Yamaha SV-255 electric 5-string. My review.

July 13, 2010 at 04:50 AM ·

 Hey, folks.

I recently received a Yamaha SV-255.   I think I got the first one on the east coast, so I thought some folks here would appreciate a short review 

Caveat:  I have never claimed to be an accomplished violinist!  I'm a real punter, but I do have vast experience as a recording engineer & producer, so I know sound very well.  I also used to hang out on Maestronet forums, so am well versed in the mechanical / setup aspects of the fiddle.


Since I play pop music & some country / cajun, and like to play simple lines under/behind the singer, a 5-string was a no brainer.  I was considering one of Barry Dudley's excellent 5 string acoustics, as I don't like the typical "E Violin" tone.  Still, I longed for something I could play at night, and also something a little less fragile for rock gigs. 

I saw/ heard the NAMM demo on YouTube, and even through the cheap camcorder & background noise, I heard something that really caught my ear.  Decided to take a chance.

Now that  it's here.  What do I think?


Sound:  Absolutely to die for.  No kidding.  It is the closest I've ever heard to a real acoustic fiddle  There is plenty of "wood" and decent "body."  The body is actually hollow, with a spruce top, and I guess it really does help.    I am processing the sound through a convolution plugin, with an impulse-response of an acoustic guitar body (can't find a violin IR yet)  roll off a little treble, to simulate EQ loss through the air, add a VERY good reverb, and seriously I can't tell that it's not a full acoustic.   I may literally sell all of my acoustic violins. (well, except for my Carlisle.)


-but even without the convo IR, the sound is just wonderful.  Much better than any previous Yamaha. Fuller & more resonant than Steinberger or Jordan.  


The timbral response is equally excellent, due I suppose to having both a bridge & a body pickup.


Response up the neck is incredible. No dead spots, and it just sings & sings in 5th & 6th positions, on all strings.


The low C is full & resonant.  However, you do have to be careful with bow pressure. It feels somewhat like controlling a pure-gut G-string.  This is probably true with any 5-string violin.



OK, so I'm in love with the sound.   NOW FOR THE BAD:


The setup is so dreadful, I have to wonder if Yamaha is having these made in Taiwan by homeless drug addicts.  Some highlights:

The scale length is 325mm!  - and you can't move the bridge feet, as they sit in a recessed slot.

I can JUST barely get 328mm if I bend the bridge tip waaay back (easy to do as the bridge blank itself is complete garbage) but this will surely cause failure in the near future.

The fingerboard is too low.  Yes, there is a grey area, but no luthier would accept 6.9mm, at the relief, from the FB to the bottom of the G.   5mm would do nicely, or maybe even less as string-crossing in 5th position is tough on a 5-string.  My E-string is at 4.5mm. Again, absurdly high.

The bridge is at the "correct" height of 34mm, so the problem is indeed the FB.  Since this instrument doesn't use a standard dovetail, how would I find a luthier to do an adjustment? I can't even find out if they used hide glue on the joint.

The nut spacing is too narrow, and not centered.  The accepted minimum is 16.5mm. mine is less than 16, and there is twice as much room to the side of the E string as to the side of the low C.

Luckily, the FB is PLENTY wide enough to support standard spacing, or even 17-18mm, which I prefer due to my very large fingers.  - but less than 16mm from the factory is inexcuseable, IMO.


The after-length is wrong, and so far I can't find how to access the tail-cord. (I assume there is one, but the chinrest area does not easily come apart. More research needed....) 


Last, the bridge slot is not even centered on the body. (not even close)   I suspect that most of these ills are all simply due to the bridge slot.  If it were 3-4mm further towards the tailpiece, and centered, the scale length & after length would be correct, and the string height would even be a little less. (though still high.)



OK, that's enough for now, I have to get back to work.  SO WHAT HAVE WE LEARNED TODAY?

Yamaha has completely changed the game, as far as e-violin sound & response, but their QC is SEVERELY lacking.   DO NOT buy one of these without trying it first.    The company is aware of these problems, and is checking their stock & manufacturing plant as I write this.   They seem very concerned (so far) and will be getting back to me soon.  Worst case, they offered to ship my violin back to evaluate, and replace it if needed.  (if needed???  !!! )


Well, talk is cheap.  We shall see........

Replies (24)

July 13, 2010 at 08:36 AM ·

I hope they replace it for you with one 'decently' set up!

July 13, 2010 at 08:56 AM ·

Thanks for this - I keep tabs on the electronics for the day when one comes out that is a reasonable fascimile of an acoustic - so that it will go in a suitcase without harm.  Looks like that day may not be far off..

