The Stradivarielzebub: making an electric fiddle

On October 7, 2018, I was looking at electric fiddles, as is my habit from time to time. If you’ve never seen an electric violin before, you should check them out. They’re often shaped differently from acoustic violins and they are strange and wonderful. My favourite ones are the ones that look like skeletons of a violin. On a whim, it occurred to me that an electric fiddle that was gold-coloured would be a fun Devil Went Down to Georgia reference. So I started looking around and I couldn’t find one. Maybe I’m bad at online shopping, but as far as I could tell, they were just not for sale.

My current fiddle teacher has an electric fiddle that’s made of plexiglass, so it’s see-through, with multi-colour LED’s, and I suppose, partly inspired by that and by the lack of gold fiddles, I started looking into how hard it would be to make one myself. It turns out, it is very difficult to make a violin of any kind, however it is much less difficult to make an electric violin than it is to make an acoustic one.

Planning

I started by drawing out some concept sketches for the fiddle. If I was going to make the fiddle of the Devil himself, it would need some artistic flourishes along those lines.

Then I took some measurements from my acoustic fiddle, did some research, made a few assumptions, and drew a more specific plan.

Making rough cuts

My boyfriend and I went to the hardware store, picked out the wood and went to his father’s garage, to borrow his tools. I did the measuring and the drawing. My boyfriend operated the machines. His brother cut a small piece of metal for us to use to brace the strings at the back of the scroll.

It makes me really happy that this is a project I got to do together with my boyfriend and his family.

We had a couple false starts, but we’re starting to get the hang of it now!

Sanding

Sanding is one of those things that’s terrible to have to do, but very satisfying to take before and after pictures of.

Staining and gluing the fingerboard on

Burning “Homo fuge” on the back

In Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus, after he cuts his arm to get the blood to sign the contract with Mephistopheles, his arm is miraculously healed, and as a warning from heaven, the words “Homo fuge”—”fly, o man” in Latin—appear there, as a warning for him to get out of that situation. So it seemed appropriate to burn that into the back of the neck of the Stradivarielzebub.

Gluing the pieces together

Applying varnish and tuning pegs

The (almost) final product

On October 7, 2019, we actually strung the fiddle and plugged it in to an amp for the first time.

But does it play?

What’s next?

So there’s a couple things that are left. I want to gild the tail and scroll with gold leaf, so that it can properly be referred to as a “shiny fiddle made of gold” as per The Devil Went Down to Georgia, and there’s a couple small adjustments that I’d like to make so that it’s a bit more playable. Even today, a day later, I’ve taken the strings off again to fix it up, and there’s a few things I want to do to make it better.

And I’ve already got a sketch for what to do for the next violin!

Update: 2019-10-11 (gold leaf; minor adjustments)

I took the fiddle apart for a couple days, made the adjustments I meant to, and put gold leaf on the Devil’s horns and tail. The Devil as they say, is in the details.

Putting gold leaf on something is terrible to do. It’s like working with tin foil, but a tin foil that’s so thin, if you breathe on it too hard, it’ll rip.

And here’s the final result!

Published by

The Grey Literature

This is the personal blog of Benjamin Gregory Carlisle PhD. Queer; Academic; Queer academic. "I'm the research fairy, here to make your academic problems disappear!"

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.