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Rickenbacker "Electro" Electric Violin , c. 1936
An interesting and historical instrument.
Rickenbacker "Electro" Model Electric Violin, c. 1936, made in Los Angeles, California, molded bakelite, original black hard shell case.
One of the rarest and most unusual American string instruments ever created, the futuristic Electro Violin, although a product of the 1930's, STILL looks ahead of its time!
With a molded Bakelite neck/frame without a conventional headstock or body, horseshoe magnet pickup, and the tuners mounted behind the bridge, this instrument hardly resembles a traditional violin at all. Far more radical than the stylishly minimalist steel guitars that made Rickenbacker famous, this must have confused even the most forward-looking violinist in 1936…
Apparently Rickenbacker/Electro designer George Beauchamp's concept was to create a whole family of purely electric string instruments…at least the violin and bass appear to have been commercially produced, albeit on a very small scale.
While several "All-Electric" acts in the 1930's used a full outfit of these Electro orchestral instruments, including violas and cellos, they all became at best an experimental sideline to the company due to the success of the Rickenbacker electric Hawaiian guitar, which became a market leader.
Beauchamp was a great believer in using plastics in musical instrument construction, and before creating these molded violins and guitars, had designed Bakelite necks and fingerboards for National guitars around 1930. This Bakelite violin is of the earliest design, which was very quickly revised so that by 1939 Rickenbacker was offering an entirely different Electric Violin with a tubular metal body and a conventional headstock. Published production figures indicate only 12 violins were shipped in 1935, with a further 31 in 1936.
This instrument has almost no structural kinship with a conventional violin…the neck and frame-like body are Bakelite molded in one piece, to which the Bakelite fingerboard appears glued. The underside of the 'body' is scooped out, with the tuning pegs mounting through the sides and the pickup wires running to a small enclosed 'box' under the chinrest which carries the jack and a single volume control. The pegs are conventional wooden violin tuners, but a carefully engineered fine tuning mechanism is mounted above them consisting of a screw (with the string laying in the slot) set in a metal bar which is raised and lowered by a thumbscrew.
A conventional violin chinrest is fitted to the hollow curved protrusion of the body, and provision is made for a chest protector mounting. There is a bent metal bracket mounted where the upper bout of the body would be, mimicking the feel of the non-existent sound chamber so the player does not get lost on an endless neck! The string ball ends are held in the underside of the 'headstock,' while the strings run over a Bakelite nut and bridge.
The pickup at the heart of this instrument is a smaller version of the standard 1930's Rickenbacker unit, with much narrower horseshoe magnets and a small coil set into the fingerboard, with a pole for each string. It must have been a major design effort to create a over-string pickup that would not restrict bowing to any great degree. This is wired to an output jack and volume pot with an octagonal plastic knob mounted in the hollow 'butt' of the instrument covered by a screw-down plate. The jack faces forward and the volume control (which is very stiff in operation) faces to the rear.
Although a commercial failure when introduced, the Electro Violin is a remarkably well thought out instrument, although perhaps not to the taste of every violinist! In many ways it prefigures many later developments, especially the headless molded basses and guitars of the 1980's.
It is still perfectly playable, with a distinctive and powerful, if unconventional, tone. In terms of originality and design flair, this must rank as one of the most innovative string instruments of the 20th century and one of the rarest as well, and an historically important milestone in the development of electric instruments.
Overall length is 21 in. (53.3 cm.), 6 3/4 in. (17.1 cm.) across at the widest point. Scale length is 13 in. (330 mm.).
Excellent original condition; this instrument appears to have been used but has never been repaired or modified at all.
It is set up and playable. Complete with original plush lined hard case (which is too short to hold a bow!) and an original set of Rickenbacker string envelopes with strings inside from Electro String in Los Angeles…which warn against using any other strings on Electro instruments.
Also included is a WWII era raffle ticket…probably not a winner! Excellent + Condition.
Item # 2407
This item has been sold.
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and may not be reproduced without permission.