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8-bit violin

by ranjit, published

8-bit violin by ranjit Mar 7, 2011

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This is a crude but working violin made in an 8-bit, pixelated style. Here's some videos of the thing in action: http://www.moonmilk.com/2011/04/17/8-bit-violin-played-by-real-fiddlers/

(It was on Make:Live on March 9th, 2011: http://makezine.com/live/)

It's laser-cut from 1/8" plywood (front and back faces), 3/16" plywood (bridge), and 1/4" solid wood (everything else). It's a messy design, and not fully refined, because I really didn't know what I was doing when I made it.

If you make any substantial changes or improvements to this design that result in a working instrument, please publish your version of the design to Thingiverse and tell me about it. And in general, if you make and/or perform with an instrument based on this design, I'd like to hear about it.

The document "8bit violin scratchpad" contains bitmap images I found on the net, and I don't claim any copyright on those.


The design documents are a bit messy, because I pretty much made them up as I went along over the course of about 3 crazy hours. You will probably need to adjust the designs for the materials you have available.

The 8bit violin scratchpad document contains most of the work I did to figure out the final designs, and is a helpful reference to see how parts fit together, but the actual designs in that document are not final. Many of the designs changed before printing. It's best to view this document with Adobe Illustrator, because you can view it one layer at a time. I wasn't able to export a format that had separate layers in Inkscape. If you can help with this, let me know.

The actual cutting files are all in PDF format. They might not have the correct line weights for cutting, depending on your laser software. Before cutting, double-check all the lines for cutting and that the labels (if any) are correctly formatted to engrave and not to cut.

8bit violin front+back only 12x24 is the cutting plan for the front and back faces of the violin. I used 12" x 24" x 1/8" oak craft plywood for this. Note: if you can't download that file, try the identical file 8bit violin front-back.

8bit violin sides and tailpiece is the cutting plan for the sides, tailpiece, sound post (3 copies), and bass bar. I used 3.5" x 24" x 1/4" solid oak or maple craft wood for these. Double check that the numbered labels on the side pieces are set to engrave, not to cut. Use the scratchpad layer sides - guide as a guide to where the side pieces go. Using wood glue, attach all the side pieces to the violin's back except the one at the neck. Note that there are six copies of a .75 x 1.25 rectangle with a hole in the middle. You will use three of these on the tail end and three on the neck end to reinforce the tail and neck sides and neck against string tension. See photo http://www.thingiverse.com/image:46117 to see the reinforcements on the tail end. The holes should all line up with the corresponding hole in the head or tail side piece.

Glue the bass bar and sound post to the underside of the violin's face. (I know you'd never glue the sound post in a real violin, but we're going for easy here, not perfect.) It's not very clear from the scratchpad document where the bass bar and sound post go, but google will find you a lot of very sophisticated advice which I mostly ignored.

8bit violin neck and pegs is the cutting plan for the neck and pegs. I used 5.5 x 24 x 1/4" solid oak or maple here. Use wood glue to laminate the four layers of the neck together. Compare to photos of the 8-bit violin or a real violin to make sure you get the layers in the right order: with the violin standing up facing you, the leftmost layer has (from top to bottom) a small hole, a big one, a small one, a big one. The two center layers have the cutout for the strings, and the rightmost layer has (from top to bottom) a big hole, a small one, a big one, a small one.

When the glue has set on the neck, glue the neck to the neck side piece from the previous step. Again, see photo http://www.thingiverse.com/image:46117 for guidance.

At this point, optionally drill a hole vertically into the base of the neck, lined up with the hole in the neck side piece. This is so you could slide a threaded steel rod through the ends of the violin for reinforcement, making sure it sticks out a quarter to half inch at the tail end. You could use nuts to secure it in place. I thought I would have to do this to keep the violin from collapsing under string tension. However, I never did put a rod in, and so far my violin has not collapsed!

If you don't use a reinforcing rod, insert a machine bolt through the hole at the tail end (fat end) of the violin with a nut and lockwasher on the outside as well as the inside, so that the head of the bolt is on the outside and protruding by 1/4" or more. You will use this to secure the tailpiece.

Now glue the neck with its side piece to the body of the violin, along with the other three reinforcing rectangles. Again, make sure all the holes line up.

Now you're ready to glue the face of the violin onto the body. I used slightly watered-down wood glue so that I might be able to pry the face off more easily in case I had to. (This trick gleaned from reading web sites of real violin builders). However, I haven't actually tried doing this. See photo http://www.thingiverse.com/image:46121

You should probably sand the bottom edges of the neck to round them off so they don't poke the violinist too much. It's a violation of the beautiful squareness of the violin, but necessary.

8bit violin fingerboard and nut is the design file for the fingerboard and nut, as well as for a sanding jig to aid in assembly. I cut it from 3.5 x 24 x 1/4" solid oak or maple. This file is a bit crazy, sorry. I didn't want to try to make an rounded, arched fingerboard like a real violin, because that's not 8-bit enough, but 90 degree angles wouldn't work here, so I inclined the two halves of the fingerboard at 21 degrees from horizontal. Glue the four big 21 degree right triangles to a piece of scrap board to create a jig that you can then use to sand the inner edges of the fingerboard halves on a stationary disk sander. This is a delicate operation - you want the two halves of the fingerboard to mate perfectly, so be careful and methodical here. Unfortunately I have no photos of this step; contact me if you need clarification.

