Frets vs. Fretless

April 20, 2008 at 01:39 AM · I'll purchase an electric violin someday and I was wondering if anybody knew how vibrato works on a fretted violin? Is it even possible to do that?

This is for me to expand on the rock genre, I'll probably distort it to make it sound like an electric guitar.

I would also like to hear people's opinion about which one is better based on style.

Replies (31)

April 20, 2008 at 02:04 AM · You don't need an electric violin for distortion. You can do that *acoustically* with a real violin. By using a PA you can then amplify the distortion.

Great example:

Time For Three does this.

Also here's another nice example:

http://youtube.com/watch?v=wjLeLzcL8dk

at 0:34 to 0:35 and 0:39 to 0:41 there is great distortion!

Vibrato should work on frets--using string pressure.

Mark Wood on his website talks about the frets being really low---and this having an effect on slides etc. I don't understand it though.

However, with a real violin you can "stop" a string without touching the fingerboard--that should work with frets as well.

I think you (and I too!) need to try these fretted fiddles out to see what happens.

April 20, 2008 at 05:20 AM · It is possible to do a bending vibrato, similar to how most guitarists vibrate, on a fretless violin, so I would argue that it would work on the fretted as well.

April 20, 2008 at 05:41 AM · The things you pointed aren't distortion, it's pontacello. The bow hitting the top of the violin is another trick I've seen countless times. The disadvantage is that the sound might not carry through.

This is actually what a violin and distortion sounds like.

http://youtube.com/watch?v=YPwNJsi6n38

This is what an electric violin and distortion sounds like.

http://youtube.com/watch?v=znI812KNrJA

You hear the difference? I want the electric because it gives off a more "metallic" sound.

Even with a pick-up, an acoustic violin cannot give off this sound that I'm looking for, nor would an acoustic violin have six strings. It seems as if vibrato on an electric violin works well on non-fretted. I am just wondering how it would work with fretted. For instance, on guitars, it's very hard to do vibrato. I tried it with my violin vibrato and it did nothing. We had to bend the strings up and down from the sides. However, I've heard the violin vibrato on a non-fretted violin and it's simply amazing, I'm hoping a fretted violin wouldn't take that effect away.

The reason why I want the electric is because I recently transcribed the Canon Rock to violin. It doesn't sound good on the high registers of an acoustic and there are moments where things become insanely fast that frets would probably make a good help. It's next to impossible to play the sixteenths when quarters are at a speed of 200. The trick of electric violins is that you can do those fast notes with ease, slurred notes wouldn't be as obvious slurred. At that metallic distortion, anything slurred would sound separate anyway.

Here's a demonstrating video of the slurs:

http://youtube.com/watch?v=4KKhoc32sQw

April 20, 2008 at 05:47 AM · Have you checked out a chapman stick yet? It seems to me that your interest lies somewhere in between electric guitar and violin - a chapman stick might just be the instrument you are looking for.

http://www.stick.com/instruments/grand

Another instrument that might be of interest is called the NS/Stick, codeveloped between Emmett Chapman and Ned Steinbeger.

http://www.stick.com/instruments/ns

Guillermo Cides, a stick artist who recorded Bach played on his chapman stick describes a technique he used on that album to imitate violin vibrato on the chapman stick, here ...

http://www.stickcenter.com/Interview/CidesGlobal/english.html

Navigational aid: It's the second last paragraph on the bottom of that page

Ned Steinberger also makes electric violins which have a special pickup that let's you switch between conventional violin and electric violin mode. They are fretless though, but they seem to be popular with rock artists.

http://www.nedsteinberger.com/instruments/violin.php

April 20, 2008 at 07:17 PM · What is "the Canon Rock" that you transcribed for violin? I can't tell if you're a violin player or not. If not, you need frets. If you are, you wouldn't even consider frets! The sound in the E maj. partita example is hideous. I was listening to this other thing the other day. In it I don't hear distortion per se, but I hear a chorus box, a wha-wha pedal, and an Echoplex. It's what was called "fusion" back in the day. He's playing rock licks at places in what otherwise could pass for Miles Davis. He's imitating an electric guitar at points, mostly licks from blues, and I think he's imitating a trumpet at other places. He has a sophisticated electric sound, not just trebley compression and distortion.

http://youtube.com/watch?v=D-u2U9R5l30

April 20, 2008 at 08:07 PM · I have been learning the violin for eight years and own an acoustic violin. I've recently gotten into jazz violin and experimented with rock before.