July 13, 2010 at 11:31 AM ·

cableaddict (!?) - Sounds good, yamaha SV series has always been closer sounding to acoustics, except for the G string which still have that signature piezo crap which I hated so much...

I'm interested in hearing the DI line in recording of the sound, as what I've heard from Zeta series long time ago, they actually recorded them dry and straight from the violin so you have a very clear idea what kind of sound you'll be getting.

UPDATE: heard the youtube video, holy **** it sounds so much like an acoustic violin! I'm going to try this as I'm teaching in yamaha music school but it's going to be a loooong wait for them to bring it in. I haven't even seen the SV-150!

July 14, 2010 at 02:28 AM ·



Indeed, and the sound in the YouTube vids is really washed out.  "In the flesh" it's REALLY exceptional.

I don't hear any problems with the G-string, on this model. They must have solved that issue. The one VERY small niggle is the C-string, which requires a light touch, and is a tad mellow / 1-dimensional.  Again, though, this is always the case with 5-string violins.


The SV-255 ships with Zyex G - E strings, and a Helicore C.   I'm thinking of trying a Spirocore viola C-string, silver wound.  That should give more complexity, but a similar tension.  (I hope)

July 20, 2010 at 11:14 AM ·

 Well, here's the follow-up, and it's BAD:  Yamaha doesn't give a flying fig.





Last week, I sent detailed measurements of my SV-255 to Heather Mansell, Yamaha USA  Product Manager for Orchestral Strings. I also sent a picture of my bridge, horrible angled-back so it would be t the minimum-accepted scale length of 338mm.  Heather was good enough to forward this to the R&D team in Japan.   Sadly, it turns out that they don't care at all.  In fact, 



Response from Heather Mansell, Yamaha USA  Product Manager for Orchestral Strings:


We have spent some time looking at measurements from the design team in Japan, as well as the comments and measurements you have sent us. Accordingly, we believe that this instrument falls within our design & manufacturing guidelines. We are not in a position to do custom changes or re-build the instrument."


So lets' review.  The following measurements are, according to Yamaha, perfectly acceptable on a 4/4 violin, selling for $1800 (street price.)


325 mm NON-ADJUSTABLE scale length.  (it should be 328mm - 330mm)   oops....


6.9mm between the G-string & the FB, and the end of the FB. (should be 4.5 - 5.5mm)

       -    and good luck findig a luthier who will fix it, at any price.


Less than 15.9 mm between the G and the E, at the nut.  (should be 16.5mm)


An afterlength that's almost 2 notes below the correct tone.


A non-adjustable bridge slot (where the bridge sits) that VASTLY off-center.





Further problems:


I asked about getting a spare bridge, and a spare electronics box, for emergencies.  

- No response.


I asked what type of glue was used in the neck joint, and if alternate shims were available:  (in case I get stuck with this turkey, and have to pay a luthier to try to save it) 

- No response.


This is professional?


I asked if there were any "authorized" luthiers, who knew how to work on these instruments.  Heather gave me one name.  I called him, and he doesn't want to do anything other than cutting a new nut.






Yamaha makes junk, and they don't stand behind their products.  I would hate to see someone else lose their hard-earned money like I just did.


July 20, 2010 at 12:02 PM ·

 Sorry to read this. I am thinking of buying an electric justo for fun and play around with the effects pedals I have in the basement from my old stratocaster. After reading this I think I will buy one of those chinese that can be found in eBay for 175 USD included shipping. Enough for fun playing and enough for my setup skills. After all If I can make a violin I can setup one of these.

July 29, 2010 at 10:04 PM ·

 Well, it gets worse.


I went to the store today, to check other Yamaha e-Violins.   They only had two, cheaper models on display.  I set both up as perfectly as I could, then measured.  Both had FB heights slightly-better than mine, but still below the commonly-accepted standard, but it's the scale length that's truly scary:


One was 325.5mm and the other was 325mm !  - This with the back of the bridge absolutely perpendicular.


The word needs to be spread about this.  Evidently, Yamaha is making instruments for tiny Japanese women.

