Violist Henrik Frendin shares how his search for the perfect sound palette led him to commission two bespoke instruments by Richard Rolf


Henrik Frendin’s electric viola by Richard Rolf

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Henrik, you play an electric viola and a five-string bass viola made for you by Richard Rolf. Why did you need custom-made instruments?

Being a classical violist my sound is my identity. The beauty and richness of the tone is the fundamental core that cannot be negotiated. Being able to preserve as much of this authentic sound when going electrical is my ultimate goal. In addition to that I need to have a clean signal from my instrument when boosting the volume. If I amplify my sound from an acoustic viola with a standard dynamic microphone, other sounds will leak into my channel. It is like an upside down umbrella that will capture all raindrops that fall down into it. Not only the ones that you want to collect. 

In order to fulfil my vision of maintaining a natural amplified sound, I need an instrument constructed to have the tonal quality, and also being amplified in a way that the microphone system captures only the sound signal of the viola. To make such an instrument you have to re-think the whole construction of the traditional viola. It is like searching for the holy grail. It took Richard Rolf 15 years of research to get to the point when he considered this idea of construction fully developed. I haven’t seen any other amplified string instrument constructed this way. His instruments are truly unique.


The back of the electric viola

How did these instrument commissions come about? 

I started to look for an electric viola in the late 90s for a specific project, and had been trying everything I could find on the market. Unfortunately none of them attracted me. One recurring problem was the absence of the ability to change the dynamic and timbre with my bow. I felt like painter with only black and white on my palette. 

I had almost given up when I bumped into an old friend of mine who is also a respected cello player. When I complained about my recent bad experiences, he recommended me to contact Richard Rolf who had introduced his groundbreaking ideas of amplification of string instruments. The next day I called Mr Rolf and after some pondering he accepted the challenge to make a new instrument for me.


Five-stringed viola

Richard, what can you tell us about the instruments? 

Creating these instruments was a far bigger challenge than I could ever imagine. Several times I had to rebuild a whole instrument from scratch. I dived deeper and deeper into research in order to understand what I actually was doing. One major problem was solved in a dream. I experienced a solution how to design a crucial detail of the instrument.

I woke up and immediately drawed it on a piece of paper. After implementing this detail in the construction the whole instrument started to vibrate harmonically. This was a ’eureka moment.’

Many other problems haunted me as well, but Henrik was patient and insisted, ’You can’t stop now.’

After several bumps in the road, stamina and encouragements from Henrik we came closer and closer to a dynamic and authentic tone. It was a hard and beautiful lesson to never give up. 


Henrik Frendin in his studio with his instrument

Henrik Frendin and Sebastian Mullaert’s album HIND will be released on 24 May 2024 on Lamour Records 

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