I don't know, I wouldn't fully exclude frets just because I am a violinist. I've messed around with guitars before and understand why they use it.

April 20, 2008 at 09:46 PM · By wouldn't even consider frets, what I meant was what I think your final choice would be, from my impression of what you want to do and my experience playing both fiddle and fretted instruments. I've never played a fretted fiddle, so would be curious about it too, but just curious I think. Fretless would give you more choices in vibrato and other effects. I'm pretty sure fretted would only benefit you if you sounded more in tune with frets. I believe you could imitate a guitar a lot better without frets than with. The things an electric guitar can do that you would want to copy could be copied best without frets, I think. It might not sound sensible since a guitar has frets, but there are other things to consider.

April 21, 2008 at 03:56 AM · Frets on a violin are an unpardonable sin and perpetrators should be punished by being forced to listen repeatedly to toyota's robot violinist til they go insane...;}

April 21, 2008 at 05:40 AM · It occurs to me that an electric violin with frets would be more accurately called an electric viol ;-)

April 21, 2008 at 09:40 AM · Frets on a guitar exist solely to make it easier to play chords.

On a violin, all it will do is ensure that you are never truly in tune. (unless you truly prefer equal-temperment.)

It will also, as previously mentioned, make normal vibrato impossible. If you se violin vibrato on a fretted guitar, you will hear a tiny bit, since the fret acts like a fulcrum, but the effect is seriously reduced.

The "sideways" vibrato used by many guitarists (think BB King) is impossible on violin. the wrist angle prevents it.

It might be cool to play madolin parts on a fretted violin, though. I think it's the same tuning. (but don't quote me on that) and certainly about the same scale length.

---------------

As for distortion, this is a very tricky thing with violin. A major part of what makes distortion "work" for a guitar is the sustain it gives. In fact, a great lead-guitar distortion is often said to have "violin" sustain. Since a violin/bow has its own "built in" sustain, that part of the equation goes out the window. It's not that a distorted amp can't sound good with violin, but the affects that are important temd to be fairly different.

One last part of the equation: Frets change the sound of the string, making them more, well, metallic. Brighter. The attack of the note is also sharper. A fretted electric violin probably would sound even more "electric," for good or bad. I would factor that into my decision.

April 21, 2008 at 06:07 PM · Allan:

>Frets on a guitar exist solely to make it easier to play chords.

No. Frets make a ringing sound with sustain. (Guitars and Viols have shared ancestry by the way). Frets are needed for ease of chording and also for the sound.

>The "sideways" vibrato used by many guitarists (think BB King) is

>impossible on violin. the wrist angle prevents it.

Interesting point.

>It might be cool to play mandolin parts on a fretted violin, though.

>I think it's the same tuning. (but don't quote me on that)

>and certainly about the same scale length.

Violin & Mandolin have the same standard tuning. Gibson-style mandolins have a slightly longer scale.

As for distortion: aren't you really speaking to compression? Compression (a natural effect of a tube amplifier driven to the appropriate level) creates sustain.

April 21, 2008 at 04:41 PM · I haven't found distortion on electric violin to be pleasing (nor chorus). Best effect I've found is a phase-shifter.

David Hidalgo (Los Lobos) has a violin with frets. It works for him. I feel if you're talking about an electric violin with frets and distortion you may rather have an electric mandolin.

