Electric Violin: Making the Acoustic Electronic
With violins now making an appearance in a wide variety of musical styles – from country to jazz to rock -- electric violins have become more prevalent in today’s musical landscape. There are several types of electrics, and which one you choose may depend on several factors.
Types of Electric Violins
In the past, violin players could only achieve amplification by playing directly in front of a microphone, a process that was at best inconsistent. Currently there are a number of pickup systems that mount on an existing acoustic violin.
Violin pickups generally mount easily on an instrument, though some require a minor adjustment of the bridge. They are designed to avoid damaging your instrument, utilizing soft clamps and clips, special inert adhesive putty, or other non-destructive technology.
This configuration provides the closest amplified sound to your acoustic violin and also preserves the ability to play your instrument completely acoustically. In addition, since you are playing an acoustic violin there is no difference in feel.
One drawback is that of all the types, amplified acoustic violins have the greatest problem with feedback, that squealing or low rumbling sound that occurs when the electrified sound “feeds back” through the instrument’s pickup system.
Electrics with an Outlined Body Shape
In this category are dedicated electric violins that provide many aspects of the look and feel of a standard acoustic violin. Most have at least the outline of the violin body and a traditional headstock and tuning peg arrangement.
While maintaining the weight and contact points that a violinist is used to, they offer improvements in an amplified situation. Because there is no hollow body chamber to promote feedback, that issue is greatly reduced, though some models incorporate small acoustic chambers in the central body post that offer some of the resonance of an acoustic instrument.
Electronics are built in, providing not only ease of use but also expanded sonic possibilities. Pickups can be mounted within the body of the instrument as well as under the neck, the bridge, or other locations. Onboard controls may offer even more tonal variation.
These models are sometimes referred as “silent violins” (which is the Yamaha electric violin model name), as they can be played at a very low external volume, with headphones delivering the full sound to the player. They are also much less susceptible to environmental conditions, which makes them ideal for travel and use in any venue.
Modern Electric Models
Finally are the “pure” electric violins -- most notably the ones made by NS Design. Abandoning the classic violin body shape altogether, these models are sometimes referred to as a “stick.” The body is a slightly modified, narrow trapezoid, and there is no headstock; the tuning is done from the tailpiece. However, since they are equipped with a standard length and shaped neck plus an adjustable chin rest, shoulder rest, and arm rest, these can be played like a traditional violin.
Sophisticated onboard electronics, encompassing multiple pickup points and controls, offer a wide variety of tonal possibilities. While they produce almost no sound without being amplified, and sound the least like a traditional instrument when amplified, the NS models offer the greatest array of sound colors. As a completely solid body instrument, they avoid feedback almost completely.
Both the outlined and the NS models are available in five-string configurations.