Electric violins unleash a whole new auditory experience for classic violinists, adding a contemporary twist to the traditional four-string instrument that we all know and love. With all the fun features of an electric guitar right at your fingertips (from looping, distortions, wah wah, delays and more), electric violins give you the freedom to explore new genres of music that you simply can’t with their more traditional counterpart.
This guide will reveal the exciting world of electric violins, exploring all the factors that you should consider before taking the leap from acoustic.
With a huge range of electric violins out there, boasting a wealth of different features and price tags, making the right choice can seem a little daunting. Before adding an electric violin to your string collection, there are three key questions that you should consider:
Why go electric?
Electric violins have a fair few advantages over amplified acoustic violins. Not only do they open up a world of contemporary genres to try, they’re also jam-packed with a range of creative and experimental features that can help you improve as a musician.
With additional features, e-violins open up a whole new world of opportunity for musicians to play around with. But why is it worth making the switch?
When performing on stage, adding a pickup to an acoustic violin is every sound engineer’s worst nightmare. The high pitch and volume of the violin often causes microphone bleed and unpleasant feedback, especially when the player is moving around the stage, which can ruin any performance.
Thankfully, electric violins come with a built-in pickup, either embedded in the bridge (known as a Barbera pickup) or attached between the bridge and face of the instrument. Because the sound travels directly from the instrument to the receiver, there’s no microphone feedback to worry about. It also allows you to freely move around the stage instead of keeping you sedentary, perfect for rocking out!
Since electric violins don’t have a sound box, they produce very minimal sound without amplification, perfect for practising at home without disturbing your family or neighbours.
Many cheaper e-violins, such as the Harley Benton HBV 990AM, come with their own built-in headphone jack, so you can plug in studio headphones and play to your heart’s content at any time, day or night. This handy feature is also a great confidence-building tool for beginners who may feel shy about people listening to them practise but still want to hear exactly how they would sound if the violin was plugged into an amp.
Any e-violin can be used with headphones, provided the violin itself has an appropriate jack or if your amp, mini-amp or effects pedal has a headphone output.
Transforming the sound
The beauty of electric violins is that you have the freedom to completely change the sound to suit the genre of music that you’re playing.
Opt for the traditional crisp, classical tone or jam it up with distortions, reverbs and electric effects to transform your violin into an entirely different instrument.
Many cheaper electric violins come with a built-in sound board for volume, pitch and tone control, but if your chosen violin doesn’t feature this, don’t fret: all e-violins are compatible with effects pedals that can help you experiment and develop your skills across a whole range of genres.
If you’re a professional musician, it’s far easier to record crisp and high-quality sounds from an electric violin than it is an acoustic. You can plug your e-violin directly into the studio equipment to record the sound directly from the violin onto the editing software, preventing any mic feedback or bleeding. This also makes the mixing process far easier for your editor.
As electric violins have a solid body, they can accommodate more strings than an acoustic violin, often boasting five or even six strings (in comparison to a classical violin which only has four: G, D, A and E).
A five string violin usually adds a low C, giving you the range of a viola (the violin’s lower-pitched sister instrument) and a violin all in one. While this is a great addition for advanced players looking for a new challenge, it may not be suitable for beginners as more strings to play requires more to learn.
It’s also important to consider that violas are in the alto clef, while violins are in the treble clef, so this may take some getting used to.
What makes a good electric violin?
It’s important to remember that an e-violin is still a violin so, even though there’s noticeable differences between classical and electric models, you should still consider all the important elements that you would an acoustic. Plus, there’s a whole new world of techy elements to wrap your head around, so it’s good to know what you should be looking out for to get the most bang for your buck.
Unlike an acoustic violin that has a hollow structure, e-violins are often made of a solid, full body because they rely on an amp for sound projection rather than the tradition f-holes. Because of this, they’re often heavier than classical violins (~ 480g), with weights varying from manufacturer to manufacturer. Always check the product specifications and be wary of heavier violins as these will tire out your arms and hands, and could even cause tendonitis after long periods of use. Try to find a violin that’s made from maple rather than plastic, like the Stagg EVN44 if you’re on a budget, or the more expensive Yamaha SV-255, as these give you a lighter weight violin without sacrificing quality.
