. . . Hand Made to Order . . .
I make all instruments of the New Violin Family (including basses) as well as conventional violins, violas, and cello (but not conventional contrabasses).
In the photo (right) is a tenor violin I made in 2007. It is on classical Cremonese proportions worked out for an intrument of this size. To the left of the instrument is my first tenor violin, and behind the tenors is a partially obscured baritone.
Please refer to the conventional violins page for ordering information related to commissioned instruments. Information on ordering New Family instruments is in the next column, right.
New Family sopranos are remarkable instruments with many desirable characteristics. The typical soprano receives anywhere from 5 to 15 hours of additional work. It is set up with a well-fitted and tonally adjusted soundpost and quality bridge. The fingerboard is dressed and receives a hand-rubbed oil finish. The fingerboard edges will be beveled and the nut smoothed and rounded so there are no sharp edges. The instrument is fitted either with a good-quality wooden tailpiece, and PegHeds tuning pegs.
The quality of wood in these sopranos has so far been quite nice, as you can see from the accompanying photos. We receive these instruments in the white and varnish them by hand in our workshop.
While the soprano violin is just slightly smaller than a 3/4 violin, it’s not a child’s violin. The pegbox, neck, string spacing at the nut and bridge are set up for adult hands. The soprano, which is tuned C-G-D-A 880 Hz (low to high) provides an amazing experience for violinists constrained to play the extremely high parts often called for in modern music.
I’m very pleased to offer low-cost Chinese-made mezzo violins made to my design and specification. They have a body length of 368 mm and a vibrating string length of 338 mm (a standard violin is 328).
The typical instrument receives anywhere from 5 to 15 hours worth of additional work.We receive the mezzo violins in the white and varnish them in our workshop. Our mezzos are set up with a well-fitted and tonally adjusted soundpost and either an Aubert a Mirecourt or Despiau bridge. The fingerboard is dressed and receives a hand-rubbed oil finish. The fingerboard edges will be beveled and the nut smoothed and rounded so there are no sharp edges. The instrument is fitted either with a good-quality wooden tailpiece. Our standard setup includes the excellent PegHeds tuner with invisible gears.
Perhaps Your Next Violin Should Be A Mezzo?
For the section player in a large ensemble, the rich tone of a mezzo enhances the normally bright sound of conventional violins in the highest positions as well as the lowest. The greater power of the mezzo is well-balanced and available throughout its range. If you are a chamber player on second violin, the tonal difference means that you will not have to work as hard to be heard.
Their slightly longer string length takes very little getting used to. In fact, because the proportions are correct many players say they don’t even notice unless someone points it out to them. Although the mezzo won’t fit into most standard violin cases, It will fit nicely into a case for a small viola, and there are many good models to chose from.
. . . I am happy with the mezzo (the first one that I have ever seen and touched). [It] is easier to play than my old violin, but as you stated in the material about the Chinese mezzos, one finds himself playing better on one of these instruments. I asked our best violinist/violist to play the mezzo when the church was empty. She commented on the evenness of sound over all strings. I am pleased with the full and room filling sound. Trade fiddles now sound thin and disappointing.
. . . A.B.L., Dike, Texas
Imported octet violins listed on this page are made on my models and built to my specifications. The typical alto receives anywhere from 5 to 25 hours of additional work. It is set up with a well-fitted and tonally adjusted soundpost. The fingerboard is dressed and receives a hand-rubbed oil finish. The fingerboard edges are beveled and the nut smoothed and rounded so there are no sharp edges to damage the strings. The instrument will be fitted with a good-quality wooden tailpiece. PegHeds tuning pegs are standard on our altos and eliminate the need for bulky and rattle-prone fine tuners for each string.
Bridges for the alto were designed geometrically on the Golden Section by Robert J. Spear and are hand-cut for each instrument from a blank of aged wood. The bridge in the photo was done for us by colleague Dylan Race.
Singing Woods carries a full line of fittings for the alto violin, as well as cases and strings from SuperSensitive and Pirastro.
There are many reasons to consider an alto violin. The greater power of the alto comes in the range where it is most lacking in standard violas, which is on the C-string. If you are a chamber player in small groups of any size, you need worry no more about the alto voice getting covered, and since you will have less work to do pulling out a big tone, you can focus more on style and nuance in your playing. And, yes, it can be played softly, too.
