

Return to the Widespread Misinformed Beliefs Listed at the Beginning of This Article

Most effect processors do not work with violins.

Most effect processors DO work with properly equipped violins. Of the widely recognized top tier electric violins (Wood Violins, Jordan, Jensen, Vector, EVL Violins, Stratton, NS Design, Bridge, Yamaha and Fuse), the majority of these work perfectly with most effect signal processors. The best electric violins all use pickups that capture energy mostly from their bridge tips. It is not coincidental, that many of the top electric violins utilize Barbera pickups.

See the photo album on our Facebook page entitled Some of the Best Electric Violins.

Further, the several dozen acoustic violins and fiddles on which we have installed Barbera pickups, all have worked perfectly with any effect signal processor tried. All of the aforementioned pickups consisting of a bridge with embedded piezo transducer elements work well, as long as the overall volume in the room is not too high. What is too high is a bit of an unknown here; however, I can tell you with certainty that if feedback from the violin is a problem, there will also be problems with driving your effects.This gets us back to the Barbera pickups, which are the most feedback-resistant pickups made.

A bowed note is different from a plucked note and, therefore, somehow does not “track” with many effect processors.

Whether a note is bowed, or generated with a pick, has NOTHING to do with ability to function with effect signal processors. It is all about generating a signal comprised of frequency spectra with a dominant fundamentals (i.e. higher amplitude than the overtones).

All guitars, regardless of their pickups, do work with most effect processors.

We did not really cover this one. The fact is that all guitars do not work well with signal processors. There are older guitars with lousy pickups that fail to generate a signal compatible with effect processors. Further, most new “value priced” acoustic-electric guitars use under-saddle piezo transducers. These do not work any better with effect processors than under-bridge piezo transducers on violins.



Pickups for Acoustic Bowed String Instruments at Don Rickert Musician Shop

Introduction

D. Rickert Musical Instruments now sells high-end pickups for all of our acoustic bowed instruments. While we have been installing pickups on an ad hoc basic for years, we now offer specific carefully selected pickups for bowed strings.

Schatten non-terminated Ithica Aceto - Violect pickup-redesigned-orig small 4_5_twin hybrid_bridges (2)

See the product listings for all of the pickups we currently sell and install at Don Rickert Musician Shop in the Pickups for Bowed Strings category.

Email us if you have any questions (don@donrickertdesign.com).

For a more in-depth discussion on this hot topic...

See: D. Rickert Musical Instruments now sells pickups for all of our acoustic bowed instruments.

True Electric Violins Are Generally Best for Live Performance

It is our firm belief that if you primary use of a violin, viola, octave violin or octave viola is live performance, it is best to use a true electric violin in conjunction with the right preamp, EQ, signal processors and amplification to achieve your desired sound, including lower octaves as low as the contra-bass range.

If An Acoustic Violin Is An Important Aspect of Your Image . . .

If the look of an acoustic instrument is an important part of your image, we have some pickups that will work well for you. In fact, a special type of pickup (those made by Barbera Transducer Systems) can be used to make an acoustic instrument, in effect, a proper electric violin.

For those seeking an instrument with the look of a fine old violin, but the performance of a full-on electric violin, there is an even better choice. You will want to check out soon-to-be-announced new series of instruments by D. Rickert Musical Instruments that can best be described as electric violins masquerading as fine old acoustic violins.

We Have Much Experience with Every Aspect of Pickups for Bowed Strings

We know much about installing the RIGHT pickup on any of the bowed string instruments we have designed and now produce. Our experience includes our one-of-a-kind octave violins and violas. Further, we have installed many pickups on our customers’ own instruments. Our expertise in this area comes from years of installing every conceivable type of pickup on bowed string instruments, supplemented by extensive immersion on the technical literature on this and related topics.

Not All Pickups Do the Job!

The ONLY type of pickup we can recommend, for regular violins, as well as octave instruments, is a complete bridge with one or more embedded transducer elements. This rules out all contact microphones, tiny (and insanely expensive) condenser microphones aimed at the bridge, under-the-bridge transducers, transducers that are stuck or clipped to the bridge or the instrument body, those that are wedged into the bridge wings, magnetic pickups and exotic pickups of various sorts. This eliminates from consideration a whole lot of pickups on the market, some which are quite expensive. Ignoring our position on this matter could result in heartache and wasted money.

For an in-depth discussion on this topic, see:

Your Amplified Violin Not Working with Effects Processor?: The Problem is With Your Pickup!



