In the 1970s the new breed of violin as a fully electrified instrument was really beginning to spread but there was nothing like any good advice to be found for those interested. Some of the few violinists who were turning to an electric violin at this time even thought they were the first to do so, or believed they needed to invent the instrument!
On July 9, 1970, Spencer Lee Larrison in Massachusetts filed for a “Musical Instrument” patent to be manufactured by the Exinde/Xinde Corporation. The “Vi-Tar”, as it was known, is certainly a very early if not earliest example of a 5-string violin/viola crossbreed instrument. The few people who bought one also received an instruction manual which contains very useful information for the electric violinist, even for those who are just beginning to play now:
Remember… the Vi-Tar is not a violin. It is a new instrument that can be easily and quickly mastered by anyone. You must be patient during the first few minutes with the Vi-Tar. Your attention to these few instructions will be rewarded with a new and wonderful musical experience.
The Vi-Tar does most of the work – generally you will find that LESS physical effort and pressure, both with the left hand as well as the bow, are required than with an ordinary violin.
- During these first few minutes, care should be taken NOT to bear down hard with the bow, or play forcefully, until you become accustomed to the instrument.
- It will take several minutes to become accustomed to playing with 5 strings instead of 4. It is strongly recommended that you begin by playing scales slowly for a few minutes until each string can be picked out from the others.
- You will notice that LESS pressure from the fingers of the left hand is required. Excessive pressure will produce an undesirable thumping sound, which can be easily avoided by using a lighter touch…
These observations, well known to experienced electric violinists today are invaluable to note by newcomers first starting out playing bowed electric strings. Particularly interesting and important to note is instruction number 3, regarding the thumping sound. This is a common problem, as naturally moving around the instrument in ‘full-flight’ even on an acoustic will create percussive noise. However, with an amplified instrument these extraneous, (usually) unwanted elements can become terribly limiting. The problem is one for both player and maker to solve and has been noted since the earliest times of electric violins.
Here for example, the problem is highlighted with a proposed solution by Jimmy Campiglia who played Beauchamp’s Rickenbacker ‘Electro’ violins, from 1938:
“To play these instruments one must acquire a certain technique due to the sensitivity of the instrument. One cannot play with a bouncing bow… one must not fling the fingers onto the fingerboard. The bow must caress the strings… the fingers likewise because of the sensitivity of the microphone… (pick-up)”
Note in the photograph above, Campiglia’s Electro violin (strung as a viola) is seen hanging from the mic-stand “they were too heavy. I beat this by attaching mine to microphone stands. Cut hole thru scrolls and thru micr stand… Took all weight off the players neck and arm”. This instrument is now found at the Metropolitan Museum in New York (Accession Number:2016.412a, b)