The newest thing in violin technology was created when the classical violinist Sean Riley wanted to play a piece by the American composer John Adams, The Dharma at Big Sur. Riley couldn’t use his own 240-year-old violin because the piece called for a six-string electric violin, and he couldn’t afford the $3,000 or so that one would cost.
So Riley (who has performed for Prince Charles and the Sultan of Oman) teamed up with a mechanical engineer and a sculptor at the University of Texas at Austin, where he’s also a grad student. Over the course of a year, they designed their version of an electric violin, breaking all the rules of the tradition-bound instrument.
There’s no scroll at the top, so the tuning pegs are at the chin rest. It has six strings instead of the traditional four, allowing the instrument to reach a deeper range like a cello. And there are four porcelain cow ribs attached to the left side of the body, which is 3D printed and can eventually be modified by other users.
“It’s a canvas. I can give the 3D-printed block to anyone and come back with hundreds of incredible variations of the violin,” Riley told Quartz. ”At a press of a button, I can print a new one for $10. I can’t do that with other six-string electric violins.”
Watch our video to hear the music of a violin unlike any you’ve seen before.