Sometimes I receive messages asking my advice on music-related topics. Recently, I was asked this question from a fan: “Hello, I was wondering if you could recommended an electric violin? My budget is about $800. Are there any groups who play with these?” Below is my response.
Purchasing an electric violin is much like purchasing an acoustic instrument – you find the one that works for you and matches your style of playing.
There are many different brands and styles of violins: acoustic-electric where the pickups are either attached or built into the violin, silent electric where the body is more of a skeleton that has little to no reverberation when played, and hard body electric where the body may also vibrate. There are also brands that have 4 or 5 string models where the instrument can be a violin and viola as it contains the strings C, G, D, A and E. With all of these electric versions, you WILL need a pre-amp to adjust your levels and sounds for the music.
The desired style of playing will help determine which type of instrument to use.
For metal rock, one usually has special pedal effects. For this, you do NOT want an acoustic instrument as there are so many overtones that will be picked up. A solid body is best for this as it allows some vibration, with little to no overtones. A skeleton body is also good for this, but everything must be run through effects as there is no “natural” sound coming from the instrument. One will need a pre-amp as well as special effects to create the desired heavy metal and distorted sounds.
For most country music, an acoustic-electric is best as it allows for natural sounds of the instrument and easier string crossings. Plus it has the “sweet sound” most want in this style of music.
For more classical music, I recommend a fully acoustic instrument with a microphone pickup located UNDER the instrument (not a piezo one). This will capture the sweetest and most mellow sound possible as it does not capture every bow change, every little crunch, etc.
For most other types of music (jazz, smooth rock, etc.), it really depends on the sounds you want to create. See above for more sound descriptions.
As for brands and prices, the internet is the best research tool one can use. Look for recommendations under each manufacturer. Find a band whose music you want to imitate and find out which brand instruments they use. Go to local music stores and see if they carry any of those brands. Spend several hours in a practice room and try them all out. Don’t forget that the BOW is equally as important as the violin you select, so match them together.
Regarding bands that use electric instruments, I am in a few different ones. One that uses acoustic-electrics is Violectric (http://violectric.net). It is a string quintet plus keys and drums. Another is Classic Albums Live (http://www.classicalbumslive.com) where we re-create albums note for note, cut for cut. When the parts call for strings, we use acoustic electrics. I also have performed with Mannheim Steamroller and Trans Siberian Orchestra. We mainly use the silent electrics through pre-amps and special effects.
Feel free to contact me with any additional questions or concerns!
aka the “vinylinist”