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Beginning Electric Violin – A Review of Equipment

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 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.

Mark Wood, Another “boutique” maker of electric violins, recognized that trying to hold a 7-string fretted violin under the neck is quite difficult, due to the weight. Thus, he designed and patented a “flying v-shape” with a strap that fits around your torso and holds the violin up in a playing position. Though it can take some time to get used to, this design really does support the weight of the fiddle well. Make no mistake — adding frets to the violin is a big adjustment for the classical player. In fact, if you have ever played a mandolin, you probably realize how much the frets can change things. Sliding and vibrato techniques are very difficult on a fretted instrument. In my opinion, the frets are best for allowing guitar players and others familiar with fretted instruments to circumvent the usual requirement of pinpoint accuracy with finger placement which is necessary for playing in tune on the an acoustic violin. The 7-string fretted model, which is the flagship instrument in his line of electric violins, is priced at $3500. Mark Wood does not use proprietary piezo pickups. Rather, he uses either Barbera or Schatten pickups, which are mass produced piezo pickeps that are used in many different electric violins.

A former Zeta employee, John Jordan makes custom electric violins in almost every combination of material, strings and frets that you can imagine. Jordan started his own design studio when he became disillusioned by Zeta’s increasingly commercial attitude. Jordan handcrafts each instrument using his patented shape, which eliminates the peg-box and puts machined tuners near the bridge. This is designed to make the instrument lighter. Jordan is very much the true luthier of electric instruments. Many of his models, particularly the ones made of wood, are very attractive. Jordan uses a variety of pickups, including Zeta’s proprietary model. In addition, he likes the Barbera piezo pickup for a more “Stradivarius-like” sound, and recommends this pick-up for classical musicians. For rock, jazz and pop, he suggests using the darker, more “Guarneri-like” Ashworth piezo pick-up. Like most other electric violin makers, his 5-string unfretted is his most popular model. It seems to have a thinner neck than other electrics, which allows the classical 4-string acoustic player to make an easier transition to electric.

All of the violins described above are solid-body models. This means that the instrument has no hollow, resonating chamber and therefore produces little to no sound unless it is “plugged in.” However, another way to create an “electric violin” is to replace the bridge on an acoustic violin with a piezo pickup bridge-mount that can be plugged in just like a solid body. The downside to this is that these pickups can generate feedback. However, this option can sound quite nice and retains the customary shape and light weight of the acoustic violin. Common piezo models are the Fishman series and the L.R. Baggs. There are also several smaller “custom” companies that make these pickups, and it can be useful to try these if you don’t like the sound of the Fishman/Baggs. This setup shares all of the same disadvantages as any other violin fitted with a piezo pickup, as described below.

What all electric violins share is the need for an electronic pickup to transmit your playing to a unit capable of sound manipulation, such as a pre-amp or rack unit, and ultimately to another unit capable of sound production. The two major types of pick-ups in use in today’s plugged-in instruments are piezo and electromagnetic. Piezo pickups are used almost exclusively for electric violins. They have certain characteristics that some players find less than ideal. While a bow change on an acoustic violin can be completely silent to the listener, the piezo pickup will always transmit bow changes and bow noise. The reason for this is that they use sensitivity to pressure as their primary means of reproducing sound, and bow pressure is always variable. Also, piezo pick-ups have a tendency to sound fuzzy. Many different piezo pick-ups exist on the market, and some electric violin companies use their own proprietary models. The other type of pickup in use for electric violins is the electro-magnetic pickup. This is the pickup found in most guitars, and is considered the ideal form of sound transmission. While it is possible to build this type of pickup into an electric violin, it requires rather extensive modifications to the electric violin’s internal design and is rarely used. Perhaps in the future this type of pickup will become more available.

En route to reaching our ears, the electric violin’s signal usually is passed through a unit (or more often several units) capable of sound manipulation. Many of the same devices used by electric guitar players may also be used for the violin. For instance, reverb and delay units by Lexicon can provide warmth and depth of sound, while distortion boxes can allow the violin sound to approximate that of the guitar (a la Jimmy Hendrix playing America at Woodstock). There are literally hundreds of different devices, including foot pedals, that can manipulate the sound. Below is one of Lexicon’s top of the line reverb rack units. Computers are also increasingly used for sound manipulation and may eventually replace bulky sound manipulation boxes.