August 2, 2010 at 08:51 AM ·


Hello Allan,
Well, I was shocked, dismayed and enlightened by this thread. So I have a few comments. I bought an SV-150 three months ago. I am a decent player, have been playing for over 30 years and play many different styles. In addition, I have owned the original Yamaha Silent E Violin and an SV-204 as well as a Silent Electric Viola. That having been said, I am not a fan of the SE series. I hated the first violin, even though I really wanted to like it. The shoulder rest system was literally painful to use. The SV-204 had those pathetic geared pegs which I didn’t realize when I bought it and had other problems as well. The SV-150 seemed to be the final answer: great tone and playability…with one caveat…I kept missing my shifts. I thought I was losing my touch, but then when I would pick up an acoustic violin, my shifts were back to normal. I figured it had something to do with the different (or slightly “electric”) tone and the fact that the sound was coming from an amp instead of directly into my left ear. I think that the scale being off would account nicely for not hitting my shifts accurately. 
Just another little bit: when I was younger, I played lots of different Yamaha instruments, from guitars to keyboards and finally to violins. My impression, and the impressions of my musical friends, was that Yahama instruments were “good enough”, but never great. I still feel that way. They put out an instrument that is all right, overall. But never excellent. And this is too bad because the SE Violin could be great with very little effort on the part of Yamaha. What would it have taken to build a violin to standard scale when they were tooling up the production floor? My guess is it would have cost the same amount of money either way.
My second question is where can I obtain measuring tools to determine and adjust my own setups? I have done numerous instrument repairs through the years and sometimes it helps to know if an instrument is set up correctly. I have seen measuring tools in the hands of repairmen but have no idea where I can get these tools. (And you know I have googled “violin measuring tools” before writing that last bit.) Any help you can give would be helpful.
Thank you again for your informative post. You literally saved me $1600.
Ed Ebel

August 2, 2010 at 11:50 AM ·

One of the frustrated thing about playing the pre-150 SV series, I had the same shifting problem too. It seems lost everytime I try to feel the position, also the weight distribution make the playing less desire and like one side heavy...

August 2, 2010 at 02:02 PM ·

if you are looking for a measuring device try this: www.theviolinsoundpost.com. I just bought it and it works for me.

August 17, 2010 at 12:30 PM · Allan, My rep at sweetwater.com really wants me to buy an SV 255. He has read your review and has informed their Yamaha rep. He is setting up a conference call with him, Yamaha and me. He is totally outraged about the setup issue! I'll tell you what comes of it. I told him that I would buy one only with the proper set up. A retooling would benefit Yamaha and all of us greatly! By the way I have an SV 120. Short scale also but the rest is perfect. So I guess they can do it if they try. Thanks for saving me a lot of aggravation!!!

August 18, 2010 at 01:09 AM ·


I'm very glad to here this -  Both because my post helped someone else, and because this might get Yamaha to see the light.   As I've written elsewhere, I check two other Yamaha E-violins at my local store, and they were worse than my SV-255.  One had a scale length of slightly LESS than 325mm!

How bad is your SV-120?

My measurements & complaints were sent to the Yamaha techs in Japan.  Amazingly, they responded that these measurement (326mm scale length and 6.9mm from the g-string to the FB were within their acceptable standards!

Please keep me informed.

Also see if you can get any answers re spare parts, and tech details for future repairs, such as what glue is used, are there replacement shims & such...  I have not been able to get an answer. I also can't find a good luthier willing to even look at my instrument, including the luthier Yamaha recommended to me!


Also, if you get one you're happy with, and you have a home DAW system, check out the plugin "Bodilizer."  It is very inexpensive, and does wonders for the sound of the SV-255. Add a small amount of the Hardinger model,with the body dialed fairly "large" (to support the low C) and it's just ridiculously wonderful.

August 19, 2010 at 01:18 AM · The SV 120 scale is 323.4. Small women! The rest is beautiful. Fingerboard to G is 4mm,to E is 3.5mm. Nut is 17mm. Dustin at Williams Fine Violins said that 10yrs. ago Aaron Riley was doing the setups for Yamaha and that may be the reason for the excellent work. He said anything coming out of the box these days needs a professional setup. He said the high action was used to compensate for poor fingerboard work. He sets the G clearance at 2mm for the fiddlers in Nashville! He said 6.9mm is perfect for a cello!!! I thought you'd like that one. Dustin said he wouldn't have a problem with your's. It'll cost about 200 dollars for the neck, nut and I don't know about the scale length. Give him a call, 615 429-2927. Also talked to Heather. She was noncommittal, very corporate. So continues the drama.

August 22, 2010 at 05:01 PM · Elise, If you want a totally acoustic sound, try an SV with a Tapco Thump. You won't believe your ears!

September 7, 2010 at 02:10 PM ·

I am surprised that the issue of the electronics being on the outside of the violin has not come up in this thread.  I haven't had many issues with the set-up (which I see is a major problem across the board), but I do have a problem with the electronics. 

I play in a band that performs on everything from small pubs stages to big festival stages.  I am used to having option to go completely wireless with my instruments and the design of this instrument is ticking me off. 