You also need to consider the quality of the pegs, fine tuners and bridges as these can make a huge difference to the sound quality and playability of your violin. Many cheaper models have extremely poor pegs and fine tuners, giving you absolutely no tuning stability. It can be almost impossible to tune up your violin without a quality set of pegs and, if you do manage to get it tuned, it won’t be long before it’s slipping out of key if your pegs aren’t up to standard. Look for wooden tuning pegs that are made from ebony, boxwood or rosewood and try to avoid synthetic pegs if possible. Similarly, cheaper models often come with poorly shaped bridges that are made from cheap and flimsy wood, so if you’re on a budget it may be worth buying a separate bridge to attach to your violin instead of trying to battle with the one that comes with it.
If you’re on a budget but don’t want to sacrifice quality, there are some incredible models out there that give you the best of both worlds. For example, the Zest 2 Improver e-violin comes in a solid wood body and maple head frame, and is tied nicely together with high-quality ebony pegs, a hardwood fretboard and pro fine tuners – all in a tiny price tag of under £100!
When buying any violin, you need to pick the right size for you. Violins come in eight main sizes, though usually e-violins come in the standard 4/4 adult size. When buying a violin, always make sure that it’s well-proportioned for the size you’re selecting and fully fit for purpose.
Most violins need a little TLC initially to get them up to quality, aging like a fine wine. For the first couple of weeks of play, you may find your strings becoming lose or needing far more attention than usual but don’t worry: this is completely normal! Once you get over this initial period, you should notice your violin needs a lot less attention to keep in tune for longer periods of time. If it need a little extra encouragement, you can always reinforce your tuning pegs with some rosin for extra grip to hold the strings in place.
The techy side of e-violins can seem like a pretty intimidating territory if you don’t know what you’re looking for. As mentioned above, electric violins usually come with a built-in pickup on the bridge or face of the violin and many come with their own pre-amp to maximise sound performance. These components are vital to the quality of sound that your violin will produce, so it’s important to know what to look out for.
Some e-violins, such as the popular NS Design WAV44, are known as ‘passive’ violins: they don’t come with a built-in pre-amp section. Whilst these are beneficial because they don’t require any batteries, you’ll likely end up spending even more money on an external pre-amp to get the most out of them. Passive violins are great for private practise in your home, but for stage and theatre performers, you’re better off opting for an e-violin that comes with its own built-in pre-amp.
Of course, cheaper violins come with a lower quality pickup, which may often result in a constant hissing or low humming sound when connect to an amp. This is fine for jamming out in your garage, but should be avoided if you’re looking for a performance instrument. To get a good feel of which e-violins are right for stage use, try to work off the basis that violins in the sub-£400 category are likely to have cheaper electronics, so (if your budget permits) always go for a more expensive model for a more professional sound.
Ergonomics and design
One of the biggest selling points for electric violins are the array of shapes, designs and colours that they come in. From professionally-built traditional structures to entry level designs moulded into letters, treble clefs or eye-catching silhouettes, there’s a whole range of different styles to choose from. While some violinists look for functionality and sound quality, others look for style and comfort when playing, so you need to identify which essential elements you’re looking for before buying your new e-violin.
The first thing you should look for in any shaped electric violin is the left hand support. Many violinists rely on the fixed point where the neck joins the body as an indicator to locate the position of their hands. Many electric violins take on an untraditional shape, losing this point of reference, so it’s important to find an e-violin with left hand support that mimics this key design element.
Another important factor to consider is that some manufacturers require a custom-designed shoulder rest due to the intricate shape of the model. A great example of this is the popular GEWA Novita 3.0 violin. These are great if you’re looking for a stylish and unique violin, but you should bear in mind that you won’t have the freedom to pick a different shoulder rest that may be more comfortable for you. There are some manufacturers out there that have entire ranges of e-violins that are compatible with all universal classic shoulder rests, such as 3Dvarius and Skyinbow, so if you struggle with shoulder pain this is definitely something worth considering.
