DIY travel violin?

Edited: June 29, 2017, 11:51 PM · I'm a 5-month adult beginner and now that summer holiday is around the corner, I'm looking for a way to practice while travelling. There are travel violins on the market (link wiplstix, cricket), but I find them a bit too expensive for my needs, not to mention that they are sold in the US, which is a bit of a hassle for a European.

What I want: put it in my check-in luggage and practice left-hand technique and intonation. I don't care about sound quality, as long as I can hear the pitch. Even better if a clip-on tuner can recognize the pitch - I know that mine has difficulty with the G string while the practice mute is on. (*) I'm thinking of buying a €100 VSO kit with steel strings from an internet seller who claims that they are set up and have working pegs. Then, take it apart and replace the body/belly by a stick of construction wood and figure out a way to protect the bridge while tucked between my clothes.

Would this work? My regular rental violin has d'Addario pro-arté nylon strings. I wonder wether steel strings require different technique so that I've to spend another €40 on strings.

P.S. My workmanship skills and tools are limited, think saw, drill, screwdriver, file, and plyer.

(*)I don't want to start a debate on whether intonation training with a tuner is the "true" way of achieving intonation skills. I have read the various opinions in past threads.

Replies (16)

June 30, 2017, 1:09 AM · Take your rental. Make it a listed item on your travel insurance. Cheers Carlo
June 30, 2017, 2:32 AM · Hmm, it's not so much the fear of damage, but rather that I don't want the hassle of dealing with extra baggage items, negotiating oversized carry-on or take 30% risk(*) of it ending up with a broken violin if I treat it as check-in luggage (not to mention fees for checking in an extra item)...

(*) I don't fear damage only up to a point. I've had my share of damaged and delayed check-in baggage over the years.

June 30, 2017, 6:05 AM · Han, may I suggest becoming a member of the folk music forum www.thesession.org (based in the UK), which is a very quick, easy and free process, and ask about travel violins available in Europe and the UK. I have a distant memory that this question was discussed on that forum some years ago.
June 30, 2017, 6:46 AM · You could get an electric violin. I used one when I did a lot of traveling in my previous job. Just take the bridge off when you pack it in the suitcase. And bring a carbon fiber bow.
June 30, 2017, 9:39 AM · Another way to make a silent violin is to get a cheap VSO and fill it up with expanding polyurethane foam.
June 30, 2017, 10:14 AM · Or use a new bow with zero rosin.
June 30, 2017, 10:18 AM · Thanks for your replies. But it's not the silentness that I want (I can still use a practice mute if necessary); it's the bulk and fragility. Although I suppose that a PU-foam-filled VSO and an electric are much less fragile than a normal violin, I'd rather not have to take the bridge off every time. I was thinking of a stick violin that I can cover with a half pvc pipe for protection of strings and bridge.

Trevor, I will do some more googling on TheSession; the first few queries didn't yield much.

Suppose that I go for a VSO-based solution. Would it be impossible to reach my practice goals on one? I've never played on one.

June 30, 2017, 10:48 AM · Trevor, maybe you were referring to this thread? https://thesession.org/discussions/15286

The link in the post is dead, but it moved here: http://larkinam.com/MOBViolins.html scroll down a bit to "kit violin" and "Classic Walking Cane Fiddle". The latter is in a price range that I could consider. Shipped from the US though, "call for charges".

June 30, 2017, 11:21 AM · I have occasionally put my Yamaha silent violin and a 3/4 ( because it is shorter) carbon fiber bow in the suitcase with my clothes. Never had a problem with the bridge.
June 30, 2017, 2:56 PM · Han, yes, that is the TheSession thread I remember from about 9 years ago!
Edited: July 29, 2017, 7:10 AM · Follow-up: I thought I'd give it a try. I ordered a VSO kit (100 euro including bow, shoulder rest, case, and basic set-up work) plus a cheap 1/2-size bow. Work in progress:


(http://imgur.com/e9oBEzr )

I've still two weeks before I'm going on holiday. Obviously, the sound is quite weird now (the low tones sound like with a metal practice mute; the higher tones are rather screechy). What I hadn't expected is that the instrument transmits strong, distracting vibrations to my jaw and chest.

I think that I will replace what's left of the body of the VSO by a stick of solid wood, for stiffness (right now it's nearly impossible to tune) and to reduce those vibrations.

By the way, regarding the VSO: I had expected worse after all the horror stories about VSOs. Yes, the materials were not of very high quality (painted fingerboard, no purfling, synthetic varnish, sloppy workmanship all over the place) and the sound was rather tinny. But I could tune and play it and and the distance between strings and fingerboard was OK. I think the main reason not to get an instrument like this is that the cost is rather out of proportion to the cost of taking lessons (25 euro for 30-minute lessons is the going rate here).

July 10, 2017, 4:24 PM · I have a Cecilio we used for kids. It was okay out of the box. I will say that living in a high humidity place eventually the pegs swelled and were very, very tight. For a fractional violin, it's not a big deal if you can get it close to in tune and adjust with the tuners, but I can see why people (especially teachers) don't like them. The Cecilio I think even came with decent strings.

I think your travel violin is pretty cool. I was hoping there would be something like this as an electric--probably even lighter than some of the electrics. I'm curious if you can find something to fill it with to make it more even.

July 11, 2017, 6:22 PM · You could replace the body of the violin with a 2x2 piece of maple, but I can't really see how you'll do that with pliers and a file. And then where will your CR and SR will go.
Edited: July 12, 2017, 1:42 AM · You could make it stiffer by gluing some flat sides on it. That might be easier than replacing the body with a solid piece of wood.

If you do that, you also might want make a hole in the side for soundpost access (if you intend to use one, I'm not sure it would matter in this case).

July 29, 2017, 5:52 AM · It took a while, but I'm ready to go on holiday.

In case embedding does not work: http://imgur.com/xmrUsLQ .

I followed David Burgess's advice of the flat sides (epoxy glued) and hole for the soundpost. In the process, the distance between strings and fingerboard increased, so I had to file down the bridge quite a bit, as I didn't like the alternative of breaking up the glue bonds and re-gluing the thing.

The side panels are made of plywood (3 mm thickness, unlabeled, likely Gaboon/Okoume) with a finish of water-based brown wood stain. For transport, I use a block of wood to stabilize the bridge and a cardboard sleeve to protect the pegs. The blue violin case on the photos is for scale.

The attachment of the shoulder rest: initially, I thought of modifying the shoulder rest. Then, I figured out that a plate of plywood and a bit of velcro are much easier and allow swapping one shoulder rest for another. The plywood plate has the width of a 3/4 violin (I figured that I'd adjust the cheap SR that came with the VSO to its minimum width, to save space.)

Sound quality: well, of course, it doesn't sound like a high-end violin. In particular, most of the low frequencies are gone. My clip-on tuner cannot recognize tones on the G-string anymore. (My phone app, "Pano tuner", still works, though.) But it's good enough for practicing; mission accomplished.

Lessons learned, in case I ever do this again:

* Make the initial two saw cuts straight. That makes it way easier to glue on a side panel.

* I'd make the SR interface plate in 4/4 size, not 3/4. All I save is 15 mm of plywood and now it's a hassle to use my regular SR.

* Pay more attention to the distance between fingerboard and belly.

I needed a few more tools than I planned: saw, glue clamps, jigsaw, rasp, file, sandpaper, paintbrush, screwdrivers, paintbrush, chisel. I didn't use plyers. :-)

July 29, 2017, 8:48 PM · I'm curious to know how it holds up in your luggage when you check it. Keep us posted. Nice job on the modification BTW!

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