I took the alto to our [cello choir] rehearsal yesterday and did demo[it] for the group. They all really like it. After hearing it, they are all convinced it will be a great addition to the [group] . . . It actually sounded quite good in the larger music room. The cello teacher with whom I’ve recently worked was playing the alto yesterday, and the tone was lovely.
J.G., San Diego, California
Pleased to report that the Alto has arrived safely, and even with the improvised bridge setup that the cello teacher did last night, sounds fantastic. I was amazed at the response and sheer volume from the instrument. Also very pleased with the case. Anyway, hard at work now to come up to standard to rejoin my adult learners string group, and bolster their viola section – the violas (all 2 of them) aren’t going to know what hit them :>
A.S., Christchurch, New Zealand
The new family tenors are remarkable instruments with many desirable characteristics.
Imported octet violins are made on my models and built to my specifications. The typical tenor receives anywhere from 15 to 40 hours of additional work. It is set up with a well-fitted and tonally adjusted soundpost and quality bridge. The fingerboard is dressed and receives a hand-rubbed oil finish. The fingerboard edges will be beveled and the nut smoothed and rounded so there are no sharp edges. The instrument is fitted either with a good-quality wooden tailpiece. Our standard shop setup includes PegHeds tuning pegs, which are extremely stable and long lasting, and which eliminate the need four bulky fine-tuners on each string.
What Can the Tenor Violin Do?
For the cellist, playing a tenor opens up many interesting opportunities. Certain pieces by Bach, for example, that are awkward to play on the cello lie easily on the tenor (6th cello suite and anything written originally for Gamba, for example). Because the tenor is an octave violin, it can be used for almost anything written for the violin while retaining all the playing techniques, such as thumb position, that are familiar to cellists. For players who enjoy the larger chamber groups, the tenor fits in easily and effectively. In pieces calling for two violas, the tenor adds a dimension of warmth and fullness when used to play the second viola part. In pieces where the composer has indicated two cellos, the tenor easily and naturally takes the higher cello part where it imparts a free and open-sounding quality that cannot be obtained by playing the cello in its extended range.
Are you playing in a string band or old-tyme fiddle group? The tenor will add a voice and a sound quality that cannot be duplicated by putting trick strings on a violin or using a pickup and running the output through a signal processor. If yours is an acoustic band, you’ll find that the tenor has plenty of power and won’t get buried in the mix.
I love playing this instrument!
M. S., Syracuse, NY
This is my instrument. It just fits me perfectly. I have a small hand, and I have to constantly stretch it whenever I play my cello. With the tenor, I can use my natural spacing. The notes fall right under my fingers.
L. K., Ithaca, NY
. . . The Baritone Refined . . .
My latest baritone violins have been shortened to approximately 800 mm (31.5 inches) body length and the string length has been adjusted to under 700 mm (27.5 inches). The resulting instruments have a powerful C string, a rich, dark A string, and they are not fatiguing to play. The string proportion is altered to that of a violin, which brings the player’s left hand to the body in a slightly different place, but most players adjust to this within minutes. These classically proportioned baritones blend in well with conventional chamber ensembles and orchestral cello sections.
With the body of the instrument closer to the player’s body, the player’s left hand need not encounter the ribs at all in higher position, allowing for fast and fluid shifting between thumb position and lower positions. The resulting body posture is also more natural, which reduces the need to push the left elbow forward and upward when playing in thumb position.
Perhaps Your Next Cello Should Be A Baritone.
The baritone provides a clarity, focus, and reserve of power not found in conventional cellos, yet it fits with surprising ease into all chamber groups and larger ensembles. The cello-like string length allows the cellist to adapt to the new instrument in minutes, and permits the player the choice of all commercially available strings. The top string is not harsh or edgy, and the low string’s clarity and punch helps give better definition to the cello line in large ensembles. It provides a more substantial low end than a cello in ensembles in which it is the lowest instrument.
