electric or acoustic for a beginner?

May 7, 2007 at 08:24 PM · I plan on waiting a bit to see if this urge is just another passing fad of mine, or if it will be a serious interest, though I imagine that I won't really know until I start learning. Electric is want I want to play eventually, but I've been hearing different things: that one should start w/ acoustic, electric doesn't have as good a range, etc.

However, there are a few things to consider: I'm 21 right now, and will start working soon. I'll be living in an apartment complex, so noise could be an issue. And as I'm not sure how earnest my interest is, I'm afraid to invest in too expensive of an instrument. What does everything think? Is it possible to start learning violin with an electric? And, either way (electric/acoustic) what would be a decent one to get for a beginner with a relatively low budget? Thanks for any feedback.

Replies (23)

May 6, 2007 at 07:57 AM · Also, how viable is it to start learning violin on your own, instead of having an instructor? I imagine that at some point I'd need an instructor, but I wonder how long I could get by without one.

May 7, 2007 at 09:39 PM · I like acoustics better than electrics in general.

But in your case I think you should get a solidbody electric. Anything else will bother your neighbors.

May 10, 2007 at 03:05 AM · How reasonable is it to start learning with electric though? If I were to go find an instructor, would there be enough out there that'd be willing to teach someone with electric? I imagine it's not the usual method of instruction =p

May 10, 2007 at 11:11 AM · Can you rent an electric? I've never played one, but am intrigued by them. A few months on a rented electric might help you figure out how sincere your interest is. And yeah, apartment neighbors can be a problem. I bought an electric piano when I was living in an apartment for that reason: headphones!

May 10, 2007 at 07:34 PM · Oh, I didn't think about that. I heard about renting for acoustics, but some reason it didn't occur to me to think of that for electrics. I guess that's something I should look into.

Does anyone have suggestions on how to specifically go about looking for an electric violin instructor? It seems like most people are trained w/ acoustic and then switch over to electric on their own...

May 11, 2007 at 10:30 PM · I'd say definitely start with acoustic and then go over to electric.. what I did, and I think if you don't have more experience with how to control and create subtleties with an acoustic, it's hard to develop easily with an electric.

I've never heard of any teacher actually teaching a beginner with an electric.. It's just that you really miss so many subtleties and you can't learn to make a good sound when just playing on an electric.

May 12, 2007 at 01:58 PM · If you wanted to play electric guitar, would you start with an acoustic? Not necessarily. Yes, an electric violin is a totally different instrument from an acoustic in terms of bowing. But if the electric sound is what draws you, I say go for it. The main problem would probably be finding a teacher who is both willing to teach you on an electric and experienced enough with electric violins to know the subtleties of playing one. I would advise getting an electric that is light in weight. I have a Zeta jazz violin, and it sounds great but is heavy. It's hard enough to learn this instrument without dealing with a lot of weight! There are many, many brands of electrics these days. I'd say find a teacher who can help you select one, who knows the shops in your area where you can go try one out. Most cheap electrics sound very thin, but then so do most cheap acoustics.

May 12, 2007 at 08:31 PM · I was thinking about the electric guitar vs acoustic guitar for comparison as well.

What stands out to me is that the electric fiddle is far less mature in its evolution than the electric guitar. Sure, Lloyd Loar built an electric viola, but the electric violin as an instrument of choice is very new. It hasn't even had a decade of good exposure yet, and it certainly doesn't have the pedagogical history of the electric guitar, which stretches all the way back to the 1940's in terms of broad usage.

May 13, 2007 at 09:24 AM · Mm, that's a good way of seeing it I guess. I'm pretty sure that if I did go and learn, I'd stick w/ an electric and not switch to an acoustic (the price tag on really good acoustics is the main turnoff for me). Any suggestions on how to go about looking for an electric violin teacher in the Bay area, preferably South Bay? Craigslist isn't exactly something I'd trust for something like this.

May 13, 2007 at 11:34 AM · Get one of each. Take lessons on the acoustic and practise the electric. Having both has been helpful for me because it highlights aspects that wouldn't otherwise have been apparent. Both are a joy to have around. I like the Bridge Aquila by the way. E

May 13, 2007 at 02:41 PM · I'd still hold out for learning acoustic first. I think of this more in comparison to learning to drive. We had a big ol' standard with power nothing, which means now I can drive pretty much anything. I've needed to drive a tractor and a moving van, and practiced pulling a school bus forward & backward in case of the unlikely but not-impossible problem of being there when there's an accident/disabled driver, etc. You don't have to get great on acoustic to get a handle on how it works, and those details don't hurt when you play electrified. You can always rent for a few months, so $$ doesn't have to be your deciding factor. Playing vln really is addictive, so if you're something of a butterfly-flitter, maybe this is a good life choice for you, too. :) Sue

May 13, 2007 at 04:26 PM · Since you are in the bay area, I'd give John Jordan a call. He's an electric violin maker and can probably recommend a teacher for you.

here's his site:


Compare other makers electric violins, then go see his. The craftsmanship on his are awesome.


May 13, 2007 at 09:23 PM · Hmm... if I were to start out on acoustic though, how much of a problem would noise be? I think I read somewhere on this site about things you can use to lower the sound levels of an acoustic, but how well do those work?

And thanks Barry, I'll see if John can give me some help!

