‘Under the Spotlight’ with Violectra

Violectra is an iconic brand, associated with MIA members Moseley Violins.  We were fascinated to find out more about this part of the business.

Who are you and what do you do?

Hi, I am David Bruce Johnson, and for 30 years I have been making Violectra – a range of hand-crafted electric violins, viola and cellos.

My Violectra journey began even earlier than this at the Nova Scotia College of Art and   Design in Canada in 1975, and then I came to London to study guitar and violin-making. My first job in England was working for Rosehill Strings in Buckinghamshire as a violin repairer and then I did the same for Highfield Strings, here in Birmingham.

Then a customer came to me with issues about amplifying his violin and the seeds of Violectra were sown.

What drove you to start making Violectra?

Customers.  They have shaped my work from the start and continue to do so.

If you had to share one unique selling points of your business, what would it be?

Each Violectra is custom-made to meet each customers unique requirements. This can include the shape of the instruments – often so it best matches the feel of their acoustic instrument. Another variation is the number of strings so that, for example, a Violectra violin can have between four and eight strings, giving it the range of a violin, viola and cello.  Then, there’s all the finishing touches: inlays, colour and transfers.

I am currently working with a customer and the Birmingham-based guitar manufacturer, Jay-Dee Custom Guitars, to make a Violectra violin that also celebrates their famous Supernatural bass guitar, first made in the mid-1980s.

Tell us about the way you interact with players, venues, teachers etc.

I work with musicians all over the World to design their instruments. I have developed the amplification quality for Violectra so that it works well in both small intimate settings and very large concert venues.

As a musician myself, I know many local musicians and play in local venues and understand the importance of having reliable sound in situations where you need to be flexible and in the right balance with other instruments.

What do you feel is the biggest challenge for you in 2022?

Keeping up with orders! Covid has increase the importance of music in people’s lives. This includes some people deciding this is the time to buy their first or even second Violectra.  As each instrument has a unique design and is hand-carved from solid wood, it takes months to make each one. My waiting list is growing.

This is in the context of also running a busy violin and fretted repair and retail business (Moseley Violins) in Birmingham’s ‘Bohemian Quarter’.

Tell us about a famous customer

Nigel Kennedy has bought a number of Violectra (all in his beloved Aston Villa colours) over the years for himself and his support musicians.  But I am pleased to have instruments featured in many types of music in many countries. For example, in classical music (Leila Josefowicz – Canada, Richard Tognetti -Australia), folk (the late Dave Swarbrick), rock (Violectra features on Coldplay’s Viva la Vide and has toured with Oasis), Jazz (Jean-Luc Ponty, France), Latin American influenced music (Fabio Cristancho Columbia) and the eclectic and entertaining Violectra quartet, Stringfever.

But importantly they are played by gigging musicians on cruise ships, in studios, at weddings, while busking, and, by using earphones, played ‘silently’ at home.

What are you currently listening to?

I play a range of instruments: violin, cello, guitar, mandolin, harmonica, sitar, and even a Chinese erhu and this is reflected in my eclectic mix of listening, ranging across jazz, classical, folk to rock. I have just bought myself a new turntable so am enjoying revisiting my many LPs from the ‘vinyl era’.

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