Learning to play electric violin shares many similarities with studying acoustic violin, with a few important differences. The first is that almost every acoustic violin is shaped and tuned the same way. Electric violins, however, can come in many shapes and varieties, including 4-string, 5-string, 7-string, fretted, and some with the upper bout removed entirely to allow easier playing in the higher positions. And, in fact, your acoustic violin can be “converted” into an electric by attaching either a microphone or a piezo pickup to the body. Most other electric violins use a solid body, just like most electric guitars (such as the ubiquitous fender stratocaster). What follows is a review of electric violins and a discussion of some of the additional equipment you will likely require.
While there are many electric violins on the market by large volume manufacturers, most of these just don’t sound very good. Some of the better (and mostly handmade) electric violins are reviewed below. I made my selection from instruments that I have either played or owned.
In general, I am not a fan of mass produced instruments. But Yamaha makes some of the best. Part of the Yamaha silent series, the model SV-200 features a dual piezo pickup. This is supposed to improve the sensitivity of the instrument to the subtleties of your playing, especially dynamic (volume) range. Coming in at around $1000, this instrument is cheaper than the others I will review below. On playing the instrument, I thought it was indeed responsive, certainly more so than previous Yamaha instruments. The on-board pre-amp allows for some sound manipulation on the instrument itself rather than in a separate, detached unit. The down-side of this is that it increases the weight of the violin.
Another popular model is made by NS Designs. This company uses a proprietary piezo pickup that is designed to be very clean and sound more like an acoustic violin for sale violin in its unprocessed state. I sampled a a 5-string model, and I thought that the neck was overly thick and the instrument rather heavy. Still, if you are looking for a clean sound, this might be a good choice.
Zeta has earned itself a lot of hype in part because Boyd Tinseley, of Dave Matthews Band, uses a Zeta instrument called (what else) the “Boyd Tinsley.” Zeta also uses a proprietary piezo pick-up that has a very characteristic sound. If you have ever heard Santana play guitar, then you probably recognize his distinctive sound that comes from the combination of his Paul Reed Smith guitar coupled with a Mesa Boogie amp. Most of the sound coming out of that amp, no matter how the sound is EQ’d sounds “Boogified” to me. Similarly, I felt playing on this instrument that my sound would get “Zeta’d” by the pick-up. And you either like this sound or you don’t. A big downside to this zeta model is that it is quite heavy.