Artists like Lindsay Sterling, Mark Wood, and Taylor Davis and groups like the Trans Siberian Orchestra and NuClassica regularly show up on our social media feeds and YouTube recommendations with energetic performances on the electric violin. We can even find a number of traditional classical musicians dabbling in the dark arts of synths and electric guitar pedal effects. With the constant development of new platforms and venues for performance, many musicians are acquiring electric instruments or pickups.
For those that regularly gig in a band or perform for weddings with backing tracks the ability to plug-in-and-go and mix the sound allows for a zero fuss setup. Electric violins are extremely stable in a variety of environmental conditions and are excellent for outdoor gigs. They cost significantly less than their acoustic counterparts and are relatively “replaceable” compared to a fine antique. Additionally, since there is no body that resonates, they are extremely adverse to feedback.
The wow factor and looks of performer as important as ever and the shapes and colors that electric violins come in are wild and attractive. For more of a traditionalist or only on the rare occasion that amplification is needed, an unobtrusive pickup may be added to an acoustic violin.
Preamps and Effects
The ability to plug into an array of preamps and effects pedals allows for the extreme shaping of ones sound. From something that does a great job of resembling the sound of an acoustic violin to sounds that seem to be from another world.
Whether one decided to go with a pickup or with a full-on electric setup, the instruments audio signal will only be as good as the preamp. Some instruments have on board preamps, others do not and therefore one should consider a high quality pre-amp before investing in any effects pedals. A preamp boosts the signal from the pickup without adding artificial noise and many have equalizers and feedback suppression built in. I strongly recommend the LR Baggs Venue Di Preamp or Fishman Platinum Pro Preamp.
The added bonus is the ability to use effects pedals, most commonly used by electric guitarist. Effects like distortion, phase shift, octave and wah are a few common ones. The combinations are endless and the quality of multi-effects units like the Line 6 Pod are unbelievably versatile and simple to use.
An amplifier with a speaker array like the Fishman SA330X or the Bose L1 Compact are excellent for the solo violinist looking to perform with backing tracks in smaller venues or intimate outdoor performances. They have multiple channels for input and can support a number of additional musicians. For personal amplification only, something small like the Fishman Loudbox Mini would be a solid choice. I’d recommend going to a local music store to get your hands on some amps and talk to a sales representative, there are too many features and varieties to discuss in a single article.
When you spend money on quality equipments, it is such a waste to use cheap quality cables. In my audio setup I use only Mogami cables, and while expensive, the difference is quite obvious. The clarity and crispness of the sound really comes through. Avoid using no-name 1/4″ cables, but cables like the Monster and Planet Waves are more than capable as well.
Shopping for an Electric Violin
Unlike shopping for their acoustic counterparts, not only is there less variety of electric violins out there, but one does not need to try several of the same model. They are more or less the same, i.e. same pickups, same setup, etc. What will differ from one model to the next might be the type of pickups, the shape of the body, and connectivity options.
What about the Bow?
A wood bow isn’t necessarily going to make a huge sound difference either, if you own a carbon fiber bow that functions well, use it. If not, consider one as they are equally suited for the venues that one would use an electric violin in and make an excellent backup bow for your acoustic violin.
A violinist that doesn’t want to invest in a new violin and would rather fit up their existing acoustic violin could consider getting a pickup that is integrated in the bridge like the LR Baggs Violin Pickup( ~$150).
For the traditional classical violinist that needs only the occasional amplification the Fishman V-200(~$150.00) would be the perfect choice. It’s easy to install and remove to use only when needed.