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What Is an Electric Violin?

An electric violin is a modern twist on a classic instrument, blending traditional craftsmanship with electronic innovation. It produces sound through electronic output, allowing for a vast range of effects and amplification. Perfect for the musician seeking to explore new sonic territories. Curious about how this fusion of old and new can enhance your music? Let's delve deeper into the world of electric violins.
Marty Paule
Marty Paule

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.

An electric violin uses strings with a metallic wrap or core.
An electric violin uses strings with a metallic wrap or core.

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.

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.
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.

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.

Acoustic violins fitted with amplifying devices and electronic jacks are not considered true electric violins.
Acoustic violins fitted with amplifying devices and electronic jacks are not considered true electric violins.

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.

Frequently Asked Questions

What distinguishes an electric violin from a traditional acoustic violin?

With traditional music cables, electric violins can be plugged into amplifiers and other musical equipment fitted with quarter-inch jacks.
With traditional music cables, electric violins can be plugged into amplifiers and other musical equipment fitted with quarter-inch jacks.

An electric violin is designed to produce sound electronically, often requiring an amplifier to be heard properly. Unlike acoustic violins that rely on the natural resonance of their wooden bodies to amplify sound, electric violins have a solid body or are sometimes semi-hollow and use pickups to convert string vibrations into electrical signals. This design allows for a wider range of sound manipulation and effects, making them versatile for various music genres.

Can electric violins produce the same sound quality as acoustic violins?

Electric violins offer a different sound quality compared to acoustic violins. While they can mimic the sound of an acoustic violin, they also provide a unique tone that can be adjusted through electronic means. The sound is often described as clearer and more precise, which can be advantageous in contemporary music settings. However, for classical purists, the rich, warm tones of an acoustic violin might be preferred.

Are electric violins suitable for beginners?

Electric violins can be suitable for beginners, especially those interested in genres like rock, jazz, or experimental music. They are often easier to play due to their lighter weight and design ergonomics. Additionally, the ability to practice silently with headphones is a significant advantage for new players in shared living spaces. However, it's essential for beginners to learn on an instrument that promotes proper technique, which can be either acoustic or electric.

What additional equipment is needed to play an electric violin?

To play an electric violin, you will need an amplifier or PA system to project the sound. Additionally, you may require a preamp to enhance the signal quality, cables to connect the violin to the amp, and possibly effects pedals if you wish to alter the sound with reverb, delay, or other effects. Headphones can also be used for silent practice.

How much does a good electric violin cost?

The cost of a good electric violin can vary widely based on brand, quality, and features. Entry-level electric violins can start around $100-$300, while professional-grade instruments can range from $1,000 to several thousand dollars. It's important to consider the violin's craftsmanship, electronics quality, and included accessories when evaluating the price. Investing in a higher-quality instrument can lead to better sound and playability.

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    • An electric violin uses strings with a metallic wrap or core.
      By: schankz
      An electric violin uses strings with a metallic wrap or core.
    • 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.
      By: matt&stustock
      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.
    • Acoustic violins fitted with amplifying devices and electronic jacks are not considered true electric violins.
      By: zea_lenanet
      Acoustic violins fitted with amplifying devices and electronic jacks are not considered true electric violins.
    • With traditional music cables, electric violins can be plugged into amplifiers and other musical equipment fitted with quarter-inch jacks.
      By: Alexey Laputin
      With traditional music cables, electric violins can be plugged into amplifiers and other musical equipment fitted with quarter-inch jacks.