April 21, 2008 at 05:10 PM · JLP's sound had a lot of chorus. It sounded great (to me). The archetype electric fiddle sound really. I think smooth distortion would sound ok too. A weak, slow phase shifter might be ok. Strong ones are cheesy to me.

April 21, 2008 at 07:28 PM · I didn't know they made fretted violins.

April 22, 2008 at 10:21 AM ·

April 22, 2008 at 08:49 AM · Jim,

I'd have to re-listen to those old LP's, & my turntable hasn't worked since Nixon was in office, but I think JLP's sound was mostly flanging, with a little echo. He probably used chorus as well, sometimes, but chorus can get a little middy, whereas slow flanging has that defined, edgy sweep.

April 22, 2008 at 04:44 PM · Allan, listen to the clip I pasted above. That's his sound and it's what we'd call chorus today. I can't remember him using a flanger. Not sure they'd been invented at that point. The first time I heard modern-sounding flanging was the Doobie Brothers. I still remember where I was, like when Kennedy was shot :) Hendrix and Eddie Kramer had used studio flanging (tape reel flange flanging) prior. Just ask the axis. At any rate flanging would be too strong to be the main component of your sound I think. But a flanger that didn't sweep might resemble chorus.

April 23, 2008 at 02:52 AM · "For instance, on guitars, it's very hard to do vibrato. I tried it with my violin vibrato and it did nothing. We had to bend the strings up and down from the sides. However, I've heard the violin vibrato on a non-fretted violin and it's simply amazing, I'm hoping a fretted violin wouldn't take that effect away."

I've been playing guitar since 1978, and vibrato isn't any harder on it than on violin. Guitar vibrato is just different, that's all, and its not all side-to-side, either. You can get subtle tonal differences on both acoustic and electric by varying string pressure or even shaking the whole instrument.

For me electric violins destroy the subtlety the instrument, and aren't worth the effort. Jean Luc Ponty has a unique style, but his timbre is distinctly unsubtle.

If you're interested in something between violin and guitar I second the recommendation for the stick, which I've been playing since 1980. The lower string tension means you can get a very expressive vibrator somewhere between that of a violin and guitar.

April 23, 2008 at 04:56 AM · Hey, Jim.

Hard to say what JLP is using in that particular clip, since the sound isn't clean, but it's definitely not a typical washy chorus. At one point, there is a distinct, slow sine-wave to it, so it COULD be a slow chorus with very little regeneration. Of course, a chorus with no regeneration IS a flanger. (though without much resonance peak)

My guess is that he's playing through a Rotovibe.

-But then the modulation stops. Hmm.....

You know, It could be a wah-wah pedal. In fact, now I'm thinking that's exactly what it is, (on this clip and also on most of his stuff, because you get these nasally sweeps and then section of stasis, then section with the even modulation. Plus, a wah would help the sound stand-out the smae as a slow flange, since both employ liberal amounts of resonance peaking.

JLP also used liberal amounts of delay, of course, though I don't hear any on that particular clip.

There's probably a website somewhere that actually lists the gear he toured with in those years. Maybe someone could do the resaerch. I'd like to know myself, but no time.

BTW_ I believe the MXR flanger pedal existed by then. (late 70's?)

April 23, 2008 at 05:21 AM · Allan, oddly enough, I don't know much about how effects work. I never got interested. I just know what they sound like. To me the first few notes are pure chorus, and a modern-sounding one at that.

Michael, maybe subtlety is in the ear of the beholder. If you listen to the link I pasted, at about 3:00, he's screaming, but at the same time very subtle, or in other words paying attention to small things. And his sound is nothing like it was two minutes before. When you say not subtle, I think mindless, which is not him at all. People in that clip have ties to Miles Davis. It's good music.

April 23, 2008 at 05:25 AM · quote, "To me the first few notes are pure chorus, and a modern-sounding one at that."

Jim. maybe you are referring to the beginning of the piece, not the beginning of his solo? If so, you are hearing a natural chorusing effect caused by the other violininits playing in unison.

