When it comes to purchasing a new violin, there are many things to consider – what size should you buy, what brand should you choose, and how much cash should you set aside? These are all important questions, but something I believe is equally important is deciding whether you should go for an acoustic or electric violin.
I’ve always been a fan of electric violins. Having a pickup and an audio output from your violin opens up a huge amount of opportunities, whilst maintaining all of the beautiful qualities found in traditional acoustic violins.
If you’re thinking of purchasing an electric violin, this is the guide for you! There are many things you should consider when making your purchase, and as somebody who has chosen electric violins for over half of their musical career, I’ve got a ton of knowledge to share. Read on to find out my thoughts!
Why Should You Consider Electric Over Acoustic?
Before we investigate what you should consider when purchasing an electric violin, let’s first take a look at why you might consider buying one over the more traditional acoustic option. I’ve been playing the violin for almost fifteen years now and I have preferred electrics for the majority of this time, and there are many reasons why this is the case. Let’s break these points down.
The number one reason that you should consider choosing an electric violin over an acoustic is the fact that they are amplified. This may seem obvious, but there are several benefits to having an amplified instrument.
With an electric violin, you will never have to worry about your instrument not being loud enough. When I realized that I had gotten to a pretty high level at the violin, I was keen to start performing outside of my orchestra. I wanted to busk on the streets to earn myself some money, or even play at some open mic nights.
However, my acoustic violin was simply not loud enough for this – there were countless occasions when I turned up at a venue to perform, only to be ignored due to my instrument barely being audible. Once I got myself an electric violin, I was able to plug my instrument into any sound system and crank it up as loud as necessary – it was liberating!
Following on from the concept of amplification, electric violins are excellent choices if you are planning to perform outside of traditional orchestras. Orchestral instruments are designed to be played together and therefore have volumes that work together. However, if you would like to perform with folk, jazz, rock, or even symphonic metal bands, you are going to have a serious problem.
These genres come with overpowering instruments such as drum kits and electric guitars, and there is no way that your acoustic violin is going to be heard among them. When you use an electric violin, you can crank the volume up to work symbiotically with the other instruments. Never again will you be drowned out by the rest of the band due to the genre that you choose.
This final point is perhaps the most important to me. Whilst I have been performing as a classical musician for the majority of my career, there has been a lot of overlap in the world of music technology. Recording my music is incredibly important to me, it helps me manifest my songwriting into tangible creations, and this is made so much easier if you are using instruments with an audio output.
Sure, you could record an acoustic violin with a microphone, but this is more difficult than it sounds. The acoustic profile of a violin is complex, and therefore you need several microphones to record it properly. This is laborious and time-consuming, whereas, with electric violins, you simply plug in and record!
To add to this, you also have the bonus of being able to use effects pedals. Whether you want to add a bit of reverb to emulate that chamber atmosphere or experiment with some delay or even distortion pedals, having an electric violin opens up so many doors for musical creativity. Whether you choose to perform or record this does not matter – you will have access to a whole new range of sound profiles, and I love this.
What are the Criteria for a Good Electric Violin?
So, you read through my last few points and have decided that an electric violin seems like the best option for you. Great, now what exactly should you be looking for? There are so many electric violins out there, which ones are the best and what kind of qualities should you see out? Let’s take a look!
Electric violins work very similarly to how electric guitars work. The instrument is rigged up with audio pickups, small devices that literally ‘pickup’ analog audio and convert it to an electric signal. There are various types of pickups out there that achieve different things, with the main types being magnetic, piezoelectric, and electrodynamic pickups.
A good electric violin should have four pickups, one for each string. These should be located under the bridge or near the tailpiece, capturing the sonic qualities of your instrument at the prime points of resonance. The specific type of pickup that you go for is down to your personal preferences.
I’ve personally always preferred the quality of piezoelectric pickups, but you might be different. The best thing you can do is to head to a music store and ask to test out one electric violin of each pickup type. This way, you can get familiar with how the pickup sounds, and decide from there.
