Abney Park's vacuum-tube violin mod

At last weekend's awesome MAKEr Faire — where everything was steampunk, apparently! — steampunk / goth band Abney Park debuted this fantastic violin mod on stage for the first time. Modified with vacuum tubes and blinking LEDs, the violin was designed by Molly "Porkshanks" Friedrich, and the vacuum tubes pulse with color as the strings vibrate. But I'm going to re-echo Slashgear's question on the sound quality: don't violins require a certain form for optimal tonality? Abney Park Violin [MAKE]
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11 Responses to Abney Park's vacuum-tube violin mod

  1. pork musket says:

    @6 – My guess is that it has a C string like a viola, rather than a B string (‘mystery string’) above the E. I’ve seen hybrid violin/violas, but I’ve never seen a violin with an extra B up top. There’s really no reason you need to extend the range of a violin any higher :D

  2. lectroid says:

    If this (very cool looking) beast is part of a steampunk/goth band, I worrying over subtle resonance qualities of the form, even if it IS a completely accoustic instrument are rather beside the point.

    But then, I’m no audiofile. I listen to ripped mp3s of 80’s issue cd’s of 70’s recorded music on the earbuds that came with my ipod, so I what the hell do I know?

  3. Abby says:

    I’ve been drooling over an electric guitar for ages. Most are pretty funky-looking anyway, this just jazzes it up a bit, pardon the pun.
    @6, 10 – I agree. The extra string has to be a C if it’s still a violin (still in fourths). I may be making the mistake of assuming the maker is also a violinist, but any violinist knows how to squeeze extra high notes out of their violin and occasionally wishes they could squeeze lower notes out without playing the delicate “retuning” game.

  4. Anonymous says:

    The violin in question is probably a Yamaha EV205. The mod is basically filling in the holes to add AWESOME.

  5. shutz says:

    If it’s an electric violin, then the shape is not really as crucial (except for ergonomics considerations).

    Electric violins come in many different shapes, some of which have virtually no body, just a long neck with a bridge (is that the right term for a violin? I’m only good with guitar terminology…) and some form of pickup.

    The shape does color the sound, however, in the same way that a guitar’s shape and solid- or hollow-ness will color its sound (compare the sound of a hollow Gretsch to a solid-body Strat or Les Paul, and you’ll hear the difference.)

    Looking at the pictures, it’s unclear whether the violin in question is designed to be played “unplugged” or electrified, since there’s electronics everywhere, but I can’t see a pickup or microphone where I would expect to see one.

  6. technogeek says:

    The simple answer is that yes, acoustic violins get a large part of their sound not just from their shape, but from the precise details of the resonance modes of the wood.

    However, once you go electric you’re generally bypassing all of that. As with an electric guitar, which can be a hunk of fiberglass with no resonance and all, an electric fiddle may be nothing much more than strings, a bridge, a neck and a chin rest. There are skeleton versions for those who want to minimize weight or just think they look cool — the violin equivalent of a “stick” guitar.

    In fact, if you’re going to be processing the sound, you may not actually want much physical resonance; it may be easier to just start with a simple bowed string (approximately a sawtooth wave, iirc) and let the circuits fill it out.

    And in some cases such beasts are actually MIDI controllers — not even electro-acoustic, never mind acoustic.

    So: Yeah, this probably compromises the instrument’s function as a traditional violin. But it may not be being used as a traditional violin, so that may not matter.

    No, I haven’t yet started construction on my own MIDI instrument. I’m still hung up on wanting to use a strain gauge for one of the inputs, and not having time to track down a reasonably-priced source for hobbyist quantities and advice on how to mount it to achieve my goal of an Infinitely Efficient Bellows.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Tonality is related to the key signature of a song or piece of music. I think you meant to say “timbre” or “tonal quality.”

  8. pork musket says:

    Any band that plays through a PA will clip a piezo pickup to a stringed instrument. They have to in order to be heard. These pickups are placed on the bridge, so the acoustic qualities of the violin matter very little.

  9. Jake von Slatt says:

    I saw this in person on Saturday shortly before I introduced the band on the main stage at Maker Faire – it is in fact an electric violin and it’s been modded in a way that’s completely reversible – all of the sections are modular and fit into the body like some amazing puzzle. The cloth insulated cable is all vintage and it looks just like the innards of all of the 50+ year old test equipment I’ve poked into. Molly did an amazing job putting this together, and it sounded freak’n awesome Saturday night!

  10. siliconsunset says:

    I’m more interested in the fact that this violin has five strings. I wonder if they went down (viola string) or up (mystery string)

  11. strider_mt2k says:

    I love the look!
    I don’t know much about stringed instruments (I’m a singer. I don’t want to carry stuff.) but this thing looks extremely cool.

    I love retro, and this makes very good use of it visually.

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