A magnetic pickup is now available for violin and cello. It is essentially free of distortion.

Edited: August 15, 2018, 6:04 PM · The new magnetic pickup from RM Acoustics has almost no distortion of sound and does not have feedback problems, as microphones do. Whatever sound your violin makes, that's what the audience will hear - only louder through your amp. Piezo distortion is gone because the pickup captures the electricity generated by your vibrating strings in a magnetic field. If you don't remember that from Physics class, think of it as the electronic way guitar pickups work. This magnetic pickup can be added and removed from a violin with no permanent changes to the violin. A luthier is probably the best person to do this.

When magnetic pickups were invented for the guitar in the mid 1950s, it revolutionized guitar playing in just a few years. For example, the Beatles were playing in UK and German pubs in 1960. We'll have to see how this invention gets used in the violin world now that audio distortion is essentially eliminated at any loudness level.

Here's a string quartet with all 4 members using the AM Acoustic magnetic pickup. Sounds like a quartet, but all the music is coming via their pickups and an amplifier.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_3qZ3R4ojN0&feature=youtu.be

You can hear A-B comparisons of sound in the Media Player at thepickuptest.com In the violin section, look for RMA... in the selection dropdown. A lifetime membership to use the Media Player comparisons of many violin and cello pickup costs $10

Replies (37)

Edited: August 15, 2018, 6:18 PM · Doesn't work with silver or aluminum strings!! Only works with steel core strings, which sound like xxxxx!!
August 15, 2018, 6:19 PM · Not to mention gut.
Edited: August 15, 2018, 8:53 PM · I've been to the RM Acoustics website, and their pickups sound good to me. I don't think the result is identical to an acoustic violin output, but that's ok. It's perfectly alright for an electric violin to sound different than an acoustic. Electric guitars sound different than acoustics, and people like them.

The thing that makes me uneasy about RM Acoustics is that on their website so much information about their pickup design and installation is left to the buyer's imagination. Why shouldn't prospective purchasers know those things in detail? It would very much be an act of faith for a purchaser to send them their $300 or whatever given the information they provide. I have to wonder what they're hiding. Maybe nothing, but they could reveal a lot more.

By the way, that's not the only magnetic pickup for violins that's available. There's the Stringamp, which the RM Acoustics pickup appears to be extremely similar to, at least in functionality, and Carlo Cantini's "Son-plus." There've been others.

And they do claim that their pickup works with both steel and synthetic core strings.

August 15, 2018, 8:58 PM · Well then they're not magnetic pickups, are they, what are we?? Stupid??
Edited: August 15, 2018, 9:42 PM · Some synthetic strings do contain steel elements, Dominants for example. Zyex too. And doubtless many others. Hold a strong magnet next to them and you will see for yourself.
Edited: August 16, 2018, 12:40 PM · Lyndon,
A Physics 101 course would be good for you. You are hung up on magnets attracting iron/steel. Magnets have a second property. Magnets also generate an electric current in anything that will carry electricity when that thing moves in a magnetic field. Aluminum, silver, any metal winding on synthetic core will all carry a current. That current varies with the string vibration. There's your magnetic pickup.
Edited: August 16, 2018, 12:42 PM · Mark,
Thanks for the information about Stringamp. Though the word "magnetic" is nowhere on their web site, it seems the pickup is a magnetic pickup. The pickup is 1000 euros, or about 3 times the price of RM Acoustics. I'm not familiar with Cantini's Son-plus, but it looks on the web site to be a bridge with the pickup built in. That may be OK for some people, but others don't want to change their acoustic violin. Thanks, though.

If you are seriously interested in the design and installation, I suggest you pay the $10 lifetime membership to access thepickuptest.com web site. They have a lengthy video showing and discussing each part of the RMA pickup. They talk pros and cons. They talk about their experience installing it and using it. That web site has another section, Media Player, where you can hear A-B audio samples for roughly 20 violin pickups. RMA is now in the selection list. The way the audio samples were created is too complex to describe here, but suffice it to say solid audio engineering was used. After you hear the A-B test of a violin with and without the RMA, you may change your mind about whether the 2 sounds are identical. To me the difference is very, very small, and has to do with upper harmonics.

