Strings for Yamaha Silent Violin

Edited: August 4, 2018, 3:00 PM · The same like most non-retired hobbyists, my amount of practice time between 6 a.m. and 8 p.m. is rather limited through my bread-and-butter job which consumes approximately 65 hours of my lifetime per week. And since I'm living (in a flat) together with my wife and kids with whom I also want to spend some time (and as I strongly hope this desire is based on reciprocity), it often happens that there's only one chance left for me to practice - when everyone else is in bed.

I tried about all mutes available on the market, and maybe even a few more. You all know what I mean... So, recently I decided to give it a try and purchased a second-hand Yamaha Silent Violin SV250. I use the signal as it is through my headphones, keep it simple without any further amplification. It's not like "the real thing", but it's good enough for practicing, far better than with a heavy mute, and especially good even during the daytime when studying a new piece before things happen to come together.

Differently than Allan's SV255 from 2010 -

- mine seems to be an absolute Sunday model - thank goodness. G string on 6 mm, vibrating string length 32,5 cm, couldn't make out any constructive mistake yet. The original Zyex strings were still on, a couple of years old. I put on a set of used but still good Vision titanium solo GDA I still got somewhere lying around and a Kaplan golden spiral E of which I've always got a few in reserve. They're fine, but for the future I'm not sure if I'll be willing to spend €60+ for replacement.

To those who use a YSV, or an electric violin in general, which strings do you use and why? What are your experiences with other strings?

Replies (13)

Edited: August 4, 2018, 9:54 AM · I have a NS electric (I use it for the same quiet practice and also travel). D'Addario makes a set that are specifically marketed for the NS electric violins. The NS uses a piezoelectric sensor in the bridge, but I don't know if the principle is the same for Yamaha. The websites for Yamaha and NS may also have useful info. They seem to work just fine, and the tone seems to be far more dependent on the electronics than the string itself. The whole arrangement is much more forgiving than trying to get a good tone out of my "real" 1939 violin.
August 4, 2018, 10:40 AM · I've seen musicians use, D'Addarrio Helicore, Infeld Vision(regular), what might also be good to try is the Infeld Alphayue. They all sound good, the Vision and Alphayue will probably last longer and sound good longer for an electric violin. I wouldn't waste money on something like Pirastro or higher end Infeld, you won't really notice enough of difference to warrant the price. Just a good string that is stable will work well for most electric violins.
August 4, 2018, 3:12 PM · Charles, you're right, it's really forgiving - almost impossible to sound really bad. But I guess you also need some equipment and knowledge to sound really good... I'm really looking forward to bring it with me for traveling, especially if not on vacation but on conferences and congress trips. Just gotta find a flight case with accessory compartments large enough to store all the cables etc.

Anthony, thanks for your advice. So either I'll play down the old strings from my primary violin, or I'll have a look at the alphayue since they are really dirt cheap.

August 4, 2018, 3:49 PM · I have a Yamaha YEV.

Do you care about tone quality?

It's very difficult to get the G and D strings to sound good on an electric, because the lower strings have much more character to the sound. The only way I've been able to get the lower strings to sound ALMOST as good as an acoustic is to use very high quality strings, GUT namely. I have Pirastro Passione now, but I have Oliv I may put on them. I've also switched out the cheap plastic tailpiece and put on a nice ebony tailpiece. ($7 ebay) Gut G, D, and A. Hooked it up to a very powerful, nice guitar amp, and the tone is ALMOST (70-80%) as good as acoustic.

I don't have a headphone setup that sounds good, even with high-end, audiophile grade headphone amps.

Bottomline: Gut strings will bring out improved tonal character (sounds more like a real violin) but you need a higher powered rig to bring out the sound. (AMP, AMP, AMP!!!) Even earbuds gave cheap sound, if I remember correctly.

August 4, 2018, 5:06 PM · Whoa, Tom... The G indeed sounds like cottage cheese. So no chance to make it sound like a real one through the earphones, huh?
Although I do care pretty much about sound (otherwise, for my purpose one of these toy-like €150 e-VSOs flooding the online shops eventually would have been enough), I can accept a generic sound. I do not plan to perform on it, but regard it simply as a left hand practice tool for nighttime and hotels and occasions like that, allowing me to ditch the heavy practice mutes and avoid the unnecessary risk of air traveling with my good violin. But if things should change and I'd ever have to make it sound good on a stage, then I'll definitively re-read your post...
Did switching the tailpiece really that much? Usually the Wittner tailpieces with integrated finetuners aren't that bad, I thought?
And, just for playing around, is there any suitable, rather small and not too expensive AMP someone could recommend? I know nothing about that and wouldn't like to spend 2k on something like this! I'd even prefer to buy second hand, but I have to know what to look for... Or at least where to start, for the rest there probably is my 13 years old little geek...
August 4, 2018, 5:10 PM · I use D'Addario Helicore or Zyex on all of my Yamaha YEV-4 and YEV-5 instruments. They work well and don't break the bank.
August 4, 2018, 5:59 PM · Nuuska, when on business trips I take my Yamaha along. Although I am not convinced that hotel room neighbors do not hear anything. It travels in a Bam cabin case of dark color. The bow has its own protection and travels in my suitcase along with all necessary cables.
I never had any problems probably because the Bam case is so small.
But practicing on an electric violin for me is just a reminder for my hands and brain. To improve I need my acoustic violin. In the beginning I used a very inexpensive carbon fiber bow on business trips but it drove me crazy. Now I am carrying my usual bow with me which is carbon fiber as well, not too expensive and handles well.
Edited: August 4, 2018, 6:41 PM · I use an YEV at times and a Artino mute on a real violin more often, and I've never used headphones. My thinking is - why bother? I can hear the sound well enough without headphones, and it's probably better as such than through the headphones, as that would introduce other distortions going through the pickup and electronics, and I'm practising to improve technique, not to make great sound on an obviously sound-compromised instrument.