The vast majority of violins are made from wood, but electric violins are a little different. Sure, many electric violins are designed with the same wood that acoustic violins are, but you also have the popular option of carbon fiber.
Carbon fiber is a lightweight and durable material, and whilst it is significantly more expensive, it has several benefits over wood. The lightweight nature makes carbon fiber violins significantly easier to transport, and the durability means that you will never have to worry about wood contracting or expanding according to the temperature of the room. It also means that cosmetic damage as a result of bumps or scratches is significantly less likely.
I’m a huge fan of carbon fiber electric violins for this reason, but it’s not for everybody. The aesthetic is different from wooden violins, and this puts many people off. It can also make an entry-level violin significantly more expensive, despite having a similar build quality to a wooden counterpart. Think carefully about whether you would prefer a wooden or carbon fiber electric violin and weigh up the pros and cons, this is going to be an important decision!
Size and Comfort
Perhaps the most important aspect of choosing an electric violin is to consider the size and comfort of the instrument. This is the same process as it would be for an acoustic violin, but it’s equally important.
It doesn’t matter whether you purchase the most expensive and fancy electric violin, if you cannot play the instrument comfortably, it’s going to be a waste of your time. You should first ensure that the size is correct; sizes between 1/16 and 7/8 are generally best for children and young adults, and sizes between 7/8 and 4/4 are going to be appropriate for adults of most body types.
It’s not just about size though – different violins have different build qualities, and this can affect how comfortable they are to hold and perform with. Some might be heavier, some might be slimmer, and some might be easier to grip. Always test out various violins in music stores to navigate this variety and become familiar with the different styles. Only when you have found something that fits you and is comfortable to play should you consider purchasing it.
My Top Electric Violin Recommendations
Now that we’ve investigated exactly why you might choose an electric violin and the qualities that you should look for, let’s take a look at some of my top recommendations. These three examples are some of the best electric violins I’ve come across, but don’t forget to test them out in a music store to see them for yourself!
Cecilio CEVN-2BK Electric/Silent Violin
The first electric violin on my list has to be the Cecilio CEVN-2BK Electric/Silent Violin. Take a look at some online images of this electric instrument and it would be a natural reaction to assume it would be super expensive. It has a very unusual hollowed-out body, the tuning pegs are unique, and it comes with rosin, a soft case, a bow, and even a headphone and cable!
Well, believe it or not, you can bag this electric violin for between $200 and $350 depending on where you purchase it, how’s that for a bargain? However, be warned that this price comes with some compromises. The hollowed-out body gives it the description of “silent”, meaning there is almost no resonance when playing this acoustically.
It’s an instrument that is designed to be played without bothering anyone with noise, and should always be used electrically by listening through headphones or recording it into a computer. As long as you are aware of its specialized purpose, it’s a seriously strong candidate at a fantastic price.
- Lightweight and hollow frame, making it easy to transport
- The silent nature of the instrument makes it great for practicing without bothering people
- Crafted with an ebony fingerboard, which is impressive considering the price
- Comes bundled with a bow, soft case, rosin, headphones, and a ¼” cable
- A very cheap electric violin option
- The hollow and silent nature of the instrument means there is almost no resonance projection, making it impractical for any form of acoustic performance
- Only intended to be used as a practice instrument
Barcus Berry BAR-AEG Acoustic-Electric Violin
You may have never heard of Barcus Berry, but I’m a huge fan of their instruments. I sadly do not own one and have only managed to play with my friends a handful of times, but it’s next on my wishlist! Their BAR-AEG Acoustic-Electric Violin is a real beaut – it’s made of a combination of spruce, maple, and ebony, coming in four different gradient colors, and it even comes with a Brazilwood bow, rosin, and a lightweight case.
