TogaMan GuitarViols - Hand built by Jonathan Wilson - Sylmar, CA - A.D. 2017

News of the Moment:

The Specs

Why 21" Scale?

The typical GuitarViol scale is 21”. Why? After starting off with a traditional guitar scale of 25.5”, it was difficult to reconcile playing with having to reach over “head level” for lower notes in the intended “GuitarViol” playing stance. 21” turned out to feel just right and put the nut at about “eye level” in the intended GuitarViol playing stance. Besides, sustain is not an issue with a bow! In fact, the strings sound a bit sweeter at this scale and less shrill. I have been asked to build these in other scale lengths. Consider this: I have spent no less than 20+ years developing the GuitarViol. Living it. Breathing it. Becoming pretty good at it. (This spec is what I have found to work best for the desired “GuitarViol” outcome; semi-guitar playing stance, string bending, vibrato etc.) If built differently, it would essentially be a Cello, Viola Da Gamba, or Arpeggione whereby the “GuitarViol” aspects of guitar string bending/vibrato would be eliminated. Yes, I can certainly build anything, however, my lengthy backlog does not allow for significant diversions without great expense to workflow, and delivery to current commitments. My days are never long enough!

Acoustic GuitarViol
Other Specs:

Acoustic GuitarViol (typical) 

 

ElectroCoustic GuitarViol
ElectroCoustic GuitarViol (typical) 

Why Cutaway? 

Initially, the cutaway was intended to provide easy and unhindered access to the higher register. It also provides an unexpected sonic benefit to the GuitarViol.

Let me explain:

Over the centuries, Violins, Violas, and Cellos (developed by generations of masters) arrived at their optimal top plate size (I will now refer to as a “Speaker”). Each speaker is optimal for that range of a fifths tuned instrument much in the way a sound system has different size speakers to carry Bass (“Lows“), midrange (“Mids“) , treble (“Highs”) frequencies. In the case of a fourths tuned instrument with great range, we are asking a lot from one “Speaker” (top). In the case of the GuitarViol, the asymmetrical body-cutaway has proven to balance out the otherwise weaker treble strings.

My happy “accidental discovery”. Most concede that an acoustic guitar with a cutaway loses some resonance or “top area real estate” due to less top area and less cubic inches of sound chamber. What I found out (like many things counterintuitive to this instrument’s behavior!) is that the opposite is actually true on the GuitarViol. When I built a comparable spec “non-cutaway” model, I was astonished that the higher strings and register were “thinned” considerably. The Bass was not noticeably enhanced. My theory is that the smaller plate area of the treble (cutaway) side actually tuned the plate to better carry those frequencies! The larger bass side did its thing.

This discovery took place to appease those who “hear with their eyes” through the lens of tradition. Now, I do not get me wrong, I deeply respect tradition with all it’s collective wisdom (though some traditionalists may view me as a heretic to their cause). I myself love to incorporate old world vibe and aesthetic (shellac French Polish finish, for example). I love the beauty of old art/antiques which seems to have been all but lost on modern societies need to put “form over function” at the expense of beauty that soothes the soul (as opposed to crude modern objects with all function and no soul). Not to veer off topic, I just wanted to point out what I have discovered. Most stringed instrument builders would think a cutaway to be nonsense or even unthinkable. They are probably right in the case of violins. Perhaps Viol builders should have another look? Well, I dared and found a new land!! This may have likely helped Viols that were all but killed off by the violin family’s superior and more efficient top plate projection (due also in part to sound post/bass bar configuration and tuning more effective for single solo lines than polyphony…another topic).

Frets? Fretless?

Another misunderstood aspect of the GuitarViol is that of Frets. The common thought is that “frets are limiting“. On a fourths tuned instrument with polyphonic possibilities, I will tell you that it is far from true!! Here’s why: On a fifths tuned violin (mandolin to some extent), chords and multiple stops are mostly de emphasized in favor of a tuning that begs for fast efficient scale lines. On a fourths tuned instrument, you can grab more chords within a logical hand grip across six strings. (Just try to sweep a tied note open six string E chord on a Violin, Viola, you get the picture). So, if you want to Jab or sweep bow that Edom7#9 chord … and the next moment bow a melody line… The other shock to our preconceptions and mental process is that, on the fretted GuitarViol, you can be “Fretless at will!”. Let me explain: On a fretted guitar, that is unthinkable (unless you are playing slide guitar where you are effectively using a moving fret and not engaging the fingerboard fret). Normally, if you pluck a string and hold your finger to it, it will not sound a note, but a “plink” “thud” sound (unless you are touching over a harmonic node, in which case, you will hear a chime like sound). But, that is if you are plucking it, right? What about the bow? That changes things. When bowing, You are forcing the string to sound and any stopping point will be that note. So, if you are between frets, you will have the note in between, or slide a glissando etc. If a bowed string is not pushed all the way down to the fret (effectively not engaging the fret), your finger tip becomes the “stopping point”. This is like playing slide guitar with your fingertips! Push string down, get the fret. Let off a little, you are fretless. This is particularly true of the higher 4 strings. Now, this technique does require advancement and practice. (But then again, you would not want to be without frets if you are not advanced!! Right?)

Conclusion: I can and have built fretless GuitarViols. I generally will try to talk you out of it for the reasons outlined above. Having it all, polyphony (full chord sweeps), single notes, and even sliding (fretless double stops) at will is a lot to give up for the sake of being completely fretless. For those who want to live in that exotic world of microtonal just intonation modal based music, I’ll leave out the frets. (But, you have to really know that is indeed who you really are!! I am serious!)