But obviously not everyone has to think like me. My suggestions then would include different / better headphones to see what difference they make. I'd also suggest that because from what I see the SV250 is pretty expensive and I don't entirely see the justification in cost in the body / build, that the built-in electronics are decent, so would suggest live/home trials at/from a music store of external amplifiers / etc., with your headphones of choice, before committing to purchase.

August 5, 2018, 12:39 AM · When you output an electric violin to headphones, I think we all have to accept that 20% tone quality is probably the best you'll get. Headphone amps are designed to amplify signals from an MP3 player, not violins. They do poor jobs of amplifying lower strings. E-strings have uncomplicated sounds, so the cheapest amps are good enough.

Yamaha electric violins have bridges that detect vibrations (as opposed to piezos, which detect changes in magnetic field). Bottomline, in Yamaha violins you can change the sound quality by changing the strings. Add tone quality/body by using gut strings.

NS Design bridges require strings that can disrupt a magnetic field (steel strings)

Downside to Yamaha's is that you need an amp that can fully amplify the G string. My headphone amps can't do this. I have an iFi Pro CAN ($1700) outputting to various 1-3k headphones. Sound is terrible in all of them.

However, when I plug the electric violin into a high powered guitar amp, sound is plenty good enough. I'm okay with 70-80%, especially considering it's a $600 violin. The amp I used is a 100W Rockerverb from Orange Amp, which runs about 2k. Definitely loud.

Electric violins are fun. There's no chasing Strads and Del Gesu's and spending millions. $600 is all you need for a violin. Instead, you're chasing amps, which you can get for a few grand.

August 5, 2018, 12:43 AM · And regarding the tailpiece, cheap plastic wittners don't have the mass required to stabilize the strings. End result is a fuzzy sound. Ebony tailpieces are heavier and stiffer. Resists string movement for a better sound. Plus, it's just $10 shipped from ebay.
August 5, 2018, 12:51 AM · And need a good amp? Just take your electric violin to your local Guitar Center. Take headphones with you. They have plenty of guitar cables. Good brands are Marshall, Fender, Mesa Boogie, Orange.
August 5, 2018, 5:49 AM · I too use my NS electric for travel - If the chin and shoulder rest come off, it fits in my roller-board suitcase. I carry a bow in a separate single bow case, and just march onto the plane. Nobody has challenged me re the bow as a carry on. It fits between the seat and the side of the plane, or overhead very easily.

Re amplifiers - At home, I use the smallest Katana "Boss" amp. It sounds good, has some nice features, and has plenty of power for violin practice. It is small (4.5 x 5.5 x 9 inches) and can be battery powered with AA cells. One thing I learned the hard way is that if you want the AC adaptor, a cheap one won't do because of the prominent hum from a poorly filtered DC source. The manufacturer's supply (~$30) is well filtered and does not hum. When I travel, I leave the lunchbox amp at home. The onboard electronics allow output by a 1/8" cable to the wired input of a portable bluetooth speaker- also easy to carry in the suitcase. I've tried headphones, but too easily get tangled in the wires, so I use the bluetooth speaker at a hotel-room level.

Re pickups. Piezoelectric sensors detect stress, not magnetic fields. If I am not mistaken, the NS "Polar Pickup" is piezoelectric system mounted under the bridge, and features detection of either ferrous or nonferrous string vibration both laterally (bowing) and vertically (pizz.). There is a switch on the NS to accentuate one vibration mode or the other. ( Magnetic pickups require a ferrous (steel) string, and have a metal detector in very close proximity to the string, like your teen neighbor's electric guitar.

One issue that has not been mentioned is comparative weight. My NS is much heavier than my "real" violin, and I find it needs a lot more head weight on the chinrest to hold. This can be fatiguing, and can provoke neck strain.

Happy (silent, or nearly silent) practice.

Edited: August 5, 2018, 8:41 AM · Eva, I share your experience. The YSV is so forgiving, if you're playing it too long exclusively it will spoil your technique and give you a hard time when returning to the acoustic violin. I play it with a good but inexpensive wooden bow (not sure if Pernambucco or Brazil) maybe from the 70ies or 80ies, from my "funny bows collection" - bows I adopted from attics, flea markets etc. for next to nothing. In the meantime it consists out of about a dozen bows (for a total of less than €500 including smaller repairs and a bit of rehair I mostly did myself), nothing great but playable and each one good enough for a student in his first few years. Not that I needed a dozen bows besides the two "better" bows I own (one for me and one for my son), but they all have very different characteristics in playing behaviour and sound and I think I learned a lot from them, also technically and which characteristics can help you with which problem. When a certain passage/technique does not work on my "main bow", I practice it with an other one, be it stiffer and more likely to bounce, or more stable, or one that has more bite, or whatever, and as soon as it works I try to implement it on my "good" bow, which usually works. But this would be for another thread... But what I've observed is, that soundwise the bow doesn't matter that much on the YSV.

J Ray, my violin with a heavy practice mute us still noticeable louder than the YSV. And I like it with the headphones because it still gives me a better impression of what I'm doing, and it's more fun.

Tom, thank you for your explanations, I see a little better now - even if I'm still not sure what to look for, but this simply might be because I do not know a thing about amps in general, and what's on the market. As you said I will try a few and look what happens. I'd be glad if it sounded more violin-like through a "real" amp.

Charles, the YSV comes with pre-amp and headphone amp, but not built in but as a clip-on for the belt. Therefore it has the same weight than my violin and is as relaxing to play as any real one. This was why I looked for a YSV (it took some time before I found a used one). I like your bluetooth-speaker idea and will try that before any further investments

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