First of all, I realize that you can hook up the DI to your belt (which is incredibly hard by the way) and go wireless from there - but when you're a multi-instrumentalist, it doesn't exactly work.  I can't strap my acoustic guitar between songs quickley because I would have to unhook the violin from my body.

Second, even if I do go wired, it's a dainty little 1/8 " cable that if you step on and turn the wrong way, you could completely sever or damage one of the inputs. 

In my opinion, this short-coming is not made up by the fact that the violin weighs a few grams less.  I'm very disappointed.  May as well call it a bedroom-practice violin, because it is not designed to perform with. 

September 22, 2010 at 11:24 PM ·


Hey folks, sorry for the long delay. I have been very busy with work.  Ughh, this economy, just shoot me .......


Thanks for all the excellent info & thoughts. I will respond to the various posts separately, below.


From John Cadd


"The Mensur is the word for proportions of the string neck division....You can adjust easily to a different length but not so easily when the proportions are wrong.   (ie nut to neck join------neck join to bridge)."


- Exactly so, John, except I would say that it's not really the commonly-cited mensure (AKA neck-stop ratio)  which really counts, but rather the "neck-stop to scale-length" ratio. Mensure is also affected by bridge height & top arching, so it is not precise. - And it doesn't apply at all to an e-violin with a flat top. (such as mine)  What really, REALLY counts is where the neck-body joint falls in relation to 5th position.  Here's how I see it:




With a 328mm scale length, you want a neck-stop of 130mm. (as the books all say)

With a 330mm scale length, you want a neck-stop of 130.8mm


Not only was my scale length about 326mm, but my beck length (supposed to be 130mm) was 132mm !  That exacerbated the problem.  Add-in the super-high strings, and the thing was impossible to play in-tune."




From John Cadd


"Is the bridge sitting on a curved surface? (in a slot?) "


- The bridge design is actually quite clever,  They use a flat tray, recessed into a slot cut in the top.  This mean the bridge feet can be completely flat.  The tray also adds some stability.   


Oddly, your sound is now traveling through plastic, which sounds like a bad idea, but there are no arguments to be had once you hear this thing plugged in.


As for the glue, I have STILL not received an answer from Yamaha. (scary)


September 22, 2010 at 11:24 PM ·

 From John Charles Carroll


" (My) SV 120 scale is 323.4. Small women! "


Wow, that's just outrageous!   


"Dustin at Williams Fine Violins said that ....  the high action was used to compensate for poor fingerboard work."


That makes a lot of sense.  The problem is, (assuming your FB is good or you have it professionally shaped) I don't think simply lowering the bridge is the answer.

It is well-established that this changes the tone & response of the instrument. The "standard" bridge height is 34mm, which is what my stock bridge was.


Granted, you see a lot of pro instruments with significantly lower bridges. I think this is because neck resets are expensive and invasive, but I am still very open on this one subject.  On an e-violin, for all I know, a lower bridge could actually be beneficial.  - but I doubt it.


What I have said to Yamaha is, I will accept a lower bridge as a solution, ONLY if they determine that this is a design choice, not a fix for a too-low FB.  We shall see.  


Thanks for the Dustin contact.  I will talk with him soon.




From John Charles Carroll


"I Also talked to Heather. She was noncommittal, very corporate. So continues the drama.


Yes, Heather seems very nice, but I think she's in a bad position.  She understands the problem, but is under instructions not to admit there is one.  (I imagine she wants to keep her job.)


Luckily, I called her a while back, and she was away for a week (possibly flown to Japan???)   Since my "possible return" issue was time-sensitive, they transferred me to Heather's boss Ken Dattmore. He's the USA marketing manager for the entire orchestral strings division.  He was extremely concerned, and seemed quite candid in his many responses to me.  He issued a call-tag & had my instrument shipped to him at Yamaha's expense.  The day he received it, he ontacted me immediately, and very strongly agreed with all of my assessments, except possibly dridge height. (He feels the bridge should be lowered.  Perhaps, but we still need to discuss this.)


Anyway, two things have happened since:


1:  Several people in Japan have been, umm, moved to different positions. 


I assume this means that the Yamaha poobahs were as outraged as I, and are trying to correct the problem.  Toyota's brake-problem was enough national shame, I think.


2:  Ken found a few extra-long SV-255's on the line, and is sending me one that's about 329mm.  


This means that the problem is indeed a quality-control issue, not a bad design.  So, there are surely "good" SV's out there right now.  - BUT MAKE SURE TO CHECK THE NECK LENGTH AS WELL AS THE SCALE LENGTH.


there's a lot more to discuss, especially the FB angle / bridge height / bridge quality issues,  but I will post more about that after I see my new instrument & have had time to discuss further with Ken.


