David Ragsdale’s five-string violin playing has been getting attention for years, first through his work with country star Louise Mandrell, then with the rock band Kansas, and always in his many distinguished solo projects. It would be safe to say that he’s played his share of fine violins, both traditional and electric. Over time, however, Ragsdale found that even under the best of circumstances, the electric instruments sounded like “violins with a bad cold.”
After years of struggling with electrics, in 2014 he decided he needed a five-string that could be amplified with a pickup – and he knew exactly whom he wanted to make it. “Since I’d already played so many of Peter’s instruments, I knew that if I were going to have an acoustic instrument built to be electrified and played on stage, Peter was going to be my guy,” says Ragsdale.
The build process was relatively easygoing, with Ragsdale checking in once a month and otherwise completely trusting Peter to follow his vision. Although Peter started working on a fairly traditional instrument, he decided instead to do something completely unique, building a copy of a model made by the French builder Francois Chanot in 1818. In addition to having a reverse scroll, the Chanot is notable for having flush edges, which allows for increased freedom of vibration along the length of the body. To this already unique form, Peter added his own features, lengthening and deepening the body by ¼” and adding an unusually shaped f-hole. To amplify the instrument, Ragdsale uses an LR Baggs pickup installed by the shop.
Ragsdale has been using the violin extensively, and it can be heard on the most recent Kansas album The Prelude Implicit. Does he feel those vibrations throughout the body that Chanot originally intended? “I sure do!” he says. “It’s a wonderful instrument to play, and I have not looked back!”