|Artist and Wood Violins founder Mark Wood.|
Electric line infuses strings with a rock ’n’ roll spirit,
inspiring players from the classroom to the stage
Mark Wood built his first solid body electric violin in 1968, when he was 12. Trained from an early age as a classical strings player but hooked on Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix, Mark didn’t fit into any one category as a musician. As it turned out, he had to make his own. With a mother who was a concert pianist and a father who was an artist and woodworker, Mark and his three brothers became the New York area’s first known all-brother string quartet, playing prestigious venues including Lincoln Center during tours in the 1970s. Mark later studied at Juilliard on a full scholarship but became frustrated with his all-classical curriculum and left school, moving into his father’s art studio and beginning to experiment seriously with instrument design. Remarkably, he still went on to a standout career as a composer and musician: composing an Emmy-winning theme for the 1988 Olympics and performing for 15 years as an original member of the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, among other accomplishments. In the musical instruments world, though, he’s best known for revolutionizing the electric strings segment with the formation of Wood Violins in the early 1990s. An innovator in extended-range designs, fretwork, and ergonomics, Wood Violins now offers more than 40 configurations in electric violins, cellos, and basses. Its leading model, the Viper, is played by violinists around the world, including players with Lady Gaga, Carrie Underwood, Big and Rich, and Shania Twain.
“Our instruments are designed by a master string player, and our company is run by this groundbreaking artist,” says Laura Kaye, Mark’s wife and vice president of Wood Violins. “We never forget who we build our instruments for and how exacting our clientele is.”
The fascination Mark had for rock music and electrified sound shows itself in many features of the Wood Violins line. Its most recognizable instrument, the Viper, combines a bold V-shaped body with a patented design that makes it self-supporting, or able to “float” on the player’s body without a chinrest. Mark created the system to let violinists move around the stage with all the fluidity and rhythm of guitar players, though it proved equally beneficial for alleviating back and neck pain linked to playing. A related innovation made Wood’s Cobra model the first self-supporting cello, allowing cellists to stand up while playing. For players seeking a more familiar instrument, the Stingray SVX, Katana, Legend, Nashville, and Concert Series models bring electrified Wood designs to violins with traditional chinrests and shoulder pads. Each Wood Violins model is offered in both a fretless edition and a fretted design developed by Mark to let violinists play a variety of chordal patterns up and down the fingerboard the way guitar players do—but modified to maintain the expressive qualities unique to the violin. The chord dot configuration displayed on each instrument is also original, mapping out the fingerboard with markers to represent scale patterns and chord fingerings. A spectrum of 5-, 6-, and 7-string instruments are offered in addition to traditional 4-string versions, effectively representing “the entire orchestra in one instrument,” as Kaye puts it, from the bass range up through the violin.
Handmade at the company’s home base in Huntington, New York, Wood Violins are widely thought of as high-end instruments retailing in the range of $2,000-$5,000 and up—though the Stingray violin model offers a more accessible option with a base price of $699. The line is sold around the world with support from artists hailing from points as diverse as India, Spain, Japan, Malaysia, and Zambia. Undoubtedly the line’s number one ambassador, though, has always been Mark Wood himself. Still an in-demand performer, both live and on social media, Mark is also the architect of several efforts to promote orchestral playing within schools and youth groups. His Electrify Your Strings program brings intensive modern workshops to more than 100 schools per year, while his Mark Wood Rock Orchestra Camp brings orchestral students together to learn from a faculty of celebrated artists. The college-level Mark Wood Training Program, geared toward developing the next generation of music teachers, debuted at Ohio State University in 2014. A new partnership with Dr. Bob Gillespie resulted in Rockin Strings, published by Hal Leonard, a cutting-edge string curriculum emphasizing a creative approach to music making through technology, improvisation, and American styles.
“As Mark was never motivated to give up his violin in favor of guitar,” says Kaye, “he now inspires kids who play a stringed instrument to stick with it and discover their own voices.”