Setting up my Yamaha Electric Violin, on a budget

March 30, 2017, 4:27 PM · When my birthday rolled around in February, I decided that I wanted something a little adventurous. In particular, I wanted an electric violin!

I'd been thinking about it for more than a year, since my first encounter with the new Yamaha Electric Violin (or "YEV") in Jan. 2016 at the NAMM Convention. I fell in love with a lot of things about the YEV: it does not feel synthetic, as it is made with six kinds of wood, and it has a modern but beautiful look. Playing it feels like playing a normal violin. It also can sound like a normal violin, yet it has the capacity for special effects. And not insignificantly, it is less expensive than previous electric models, at $600 for the four-string and $650 for the five-string violin.

With so many comfortable features, it seemed like an instrument that would allow me to start in a relatively familiar place, then branch out in an organic way, into the many other things that an electric can do. So I took the plunge and got a Yamaha Electric Five-String Violin last month. As excited as I was about getting a YEV, I was less clear on how exactly to proceed. For example, how do I actually make a sound with this thing?

Thankfully, my friend and longtime Violinist.com member Jesus Florido was happy to help me get started. He came over with his young son, Sebastian (my violin student for a while, so it was fun to see him!) and we took a little trip to Guitar Center to get me the basic equipment that I needed to get started - cords, amp, connector, sound processor.

Jesus is well-versed in the world of electric violin, like a number of other members on Violinist.com, including Christian Howes, Adam DeGraff, etc. While he has the expertise to recommend the very best of everything, he advised that I get started with just the basics, so that I can start getting familiar with the violin, then make more educated decisions to upgrade equipment at a later date. This idea also worked well for my budget, especially after just buying the fiddle!

So we managed to assemble the basics that I needed for around $150. Below is a video about it, and about what I'm trying to do to get to know the instrument. Here also is the list of the things I acquired to get started:

As far as what I plan to do first musically on this fiddle, I'm actually very excited to have a "C" string, so I plan to practice the Bach Suites for Cello. I've always loved them, and it seems like a great way to get to know the geography of a five-string instrument, which actually is very tricky. For example, the D string is the "middle" string! I'm very grateful to have a wonderful arrangement of the first four Suites by Valerie Prebys Arsenault, which is actually transcribed for violinists into treble clef. Ironically, I plan to use that version and just play it down a string!

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Replies

March 31, 2017 at 12:59 AM · Is it too late to take all that stuff back, except the violin? In that link to the discussion about amps I recommended the Yamaha THR5A, and I still do. You can get a beautiful, natural "mic'd" acoustic violin sound from it, even using an electric violin and pickup, which I don't believe you can get with the system you bought. It's simple to use without resorting to all that complexity you're in for. Just a cable from the violin to the amp. You can read my comments in the discussion link. Take that stuff back before it's too late. Or at least try the THR5A, and then decide. JMHO

March 31, 2017 at 01:12 AM · Mark, two cables, a borrowed amp, a $5 app and a connector for the phone. What's to take back? But I definitely welcome people's ideas and suggestions! As I said I'm a complete beginner with the tech.

March 31, 2017 at 01:21 AM · What's to take back? One cable, a borrowed amp, and the iRig. I think you'll find that the "free" software provided with the iRig purchase is frustratingly limited, and they'll want you to pay another $20 for the real deal. OK, keep that stuff, but sometime do try the THR5A, and see what you think. It is, by the way, the amp Yamaha used in some of their promotional videos for the YEV. Like Thoreau said, "simplify, simplify."

March 31, 2017 at 02:40 AM · So the iPhone serves as a preamp and signal processor? Does that plug into the amp somehow?

March 31, 2017 at 11:52 AM · We all know electricity is ruining music, but I understand the allure of a different kind of violin, and they can look pretty cool and modern. I prefer the resonance of wood and brass in my music, but also have come to admit the guitar is a special case that reaches its greatest potential as an electric instrument...but then we venture into rock music, typically flashy and superficial, and encaged by the jailbars of metronomic percussion and the bloodless fretted notes. My own electric violin is much cheaper than the Yamaha --I paid about $250 for my Carlo Robelli EV25, which I strongly suspect is just a re-branded "Cecilio" brand EV I've seen on Amazon for half that price! Do I like it? Well I like variety so sometimes its interesting to put down my real violins and pick this one up. I bought it to be able to play nearly silent when people are sleeping in my house, and that is still the main purpose of it. I don't have any effects processors, just a cord direct to an old Fender guitar amp (with real vacuum tubes) --and it sounds like an electric guitar bowed. I'm not good enough to play for an audience but fantasize that someday, in between Corelli and Vivaldi sonatas on my real violins, I make take this one out and play a Marshall Tucker song or even a rock song or two.

March 31, 2017 at 12:26 PM · Will wrote, "We all know electricity is ruining music." He should speak for himself. I don't agree. Electricity and electronics are part of the natural evolution of music and of art in general, which has always made use of the technology of its time.

My setup is a Fishman V-200 pickup, which slides easily right into the slot on the E-string side of the bridge. Mostly I have played smaller venues such as private parties, art shows, and so on, as part of a trio (with guitar and percussion) that plays an all-Brazilian songbook. But then, plug in through a phaser and I can play "Bowing Bowing" along with JLP.

March 31, 2017 at 04:19 PM · I think the real question is: What on Earth is 'Fun, Viola -like stuff'

Like playing off beats?

Playing out of tune?

Complaining about violinists?

March 31, 2017 at 04:41 PM · Oh dear! If you can't have fun with viola, violists and viola stuff, how can you have fun?!

