The Thomas Jenkins “Signature Series II” 7-String Electric Violin

To my mind, this is a special instrument in a number of ways. The instrument was designed completely by Thomas Jenkins, the virtuoso fiddler, guitarist, mandolin player and singer-songwriter who commissioned the instrument from me. I made a few suggestions, however the unique shape, the woods used to make it, the shape of the head stock and the tail piece, the radius of the Eric Aceto bridge, the finger board and the number of strings all had their beginning in Thomas Jenkins’ mind.
   We collaborated on some aspects of instrument, sometimes subtly changing certain curves of the body’s shape, choosing which brand of string to use and which parts of the wood would be used for the carving of certain pieces of this violin.
   When Thomas and I discussed the shape of this instrument, he said that he wanted a “Picasso” or “Salvador Dali” quality to the shape; something different that he hadn’t seen before and, at the same time, a shape that was idiomatic, stylish and gave easy access to the highest positions on all 7 strings. The final shape was a combination of some of Picasso’s paintings, a hint of clocks melting, and also a guitar-like, strong design. If Jack Reacher played a 7-string electric violin, he might well play this one. And who would argue with him?

One of my favorite aspects of building this instrument was integrating Thomas’s choice of woods and the final deep-purple color. Thomas is from the south, Louisiana, to be exact, and wanted the back of the instrument to be a color that people from Louisiana would appreciate. This is why he chose and I looked for, found and mixed the color of purple you see used on the Quilted Maple back and sides of the instrument. I exchanged pictures of the shades of colors I considered while making the instrument, and he and I did agree on the color you see on this page. Eastern Rock Maple was used for the neck and head stock. And, to top things off, literally, Thomas selected some of the most brilliant Black and White ebony I’ve had the pleasure to have in my shop. I asked Thomas to take a look at the websites of Northwest Timber and Cook Woods, both trusted suppliers of beautiful domestic and exotic woods, and both located here in Oregon. He hand-picked the Quilted Maple from the Northwest Timber site, and chose the exact piece of Black and White ebony he wanted from Cook Woods, specifying what parts of the violin he wanted made from the wood’s various figures and colors.

The measurements of the instrument: the bridge has a 39 m.m.radial arc to make string crossings easier. The finger board has the same radius, and is a standard 270 m.m. in length. Great care was taken to coordinate the shape of the finger board, the angle of the neck and the radius of the bridge to facilitate string clearances above the lower-end of the finger board which are comfortably low, while having a quick reaction time when played. The piece of Quilted Maple used for the back of the instrument was made hollow to provide an internal, resonant air space. The Black and White ebony was then positioned, and glued on top.

Building this instrument was, at once, painstaking, humbling and heartening. Thanks to “mom and dad” for their encouragement, and a number of engineering suggestions that greatly helped me while constructing the instrument. Instruments are made in stages; this one was no exception. Changes were considered; some were used, some were not. This instrument had its challenges, and I thank Sheila and Larry for the lattes and technology to make what I had in my mind become a reality in wood. This instrument is singularly elegant in its own ways. To players: if you would like to commission me to make an instrument like this – or one of your own design – please get in touch with me using the information on the “Ordering and Contact” page of my website. Last, though certainly not least, I thank my dear sister, Jenny, for helping me in so many ways to complete this instrument. To Jenny, to my mom, Darlene, who passed away near the end of this instrument’s construction, and to my loving cat Jack, who is now also waiting for me on the other side, “This one’s for you.”