Bassettino (1/8 Chamber Bass)
With a body length of only 940 mm (37 inches) and a short-scale vibrating string length of just 812 mm (32 inches), this little bass harkens back to the German “half-basses” of the 19th century with the added benefits of modern acoustics and free-plate tuning. It is tuned in fifths (G-D-A-E) two octaves below the violin and a fourth below the cello, and above first position the string length is very cello-like, allowing fast and flexible fingerings for the chamber musician or jazz player. The pizzicato is quick and punchy, and the bowed upper strings blend seamlessly with conventional cellos or New Family baritones. We’re finding that most bassists prefer to play seated in a chair with the instrument held like a cello. The small size makes the bassetto easy to transport, and the low G string provides a surprisingly firm bass in ensembles in which it is the lowest instrument.The neck width and string spacing are sized for the adult hand, so it is amazingly easy to play.
This bass is available on special order. Deposit required. Wait time estimated at six months. The photo is of a handmade prototype: the imported models will look similar.
The photos of the molds and templates below will give you an idea of the relative size of the basses to each other. Left, 940 Bassetto; center, 1130 standard 3/4 orchestral bass (Unger model); right, 1230 G sub-contra. Note the greatly rounded shoulders to facilitate playing of these violin-influenced basses.
Bassetto (not shown above)
This instrument is for those who want something slightly larger with more emphasis on the low end, or for those who prefer a bass on the length of the original Hutchins model (1040 mm). The string length is about 963 mm (38 inches) for a familiar feel. It is normally tuned in fourths (low A-D-G-C) a minor third below the cello, which proves to be a useful tuning, but many players sipmply tune it in standard orchestral fourths. It is also possible to tune this bass in fifths with G as the lowest note, and other players have reported excellent results when the instrument is tuned in fifths with a low C string!
This bass is available on special order only.. Deposit required. Wait time estimated at one year.
3/4-Size Contrabass in 4 or 5-string models
Paul Unger, assistant principal bass of the Fort Worth Symphony, approached me with a request for an instrument that could be tuned in fifths, had a substantial low C for orchestral work, and could be fitted with an additional string tuned to high E for chamber playing. He asked for a shorter string length to ease fifths playing in lower position toencourage others to use fifths tuning. In short, a paradigm shift– the creation of a good, all-round standard bass with extended range for the 21st-century player.
The concept was so intriguing that I decided to offer the bass in Unger’s five-string version and a four-string version for those who prefer a narrower neck. The body length is 1130 mm (44.5 inches), which is the same as a standard-size 3/4 orchestral contrabass. Like all the other basses on this page, it is a violin-shaped bass with the low rib heights typical of New Family instruments. The five-string model has slightly taller ribs to allow for a head block that can support the extra tension of the fifth string.
This bass is available on special order only. Deposit required. Wait time estimated at 16 months.
“Bob, I’ve had one of the best mornings of my life. I just spent the last hour SIGHT READING the first Bach Cello Suite! I’ve been waiting 25 years to be able to do that on the bass. What an amazing difference it makes to have a high “e” string that sounds GOOD and balanced with the rest of the bass. With this bass I could read the suite in the lower positions where it was meant to be played. I could also perform all of the chords and open strings that Bach intended – the bass was ringing all over the place!
My wife tells me this bass is the most powerful one I’ve ever practiced with in the house. She said there wasn’t a spot she could go to get away from its sound. I can’t wait to hear what it does in a concert hall.” –Paul Unger
“Thirty-eight inch string length sure makes a lot of stuff easier.”
“Unbelievable range, and incredibly easy to play.”
“The violin-shaped shoulders do not get in the way. Getting over the bass is not a problem.”
5/4 G Sub-Contrabass
This is the heavyweight of our bass line: a bass one not only hears with their ears, but feels in one’s feet! At 1230 mm (48.5 inches) body length it possesses substantial radiating area and enormous power in the nether regions. Yet the string length is kept to a comfortable 1054 mm (41.5 inches) so that fifths tuning is possible and playing conventionally in fourths is no different than playing on a 3/4-size bass. For added flexibility, this bass can be tuned in a number of ways. In conventional fourths tuning, the low E speaks with unrivalled authority, yet it is not boomy. In low fourths tuning (low B-E-A-D), the lowest notes are substantial.
The sub-contra sounds two ocatves lower than written. When fifths tuning is employed, the lowest note is G three octaves below the violin’s low G. The sound must be heard to be appreciated. While not quite Vuillaume’s Octobasse, it doesn’t require two people to play it. The low G at approximately 24.5 Hz is off the piano keyboard and down as far as most people can hear. A truly visceral bass for folks who never heard a note they thought was too low!
This bass is available on special order only. Deposit required. Wait time estimated at a whole lot of months.