May 14, 2007 at 11:06 AM · Practice mutes are not very nice to use. Get both an acoustic and an electric, and practise the electric through headphones in your apartment. The external noise from an electric is much lower than an acoustic; the latter would really annoy your neighbours. Both violins are the same instrument - it's not difficult to switch from one to the other, and the slight differences are instructive.

May 14, 2007 at 11:18 AM · Speaking of electric violins, i must say that i don't understand why so many people choose to buy the expensive Zetas, they don't even sound like a violin, they sound like a keyboard.

Why spend so much money.

I use a Fender fv-3, they cost 500e and sound much better! if you want to know what i'm talking about go visit you tube and search for Trail of dead w/Hillary Hahn in Moscow. she plays on a fender fv-3 in that video. and then just type Zeta electric violin in the search engine and you will hear the difference. tell me about what you guys think. Why Zeta, because it's well known?

May 14, 2007 at 02:04 PM · The Zetas (solid body ones anyway) are for music that doesn't need an acoustic sound. Maybe one should ask: why does one want to play a violin that sounds like a synth?

May 14, 2007 at 08:14 PM · Ah, Ed, the only problem I have with that suggestion is the monetary investment that buying two violins would entail. I guess I really should just start with rentals to see how things go.

But Sarah and Kevin, you guys bring up an interesting point. I keep hearing about people getting Zetas and how good they are, but I never heard the issue of sound being addressed. I sort of want an electric that's a bit closer to having an acoustic sound, but with a hint of that... well, electric sound. I'll take a look into the Fenders... are there any others that I should look into though?

May 14, 2007 at 09:09 PM · You'll be really happy when you try out one of John Jordan's. The weight of the instrument is closer to acoustic's more than any other electric. Plus his has the most advanced pickups available in them too. I personally have a dual hybrid barbera model, it's awesome!


May 14, 2007 at 09:12 PM · Johhny,

I'm going to come out of left-field here. I suggest getting an electric, but hold off buying something expensive. The reason is that, in my strong opinion, the world of electric violins is about to change ina major way:

Dynamic convolution technology has reached a point where several companies have developed modeled violins. The input sound is a violin with almost no resonance (body filled with expanding foam) and the model is taken from various top acoustic violins. I have heard the first of these, made by Tascam for the Gigastudio sampler, and it is a knock-out.

What is important is that the convolution is dynamic, so there is a lot of expression in the thing. Granted this is a somewhat limited model, and it is NOT yet a realtime process, but that will change very quickly.

I would be very surprised if, by the end of the year, we don't see real-time convolution models just like this, In another year, expect to see small, dedicated electronics that will do this, with various models built in. Such electronics will probably clip to your belt, or be a floor stomp-box with footswitches so you can change from a Strad to a GDG while playing a solo. Given enough DSP power, ou will be able to change from Carnegie hall acoustics to the Concertbau. Given enough dsp power, we you will probably be able to alter the input source to mimic different types and gauges of strings (to some extent, at least.

But wait, there's more: (!) Why stop at modeling a violin? You could just as easily input the source sound into a tuba model, or a grand piano, completel with open-string resonances, or (heaven help us) a viola. The expressive possibilities are endless. As dsp power gets even faster, it will be possible to run severalmodels at once. One might do the body resonance, another might do the bridge resonance, another might model phase interractions of the wood. etc etc etc This will add more & more realism & expressive capability.

This is absolutely going to happen. Soon. -And the input device will be a violin with no resonance. Current E-fiddles are pretty much all designed to give some semblance of body resonance, even the Zeta types, so a new design will likely be needed to maximize this new technology.

Personally, I can't wait.

(How's THAT for opening a new can 'o worms?)

May 15, 2007 at 12:16 AM · An electric violin that I recommend NOT to get is the first generation Yamaha Silent Violin. I got one of these when they first came out. It is heavy and its piezo pickup is rather noisy. Not sure if the second generation SV is any better.

What Allan described is indeed very possible. But if one looks at the progress on modeling the piano, one might see a picture that is not very bright in the near future. For example, Generalmusic's digital piano include modeling of almost all the aspects of a real piano. However, I find the sound to be less than stunning. IMO, there are better-sounding sampled pianos. YMMV.

May 15, 2007 at 12:55 AM · Kevin,

General Music's Piano is horrible, because 1: the samples used to feed the model are tiny. and 2: they don't use dynamic convolution. Their modeling is very old technology, and very simple.

Check out Ilio's Ivory, or the new Giga convolution piano. (hear them live, don't judge by the online mp3 demos) It's a COMPLETELY different ballgame with those. On playback, many times even I can't tell the difference. I have a very nice Steinway B, and I rarely mic it up anymore.

May 15, 2007 at 02:09 AM · You'll have to forgive me for this, but what exactly is all this about modeling?

May 15, 2007 at 03:13 AM · Many guitar effect processors, have 'modeled' amplifiers so that the effect you are going to play will sound like it came from a different kind of amp. For instance, the same effect will sound different when coming from a punchy vintage UK amp vs a new marshall tube amp. Most effect processors have some sort of modeler in there too. A popular one is the one from Line 6's Pod XT. I'd rather have one I can strap to my waste or arm, so I bought the Korg Pandora. Heh, you are going to have fun looking and shopping for all this stuff!


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