Interview: Lindsey Stirling Collaborates with Yamaha on New Violin

March 31, 2022, 10:34 PM · When I first heard that Yamaha was releasing a new "Lindsey Stirling" violin named after her viral YouTube video "Crystallize", I wondered - how involved was she in developing and evaluating this violin? Was this just a generic celebrity endorsement?

Then I spoke to Lindsey about it in an interview last month, and it was clear to me: Lindsey Stirling - while she may now play to stadiums of fans and have multiple Top-Five albums - grew up in a family of limited means. With Yamaha, she was genuinely committed to creating a violin at a reasonable price point ($2,500 for the outfit, including the bow and case) that was of high enough quality to make a difference for someone looking to upgrade, but not ready for the extremely high-priced, professional-level violin. She even insisted on Wittner pegs -- the incredibly easy-to-use pegs that never slip. (I've been wanting them on my own violin, but they cost a fortune to install!)

Lindsey Stirling
Violinist Lindsey Stirling, with the new 'Crystallize' Yamaha violin.

Lindsey also has embraced the new violin very personally: before it was released by Yamaha, she took it on tour for an entire year, during which it was THE acoustic violin she played, while performing on stage.

Lindsey and I had a wonderful conversation, not only about the new "Crystallize" Yamaha violin, but also about her very first "good" violin, how she incorporates dance into her playing and what the pandemic was like for her.

Laurie: Do you remember your own student violins? Do you remember being at that point, where you wanted or needed a better violin?

Lindsey: I remember when my parents took that jump -- they took me from the $500 little violin to a $1,500 for a violin that they bought for me when I was in the fifth grade. Boy, that was a huge sacrifice. My dad was a teacher, and my mom was a stay-at-home mom, and that was a huge purchase! I knew that, and it let me know that my parents believed that I could pursue this, and that they felt it was worth investing in.

Also, it was really cool to see that all these little skills that I'd worked on and scratched away at on these other violins -- suddenly manifested themselves in this new violin! The violin could keep up with the skills I had, it could handle the articulations and not squeak. It was such an eye-opening moment for me as a musician.

Honestly, that student model violin took me all the way through college and through the moment when I performed on America's Got Talent - I performed with that $1,500 violin! After that, I did make that jump, once I was able to afford it. I was able to take my savings and invest in my professional violin. But that violin took me all the way there.

Laurie: I think sometimes people don't understand the difference that it makes, to have a quality instrument.

Lindsey: Yes. My parents decided to get me that violin because my mom had embraced the idea that one of the most important things that you could do for a child is to invest in their talent and give them the right equipment. So if your child is a dancer, you've got to get them the right shoes. Or if your child is a soccer player, get them the good cleats and shin guards so that first, they aren't going to get injured, but also so they can actually play and compete.

Same with an instrument: the best thing you can do for your kid's talent is invest in a good instrument. When I got that instrument, suddenly I felt like wow, I am a little better than I thought I was. Okay, I can play like the other kids in that extra-curricular orchestra that was pretty competitive. They would have chair tests every week, and suddenly I could keep up with the other kids who had nicer instruments prior to me. It did a lot for my confidence as a player, and it also made it a lot more fun. It's not fun to feel like you don't play well!

Laurie: Tell me about the "Crystallize" violin that you created with Yamaha.

Lindsey: I will say, I'm so proud of the violin.

I never want to say, "This is amazing, buy it!" if I haven't fully vetted something, especially something like this that is such a high price point. So before I released it, I actually toured with that violin for a year. And I don't think there's anyone who is quite as hard on a violin as I am, with my lifestyle! That violin traveled all over, to many different states, with many different kinds of weather, different humidities and elevations. It got played in the cold, it got played in the heat, it got sweated on. And I was really, really happy with it -- it's become my new touring violin! So I can say as a professional: it's a great instrument. I played it on stage for a year, through the whole Artemis tour and the Christmas tour, that was the violin that used for my acoustic set and when I played "Crystallize."

Lindsey Stirling violin
Lindsey holds up her "Crystallize" violin by Yamaha.

Laurie: Did Yamaha make this model especially for you, or did they have a basis they were going off of?

Lindsey: It was a combination of the things I loved about the violins they showed me and then some specific things that I really wanted.

