The Ol’ Five String

When the Old Five String is not a Banjofive-stringMB

About a year ago I was contemplating the act of stepping back from my life as a publicly performing violinist and fiddler. I published an article about this on to share with my colleagues.

At the time I did not know what would happen. What happened was Transition. That’s what it’s called by the Kolbe people. When you are in Transition you are not in your happy place. You don’t know where you are. You don’t know what you are doing.

What brought me out of this “Dip”, as Seth Godin calls it, was the five string fiddle I got from Royce Burt. I’ve purchased several of his violins and recommended them to students. They are also very happy with the sound of his violins.

When I found out about his five string instruments, I thought I’d like to try one. Before I picked it up I had a word of caution from Grassapelli, “This could change everything.” And it did.

I’ve tried five string violins before, but this was the first time the instrument had a good resonance and tone over all five strings.

Here’s a little back story. About a year previously I had been coaching a viola student in playing fiddle tunes on the viola. Up until this time my experience with playing fiddle tunes on viola was occasional. As a rule, part of the tune must be transposed down an octave.

[Pardon me while I interject a rant.] Big publishers have found it convenient and easy to publish fiddle tunes for viola by transposing down a fifth. That way they can keep the same fingering and bowing. One slight problem.

At fiddle sessions these transpositions would not exactly be welcomed. It’s already tough enough on viola players. First of all, the instrument is harder to play than violin. Second there are all those sneering viola jokes.If you are not part of a serious music community, think of the viola as the banjo of the violin world.

Now on top of this, publishers mislead violists just to make a quick buck. They offer all the standard tunes in the wrong key. It’s an outrage! [End of rant.]

In the course of coaching the viola student, I transposed several tunes into the viola register, keeping the keys the same as the standard at fiddle sessions. I played them along with the student but never really got them up to tempo.


Because of this experience, and being well acquainted with the viola, I thought the five string violin would be easy to master. Simply think of it as an instrument with range that overlaps the violin and viola. What could possibly go wrong?

(As a disclaimer, let me acknowledge that the viola has a bigger, richer sound in its register than a violin playing the same notes. As good as the Royce Burt five string sounds, it does not compare equally to a viola. Still, I would recommend that any violist who wants to play fiddle tunes would best be served by the five string violin.)

Once I got the new violin in my hands I saw that I needed to woodshed more than a little bit to get where I wanted to be. Adding motivation to the process, I started performing every Sunday at The Witches Brew in Palm Harbor from 2 to 4 o’clock in the afternoon. Today, May 3rd, was the official launch of what I call the Grassapelli performance.

The presentation needs more than just polish. It could use some sand paper and, in places, just a touch of the rasp. Even so, my audience seems to enjoy it and has been very supportive. It’s just me onstage with the five string violin, plugged in, and a microphone to talk about music. And, yes, I am playing in the tuning of A-432 Hz.

There is a tie in to my new blog, That will not be clear for a while because it’s brand new. I’m just starting an online course with the Elite Blogging Academy to get my skills up to speed for decent blogging.

That about concludes my update from last years piece. Oh, I could rattle on about things that went wrong or didn’t work out during the Transition. But, who needs that?

When you are cruising down the road and everything feels solid, you forget about the bumpy spot.

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