A Sneak Peek at the New Yamaha Electric Violin

January 21, 2016, 11:11 AM · It's been 20 years since Yamaha's Silent Violin series of electric instruments was launched in 1996, and on Thursday at the NAMM Show in Anaheim, Calif., Yamaha unveiled its new baby, the Yamaha Electric Violin (YEV):

Yamaha electric violin
The Yamaha Electric Violin.

It's actually a beautiful-looking fiddle, in two models, each with either four or five strings. The violin has always been a model of symmetry and perfect dimensions, both physical and tonal. So there's a certain deep appeal to the fact that the frame of this electric violin is based on mathematically and aesthetically interesting Möbius strip -- an infinite loop, made of wood. Specifically, the instrument includes six kinds of wood: the solid center body is made from maple, mahogany, and spruce, and the frame is constructed of walnut. The maple neck is capped with a solid rosewood fingerboard and ebony tuning pegs. Both models are available with a natural wood body, or in a modern gloss black finish.

The idea of the new Yamaha Electric Violin is that it's more affordable, at a price less than $1,000. Yamaha will have them available for shipment in May.

I had a sneak peak at the instrument Wednesday, at a NAMM Show preview. (By the way, I'll be back at NAMM Friday morning, if you are there, email me so I can try to stop by and say hello!)

Laurie with YEV

Though the fiddles weren't plugged in, I was able to try it out for the feel of it -- it feels exactly like a normal violin, if maybe a little lighter. It's a spare frame, but it easily accommodates a shoulder rest, which is something I do use. It also fits in a standard violin case, and most fittings can be changed according to the player's preference. It works with any violin bow. When plugged in, the fiddle uses a passive pickup, which sends the signal directly from the string through the wood, into the pickup and into the amp.

Violinist Caroline Campbell was on hand Wednesday to take the fiddle for a true test drive. Campbell has high credibility in both the classical and popular music world, having played as a soloist for orchestras such as Cleveland Orchestra, Los Angeles Philharmonic, and for pop stars such Sting, Andrea Bocelli, Michael Buble, Rod Stewart, and Seal. She also plays frequently with Chris Botti. Most of the time, she plays on her 1771 Gagliano, with a pickup under the bridge, but she has been enjoying the new Yamaha.

"It feels nice, and I like the look of it," she said. "The visual aspect is part of the performance...It would be easier to take this instrument into a crossover setting than, say, a bright pink, plastic electric violin." Below, Campbell takes the new Electric Violin for a spin, with a little mashup that goes from classical to pop, with a little bit of Carmen, Czardas, Paganini 24, Ysaÿe and Michael Jackson.

One last thing to say, Campbell was demonstrating this instrument at a show in which many -- MANY -- merchants will be showing their new instruments. The NAMM Show -- NAMM standing for the National Association of Music Merchants -- is expected to attract some 100,000 attendees from 137 countries and territories over the next four days, with 1,600-plus exhibiting companies (a record), representing 5,100-plus brands. In other words, it's BIG. A number of the new instruments seems geared toward allowing a musician to create music by pushing buttons or even just touching a surface, the idea being that having to acquire skill on an instrument is a barrier to being able to create music and be a musician.

Well, maybe. But I found that watching a person dance around while pushing a button that allows synthetic sound to pour out -- it was curious, but not captivating. Naturally, I'm biased. But I think those present would agree: the show that had people smiling, watching, stopping what they were doing -- was the one with the violinist.

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Replies

January 22, 2016 at 02:32 AM · Did you find the electric violin to be set up well, as far as bridge and nut fitting, string height, etc.? Too bad they went with fine tuners, had they gone with gear pegs their design team could have had some fun with the tail piece.

Also, do they have a baroque model? *grin*

January 22, 2016 at 06:06 AM · Paul, I found the set up to be very comparable to a traditional violin, and my impression is that a lot of fittings can be switched out to fit the player's preference, that they are compatible with fittings for a normal full-size violin.

January 22, 2016 at 07:48 AM · Sound does not go directly from strings to pickup. The pickup is a piezo pickup in the bridge either very similar or the same as the Silent violins, which may have an additional pickup, depending on the model.

Also, Caroline Campbell received a Master's degree and BA from Stanford in 4 years (she previously spent time at Cleveland Institute); her UG degree is in symbolic logic. All this while she was also apparently studying violin!

January 22, 2016 at 02:20 PM · Are electric violas and Cellos available too?

January 22, 2016 at 05:01 PM · So both a 4- and a 5-string model? I'll be interested in checking out the 5-string!

January 22, 2016 at 05:33 PM · With a passive pickup you really aught to use a pre-amp before the main amp. Otherwise it probably will not sound good.

January 23, 2016 at 03:55 AM · It may look nice and ergonomic, but still way too overpriced.

Mass (factory) production will eventually (if not already) be outsourced to China or Taiwan. There is no justification for $1000 price tag.

Most of the parts can be produced by machine and assembling it does not take a degree in rocket science.

January 23, 2016 at 04:14 AM · I'm not sure where you're getting your numbers, but in speaking with the Yamaha reps at NAMM, it's not at 1000 for the street price, it will most likely be right under 600.

January 23, 2016 at 04:28 AM · Question is will the compete at the same level as the Steinberger WAV4? That is street in the mid 600s.

January 23, 2016 at 07:32 AM · I played it today, and it's quite awesome. It's been awhile since I played the NS WAV model (at the ASTA conference) but the feel and setup of the Yamaha is excellent, it is very lightweight, the position of the audio jack minimizes any pull from the cord, and the difference in price between the 4 and 5 string models is negligible.

I prefer the Yamaha because the body design offers more options for different shoulder rest users. In my case, I don't use a shoulder rest, and the block at the back of the Yamaha suits me perfectly with just the chinrest.

January 24, 2016 at 12:18 AM · Having performed between a great acoustic instrument (Strad, Guarneri, Peresson, etc.) and the cold toneless instrument: one where the delay between your input and the output sound denies your ability to correct the intonation before the sound is broadcast, this is the great limitation of every electric violin. With this high tech age, a new demand for perfection of finger placement must be disciplined. Jean Luc Ponty and others know full well the discipline between the acoustic and the electric. Personally, I will never go the electric violin route. To not hear the acoustic tone as you exercise every nuance of artistry within a given passage, is to deny the glory of the Voice of the violin.

January 24, 2016 at 08:17 PM · My biggest issue with electrics is that they tend to minimize the impact of bow usage, to the point where one's bow technique can get really sloppy when playing electric for a long-duration with no return to the traditional instrument.

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