Electric violins come with a ¼-inch jack to attach the instrument to an amp or sound system by a cable. Depending on its location, the cable may run underneath the instrument or behind your ear. Underrunning cables are great if you plan to move around the stage, while over-ear cables are perfect if you sit stationary as part of an orchestra. Consider your needs and expectations of use before choosing which jack design is right for you.
What’s the best electric violin for my budget?
As discussed above, when it comes to electric violins you really get what you pay for. Naturally, an e-violin with a higher price tag will provide you with better sound quality and overall performance, whereas a lower-end electric violin won’t deliver quite the same sound. However, the sound of each e-violin differs from manufacturer to manufacturer, so it’s best to consider what you’ll be using the violin for before setting yourself a budget.
To make your life easier, we’ve narrowed this down into four price brackets to help you choose the best electric violin to suit your needs:
An electric violin within this price bracket is great if you’re a beginner and you’re looking for a cheap and cheerful violin to practise at home. While electric violins under £200 may not deliver a professional-standard sound, they get the job done nicely without breaking the bank.
Keep an eye out for wooden e-violins with high-quality pegs to get the most bang for your buck. Some of the best models out there for this price range is the Hidersine HEV2, the Cecilio CEVN-2BK and the Zest 2 Improver, combining the quality of a higher-end e-violin without the hefty price tag attached.
This lower/mid-range price bracket is great if you’re looking for an e-violin that can match up to all the well-known student violin brands such as Stentor and Primavera. These deliver a far superior sound quality than their lower-end counterparts and are well-suited to those who have been playing for some time. These are great violins for entry-level performers when paired with an amp with sound effect functions, taking you from the comfort of your bedroom to the bright lights of the stage!
Some great models in this price bracket include the Leonardo EV-50-W and the Alfred Stingl AS160 EV. Look out for violins within this range that have a built-in piezoelectric pickup, as these deliver a brighter and crisper sound for stunning string articulation and clarity.
If you’re a more experienced player or stage performer but you don’t want to totally break the bank, you can find some incredible professional-grade violins within this price bracket. Made from high-quality materials from scroll to end, these violins produce an irresistibly crisp and clear sound while looking absolutely stunning.
If you’re trying to keep to a budget, the NS Design WAV4 violin is a great pro-level instrument that falls at the lower end of this price bracket. The GEWA Novita 3.0 is one of the stand-out violins within this price range, though it’s on the more expensive end of the spectrum. This fine instrument is made of quality components, giving you the superior sound of an acoustic violin, with a gorgeous minimalistic design that looks stunning on stage.
Perfect for professional musicians, recorders and stage performers, the violins in this category are the best of the best. These top-tier electric violins produce the ultimate professional sound, offer the most advanced features and tech, and are truly the masters of the e-violin world.
Here, you’ll find the most advanced five and six string instruments to choose from. If you’re looking for a new challenge and the ultimate e-violin upgrade, the Woods Violins Stingray Pro 5 is a great choice for you. Coming with the highest-quality Wittner fine tune pegs, Perlon strings and a super lightweight design, this is a great violin for rocking out on stage.
Many of the violins that fall into this category are custom made by superior-skilled craftsmen, giving the most advanced audio system and spellbinding design to its player. Notable brands include Bridge, Vector Prodigy and Ted Brewer: a favourite among many internationally renowned pro players.
When choosing an electric violin, there are many more factors to consider than just the design and colour (though, let’s face it, that is the most exciting part!). Once you’ve taken into account your needs and set a budget, you can significantly narrow down the vast expanse of e-violins out there to choose the right one for you.
Before committing to a sale, it’s always worth popping into your local instrument shop and testing out the model you want, as the warmth and brightness of sound can vary between each manufacturer.
Unless your particular e-violin requires a bespoke shoulder rest, you can use all the same accessories as you would on your acoustic violin (bow, rosin, strings, etc), so if you already have a traditional violin at home, you’re pretty much good to go!