Edited: August 16, 2018, 11:33 AM · Mike, do you have an RM acoustics pickup, or do you plan to get one? If so, please report back to us about it. My sense about it is that it's essentially the same functional principle as the StringAmp pickup, except that the RM acoustics pickup hangs the magnets off the end of the fingerboard, while the StringAmp pickup conceals them inside the fingerboard, inserted there from the underside. The RM acoustics design certainly makes for an easier installation. StringAmp requires the fingerboard to be removed, drilled, magnets inserted, and then replaced,, which is why professional installation is required. The StringAmp price doesn't include the very expensive installation. That's why the workshop grade violins with StringAmp already installed, as sold by liviolinshop.com, are a very practical way to get that pickup. But RM acoustics certainly lowers the cost of entry for a magnetic pickup.
Edited: August 16, 2018, 1:16 PM · Mark,
Thanks for the further info about StringAmp. It sounds like RM Acoustics lowers the price by a factor of 4 or 5 after installation is included. Your info says to me that it is the same physics in both pickups, i.e., metal moving in a magnetic field 'magically' receives an electric current proportional to the movement.

I'm very interested in the RM Acoustic pickup. I have a good piezo pickup (Realist) and I "put up with the sound". I don't like it. My violin sounds better acoustically than the 'amped' sound. I am not an early adopter. I will follow this for a year or so and then decide whether to switch. I also expect the RMA price will come down as they build up volume.

The discussion video on thepickuptest.com site speculates about who will be early adopters. They see "no feedback problem" as very important to violinists and cellists in loud bands, e.g., C&W, rock, heavy metal, Las Vegas show bands. They expect to see early users in those groups. If that happens, it will be parallel to magnetic pick adoption in the mid-1950s of the 'humbuster' magnetic pickups on guitars. Guitarists in loud bands wanted an inexpensive way to solve the "guitar humm at loud volume" problem.

Later use is speculative for violins and cellos. But I can imagine entire string quartets and even entire orchestra string sections using magnetic pickups for outdoor performances. They will sound much better than using microphones.

August 16, 2018, 1:29 PM · Mike,
I wouldn't assume that the price will drop as production ramps up. It's quite possible that the price is already lower than the makers would like it to be to encourage early adopters and get some recognition in the marketplace. Then the price could rise instead. All just speculation, of course. Something like this will never be a huge marketplace hit.
August 16, 2018, 2:15 PM · Neither of you seem to understand that a true magnetic pickup only works with steel strings, I should know, I made a magnetic humbucking pickup for my clavichord, it doesn't work with brass strings, neither would it work with silver or aluminum or gut, obviously.
August 16, 2018, 3:46 PM · Actually I do agree with you on that point, Lyndon. But as I said, there's a lot of steel in most synthetic core violin strings. Try the magnet test, I think you'll be surprised.

And Mike, I also have several piezo pickups, and as is they're pretty much insufferable. But the trick is in the signal path. My favorite amongst my piezos is my Mi-Si, which is a Kremona sensor connected to an ingenious capacitor powered preamp built into the Carpenter jack. From there I connect it to an eq pedal, specifically an Empress "ParaEQ," which is perfectly adapted to allow me to roll off everything below about 200hz, eliminating bow change and fingering noise, and also to roll off high frequencies to eliminate the shrillness characteristic of piezos on violins. From there the signal goes into the real magic maker in my system, my Yamaha THR5A modeling amp, which has digital simulations of microphones. With a little compression and reverb from the THR5A, the resulting output amazes me for its beautiful tonal qualities. The limitation is that the THR5A is a 10 watt practice amp and lacks the power for most real performance situations. It is possible to take a line out from the headphone jack though. It's all more complicated than I wish it was, but my experience is that I need to do that to get a result I like.

August 16, 2018, 4:32 PM · Doesn't matter if strings have some steel, the output depends on how much steel is present, a little is not enough for balanced out put, obviously these pickups aren't picking up the vibrating strings at all
Edited: August 16, 2018, 11:24 PM · I checked Dominant and Tonica G string, only slightly magnetic, Tonica d and a string, non magnetic, so wouldn't pick up on a magnetic pickup
August 17, 2018, 4:55 AM · Hmm. It is true that any metal (or other conductor), magnetisable or not, which moves in a static magnetic field will have an electrical current induced in it.
But I don't see how to capture this current..
Edited: August 19, 2018, 7:55 AM · However, now I think of it, my LP turntable has a magnetic pickup (moving iron or moving magnet..), and LP's are made of plastic!

So it might have to be quite big, attached to the violin body, rather than the bridge?

Edit: moving coil not moving iron; thanks, Steve.