However, this electric violin shines brightly because it’s not just electric, it’s “acoustic-electric”. This means that there has been no compromise on the building of this instrument when it comes to acoustic resonance. It sounds amazing whether you choose to perform without an audio cable or whether you are recording in the studio, and I think this is awesome. After all, flexibility is key when it comes to instruments, as who knows what opportunities you may have in the future!
- Designed to be optimized for both acoustic and electric performance
- Comes with a bow, rosin, and lightweight case
- Available in four colors
- Barcus Berry is rapidly building a reputation for being one of the best acoustic-electric violin manufacturers
- Cheap price at around $750
- There is no silent mode, meaning that others will always be able to hear you practicing
- Some believe that acoustic-electric violins compromise on both modes as they are not specialized
Bridge Lyra 5-String Electric Violin
The final instrument that I wanted to list was the Bridge Lyra 5 String Electric Violin, made in partnership with Eastman Strings. This is a seriously high spec electric violin – it has a carbon and kevlar composite body making the acoustic resonance and amplification impeccable, it includes ebony fittings (although the neck is made of maple), a bow, and of course that all-important 1/4″ jack.
However, the selling point of this electric violin is the fact that it has five strings. This makes it fantastic not only for classical but also jazz and contemporary musicians, allowing you to reach those higher or lower notes depending on how you choose to string it. Whilst you can string it how you want, the violin is designed to be used with an additional low-frequency string, so bear that in mind as the body and neck are built accordingly.
One of my favorite things about this instrument is the fact that Bridge provides so many different finishes! My Lyra 5-String is finished with metallic purple, but you can also choose from Black, Blue, Green, Red, and White. All of these colors are included in the $2,000 price tag, it’s a seriously good price in my opinion.
- Carbon fiber and Kevlar composite body provides excellent acoustic resonance, making the instrument versatile for both acoustic and electric use
- The additional low string makes this violin an excellent choice if you want to hit those lower sections
- Comes in a variety of different metallic gradient finishes
- Whilst $2,000 may seem like a lot of money, it’s a very decent price for such a high-spec instrument
- The neck is made of maple as opposed to ebony, making it slightly expensive considering the compromise
- Some people are not a fan of the appearance of carbon fiber/Kevlar violins
Whether you’re looking to perform at the local orchestra or the school jazz ensemble, I sure hope that this guide on the best electric violins was useful to you! We’ve covered a lot of ground, so let’s round things off with a quick FAQ.
Answer: Electric violins are excellent for violinists who are seeking to perform outside of a standard orchestra, record their compositions in a studio, or apply some experimental audio effects to their instrument.
Answer: Carbon fiber makes for a lightweight and more resonant electric violin and therefore many consider them to be better, but they are more expensive and the aesthetic is not everybody’s cup of tea.
Answer: Whilst Cecilio is commonly known as one of the best electric violin brands, I believe that Eastman Strings’ Bridge and Barcus Berry have a better variety of options.
Answer: The vast majority of electric violins will be powered by a 9V Battery, and the signal will be carried via a ¼” cable (a standard guitar cable).
I hope that this article has helped you figure out the confusing world of electric violins! My career as a violist has involved all sorts of different electric violin brands and builds, so hopefully, my advice has provided sufficient information to get you started.
If I were to buy my first electric violin again, I would have to go for the Bridge Lyra 5-String by Eastman Strings. I love the fact that it includes a low fifth string, a carbon fiber and kevlar body, and of course that 1/4″ output! This is everything I look for in an electric violin, but if you’re not a fan of carbon fiber, the Barcus Berry BAR-AEG could be a great alternative.
Whichever electric violin tickles your fancy, don’t forget to test it out in a music store before buying online! This is the only way that you can truly familiarize yourself with the features and feel of an electric violin, so I couldn’t recommend it enough. I wish you good luck on your electric violin journey, and I hope you find something that you are as happy with as I am with my Bridge Lyra 5-String!
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