You will also get a big pile of tiny 138 degree triangles. Glue the two halves of the fingerboard together, and glue a bunch of little triangles to the underside of the fingerboard to reinforce it and create an approximately flat bottom. For maximum strength, make sure the little triangles are glued to each other as well as to the fingerboard. You may be able to invent a jig to hold all this together while the glue firms up; I did not, so I just held it awkwardly in my fingers for about 20 minutes. Unfortunately I have no photos of this step; contact me if you need clarification.

When the fingerboard with its reinforcing triangles is quite dry, sand the bottom of the triangles to create a mostly flat surface. You may also need to use wood glue or putty to fill any gaps in the top of the fingerboard created by imperfect sanding or gluing - no big deal! Sand the sharp edges of the fingerboard to make it less uncomfortable for the violinist.

In this document I was experimenting with different sizes and styles of nuts for the top end of the fingerboard (the nut is the piece between the pegs and the fingerboard that holds the strings just above the fingerboard). Choose a nut that protrudes just a millimeter or so above the fingerboard (you may have to adjust the designs for this!) and glue the nut and the fingerboard to your violin's neck. Photo http://www.thingiverse.com/image:46114 shows the assembled neck.

8bit violin-bridge is the design file for the bridge, cut from a small piece of 3/16" or 1/4" plywood (I was afraid solid wood would would break under the compression of the strings). The file contains several different sizes of bridge, and you may want to experiment with different sizes and/or change the dimensions yourself. After cutting, I used a belt sander to thin the whole thing down slightly and to taper the bridge to about 3/32" at the top.

Time for the strings!

Attach the tailpiece to the tail bolt with a length of picture-hanging wire (or catgut, if you happen to have that lying around).

Sand or whittle the edges of the tuning pegs so that they're not quite so square, and so that they fit tightly but comfortably in the tuning holes. Rub the edges with rosin and/or tuning peg drops to make them sticky, then insert them loosely into the holes.

With a needle file or fine saw, cut notches in the nut to guide the strings. I've read that the bass string should rest about 1/2 mm from the fingerboard, the others slightly closer. You'll probably need to cut cautiously, and replace and remove the strings several times until you're happy with the fit.

Make sure you've let all the glue dry for a full 24 hours before you tighten the strings! (Note: I was impatient and waited only 40 minutes after gluing the fingerboard, but everything else was at least 24 hours dry!)

Run your strings through the tailpiece and up to the corresponding pegs. Tighten them a bit, and insert the bridge. Now cautiously tighten the strings up closer to a reasonable pitch. For the first day, I tuned my violin two half steps low just in case. I didn't raise it to concert pitch until several days later. Try your violin! It probably won't sound good, but it probably will sound.

8bit violin-chinrest You'll probably want to design a chinrest and/or shoulder rest if you plan to actually play the violin much. I made one out of 1/4" clear acrylic, so it could be rounded but still show the sharp 8-bit style corners underneath. This chinrest is not very useful or practical, but it's better than nothing. Sand or file the edges of the acrylic to round them so they don't poke the violinist's chin. Using acrylic cement, assemble the two rectangular pieces into an L-shape, 1.25" thick, that fits into one of the tail-end concave corners of the violin. Attach the larger blob shape to the top of the L and the smaller blob to the bottom so they form a sandwich over the violin. Use double-sided tape or a very small amount of hot-glue to attach the chinrest to the violin. See photo http://www.thingiverse.com/image:46368

8-bit violin tailpiece for tuners The original tailpiece has holes that are too small for screw-lever-style fine tuners. This tailpiece just has slightly bigger holes (0.135 inch) so you can use fine tuners as in the picture http://www.thingiverse.com/image:55667

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Wait, do/did you go to East View High School?

Some real fiddlers picked up the 8BV last week and really made it go! Videos here:


Wow, I was really hoping you'd publish it and here it is.

Something to set your mind at ease: on many student and beginner violins the sound post is in fact glued. The glueing is light though to facilitate adjustments. They do this because it would be very bad for a sound post to drop while the child is learning to play and tune the instrument. Imagine having to shell out $100 to get a sound post reset at the shop when the instrument itself was only a few hundred to begin with, not good.

That is wonderful! It makes me want to drop what I'm doing and work on a cigar box guitar that I have been mulling over.

A couple of things, one, I'm having trouble d/ling front+back only, maybe thingiverse doesn't like the plus sign? And two, did you put in a sound post or just do without? Thanks.

Did anyone else have trouble downloading the front+back file? I had the same problem. I added a second copy called "8bit violin front-back.pdf" which should work.

The sound post is in the file "sides and tailpiece" - actually, there's 3 copies of the sound post in there; I forget why! The sound post and bass bar are mentioned in the instructions up there somewhere.

Beautiful. I've been wanting to see the designs since I saw this on your blog. Very nice. I've got laser time that will be put to some good use tomorrow. :)

Absolutely incredible.

The video makes it quite credible actually. But awesome nonetheless! gnorp

Agree, speechless with awe.

Happy to have witnessed it here, thanks!