Last night I attended an event sponsored by my little town's Adult Education Program. #It brought together 3 area
fiddlers - Claire Curtis, a classically trained luthier, "Captain Fiddle" (Ryan Thompson), who's been teaching, recording, and leading contradance bands in Northern New England for 30 years, and Doug Martin, an always-interesting free-lance genius who's already had major impacts on the designs of racing sculls and hang gliders. #Doug also builds boats and fiddles - he built his first violin when he was 12.
Now Doug's experimenting with balsa wood violins - maple neck, balsa body. #First, they sound wonderful - full, rich, and powerful. #They've been played by a number of concert violinists who have been very impressed. #And these are raw wood instruments, without finish.
They have a wildly unconventional appearance. #The bodies are asymmetrical, with more than half of each body's volume on the bass side. #The top and back of each fiddle is a single sheet of balsa arched by bending and gluing and braced with dozens of short braces glued to the OUTSIDE of the instrument.
That way experiments in the effects of certain bracing patterns can be conducted immediately by popping off or whittling down any combination of braces and immediately hearing the resulting change in sound. #Perhaps when the experimenting yields a final pattern he'll put that bracing inside.
He records and analyzes the sound, seeking to match the acoustic profiles of the great Italian violins of the mid-1600s. #He freely admits that he's stunned by the success of his experiments - he says he's just muddling along, trying things out. #Amazing.
I asked him if his construction ideas could be adapted to a fretted instrument, but he said he'd never thought about it. #His balsa fiddles are incredibly light, of course - maybe we'll have to invent a total-surround tonegard to protect the balsa mandolins. # #
Anyway, for those interested there's an article in Science Magazine (Dec. 2, '05} about the recent Violin Society of America meeting devoted to alternative violin designs and materials. #Doug's fiddles are pictured.