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What Is an Electric Violin?

By Marty Paule
Updated May 23, 2024
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The electric violin is a modern adaptation of the traditional acoustic violin containing electronics to capture and transmit the violin's sound. Most true electric violins are designed and built specifically for use in amplified music settings where the signal from the violin is output to an amplifier and speakers. Many such instruments have a modern, streamlined design that only generally suggests the contours of a traditional acoustic violin. Strictly speaking, acoustic violins that have been retrofitted with an electronic pickup and output jack should not be confused with electric violins, and are more accurately referred to as acoustic-electric or amplified violins.

Because electric violins are less dependent on the acoustic properties of the materials and design employed, they can be found in a variety of exotic shapes and designs. An acoustic violin's shape, top bracing, and hollow body produce the volume needed to project the instrument's sound, whereas the true electric violin relies entirely on an electronic pickup to capture and transmit the sound to an amplifier. As a result, electric violins are often built with solid or semi-hollow bodies that help to eliminate the resonances that cause feedback in high-volume settings. Semi-hollow models typically have a sealed acoustic chamber that limits feedback potential while producing a warmer, more acoustic-like tone.

The solid-body electric violin usually has a brighter, more cutting sound than its acoustic counterparts. The harder-edged timbres that these instruments produce can be quite appropriate in certain rock, pop, and jazz contexts, but may sound too "edgy" in classical or country music performances. Since the amplification equipment used usually has its own tone controls, the tone of the instrument can be modified externally to some extent. The sound can be further modified by electronic effects processors connected between the violin and amplifier.

The modern electric violin can be made from a wide range of non-traditional materials such as Kevlar, carbon, or glass-reinforced plastics. Thanks to the strength of these modern materials, solid-body electric violins can handle greater string tension and can be found with as many as eight strings. An additional low C-string is among the most popular five-string electric violin configurations, giving the performer an increased range.

The pickups used on electric violins are usually either magnetic, or more commonly, piezoelectric. Similar to the pickups used on electric guitars, magnetic pickups require the violin to have strings with a metallic wrap or core. Piezoelectric pickups capture the physical vibrations of the strings, transmitting a high-impedance signal that requires an amplifier or preamplifier with appropriate input jacks. They can be mounted on or within the body of the instrument and primarily capture vibrations generated by the bridge. There are also sophisticated pickup systems that employ several different pickup elements mounted in various locations on the instrument in order to produce more nuanced tones.

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