When he starts his solo, the sound has too much definition & attack, unless as I wrote he has the regeneration turned all the way down. -And that's the same as flanging.

I sure am intrigued, now that the subject has come up, just no time to research it.

I do know that, years ago, I nailed the sound on one of his tunes for a client who played an E-violin. We used flanging (a pedal, not a thumb on the tape-reel) and an old Binson Echorec.

But I'll stick to my new guess of wah-wah for the bulk of his work. In fact, I'd bet money on it.

April 23, 2008 at 05:39 AM · "Jim. maybe you are referring to the beginning of the piece, not the beginning of his solo?"

No, the beginning of his solo :) It sounds like a modern chorus effect. To my ears. I too hear a wah in spots, and again, subtle, artistic use of it.

April 23, 2008 at 05:38 AM · Maybe a combination, as you say. Could even be a phase-shifter, though that would tend to soften the sound as does a chorus.

Interesting question, for sure.

April 23, 2008 at 05:53 AM · It is interesting. Whatever he's using in the first few notes, it's what makes up his typical basic sound. I'd recognize him there after one note.

April 23, 2008 at 02:35 PM · "Michael, maybe subtlety is in the ear of the beholder. If you listen to the link I pasted, at about 3:00, he's screaming, but at the same time very subtle, or in other words paying attention to small things. And his sound is nothing like it was two minutes before. When you say not subtle, I think mindless, which is not him at all. People in that clip have ties to Miles Davis. It's good music."

Didn't say it wasn't good music. I'm a big fan of the Mahavishnu Orchestra. My description of "subtle" was directed towards the timbre of the instruments. Electric violins have a reduced harmonic richness that is required to sound good through electric guitar effects, which doesn't make it less creative in the right hands, but for me defeats the purpose. If I wanted electric guitar like sounds I'd use an electric guitar or a stick.

April 23, 2008 at 02:52 PM · I think I understand what Michael says. For me too, the beauty of the violin is in the rich sound that an accoustic violin produces (well, in the hands of a skilled violinist anyway). If I wanted to play an electric instrument, I think I would want to learn the chapman stick, I am fascinated by its possibilities in the electric realm.

However, I can see how somebody who has already learned to play the violin and wants to make the kind of music most people use electric guitars for, might want to take a shortcut and just get an electric violin, especially somebody who doesn't already know how to play a guitar.

At the end of the day its a matter of personal preference.

April 23, 2008 at 04:28 PM · Well, it's just a different instrument and you might prefer one over the other for your own reasons, or enjoy them both.

April 25, 2008 at 06:28 PM · I found a beautiful example of guitar vibrato to illustrate the differance.

(you tube)Willie Nelson: I Never Cared For You, the long version

Love 'ya, Willie!

April 27, 2008 at 02:34 AM · DEFINITELY go electric. Unless you want major feedback issues (from louder volumes) you want to go electric. I'd suggest a ZETA strados or jazz fusion. With effects, you can get a TON of great sounds.

Here I am using a ZETA and Korg Toneworks pedalboard: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xhLDtsxjbXI

I hope that helps,

Ross Christopher

www.rosschristopher.com

p.s. by the way, frets or no frets is totally a personal preference option.

April 28, 2008 at 02:59 PM · Back to the J-L P sound, briefly, if I may:

In his book on the Mahavishnu Orchestra, Walter Kolosky offers a quote referring to Ponty's use of phase shifter and Echoplex. I checked out some clips of that group (MO II) on youtube and his core sound seemed to be a Barcus-Berry violin through a phase shfiter, using the Echoplex sparingly for special effect.

I believe this same sound was used earlier with Zappa (Overnight Sensation LP) and his own group (Imaginary Voyage, Aurora LP's). I'm sure you can find live clips of those groups on youtube as well.

June 16, 2008 at 09:35 PM · Hello,

I am looking to buy a Zeta or other solid body electric violin. Would prefer a 5 string but would consider a 4 string. Please let me know.

Thank you, Marty

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