By David Templeton | From the May-June 2022 issue of Strings magazine
Violinist Lindsey Stirling was always reasonably confident that the new acoustic violin she designed for Yamaha would be well-received once it finally hit the market. She does, after all, have millions of fans and followers around the world, many of them inspired to take up the violin after hearing her high-energy, electronic-fueled music or watching her even more energetic videos. But even Stirling wasn’t prepared for how high demand for the Lindsey Stirling “Crystallize” Signature Yamaha Violin would be.
“The first run sold out within a day, which was crazy!” Stirling says, speaking in late February of 2022, as Yamaha was already deep in production on the next run of the instrument that went on sale at the end of 2021. Noting that that first run totaled 50 instruments, Stirling explains, “One thing people don’t think about when they are looking at these violins is that they are handmade. That was very important to me. I’m proud to say that these are all made by hand by brilliant violin makers, by craftspeople. That’s why they are made so slowly, but that’s also why they sound so good. There is a human touch to them. You can’t create a Lindsey Stirling violin by machine.”
Stirling, who grew up in Arizona and is now based in L.A., leaped into the spotlight (more-or-less literally) in 2012, with a self-titled debut album that included the song “Crystallize,” after which the new violin is named. According to the artist known for dancing, twirling, bouncing, hanging from ropes, and even battling misty projections of giant squids as she plays the rousingly beautiful, adrenaline-spiking tunes she often writes herself or co-writes (she wrote “Crystallize” with the album’s producer Marko G), designing a violin for students and beginners is something she’s long wanted to do.
“From the beginning of my career, I’ve been getting requests, all the time, from people asking me what kind of violin I recommend, and a lot of the time they are just starting out,” Stirling says. “I never knew exactly where to send people for that kind of mid-tier violin, for someone who was taking music seriously but wasn’t ready to invest in a master-level instrument yet.”
That, she believes, is a crucial and important time for a musician. It’s when they need a quality instrument that matches their skill level but also helps get them to the place they want to be growing toward. In her own early days, she often customized her violins to fit her expanding requirements, and the Yamaha instrument, not surprisingly, includes a number of those things.
“I’ve been a partner with Yamaha for a long time and they’ve known I was interested in designing something, and they said, please don’t do it with anyone but us. So that’s how it started,” says Stirling of how the collaboration began. “I just sat down with them and listed the features it simply had to have.”
One of those “must haves” was the violin’s user-friendly Wittner pegs.
“I remember as a kid, and even as a teenager, struggling so much to tune my violin, just trying to put all this pressure on it to get the stinkin’ pegs to stick,” she recalls with a laugh. “When you’re in the middle of orchestra class and you can’t get your violin to stay tuned, it’s really frustrating. With these Wittner pegs, when I’m onstage performing, if I notice that my E string is getting a little flat or something, I can just quickly reach up and—without even taking my violin down—just tune on the spot in a matter of milliseconds, between phrases. It’s such a game changer.”
The materials used in making the Crystallize violin were all hand-selected by Stirling. The top is hand-graduated spruce, with back, sides, and neck of flamed maple. The fingerboard and chinrest are ebony, as are the Wittner pegs. And that’s just for starters.
“Yamaha sent me several models and allowed me to play them, and from those I selected the ones that had the most consistent tone,” Stirling explains. “That’s a huge thing, from bottom to top. Is there a consistent tone? I also put little embellishments on the violin as the design process went on. I hand-drew a little ‘Violin Girl,’ and now she’s on every single violin.”
Such details are other ways the new violin resembles the ones Stirling plays.
“I always put fun stuff on my own violins, little accessories and things,” she says. “It’s fun! So I’ve included the Violin Girl and, because we’re calling the violin Crystallize, there’s even a little crystal—of course. I just wanted this violin to feel and look unique, while still being true to a very classically refined instrument. I think we really succeeded at that. It looks and sounds beautiful.”
As for the decision to name the instrument after one of her most popular songs, Stirling said it came early on in the process. “Crystallize became its name right around the time we decided to put that little crystal on it,” she says. “It just felt right. That’s a song that a lot of my fans still gravitate to as a favorite, because it was with that song that a lot of people found me. It was a big moment in my career, and to this day, when I play “Crystallize” onstage, I can hear the audience kind of do this intake of breath as the intro begins. There’s this palpable sense of magical excitement that they’re about to hear a song they love. So it seemed like that would be a perfect name for my first violin.”
Once all of the design elements were in place, to make sure the instrument was truly representative of her requirements, Stirling road-tested a prototype, playing it for a year while on tour before giving the OK for Yamaha to release it under her name. “Nobody puts more strain on their violins than I do,” she says. “That includes performing in all kinds of weather, inside or outside, in the summer and in the winter. I wanted to make sure it sounded beautiful in all the ways I play a violin. From a professional violin-playing standpoint, it definitely stood up to the test.” All told, the design and testing process took about two years.
Asked if there’s one element she’s proudest of, Stirling doesn’t hesitate. “It’s the pegs,” she says. “It’s a user-friendly thing that gives me a lot of confidence when I’m playing. I’ve had customized versions of these pegs with every violin I’ve owned, because there’s no violin that just comes with them. So that’s why I was so excited to make that a part of this violin.”
As for her hopes for those who select and play the instrument she’s put so much thought and personality into designing, Stirling takes a moment, apologizing in advance for an answer she suspects might be considered “cheesy” by some: “I really hope people find themselves in this violin,” she says. “I remember when my parents bought me my first violin. I was in fifth grade, and it cost $1,500. That’s a lot of money. My dad was a schoolteacher. We didn’t have a lot of money. But that violin made me feel like such a better player, because it allowed me to highlight the things I’d practiced and learned, and those other violins weren’t quite the caliber of what I needed to show off the different skills I’d been learning. Suddenly, a door opened and I was like, ‘Oh my gosh! I’m a lot better than I thought I was!’ That violin ended up taking me all the way through college and allowed me to audition for my college symphony and extracurricular orchestras and to play in bands and do all kinds of things. Through that violin, I discovered what I could do and what I was capable of doing. That’s what I want players to find in this one.”
Not surprisingly, Stirling says she’d like to design more instruments in the future, and she already has ideas. “I’d like to design an electric violin,” she says. “That sounds really fun to me. Also, making one designed to be able to played while dancing around a lot, the way I do in a lot of my performances. I want to design a violin specifically for the way I move.”
Noting that the current cost of the Lindsey Stirling “Crystallize” Signature Yamaha Violin is $2,500, she adds that she’d like to design one at a lower price point. “I’d really like to design a violin for students who need something really economical,” she says, “because I have seen some fans wish there was one that costs less. A $2,000-plus violin, that’s a huge investment. So I’d like to do one—even if it’s not quite as pristine as this one—that’s still a good violin that will help students reach their full potential.”
Regardless of whether she designs another two or three or even more instruments, Stirling says she looks forward to someday attending a concert, looking up at the young player onstage, and recognizing one of her own violins. “I think that would be so cool, and I think I’d recognize it immediately,” she says, “I’d love that. That would be so amazing.”