Non-traditional instruments

December 14, 2006 at 06:33 PM · My mother-in-law sent me an article from the NY Times about violins being constructed out of new materials, i.e. balsa wood and graphite. Has anyone heard any of these instruments (particularly the balsa - I am somewhat familiar with graphite instruments)? What do you think about violin family instruments being made out of non-traditional materials? Can we still call them violins?

I am trying to be open-minded about this but something in me rebels against the idea.

Replies (23)

December 14, 2006 at 07:31 PM · I love violin as it is. I love acoustic piano as it is. I love to jam on keyboards because of what they can do. I see all as mutually exclusive.

The violin, in my mind, not because of what is made or anything in that sense, but because there is some effervescence related to it's many moods based on weather, rosin, strings, and me, that can't be reproduced. Though it can be probably improved through innovations towards stability, just like keyboards can, simply isn't the same.

And like acoustic pianos, each violin is a new lady--at least in my mind. Getting to know them, is part of that effervescence, and starting often slowly at first until a lot of qualities evolve, each presents it's personality. I don't see this happening in the same ways with electronics or other materials, but I'm sure it's true a little on some levels.

But, with violins, someone's hands who was living carved the thing, from a tree that was living, using their time while they were living, now in my hands while I'm living. I grow my own food too. al

December 14, 2006 at 09:15 PM · I saw a glass violin recently, i though tit might be interresting to play. Especially when playing a certain minimalist composer! (sorry bad joke!)

December 14, 2006 at 09:35 PM · I guess now these new "instruments" may be called Glassivarius, Scratchivarious, Uglyvarious, Balsawoodyvarious, Funkyvarious, Plasticvarius etc......... :)

December 14, 2006 at 10:07 PM · Carboneus Del Glasso.

December 15, 2006 at 12:02 AM · I see you all feel as I do...a friend was telling me that she saw a concert (in which wacky cellist Michael Kott, former partner of Mark O'Connor in his playing while skateboarding days, was a participant)...anyway, she saw a concert one winter where all the instruments (violin family) were made of ICE!!

She said they made sound...

December 15, 2006 at 12:47 AM · Here's a thought; I hope it's not too esoteric. I have played plastic guitars, and they sounded like they were made of plastic. I have played a foam viola, and it sounded like it was made of foam. I have played wooden instruments that sound like they were made of wood. A friend of mine reports that he played a graphite instrument, and it sounded like graphite. What is the lesson here?

December 15, 2006 at 03:24 AM · Greetings,

don@t play anything made of faeces?



December 15, 2006 at 03:49 AM · Hmmm, the lesson could be that sometimes anecdotal evidence from tiny samples can be used to support pre-existing biases. ;)


December 15, 2006 at 04:12 AM · If that's the way you chose to think, according to your own bias, yes. But that does sound a lot like the "Strads aren't that great, in spite of what thousands of biased musicians over the last 300 years think." Sometimes, you just have to face that what people believe is right for a reason, not a bias. I don't see many musicians beating down the doors of plastic violin makers, putting their money where their contrarian pieholes are. :-)

December 15, 2006 at 04:10 AM · We can put a man on the moon. We can make a plastic violin. We just gots better things to do that's all.

December 15, 2006 at 04:18 AM · We been there, we done that, though in all fairness, I'm sure it could be done better:

But wood does have unusual characteristics, which synthetics do not replicate. Just as a plastic sheep isn't as cozy as a wool one.

December 15, 2006 at 04:30 AM · Greetings,

generations of New Zealand sheep farmer`s wives might disagree with that...



December 15, 2006 at 04:48 AM · Oh man I hate it when logic starts up. Plastic sheep is to real sheep as F-16 is to A. Donkey with a broken leg, B. Hubble Telescope, C. Polyester slacks.

December 15, 2006 at 05:17 AM · If androids dream of electric sheep, do robot violinists dream of plastic violins?

Egad, sorry, weird sci-fi reference. Been a long day.

December 15, 2006 at 08:16 AM · Someone should make a violin from rosin.

December 15, 2006 at 01:34 PM · From Enion Pelta;

"Has anyone heard any of these instruments (particularly the balsa - I am somewhat familiar with graphite instruments)? What do you think about violin family instruments being made out of non-traditional materials?"

