CHRISTIAN TALKS VIOLINS, STRINGS, BOWS, MUTES & TOE NOBS...
“I have played violins by the British master maker John Dilworth since 1994. After an initial seemingly endless search I first became aware of John after I heard my friend Bruce White playing one of his violas back at the Academy. John had only just completed an unassigned Magginni model when I first visited his premises in Richmond on Thames so I gave it a scrape and it was pure ear lotion from note one. I immediately began using it in the recording studio on the album The Secret Light Show. Hence the ‘Garrick’, as it has come to be known, was born. She is dark and she is deep-toned, rich and euphonious, complete with trademark twin-turbo Magginni purfling. She sports Pirastro Obligato A, D & G strings and the E is a Pirastro Gold Label.
In 2010 we acquired a Neolin. She is an exotic five-string electro-acoustic hybrid instrument created by mad genius Bodo Vosshenrich, of Toulouse, France. The Neolin gives me the flexibility to play in the low Viola range as well as the fiddle range at once. It really excels in the darker tones in the lower register on the C string. The composer Howard Shore was so enamoured with the Neolin’s qualities during soundtrack recording of his score to the movie ’Spotlight’ that it resulted in him making extensive use of it.
On the electric side I have played a classic Jean Luc Ponty-style Zeta 'Jazz' since 1989. I was introduced to it by Andy Holliman after a meeting with Fairport Convention fiddler Ric Sanders. It got it's debut playing on the telly show Rocksteady with the rock band All About Eve at the Barrowlands in Glasgow. I tried the associated midi converter once and was impressed with its ability to track glissandi but I never really wanted to play synths. The rubber piezo pickup seatings in the complex bridge melted once in the intense Catalan sun, but is still going strong despite this. It’s brilliant in high sound level environments e.g. with drums and horns. Strings should be metal for the Zeta so it's usually a set of Jargar mediums for me.
The 7-string electric violin I have is by John Jordan. It is carved out of a single piece of stunning flamed maple and pitch-wise goes down to a Bb below the ‘cello range. It’s an extraordinary thing.
Until 1998 I exclusively used rubbish bows. Then I met Peter Oxley which led directly to a radical change in attitude! I bought one of Pete's silver mounted bows and everything changed forever.
Due both to some of the styles and to the extreme environments in which I play, it is bow rehairs alone that make my trade a high maintenance one. At a cost of around £50 and £60 a rehair my annual rehair bill is awesome. The seemingly humdrum matter of rehairing is not something one can simply accomplish oneself. Pete Oxley tells me not to learn to do it myself, though I frequently wonder how else I can ensure my bow is rehaired to my satisfaction every time. If I possibly can, I take it to Pete, but I'm not always within 100 miles of Oxford when I'm touring! Good rehairers are indeed a rare breed.
I'm nuts about violin mutes.The aluminium variety in particular. I won't use the plastic variety if I can help it. The metal type produces a sweet silky reedy and resonant sound whereas I find the plastic simply deadens and hollows the instrument.
I have been unsuccessful, however, in finding the metal variety readily available. It was my friend and mentor John Van Derrick who first introduced them to me. He quickly convinced me of their vastly superior sonority. He gave me a couple to be going on with and from that moment (around 1988) I could never be satisfied using a plastic one again. The trouble with the metal, and where the plastics have the edge, is that they do not attach handily to the strings behind the bridge. Hence, the metals are easily lost and rarely recovered. Whatever happened to Symmons mutes? I would be grateful to anyone with information on a source for these rare beasts - do drop me an email!
Amplification of an already perfectly well amplified instrument. Taking an instrument deeply rooted in one kind of music and shoving it into another which is new and dominated by other far better suited instruments... what a challenge! Fact is though, alright, alongside guitars and double basses playing hot club or gypsy jazz, fine; but with piano, bass drums and electric guitar - looking for trouble. A good tailpiece-mounted mic set-up (SD Systems, Accusound or AKG) is best. This leaves me at the mercy of the sound engineer so I depend on them to use a good out board graphic and respect that I'm after a nice, never screeching, warm woody resonant sound: for the violin to sound like it isn't amped at all. With a big P.A. and a competent and receptive engineer my Accusound will do perfectly and can go to pretty respectable volumes, easily coping with drums and electronics. I've yet to try it but all the signs are the Danish designed and made Stringamp is the ultimate solution, but it will set you back in the vicinity of £1000 for the benefit. LR Baggs make the best pick-up I’ve yet tried.
The electric rig is now a full-blown pedal board going into my PA-like AER Domino. It's an endless journey, looking for the best amp. When I discovered the AER Domino I knew I'd edged closer to something I could use. A bit more like a PA in a box than a regular amp the AER gives a super clean clear sound leaving you to shape the tone how want with your outboard stuff. My Domino used to belong to guitarist John Williams. Of course, John spends an awful amount of care, time and money on his sound so I knew that if it worked for him it would be instantly pretty cool for fiddle stuff probably.
Some say 'foot pedals'. Others think 'stomp boxes'. I prefer 'toe nobs'. There are many many users and many types, come to that, of toe nobs out there. Some are more out there than others. What's so great is that the proliferation and diversity of toe nobs available means limitless hours and money spent on these toys. It's akin to a hobby like slot cars or model railways. A real anorak topic. Guitarists of course top the list and outnumber the rest of us by quite some margin. So much so that guitarists get coy about getting into discussions on the subject for fear of revealing just how much of an anorak they really are. Some even deny all involvement in the activity, they are so embarrassed. Me, I'd like to show them off and sing their praises to the hill tops. Being a violinist makes me a non-conventional user so it's probably easier to be unbashful about it. The same hardware can offer different possibilities for the violin. Let the experimentation begin..."
the great clockwork fiddle
"I always wondered if my very first full-sized fiddle, marked Stradivarius c.1718, would come in handy ever again...and it did!"
“We solo fiddlers are a bit of a solitary sort who’s paths seldom cross but when such events do occur it’s always memorable! Favourite fellow fiddlers with whom I’ve had the pleasure to play or merely just shoot the breeze are Nigel Kennedy, Ida Haendel, Joshua Bell, Jean-Luc Ponty, Maxim Vengerov, Adam Summerhayes, Mike Piggott and Stuart Hall."