So you decided to “go electric” with the Violin. This is not going to be as easy a journey as you think or hope. And you will need to know how to find your ideal electric violin.
So, let’s go through some of the issues, the plus points, and a few negatives. But before we do, where did the electric violin come from? What was its inspiration?
- Older Than You Might Think
- What Are Electric Violins For?
- How Do You Choose?
- Things You Need to Consider
- A Few More Things
- Looking for a Great Violin or Violin Accessories?
- How to Find Your Ideal Electric Violin – Final Thoughts
Older Than You Might Think
They have been in use for some time now. The 1920s saw the first crude attempts at attaching a pickup to a standard acoustic violin. And by the 30s and 40s, there was a limited range available from Vega.
Leo Fender, never one to miss an opportunity, created a prototype electric violin in 1958. But he withdrew it just as production was about to start. Fender was bought by the mercurial CBS (a joke, by the way), and they introduced it anyway in 1969. Presumably, when they realized they hadn’t a clue how to make guitars. That lasted until 1975.
The Market expands
By the 80s, brand names were appearing offering their own electric violins. Although it has to be said the market was a little slow to react. But there were some excellent instruments made by companies like Zeta and Violectra. Zeta added outrageous designs and colors, which appealed to users like Vanessa-Mae, who still plays with her Zeta jazz electric violin.
Here comes Yamaha
Didn’t really need to say that. It is a foregone conclusion that they would be in there somewhere. But typical of the Japanese giant, they produce real quality and make some of the best electric violins around.
There are a lot of choices. And like all instruments, some are good and some not. You might expect them to have differences in sound. They do.
But some of them feel very different from other electric violins. That will be an important issue we shall look at later. When you buy one, it has got to feel right as well as sound good.
What Are Electric Violins For?
This is the first thing to consider. They are not for the local orchestra or string quartet at all. But if you are in or joining a band that tends to be loud, then you are going to need one.
They are also good for players who might perform solos. On stage, movement might be part of that, and having an electric instrument is going to help. Furthermore, the ideal electric violin lets you move freely during live shows.
They do offer a different sound which is another consideration. If what you’re playing doesn’t require the Classical warm sounds of an acoustic violin, then electric is an alternative.
Why Buy One?
Players use them because they need to be louder. And that doesn’t just mean rock and metal bands that use violins. Some artists play solo performances and use them to ensure they can move around the stage.
Some Violinists buy them because they don’t want their priceless acoustic instruments damaged in pop and rock performances. And that can very easily happen on a cramped stage. Likewise, so they don’t have to chop lumps out of them to fit a pickup.
We would like to point out that they are not good for starters on the violin. If you are just learning to play, then the acoustic version is going to be a better option.
What is good for one genre…
Is not always good for another. Some violins suit different styles of music better than others. A violin that sounds great in a metal band might not be so good playing Bluegrass. Different instruments will suit different genres.
How Do You Choose?
Let’s go back to something we mentioned a little earlier. When you are buying an instrument of any description, it has to feel right. All the other things like sound are important, but if it doesn’t feel good, you will never perform at your best.
I read a feature about the violin and viola. It talked about why orchestral musicians are always seated. An obvious answer, of course, is that they are reading their music. But there is a side issue.
Playing with the instrument under your chin is not a natural body position. Pressure is being exerted from the neck and back to hold it in position. The arms are extended from between waist and shoulder high. Not a natural body position at all. It is far easier, more comfortable, and safer to play the violin and viola seated.
When the electric violin arrived, the first models were quite heavy with all the extra electrics involved. This caused problems. They weren’t designed to be played seated. It rather defeated the object. Some players suffered from sore backs and shoulders.
The problem has been solved to an extent
This problem has been overcome by the materials used. They are lightweight these days, which causes less tension in the back and helps your upper body to relax. However, it is still there to a degree. Before you buy your electric violin, you need to try a few first.
Is it comfortable? Does it feel heavy? Always try it out standing up if that is how you are going to use it. An instrument is a personal thing. What feels good to one person will not feel right to another. There is no point in me saying this is a comfortable instrument to play. It might be for me, but it might not be for you.
This isn’t like buying an acoustic violin, where each brand has plenty of choices. Manufacturers that make electric violins have less of a choice. But there are plenty of options. If you want to know how to find your ideal electric violin, it is worth looking at as many as you can.
Things You Need to Consider
Well, the first thing is what we have just considered, the weight and the level of comfort. Then I would look at how it plays. Is it comfortable to play? Is the instrument nicely balanced and not neck or body-heavy?