September 22, 2010 at 11:28 PM ·

 From Adam Driscoll


"I am surprised that the issue of the electronics being on the outside of the violin has not come up in this thread."


AH YES !!!!   This is a major topic of interest to me as well.  


Adam, I agree strongly, though perhaps they should offer two separate versions of the SV.  


In my notes to Yamaha I said I would gladly trade weight for convenience & safety.  I recommended, for the next high-end model, that they put just the pre-amps and volume control onboard.  Then the other electronics ( EQ, headphone amp, and built-in DSP if they go there) could be optional. - And also could be either belt-worn, stand mounted, or racked.  


As for the danger of damage to the cable - yes, absolutely, though of course one would be wise to find spare cables.  Why don't they sell them separately?


I also recommended they mount the jack in a better location, so if you walk away from your position, the cable will just pull out.  I may modify my violin this way.


FWIW, there is plenty of room inside the hollow chinrest unit to mount custom pre-amps. The SV-255 pickups require 9V  (plug-tip) and 5V (plug-ring) - but I don't know how much current.


I dunno if you could also fit an onboard wireless transmitter, though. 

I would LOVE to have this myself, since I also play keyboards & guitar. Can you recommend a good wireless transmitter, that is high quality but small enough to go on the violin?  That would be heaven.   FWIW, I posted a query about this here:






Also, are you thinking of going battery-powered?  That could present some problems. Extra weight, less room for the other stuff, and perhaps most importantly: Maybe not enough current for optimal sound. (see above)  


Well, if you really need to run around, I guess you'd have no choice.

September 23, 2010 at 04:00 AM ·


I was just doing research on custom (breadboard) preamps, and something occurred to me:

I think the SV-255 has the pre-amps onboard.  Otherwise, why would there be any voltage at all on the connecting cable?  So, all you'd need to add inside the chinrest is a small power supply. That might just leave enough room for a transmitter like the AKG PT450, if you remove it from its housing.


October 9, 2010 at 08:17 PM ·



Yamaha sent me a new SV-255.  

This one is just barely 328mm on the bass side, and 327+ on the treble side.  That's right, they cut the bridge tray at an angle.  Scary.   - But the neck is better, at 130.8mm.  That will be perfect if I manage to get the bridge back to 330mm (that will be SOME trick, but it's possible.)

The neck angle is better, though string height is still a tad too high. Clearly they have a QC problem with this.



THE BODY IS TOO SHORT!   The length from the nut to the "end pin" (it's actually a metal clamp) is around 12mm too short.  I kid you not.   What does this mean?  It means that, even with the tailcord tightened as far as it will go, you can't even come close to a proper after-length adjustment.  

I'm sort of stunned.  The last one must have been the same, as after-length was also 1 full note high, but I never measured that body)

The only solution is to use a 3/4-sized tailpiece, end even that will JUST make it, with no room for experimentation.  That means no more Wittner ultra,  which means (if you use steel strings as most country players do)  you'll need perfection pegs. (or heavy fine tuners)

Oh, and this violin sounds much worse than my last one. It has a very stiff bridge (a good thing, I thought) as opposed to the wet noodle that was on the last one.  I am guessing that the soft bridge actually dampened the HF enough to make the bridge pickup sound better.  Live & learn.


November 29, 2010 at 08:33 AM ·

Hi folks, I just bought a Yamaha SV255. As you can see from my Youtube video, the tone sounds very electric.Very suitable for Southern Fried Rock and Heavy Metal.

However, I'm trying to get a more acoustic tone.

Can someone please post some links to more info about the gear you are using to make your electric violin sound more like a real hollow body acoustic violin?


March 24, 2011 at 09:53 PM ·

 LOL !



Hey, that's actually a great distortion sound, which is hard to get.

Which box are you using?

March 25, 2011 at 03:47 AM ·

Allan - I think he's using octave strings and you can see the description on the later part of the video. That's the key to getting a great distortion sound I guess, it's basically impossible to get that distortion sound with regular tuning strings. WIth low tuning, I can see it's much easier to get a good distortion sound. If you don't already know, softwares now are almost as good as the real amps.

August 12, 2012 at 06:25 AM · Hi guys, I just bought yamaha sv150. Now I'm looking to buy a case for it. What case do you use to store your sv-150/sv-250/sv-255?

Basically, I want to store everything in my case, violin, control box, cable from violin to control box, book, shoulder rest, rosin, bow.

I'm looking for these case







Thanks for your help.

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