I had some very key elements that I insisted on: for example the violin comes with these amazing Wittner pegs - I think everyone should have them! But nobody makes a violin that comes with them. I've had to custom-install them on all of my instruments -- every violin that I play has them.

I insisted that those had to be on the violin. As a performer, it takes some anxiety out of my performance, knowing that I no longer have to worry: what if my peg slips and I have to try to fix it in front of these thousand people? They just don't slip, and it's just easier. There are already enough things that are difficult about the violin; I don't think tuning it should be one of them.

Most of the other decisions involved me picking the type of wood and fittings, and aside from that just a few fun design features (a small logo on the tailpiece, a little crystal in the fine-tuner) that I felt made it kind of unique, so people would know they have the "Lindsey Stirling" violin.

Laurie: The new violin is, to be clear, an acoustic violin.

Lindsey: Yes.

Laurie: What is the difference between playing an acoustic and an electric violin? You play an electric violin a lot, right?

Lindsey: I do play electric violins a lot, especially on tour. They are a little less temperamental; they don't feedback quite as much. But on every tour, I always have a couple of moments in the show for certain songs, where I just have to play the wooden, acoustic violin -- it's just not going to be the same on an electric!

They both definitely have their place, and they are different. The electric can be accessorized for a show. It can be amplified in a different way, and it's easier to put effects on. But then nothing sings as sweet as an acoustic, wooden violin. That's why I still bring it on every tour.

Laurie: Are there adjustments you have to make in your technique, when you go from one to another?

Lindsey: Not as much as you'd think. I will say that the acoustic violin is much more sensitive, you can't get away with as much! I have to make sure that my technique is more en pointe when I'm playing the acoustic. The electric doesn't pick up quite as much, (she laughs) but the acoustic knows!

Laurie: I have students who are young, and occasionally they'll start dancing when they're playing because they've seen you do it! How do you learn to dance while playing the violin?

Lindsey: I didn't start dancing and playing until I was in my 20s! I'd played the violin for a long time, more than a decade and a half at that point. I don't think everybody has to wait that long; I waited that long because I just hadn't thought of the idea yet!

Still, I'm grateful that I had a full foundation and understanding of the violin at that point. The positions were locked in place: my elbow, my fingers, they knew exactly where to be. I was fully programed to know how to handle the violin, so when I added dancing to it, my frame did not change with the violin at all. The dancing did not affect it.

Even now, when I'm learning choreography, I have to know the violin first. I have to be able to play the songs perfectly, and I mean perfectly, and memorized, to the point where I don't have to think about it. Then, and only then, I will slowly start to add the choreography. And by slowly, I mean very slowly. Then they start to mesh together and they become almost one body movement and one muscle memory, because it all becomes connected.

So if the kid wants to dance, I tell them: first you have to learn this piece backwards and forwards so that you don't even have to think about it, and then you can slowly start to add in a little bit of movement. But if affects the playing, then you're not ready yet! (she laughs)

Laurie: When you are creating a dance to go with something, does the music inspire the movement?

Lindsey: Yes, 100 percent! When I'm doing my own choreography, I move the way the music makes me feel. I slowly add in these movements and practice them very slowly - I can't emphasize that enough: slowly!

When I work with choreographers, it's a bit more of a challenge because they'll put movements where I normally wouldn't, on beats that I wouldn't necessarily choose. Of course, I'm automatically going to move with the violin strokes, so that my feet are doing the same rhythm as my hands - that makes sense to the mind. But choreographers will hear different beats in the music, and they'll put in choreography. So it's interesting to have to do the whole "tap your head and rub your tummy" thing, where my feet are doing a completely different rhythm than my arms and my fingers! It takes practice and time. I never could have done that when I first started learning to dance - it all had to be the same rhythm. But after years of doing it, I can definitely do that now. It's almost like having to learn two melodies, two rhythms in my head, because it all does come back to the music for me.

Laurie: What was the first music you started dancing to, while playing your violin?

Lindsey: It was an original song that I wrote: a little rock song. I did it for a pageant -- I wanted my routine to be fun, I didn't want to just disappear into the sea of other violinists that were in the competition. So I thought, "I'm going to write a rock song and I'm going to jump around and play," and I did! It was called "Violin Rock" because I didn't know what to call it, very uncreative title! (she laughs) I was 18 at the time, but I never did it again until I was 23. That's when I thought -- there was something to that...that was a lot of fun. Back when I was 18, at the time I just didn't know, where does one put that? But with the emergence of YouTube, I thought, here's a place I can put that!