For electric violins employing a pickup, a pre-amp is necessary to intensify the signal from your violin, and to allow you to EQ the sound. One popular example of a pre-amp is the L.R. Baggs Para Acoustic DI. Some electric violins also have on-board pre-amps.

Further sound manipulation and signal intensification occurs when the signal is passed through an amplifier. Because most amps work best with mid and low frequency tones, it can be difficult to find a good amp for the electric violin, and even then it is usually necessary to spend a lot of time playing with the EQ. A popular amplifier for electric violin is the Fishman Loudbox 100. An important consideration when choosing an amplifier is that each leaves its own imprint on your sound. Thus, trying before buying is particularly important with amps.

For a more true reproduction of your sound, a PA system with speakers can also be used. The sound can still be EQ’d with a personal PA system and it is possible to preserve the acoustic sound.

Finally, the signal, after passing through the different sound manipulation devices, is broadcast to our ears by speakers. Often, these are built into the amp. You can also add additional speakers to create a stereo effect.

If you are looking to more or less duplicate your acoustic sound, playing electric violin may not be very satisfying to you. But for participating in a band, it allows the player to adjust their volume to match the other instruments, and to alter the sound to fit in better with a rock or pop style of music.

That being said, electric violin usually requires a potentially rather expensive foray into electronic equipment, which can be a lot of fun but also difficult since the sound you are searching for may take a lot of time to find, and may require testing a lot of different gear. Finding “your” sound can be a long journey. Some of the more interesting things you can do is to play on a 5-string, which adds a “c string,” below your “g-string,” or employ an octave pedal, which can drop your pitch an entire octave. Or you can play with distortion or a wah-wah pedal. And, while excellent technique is vital for classical music, electric violin can be more forgiving.

In the end, going electric can allow the violinist to participate in groups where ordinary acoustic violin simply cannot match the volume of the other instruments. In addition, the almost endless ability to manipulate the sound allows the electric violinist to go where no acoustic player has gone before.

An Acoustic Violin Vs an Electric Violin – A Musician and Engineer Reveals the Real Differences

Both instruments have their place, but you need to understand the real differences to be able to choose the right instrument for your needs. If you already have one type of instrument, should you change? Here are the facts to help you decide.

To start your decision process understand that even though the tone of any violin is subjective and can not be measured and quantified scientifically. (If that could be done, there would be a computer program that could “listen” to a song and determine whether it was going to be a hit or not.)

So even though the tone (and music quality) of a violin is subjective and given the fact that the music from an electric violin can go through all kinds of electronic tweaks and adjustments, there is one thing that can’t be changed.

No amount of electronic tweaking can make even the most expensive electric violin have the sound quality of an acoustic violin.

With an acoustic violin, what you play is what you get, but with an electric violin you can add reverb, tone control and more to get some great sounding (even though, non-traditional) music.

With an acoustic violin you can amplify the music with a microphone, but the slightest movement of the violin can change what the audience hears. In orchestras where no one moves, this works fine, but in live (and lively) performances, there’s a lot to be said for the flexibility of the electric violin.

One thing you don’t have to worry about is that if you’re not sure which type of violin you want, it’s good to know that you’re not locked in because it’s pretty easy to change the type of violin you play.

Bottom line: A traditional acoustic violin is used in classical music. Electric violins are frequently used (and often preferred) in pop, heavy metal, rock and other less traditional uses of the violin. The type of music you plan to play is the biggest factor to consider when choosing your violin.

Healing Benefits From Light and Music

All living matter in the universe has a spark of the Creator in it. This matter never disappears completely from the recycling that is the basis of the planet’s existence, with the exception of the husk, or form that the minute subatomic particles are enclosed in.