The course I direct for violin makers and repairmen at Oberlin College takes place at the same time as their cutting-edge violin acoustics workshop, so I've seen, played and heard quite a few violins incorporating alternate ideas including the balsa ones mentioned in the article.

While I only make traditional instruments so far, I rather enjoy hanging out with the experimental crowd. I don't think their instruments are any threat to traditional violins at this point, but I still applaud those who are willing to experiment. The violins we love today had their origins in experimentation, and most of the "pinnacle of perfection" 17th century violins have already been modified or "improved" from their original form with different necks, bass bars and bridges at a minimum. Most of the strings we use today are already of non-traditional materials.

How many still use the style of bow used in Stradivari's era?

I have little doubt that the experimenters and researchers will eventually come up with things which are widely considered to be improvements.

I also have little doubt that these same things will be only slowly accepted, just because that's the way things have always been in this business.

News articles may tend to sensationalize things a bit though.

David Burgess

December 15, 2006 at 06:54 PM · Anyone interested in this subject should send for the L&C (all graphite) demo DVD. While their cello seems better overal than their violin, the violin is fairly impressive. It's loud, and seems to have excellent carrying power. The main drawback is perhaps a slight lack of depth.

I wonder what you'd have if you put a real spruce top on the carbon-fiber shell?

Also, one of the top classical guitar makers in the world (forget his name, but he's in Australia) uses a thin carbon-fiber lattice under his tops, instead of traditional braces. His instruments are incredible.

December 15, 2006 at 07:31 PM ·

December 15, 2006 at 07:28 PM · I've seen that article! I never saw or tried any of these violins but if they sound good and project well, why not? I like the idea of lighter violins because you probably wouldn't have to work as hard playing them!

December 15, 2006 at 08:07 PM · I played a Luis and clark viola and loved it. It was warm and very responsive. Remember that it is also waterproof, mostly immune to temperature and humidity changes and very durable.

People may have different feelings about the synthetics but I think they are worth trying. After you have played a good one you may have a much more positive opinion.

December 15, 2006 at 08:39 PM · It's still hard to beat the aesthetic qualities of a wood instrument, and the pure poetry of a truly handmade instrument when made by a genius luthier...does love translate into graphite as well as it does into wood?

December 15, 2006 at 09:25 PM · Why not? If wood love is emotional it is just as changeling and fickle as for any material.

If you respect the work of the maker, if you appreciate the way the composite is made, then why not?

As a composites professional, I will nevertheless suggest that the structure of wood is so remarkably good and composites are a very simple attempt by man to replicate and improve upon nature.

December 18, 2006 at 03:40 PM · You know, if they can make a styrofoam violin that sounds as beautiful as my wooden, then I will lay down my sword and bow before the maker. The medium is not so important as the sound it produces. However, we all know that wood has not been matched by any other material. The carbon fiber instruments are interesting- I did an outdoor gig with a cellist that had one once and it didn't sound half bad for an outdoor gig. She was the only one of us that didn't go running when it started to mist all of a sudden, so it was ideal for the situation. I wouldn't want to hear an orchestral full of them though- the sound would remind me of a better version of my middle school orchestra.

This discussion has been archived and is no longer accepting responses.

Facebook Twitter YouTube Instagram Email is made possible by...

Shar Music
Shar Music

Yamaha Silent Violin
Yamaha Silent Violin

Pirastro Strings
Pirastro Strings

Find a Summer Music Program
Find a Summer Music Program

Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases
Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases Business Directory Business Directory Guide to Online Learning Guide to Online Learning

Dominant Pro Strings

Antonio Strad Violin

Bay Fine Strings Violin Shop

Bobelock Cases


Los Angeles Violin Shop

Nazareth Gevorkian Violins

Metzler Violin Shop

Leatherwood Bespoke Rosin



Johnson String Instrument and Carriage House Violins

Potter Violins

String Masters

Bein & Company

Annapolis Bows & Violins

Laurie's Books

Discover the best of in these collections of editor Laurie Niles' exclusive interviews. Interviews Volume 1 Interviews Volume 1, with introduction by Hilary Hahn Interviews Volume 2 Interviews Volume 2, with introduction by Rachel Barton Pine