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Rickenbacker Electro Electric Violin (1936)

Rickenbacker  Electro Electric Violin  (1936)

Rickenbacker Electro Model Electric Violin (1936), made in Los Angeles, California, polished Bakelite finish, molded bakelite, original black hard shell case.

One of the rarest and most unusual American string instruments ever created, the futuristic Electro Violin was a product of the mid 1930's but 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. The design is far more radical even than the stylishly minimalist steel guitars that made Rickenbacker famous; this might well have confused even the most forward-looking violinist in 1936…

Rickenbacker/Electro designer George Beauchamp's original 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 Electro orchestral instruments, including violas and cellos, the bowed instruments became at best an experimental sideline to the company due to the success of the Rickenbacker Electro Hawaiian guitar, which quickly became the market leader. Beauchamp was a pioneer in using plastics for musical instrument construction, and before creating these had designed Bakelite necks and fingerboards for National guitars around 1930. This Bakelite violin is of the earliest style design, likely sold in 1936-which was 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 thru the sides and the pickup wires running to a small enclosed 'box' under the chin rest 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 chin rest 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 a 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 pretty much 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 later design 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 20 1/2 in. (52.1 cm.), 6 1/4 in. (15.9 cm.) width. Scale length is 13 in. (330 mm.). Width of nut is 1 in. (25 mm.). Very clean original condition; this instrument appears to have been played for a time but extremely well cared for. There is some corrosion and evidence of cleaning on the plated metal hand-stop, where the player's hand made repeated contact. The bridge saddle slots have been cut a bit deeper than factory spec to lower the action, the instrument remains quite playable. The bakelite, wiring and the rest of the plated metal shows virtually no wear and many aspects of the instrument appear almost new. This comes complete with the original second-pattern hard case, which is of conventional design but specially lined in deep yellow plush to fit this unconventionally shaped instrument.(The first Rickenbacker violin case was more akin to a trumpet case and was not long enough to accommodate the bow!) Also includes are an original cable and several original Rickenbacker string envelopes. Excellent + Condition.

Item # 5418
This item has been sold.

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