What about fingerboard access high up? Can you reach the high notes comfortably because you will probably need to? And what about mobility. If you are going to play in a rock or metal band, it is unlikely you will be standing motionless. Will it take being thrown around a bit?
Finally, if you are using it for stage performance, do you want it to look good? If you are playing as the front person like Vanessa-Mae or Nigel Kennedy, then it will be an asset.
Is it easy to make adjustments? One of the important adjustments that some players need to make is with the bridge. Lowering or raising the bridge will give you a faster action. It can also allow you to play more aggressively without the instrument buzzing or over-vibrating. If you need to make those adjustments, you need to ensure they are easy to achieve.
Interesting you might think, that I have left this almost until last. There is a reason for that I shall mention in a minute. But to start with, when you are trying them out, make sure it is plugged into a “neutral” amp. No effects, nothing special, no sound shaping, just an amp with a volume.
Some manufacturers “cheat” a little by including guitar pickups in their violin. Not good. They tend to have an extra top end and are too bright. This is not picking a guitar with a plectrum.
Dragging horsehair across the strings produces a different sound. You will need plenty of the lower frequencies as well as an all-around sound experience.
The Build can affect the Sound
Most electric violins have solid bodies, but Yamaha and a few others produce them with hollow chambers. The idea is to try and replicate a more acoustic sound. They are worth looking at because of the sound variation.
One more thing about Sound
The best electric violin is never going to sound like the best acoustic violin. Not even close; it was not designed for that. It is a completely different instrument with a completely different reason for existing. If you think you are going to get a loud version of an acoustic violin, you will be disappointed.
Consider this. An electric guitar doesn’t sound like an acoustic Guitar. An electric bass doesn’t sound like an acoustic bass. So why should an electric violin sound like an acoustic violin? Just like the guitar and bass, it doesn’t.
A quick mention about this vital piece of equipment. You can use an acoustic violin bow on an electric violin. And the better the bow, the better it will be. However, depending on the environment you are in, you need to be careful.
As we have already mentioned, a packed stage for a rock band can be a risky environment. A bow can be snapped in half easily. They aren’t cheap to replace. Maybe you should consider a carbon-fiber bow. They produce similar results but are very rugged and can take a bit of punishment.
A good electric violin from a reputable manufacturer is going to cost you a lot less than the acoustic equivalent. If you buy too cheap, then you are risking a poor quality instrument. But there are some other things to consider.
A Few More Things
Oh yes, unfortunately, there is. You are going to need an amp for practice at home. Not a loud one, but like an electric guitar, you will get nothing from your electric violin without one. I have included an option at the end. What about an amp for live performances? That might come a bit more expensive depending on what you need.
Why did I leave sound until last? Most electric violin players also use an array of effects pedals like a guitarist. For live performance, you may well need Reverb, Delay, possibly Chorus, or even Distortion, depending on the musical genre. You can manipulate the sound artificially. This is because you won’t get the best effect of the electric Violin by playing it “dry.”
Here are some options to consider based on what we have discussed. A great instrument from an esteemed manufacturer of musical instruments is the Yamaha Electric Violin – YEV104NT. For a decent package that includes most of the things, you will need, check out the Bunnel Electric Violin Package.
A Carbon Fiber bow to consider is the Fiddlerman Carbon Fiber Violin Bow. Of course, you will need an amp for practice. Roland makes some excellent “mini” amps. One of their best is the Roland CUBE-ST Street Battery-Powered 5-Watt Stereo Amplifier.
Looking for a Great Violin or Violin Accessories?
We can help you with that. Check out our in-depth reviews of the Best Electric Violins, the Best Electric Cellos, the Best Cremona Violins, the Best Student Violins, the Best Violin Cases, the Best Violin Rosins, the Best Violin Bows, and the Best Violin Strings you can buy in 2022.
You might also enjoy our handy guides on How Can I Learn to Play the Violin on My Own, How Many Different Types of Violins Are There, Tips For Tuning Your Violin, and A Guide to Choosing the Right Violin Strings for more helpful information about violins.
How to Find Your Ideal Electric Violin – Final Thoughts
If you are going to buy an electric violin, you must appreciate something. The electric version is not supposed to be an acoustic violin. It won’t sound or play like it. Much like an electric guitar doesn’t relate to an acoustic guitar. It is its own instrument, as I have already said, and can offer a lot in their own right.
Until next time, let your music play.