Wood Violins’ Mark Wood – Man on a Mission
Internationally acclaimed violinist Mark Wood has played with stars as big as Celine Dion, Billy Joel, and Lenny Kravitz, and is lead violinist for the Trans-Siberian Orchestra. He has half a dozen CDs on his own and is an Emmy-winning composer. But that’s only part of the story.
Increasingly Wood has focused his attention on two of his other vocations. As a manufacturer, his company, Wood Violins, is offering more electric bowed instruments, including a new mass-produced model that will retail below $800. Education is also taking increasingly dominant role in his life – he’s turning kids on to the Gospel According to Electric Violin. Under the slogan “Finally – it’s cool to play the violin,”; Wood is creating new players and new customers for new instruments.
And, as his unique violin playing is often compared to some of rock’s greatest guitarists, it’s not a stretch for him to put frets on a violin.
“All our instruments are available with frets,”; he notes. “Why? One, it introduces guitar players to the violin; it makes it friendly for the player. Second, string players can learn to play chords easily on a fretted violin. Finally, when you’re playing at high volume, it’s much easier to play in tune when you have frets. And as we know, nothing is more horrifying than a violin being played out of tune!”;
He says his biggest challenge of the last 10 years as a manufacturer is getting the idea across that putting a pickup on a violin does not make it an electric violin – “it just makes a violin loud. I want to motivate and inspire string players like guitar players are inspired. People like Steve Vai and David Gilmour, have changed the way we thought of guitar. They really motivate [the market] …
“String players are the sleeping giant of the musical instrument industry, my friend.”;
Speaking recently from a hotel room in Kansas City, Wood was on the road not only as a performer, but as an educator and clinician. He says he has worked with over 1,000 string players in the past two weeks. “I’m working with universities, high schools, middle schools, even elementary schools – you gotta get them when they are young,”; he emphasize. “I do master classes at Julliard and Eastman, and I’m honored to do those, but unfortunately those string players can’t always understand the new techniques. That’s the struggle for me. I’m going to nurture the younger generation so that in 10 years we can take over the world!”;
Part of Wood’s strategy for global domination (at least the string instrument playing realm) is based on the model of guitar players. Putting frets on a violin, and creating electric instruments with five, six, and seven strings is opening the electric string instrument to a whole world of players.
“Guitars are a billion-dollar business; strings just $53 million,”; he comments. “What’s wrong with this picture? We should have a billion-dollar industry for strings, too.”;
Wood points out that improvisation is completely left out of the typical string player’s education. “[Improvisation] is where the magic happens, yet thousands of string players don’t know how to do it — and I was one of them! You can get all the way to Julliard and not even know what key you’re playing in. You just play your part and go home. To me that’s very narrow.”;
Reinventing an Instrument
Wood, appropriately, comes from a family of wood workers. His grandfather was the architect who built the main building where Ford cars were built in the 1930s. Another family member built furniture for Amelia Earhart. His father made religious furniture for temples and churches, and the wood shop was just a few minutes from his home in New York.
“I would ride my bike down to the shop and just started trying to build violins,”; Wood says. Already a prolific string player at 10, he initially just wanted to build a “cooler looking”; violin. He quickly realized that acoustically the traditional shape of a violin was that way for a reason — but as for electric versions, the possibilities were limited only by the imagination.
Not that Wood neglected his traditional studies: Julliard recognized his talents at the viola and gave him a scholarship. During his time there, Eddie Van Halen burst onto the scene. “I thought, ‘I got to play like that on the viola,’”; he remembers. So Wood dropped out of school, moved back home, and began reinventing not only the instrument, but also the pedagogy that went with it. Soon the one-of-a-kind instruments he created — the extra strings, the double necks — drew almost as much attention has his playing.
“When I got my record deal, the struggle for me was that at first I wanted to be the only guy to play these odd instruments,”; he says. “Then I was a guest on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno in 1992, and all these requests for the instrument came in.”;
Thus was the beginning of making his seven-string Viper, with frets, along with a patented support system, available for sale. The instrument is actually the entire string family, and is able to play a seven-octave range. “It’s insane, but somebody had to do it!”; he laughs.
Working with partner Joe Domjan in a spacious barn on Long Island, they would build their high-end instruments, which could cost $5,000 or more. “That market was a small demographic,”; he says. “But we weren’t addressing more than 90% of the market.”; This has led to the recent significant advancement for Wood Violin: the Stingray SV-4.
“It’s aimed at the entry-level market, and priced at about $800,”; Wood says. “This includes the instrument, bow, case, headphones, pre-amp, and a specially designed amp, the first amp we know of that has been designed by a violin player for violin. Also, a Wood Wah pedal is included because you need a wah pedal.”; To complete the turn-key package, the customer also becomes privy to a “secret”; Web site that features downloadable play-along tracks.
“There’s a Revolution Happening”;
For his new line of lower-priced instruments, he says, “I’ve created an experience where almost immediately the player is exploring exciting new territory — every component of the Stingray SV-4 turn-key experience connects and resonates with the performance of a new sound and new music.”;
For retailers, it’s a matter of whether or not they want to part of “the most exciting and fastest-growing part of the industry,”; he contends. “There’s a revolution happening, and when you look at sales of electric violins in just the last 10 years, it’s astounding how fast it’s going. Every new string player is demanding more from their string experience, and just like guitarist typically have an acoustic guitar and a couple of electrics, that will be what violinists want.”;
Ready and willing to straddle both the traditional and more contemporary string worlds, Wood proudly tells that he’s been recently elected to the board of the American String Teachers Association (ASTA.)
Passionate about everything he does, Wood especially gets excited when talking about his role as an educator. “It’s an honor to get to do what I do, and I see a great opportunity,”; he says. “It’s all about the music — that’s what inspires me. Every day I wake up in a different hotel, sometime not even knowing exactly where I am, but I never question that I have a purpose in this.”;
Wood Violins receive daily emails and calls about how his workshops have inspired a player. Common too are stories of kids just about to put the violin down for good, but who are now embracing it as never before because of one of his appearances.
Just recently, he was working with a large student orchestra and randomly pulled a 17-year-old girl from the back to work with. “Out of nowhere she responded to the music and the electric violin,”; Wood recalls. “She was shy at first, but then she was rocking out on Led Zeppelin and by the end of the workshop she was on cloud nine.”; Wood learned later that only the day before his workshop the young woman had tried to commit suicide. A teacher who knows her well went so far as to say Wood had saved the girl’s life.
“When things like that happen, that truly makes me feel something is happening here that is on a higher level,”; he says. “I don’t take it lightly.”;
For more information, visit www.woodviolins.com.