Laurie: What was the pandemic like for you? I'm imagining many of your shows were cancelled. When were you able to get back to live performance?

Lindsey: The pandemic was so jarring because we literally had ramped up to do this world tour. In fact, we were flying to South America to start the tour when the U.S. shut their borders. The pandemic had hit the U.S., and everybody had to lock down. So we landed, got our bags, and then turned around and came home.

Then suddenly we were in a pandemic. It was so jarring to think, wait a second, I'm not supposed to be here, I'm supposed to be in front of thousands of people! But it was also such an eye-opening experience, to really focus on: where does value come from? Does it come from those thousands of people, or can I find it still, when I'm just locked inside with my family? In a way, I'll always be grateful for that time and the ability to spend it with family and be reminded: (that affirmation) will never come from outside sources, you've got to find that love for yourself within. So it turned out to be a really beautiful experience.

But I can't tell you how special it was when we got to go on tour last fall and get back on stage. It was very emotional, so special - and also terrifying! If you're not touring for two years and not performing - dealing with stage fright again was like -- whoa! How did I do this? How do I combat nerves? I don't remember! It was a heightened version of everything: nerves, excitement, joy, fear - all of it. It turned into something very empowering.

Laurie: Do did you pick up where you left off, or did you come up with a new show when you came back?

Lindsey: My last album was Artemis, and we had toured Europe, but we had not yet toured the United States. So we took the tour from Europe, revamped it and gave it a facelift to fit the U.S. and the state we were now in.

I was really proud of that show. Because of the pandemic, everybody's budgets changed. So I didn't have a costume budget! My assistant and I literally made costumes ourselves. I'm so proud of them, too, they were beautiful! It turned almost into the Lindsey from the beginning, when I had to do everything myself. I thought, well, I have time, I'm stuck at home, so I guess I'll start. It was very DIY but it was such a beautiful show and I'm really proud of what it turned into.

Laurie: What do you have going on right now?

Lindsey: I'm writing a new album now, so I'm not touring at the moment. I'm sure I'll do a Christmas tour. But until then, I'm kind of in "lockdown" again! But this time, I chose it.

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Replies

April 1, 2022 at 08:00 AM · Its great that she is trying to do something for oeople but to be honest, 2500 dollars for me at least isnt affordable at all, its very expensive.

April 1, 2022 at 11:33 AM · Yes, $2500 is a lot of money for many people but to be fair, a quality advanced student or dedicated amateur level violin would normally cost more than that just for the violin. It seems to me she was trying to balance the question of cost on the one hand with the desire for quality on the other. A good basic carbon fiber bow can run $300 to $500 and a solid case at least $200 so $2500 for an outfit is a very good deal for someone looking to upgrade from a rental, a school instrument, or similar. There is no getting around the problem that a playable violin can cost a lot of money and that’s not even considering the professional level instrument.

I am curious about the bow included with this outfit and I am also curious to know how the violin sounds. It is impressive that she toured with it for a year. Thanks for this article.

April 1, 2022 at 01:59 PM · Great interview, Laurie. Great endorsement for Wittner pegs! I would have them on my violin except I didn't know about Wittner pegs at the time so I got PegHeds, which were recommended to me by the luthier staff at Potter's. PegHeds look much more like traditional pegs but don't work quite as well as Wittner Finetune pegs.

April 1, 2022 at 05:46 PM · Mary Ellen, on the Yamaha's order page it describes the bow as "Brazilwood with Ebony Frog."

April 1, 2022 at 06:23 PM · Thanks!

April 1, 2022 at 11:36 PM · If you're curious about the violin's sound: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=duf0ktnN1_4

It has a bright, clean sound, which is great for pop and rock and the kind of stuff Stirling plays. However, I wouldn't recommend it to a classical player because the sound lacks the richness and warmth classical players need.

April 2, 2022 at 12:07 AM · That's a broad generalization, Ella, but yes, people can listen to the Youtube demonstration and decide if they like the sound for them.

April 2, 2022 at 05:06 PM · It feels that everything Lindsey touches, becomes Gold. As a big fan of Lindsey's electronic music, I've made an electronic music beginner sheet music album. Kids love it!

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