Are you ready to upgrade from a mass-produced entry-level travel violin to a great hand-made travel violin?

Trade in your Wiplstix or Cricket travel fiddle for a really nice rebate on a fine hand-made instrument. Trade-in credit up to $350!  Ranger Model C by Don Rickert Side Perspective

Effective immediately and running for an indefinite period, the Don Rickert Musician Shop will let you trade in your Wiplstix or Cricket travel fiddle for a really nice rebate on one of our hand-made travel violins.

A summery appears below. For more details, see:

Trade in your Wiplstix or Cricket Travel Fiddle for a Rebate on a Luthier-Built Instrument by D. Rickert

How Does the Trade-In Rebate Program Work?

The Trade-In Program is very simple. You simple order one of our travel/backpacker violins from the Don Rickert Musician Shop (www.donrickertmusicianshop.com). You will find full descriptions and photos under the Travel and Backpacker Fiddles category.

As part of the online purchase process, indicate that you will be trading in either a WiplStix or a Cricket towards the purchase. You will automatically be charged the reduced price. The rebate amounts are—

$350 rebate for the following instruments:

  • Custom Deep Body Travel Violin - Viola II
  • Ranger C Travel Violin

$175 rebate for the following instruments:

  • Frequent Flyer II Travel Violin
  • Mountaineer V Backpacker Fiddle
  • Mountaineer VI M2 Travel Violin

Where do you send your WiplStix or Cricket?

D. Rickert Musical Instruments

726 Hall Creek Road

Hiawassee, GA 30546

Phone: (706) 896-0909 direct

Email: don@donrickertdesign.com

When should you send your WiplStix or Cricket to us?

All of our instruments have an estimated time for completion listed in their product descriptions. You should send the instrument and case (if you have one) before the estimated ship date of your new instrument.

Is this on the honor system?

Well, not exactly. We will not ship your new instrument until we get the trade-in instrument.

What shipping method should you use?

You can use FedEx, UPS or the U.S. Postal Service. It is up to you whether or not you wish to purchase insurance. You should get a tracking number, as the instrument is your property until we actually receive it.

Is there anything else?

Yes, the instrument you send us must be in playable condition and be free of cracks.



The New Melodic Guitar Quartet Instruments at the Don Rickert Musician Shop

The initial offerings of the new Melodic Guitar Quartet instruments by D. Rickert Musical Instruments are now available at the Don Rickert Musician Shop

What is the Melodic Guitar Quartet?

The “Melodic Guitar Quartet” is a 4-member family of instruments, graduated in sizes, as follow: Treble, Alto, Tenor and Baritone, proposed by Dr. Don Rickert. These instruments are metal strung, tuned in 5ths and are intended to be played with a plectrum (pick).

These truly exciting new instruments can be seen at the Don Rickert Musician Shop

The “Family Members”

Treble: 4-string instrument about the size of a concert ukulele, with a 14.5” scale, and tuned G3-D4-A4-E5 (like a violin)

Alto: 5-string instrument about the size of a tenor ukulele, with a 17” scale, and tuned C3-G3-D4-A4-E5 (like a 5-string violin or a conventional tenor guitar with an added E-string at the treble side

Tenor: 4-string instrument the size of a tenor guitar, with a 21”-23” scale, and tuned G2-D3-A3-E4 (like an octave mandolin)

Baritone: 5-string instrument the size of a 6-string guitar, with a 25.5” scale, and tuned C2-G2-D3-A3-E4 (like a violocello da spalla or a cello with an added E-string at the treble side



The Summer is Almost Over: It is Now Okay to Buy Musical Instruments

If you are involved in a small business that makes and sells any kind of "luxury" goods, such as unique DR holding fiddles at HJcustom musical instruments, you know that business is REALLY S-L-O-W during the summer months. It is as if "the Market" has a rule: "Do not buy things from small businesses, especially if they sell luxury goods!"

Businesses like ours, who are in our 10th year, learn to plan for this. We, in fact, use the summer months for R&D, designing exciting new products introduction during the 4th quarter (i.e. the Fall season).

The summer is almost over. Feel free to break lose from the crowd that we call "the Market" and support American small businesses. We would be pleased if you include us. We would love do business with you.

Visit us at the Don Rickert Musician Shop. You will find some really exciting violins, baritone violins, travel violins, 5-string violins, octave violas, fiddles and other musical instruments to spark your dreams.

D. Rickert Musical Instruments