Some years ago, I reluctantly sold my beloved Peter Madill 5-string violin to a keen young fiddle player who took it overseas with her. Imagine my delight when it finally came home again!
By one of those bizarre twists of coincidence, I had a call shortly after that from the maker, Peter Madill, to say he’d decided, after several decades, to revisit the whole concept, and would I like to hang one of the results in our showroom?
Having the two violins side by side is fascinating. The one Pete made in 1981 has a nice long pegbox, with plenty of room to turn the pegs, a neck wide enough to finger double stops cleanly, and ‘f’ holes carved in Pete’s trademark “Amati” style, so different from the standard Stradivari ‘f’s we’re used to seeing.
The new violin has the same long pegbox and wide neck, but Pete has transformed the head into an elegant curl – an open plan scroll with viola da gamba overtones.
Pete has also taken another nod towards the viol with his widely spaced and strongly angled ‘f’ holes.
The two violins have slightly different tonal characteristics, but share a rich and resonant sound, with a ready response. Thomastik Vision 5-string violin C strings boost firmness and fullness at the lower end.
Because both violins have been constructed internally to allow for a wider bridge, the result is much more successful than converting a standard 4-string instrument into a 5-string version.
And – especially for the improvising musician, the extra string is a real stimulus, whether you’re playing blues, jazz, country or rock.