March 31, 2017 at 08:33 PM · Laurie, I see why you bought that Yamaha violin, I checked it out by clicking the ad here on Violinist.com and it looks gorgeous! That shape and those woods! I'm sure there'll come a day when I get one, but financially that can't be very soon.

Paul, maybe my humor wasn't obvious enough. I provocatively over-stated my position because electric pop music has so come to dominate the culture around me that my love of classical (and old bluegrass) is considered freakish. But in my nostalgia for roots music like Appalachian bluegrass and really old country and other folk music, I came to appreciate how music was very different before recordings and mass media. Music used to be made by families, and sometimes including neighbors in the rural days of "front porch music." Even if you didn't play, you'd sing along, music was made by nearly everybody. It was the only music you had.

The music business (fully dependent on electric technologies from recording to broadcast) turned ordinary people into a passive audience of consumers, intimidated by the strong skills of professional and virtuoso musicians. In many ways that was a spiritual loss that permeates our culture still. It used to be not playing from ego but rather from a spiritual base, and its not very different from what a music teacher might say about having focus and concentration and using your own musicality: yes, even a back-porch musician like me can do that much, and over time doing that will make me good enough for the front-porch!

March 31, 2017 at 08:50 PM · I'm all for the back porch music-making :)

April 1, 2017 at 07:16 PM · Looks like the Yamaha amp is around $200 - not bad, but I still want to look around before committing to an amp! :)

April 1, 2017 at 10:43 PM · Laurie, I certainly don't want to tell you that you should get a Yamaha THR5A, but I certainly do want to urge you to try it.

And I'll say a bit more about why, of the five THR models, I think the THR5A is the best one for violinists. Four of the five are made with voicing circuits that model electric guitar amps. I read an article online (that I can't seem to find anymore) where a Yamaha engineer explained that those voicings are actually simulations of specific guitar amps like a Fender Twin Reverb, Fender Deluxe Reverb, a specific Marshall amp, etc. Yamaha can't say that in their literature because those are all owned trademarks. However, cognoscenti can kind of guess from the voice descriptions.

The THR5A is unique because the voices model professional quality microphones, so you can get the sound of a mic'd violin (or guitar, etc.). The THR5A has one modeling circuit called "eg cln" (electric guitar clean) which is specifically for electric guitars, a nice touch from the Yamaha designers. Personally, that's the only one of the five modeling circuits I don't like with my violin. Interestingly, two of the four electric guitar specific THR amps have one modeling circuit called "aco" for acoustic, which allow you to have just one mic simulation circuit. A nice touch there too.

However, the THR5A has one completely unique feature, and that's a "blend" dial that allows you to mix your instruments' original signal with the modeled signal to any degree you choose, from pure original to pure modeled and anything in between. My experience is that this allows you to inject a "presence" into the mix, and it's indispensable. None of the other THR's have that. I can't help thinking that Yamaha's engineers had a lot of fun when they developed all of these amps.

So there you go. Take the time to dial in these parameters if/when you try a THR5A. Report back if you get a chance.

April 2, 2017 at 02:09 PM · I'm still curious how this iRig thing works. You plug your violin into it, then what? Then you plug the iRig into your tablet. How does that connect to the amp then?

April 2, 2017 at 04:20 PM · 1) The iRig has a 1/4" input jack for the analog signal from the instrument cable.

2) The analog signal is converted to digital by the iRig.

3) The digital signal is sent through a 1/8" trrs cable to the smartphone/tablet/computer for signal processing.

4) The processed digital signal is sent back to the iRig through that same trrs cable.

5) The iRig converts the processed digital signal back to analog.

6) The analog signal is sent out of the iRig through a 1/4" output jack to the amplifier.

There are different iRig models, but they are all variations on this theme.

April 2, 2017 at 05:50 PM · Mark, thanks for all this great info! Paul, watch the video! Another cord connects from the iRig to the amp. It does allow you to use any app you can get. This is obviously not a super high-end set-up, as I've explained. For me, it allows me to get started while I research and start to better understand what I ultimately would like to get.

April 2, 2017 at 06:13 PM · Good for you, Laurie. There is a warm place in the heart for jazz violin. Jean-Luc Ponty set the standard years ago. And as you have probably learned already is that with the delay between your motion and the sound out of the speaker, if your intonation is off, it's too late to adjust. The sound is already to the listener's ear. In this the electric is not as forgiving as the traditional. But have some fun. I'm happy for you. And as for amps and processors, once you're familiar with the coordination of the added C string, just compare the different amplifiers within your budget and find the one that sounds "night and day" above the rest. All the best!

April 3, 2017 at 12:28 PM · Mark, thanks! That's the info I was looking for ... how it works.

@Gary, I have found response to be instant using entirely analog equipment -- pickup, preamp, "processing" (well-chosen effects pedals) and amplifier. I'd be curious to learn exactly how much delay the iRig introduces. I'm not sure I could get used to that.

April 4, 2017 at 04:16 PM · I use the iRig all the time, usually when playing electric guitar, but sometimes with my electric viola (Yamaha Silent Viola). You can skip the iRig/iPhone/preamp set up and just go directly into an amp.

But the iRig with app allows you to basically create an infinite number of effects without any need for pedals or messing with all types of amps and cabinets and complicated rigs that are beyond my understanding. It might not be good enough to play a solo show in a massive stadium, but I am not good enough to do that as a player anyway.

With an iRig and app (I use "ToneStack") you can, with one click, enable a pre-set set up with a certain volume/distortion/effects.

You can also use your iPhone to record and instead of recording everything with the microphone including ambient sound, you are directly recording what your instrument pickups pick up.

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