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NMM 57.  Electric Violin by Vivi-Tone Company, Kalamazoo, Michigan, ca. 1932-1933
Ex coll.:  Lloyd Allayre Loar, Evanston, Illinois
Arne B. Larson Collection, 1979

Front of Loar electric violin Treble side of Loar electric violin Back of Loar electric violin

Click on any image on this page to see a larger image.

In the early 1930s, when this instrument was built, electric amplification was in its infancy. The Vivi-Tone violin was one of Lloyd Loar's first electric instruments to enter the market. A decade later (late 1942 or early 1943), while a lecturer in acoustics at Northwestern University, Loar sent this electric violin to his graduate student, Arne B. Larson. Larson, like his professor, often performed on the violin and viola, and Loar indicated in letters written to Larson that he intended for him to play this electric instrument.

Lloyd Allayre Loar (assignor to Acousti-Lectric Company of Kalamazoo, Michigan, a company Loar co-founded in 1933) filed a patent application for the electric violin on July 31, 1933 and was awarded U. S. Patent No. 2,020,842 on November 12, 1935.

Loar's impetus for developing the electric stringed instrument in this patent was to provide an improvement over instruments of standard design by allowing the manufacturer: 1) to "predetermine and fix" the tonal qualities of the instrument (by varying the size and division of the paramagnetic bar-armature); 2) to allow for consistent tonal production (by eliminating the acoustical amplification of a violin body, with its inconsistent sympathetic response to tonal vibrations); and 3) to limit distortion over a wide range of precisely controlled dynamics (by using a magneto-acoustic pickup that can generate a weak electrical current independently of a power-circuit or battery, is not sensitive to extraneous electrical or acoustical disturbances, and whose volume can be controlled using a variable-resistance volume control unit and possibly an outside amplifier).


Signature on violin

Inscription:  Spray painted in black on upper portion of back, the "Tone" lettering vertical: ViVi / " / Tone.

Description:  Electric (magneto-acoustic) violin with slender, violin-shaped top mounted on a mahogany bar with outwardly curved lower side and partial ribs and back only at upper and lower ends. Bridge is fit into slot in top, resting (over a wooden and dark-red plastic platform) on a paramagnetic metal bar-armature, the vibration of which varies the intensity of the magnetic field between two pole pieces (each attached to opposite polar ends of a U-shaped permanent magnet), inducing an electric current in a wire coil-winding surrounding one of the pole pieces. The ends of the wire coil-winding are connected to a variable resistance volume-control unit (with an adjusting knob) from which wires extend to the tip-jacks. The bar-armature is divided into two sections with unfriendly resonances using either a notch or a dividing block to prevent its own natural frequency vibrations from overwhelming other frequencies. Through differing divisions of the bar-armature, its total length, its thickness and width, and stiffness or elasticity, it is possible for the manufacturer to pre-determine the tonal qualities of the instrument. The electrical output of the magneto-acoustic unit is sufficient for use with headphones for practice or it can be fed into an amplified loud-speaker.

Top:  plywood: thin mahogany veneer, the grain running perpendicular to strings, over maple base, with thin birch veneer on underside, the grain running perpendicular to strings; narrower than standard violin outline.

Back:  plywood: partial back comprised of separate sections at neck heel and endpin.

Ribs:  mahogany: grain runs parallel to strings; partial ribs at top and back.

Head and neck:  black-painted maple: thin, simplified headstock with outline of scroll, and no pegbox; strings run to nut on each side of central headstock piece.

Arching:  none.

Edging:  not scooped.

Purfling:  single black strip inlaid into mahogany veneer.

Varnish:  medium-dark brown.

Fingerboard:  black-painted maple; integral with neck and headstock; glued to top for 73 mm from top edge.

Nut:  black-painted ebony; thin.

Tailpiece:  ebony.

Pegs:  four ebony with mother-of-pearl eyes; short stems.

Saddle:  strip of red felt between endpin and end of tailpiece.

Endpin:  black plastic.

F-holes:  raised, black stencils; small; rounded notch corners.

Linings:  none.

Corner blocks:  none.

Top block:  none.

Bottom block:  none.

Bassbar:  none.

Magneto-acoustic Unit

Close-up of pickup

Magneto-acoustic unit:  housed in mahogany box passing though rectangular cutout in central bar, affixed to bar with two dome-headed nickel-plated steel screws; oval ebony volume adjusting knob passing through brass nut into magneto-acoustic unit box, mounted on bass side; imitation-tortoise shell plastic guard for protruding portion of volume-control unit affixed to bottom treble face of box with two dome-headed nickel-plated steel screws; brown cloth-covered branched cord emerging from tip-jacks on lower end of magneto-acoustic unit box on each side of brace, spliced into single cord with nickel-plated steel quarter-inch jack.


Total electric violin length:  597 mm.
Top length:  355 mm.
Upper bout top width:  128 mm.
Center bout top width:  89 mm.
Lower bout top width:  169 mm.
Back length: upper section:  77 mm; lower section: 75 mm.
Back width: upper section:  113 mm; lower section: 139 mm.
Upper rib height:  32-33 mm.
Lower rib height:  31 mm.
Stop length:  192 mm.
Vibrating string length:  325 mm.
Neck length (bottom of nut to ribs):  133 mm.


Margaret Downie Banks, "Please Don't Touch the Theremin! Stein Collection of Electronic Instruments Donated to Museum," Shrine to Music Museum Newsletter, Vol. 23, No. 3 (April 1996), pp. 1-3.

Arian Sheets, "Lloyd Loar's Other Instruments . . . Four Rarities from the Workshop of an Electroacoustic Pioneer," National Music Museum Newsletter, Vol. 32, No. 1, (February 2005), pp. 1-3.

Return to Checklist of Instruments Designed by Lloyd Loar

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