It's Hard to believe that in 1999 I had this idea to cram a fiddle into a 2" piece of PVC pipe. Two decades, and nearly 800 fiddles later I wanted to share some of the stories that I have accumulated over the years. I have been asked many times how I came up with the idea in the first place. This, like so many other innovations in my life have come from a confluence of influences. In 1999 I was currently a furniture maker, had been playing old time fiddle for about 10 years, I had made a couple of musical instruments for myself, and was a street performer traveling 2 months out of the summer to who ever would fly me to their festivals that were in interesting parts of the world. I performed at Augusta Heritage workshops right before a tour of Switzerland and Italy and I was approached by a friend and instrument repair guy named Bob Smakula. Bob enjoyed my rendition of an old vaudeville routine of "Pop goes the Weasel" and showed me some pictures of a cane fiddle. The cane fiddle was an old folk novelty instrument. It was a walking cane that was also a fiddle. While flying to Europe the night of the perseids meteor shower I dreamed of portable fiddle like the cane fiddle only it was more relevant for today. What if I cut off the cane and just had a thin fiddle that fit into a pipe that would be easy to carry? Oh so easy. Waterproof and tough it could go hiking and boating and just about anywhere. When I returned home for the winter to get back to furniture making I applied my creative energy to engineering this contraption. I tore down elements the traditional violin and replaced them with new ones.
All was going better than I thought, and it was a matter of time when I would come across something unsurmountable. I had already made a violin, a f-style mandolin, and wasmostly through a viola. I had set aside the better instrument wood. The tuners were a trick and decided to go with modified zither tuners even though a tool would be needed for tuning. It had to be something a musician could afford to loose and replace and what most non musician people could feel comfortable loaning a musician- a penny! I lucked upon teh thin wall PVC pipe that is used for inwall vacuum ststems. And though I have dreamed of a natural case like bamboo nothing practical has availed itself.
All came together except the chinrest. I new that an old sock wrapped around the end wouldnt thrill classical violinists, and I new it needed to fit in the cap so it had to expand like foam or something, but this one stuck me for several months. Then in the spring my son wanted me to fix his flat bike tire and when I pulled out the inner tube it hit me like a sidewalk. The rest is history. There have been modest design modifications over the years, but the wiplstix is pretty much reached its evolutionary apex. I have experimented with many woods and found black walnut to be the best all around wood for a balanced sound. It has many desirable qualities like being stable, light, attractive and from early succession trees that can be harvested without disturbing old forests. Though I still need to revisit the chinrest and design one that will mimic a traditional chinrest and shoulder rest. It wont be able to fit in the case but for people who use their wiplstix at work or practice at home I know they would be popular. Stay Tuned.
Bottom instrument is the beta model* with traditional f holes. Middle is #28 made in 2000. Top is #849 made in 2018. Note longer headstock, appropriate orientation of fingerboard to accommodate high finger positions, and a compromise in length between a standard violin and the earlier short one.
* The story of the alpha model is an epoch one and is next on the blog entry.