Five string Violins are a new take on an old design

Doug Armitage


Five string violins excel in musical styles that allow for improvisation because of their wide range and versatility. They are most commonly used in country fiddling, swing, and jazz music. A five string violin is a variant of violin with an extra string tuned to a fifth below the violin’s usual range. In addition to the G, D, A, and E strings of a standard violin, a five string violin typically includes a C string.
Brightwood Music began selling standard 5 string instruments several years ago, and has since added several innovative designs that improve the tone and projection of the five string violin. More and more of these unique designs have been snapped up by touring musicians locally and across the country. The biggest design difference in the Brightwood violin line of
five strings is the increased depth of the body, from 28mm on a standard violin to 35mm on the five string. This produces a larger tone box, with a better ability to project the low “C.”
Other Luthiers are employing different approaches with their five-string fiddles. Chicago luthier Martin Brunkalla has built instruments for SaraWatkins and other fiddlers, as well as several Chicago symphony players. He’s used both violin and viola patterns on his several five-strings, preferring to keep the violin bodies closer to normal size, and going with a small viola body if the player wants more power in the C string. He developed a smaller five-string “Tertis” viola model that worked well for one client.
Brightwood has several of these instruments that you can see or play in the shop in the Kathmandu Plaza building in Nederland.