By then jazz guitarist and exponents of the new genre of electric blues, like Paul, were discovering new tricks. The solid instrument could sustain a note far longer; the vibrations are not dissipated in a chamber but enhanced like a tuning fork applied to a table. The strings, and even the neck, could be bent, sometimes with a tremolo arm, to produce novel sounds; the fret board could be tapped with both hands; feedback and distortion could be tamed to become the artist’s friend.
It granted the ability to amplify not just vibrating strings but the deep, and sometimes ugly, stirrings of the soul; the same technology that gave birth to the dreamy slide guitar of Hawaiian music also empowered the nihilism of Jimi Hendrix, who would gnaw on his Strat with his teeth one moment and set fire to it the next.
Such is the ability to magnify the deeper recesses of humanity that one is grateful in a way that the electric violin was not available to earlier composers. Sibelius’s Tapiola for electric orchestra would have been 20 minutes of sheer terror; those who heard it would have emerged visibly shaking, as white-faced as the audience at the opening night of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. The violin in Shostakovich’s Elegy would not have been crying to itself, it would have been sobbing uncontrollably; concert hall cleaners would have needed heavy-duty mops later to deal with the blubbery, tear-stained mess.
Dean is relishing his newfound powers: ‘‘ It gives the ability to combine virtuosity with a whole new vista of sonic characteristics. The possibilities are endless. They’re limited only by the technology and the imagination for what we can do with those sounds.’’
The written range of the solid-bodied violin can be extended with the addition of extra strings since, unlike the delicate light-timbered version, it is not limited to four.
Tognetti modestly stopped at six, but it can do the work of a viola and cover much of the range of the cello. The instrument’s maker, David Bruce Johnson, adds a seventh or even an eighth to some of his instruments. The E flat looks sturdy enough to moor an ocean liner and could, with some muscular bow work, perform some of the lighter tasks of the bass.
Johnson works with European maple, and sometimes sycamore, cedar or poplar that arrives in huge boards at his workshop in Birmingham in the English West Midlands.
The task from there is to pare back the weight to less than 400g, the maximum a
Left, a Violectra instrument and, below, its maker David Bruce Johnson