The way our electric light works is by making use of the particles after they are dead. This is similar to a “legacy” they leave behind them. It is comparable to the books you leave behind after you have made your transition. They will “light up” the existence of future generations. The same thing is true of our electricity. It actually was produced eons ago and is a legacy left behind by the trillions and trillions of subatomic particles that caused it to be available.

Light is indeed organic. Light has thinking abilities far beyond what anyone gives it credit for having. The organic quality of light is not found in the visible light range though. It is found in the invisible spectrum. By the time they form the light that we see with our eyes they are dead particles. The nucleus of the particle is where the spark of the Creator is, and the half life is so short that these particles can’t make it through the first large loop in a wave. They are replaced with another. The dead husk of the particle that the nucleus or spark has left is what the visible light spectrum is made up of. Perhaps this will explain many things. The fact that the particles are dead, as far as having any part of the Creator in them, is also why ordinary light cannot heal the human body. There is no part of the Creator present in visible light rays.

The same is true of music. Some musical instruments match the frequency of “dead” particles and some musical instruments match “live” particles. Any instrument that is electrified is using the energy of the “dead” particles. This would include electric organs, guitars, synthesizers and electric pianos. Also an electrified instrument of any kind is drawing on this power to amplify.

All instruments not electrified are not working with the dead particles, they are working with “very much alive” subatomic particles to produce their beautiful sounds. This perhaps will account for some people’s preference for non-electrical instruments. Music from non-electric instruments can be used to heal. Remember what was just stated, that visible light could not heal because it had no part of the Creator in it? The same is true of music. Electric music cannot heal. Pure music can.

The following is an analogy to explain what category amplified or recorded “live” music would fall into when being listened to on tapes or in an audience. There is a certain dog who knows when his master is coming home no matter what strange hour of the day it is. This dog has hearing so intense that it can pick up the distinctive whine that his master’s car makes at an intersection a block from the house. The owners were amazed that this dog always knew and would run to the door and bark until the car pulled in. They believed the dog was psychic. So he was.

You see, your hearing plays an important part in whether or not you are psychic. The dog was not only hearing the sound of the car, but he also felt it in the chakra called the solar plexus. Animals have five chakras, remember. The solar plexus is a strong chakra on the dog and is the dog’s interpreter of vibrations in the atmosphere. These vibrations then draw a pattern in the animal brain and the dog actually “sees” the master in his car. Yes, the dog actually sees the master, the same way that a human standing on the corner where the master is stopped can see him, only of course, the dog is a block away and inside the house. This is a “talent” or a sense that was evolved out of the human being by the closing over of the third eye. It is also what allows or causes people to see ghosts or scenes being replayed from the past, visions, if you will.

With music, when it is performed live and then amplified, your inner hearing would pick up the live sound through the amplification system by a different method of interpretation. It would respond to the live vibrations coming off the instruments on the stage that were resonating with the amplifier. Therefore, the effect on the body would be that of live music.

A tape is a different story. Any recorded music would not have the presence of the live vibrations caught in the recording, so would be considered dead music. There is a way to catch these live vibrations in recordings, but it has not yet been done on the earth plane. Our stereos don’t even come close to what is being talked about. The compact disc players would be the technology that would allow this to come into being.

As a matter of fact, the same technology that will be the basis of the Healing Machine (described in the video on the Science of Music) is the same technology that would allow the vibrations to be caught in recorded music. The Healing Machine is actually more important at this time, but too many times in the past, technology that has been given to improve the health of humankind has been misused and materialized by being applied to things for entertainment in a materialistic way. But in this case the compact disc players will be the basis for the new subliminal tapes that will be able to be used in many, many applications including home tune-up tapes that can be designed after the Healing Machine is perfected.

Music in its audible manifestation relates to light by the different instruments and the pitches of these instruments. The lower in pitch or frequency, the lower the type of light it relates to. The deepest sounding horn that we are capable of producing would relate directly to the broadest band of radio wave. There is a direct correlation of the pitch or frequency of an instrument to the light rays. As a matter of fact, the range of each instrument will match the range or octave spread of the light rays. Disharmony in music is related to infrared light. Music needs to be raised beyond ultraviolet to enable the new technology to come into being.