August 19, 2018, 6:17 AM · But they're claiming it works just like a electric guitar pickup, which it obviously can't if it works with synthetic strings.
August 19, 2018, 7:04 AM · Adrian - a magnetic LP cartridge works by agitation of a magnet inside a coil, or a coil around a magnet. The material of the LP disc is immaterial!
August 19, 2018, 7:06 AM · Probably something like how this pickup works, picking up vibrations from the wood, not the strings.
August 19, 2018, 10:37 AM · I dont think we're doing so well with the "physics 101" here.
Edited: August 19, 2018, 10:42 AM · how so???
August 19, 2018, 11:30 AM · Isn't it rather an important difference between an electric guitar and a violin that the sound of a violin depends on far more than the waveform described by the vibrating strings?
September 4, 2018, 8:34 AM · Not new... Cantini uses magnetic pickup since so many time! But I'm not convinced by magnetic pickup. In my opinion, it doesn't sound better than piezo pickup.

Magnetic pickups detect changes in magnetic field vs piezo pickups detect vibrations.

'Isn't it rather an important difference between an electric guitar and a violin that the sound of a violin depends on far more than the waveform described by the vibrating strings?'
Not important, magnetic or piezo pickup can detect all frequencies, but it's different regarding amps: how these frequencies will be transposed by an amp (and so guitar amp are not good for electric violin because they can transpose all violin frequencies).

September 4, 2018, 8:35 AM · sorry... *** because they cannot transpose all violin frequencies
Edited: September 4, 2018, 9:17 AM · Lyndon Taylor
The electricity that you are now using to read this comes from a generator that has copper coils rotating at a constant speed in a magnetic field. That speed is 60 hertz - the hum you hear sometimes from electrical devices. No iron/steel is involved, other than as a frame for the generator.

Please don't make a further fool of your physics knowledge. Go to Wikipedia and read about the properties of magnets and how electric current is generated. Also, note that synthetic strings usually have a metal wrapping. There's your current conductor.

Edited: September 4, 2018, 10:24 AM · Adrian Heath,
You've got it. An electrically conducting wire moving in a magnetic field receives an electric current. Mechanical energy is converted into electrical energy by the magnetic field. The wire becomes a power source, ala the copper wire electric generator that provides the electricity so you can read this. On a violin, the vibrating strings (silver, aluminum, gold, etc.) are connected via small clamps to other wires that go to the pre-amp, then the amp.

Anna Reed,
Piezo pickups do not pickup all frequencies of violin sound, and different peizo's pick up different ranges of sound. That's why piezo sounds don't sound like an acoustic violin sound. Guitar amps have various sound filters / modifiers built into them. Violin sound should be run through a PA (public address) amplifier, which has no filters or modifiers in the amp section. (They may be in other parts of the sound system) Singers often use PA amps.

September 4, 2018, 9:26 AM · According to Wikipedia "A variable reluctance sensor (commonly called a VR sensor) is a transducer that, when combined with very basic electronic circuitry, detects the change in presence or proximity of ferrous objects...A pickup used in an electric guitar (or other musical instrument) detect vibrations of the metallic 'strings'".

Most of the sound of the violin isn't directly due to the vibration of the strings, metallic or no, but to the resonance of the cavity. I can't see how any magnetic induction device can detect this, so your Strad will sound pretty much like a solid violin.

Edited: September 4, 2018, 10:14 AM · Steve Jones,
You bring up a good point that the sound of a violin comes partly from vibrating strings and partly from vibrating wood. The RM Acoustics pickup has 2 pickups. One is magnetic to pickup the current generated by vibrating strings. The second is a small semi-conductor microphone to pick up the sound of vibrating wood. The RMA pre-amp has a slider / mixer to adjust how much sound the performer wants from the 2 pickups. Violins differ and performing situations differ.

The Media Player at thepickuptest.com has sound 4 samples - one for acoustic sound with no pickup, one for the magnetic pickup, one for the microphone pickup, one for a 50-50 blend. To my ears, there are small differences, but the acoustic sample and the 50-50 sample are nearly identical. However, the 50-50 pickup can be run through an amp and get loud enough for an outdoor performance. The nearly identical sound, the amplified volume of that sound, and the low price versus other magnetic pickup is what is new for the violin world.

Lets not talk further about physics and electronics. Comments from people who have listened, compared, purchased, or used magnetic pickups would be really interesting. That is all that really counts.

September 4, 2018, 10:58 AM · OK Mike, I now understand what's going on far better, but you opened this thread with the claim that "Whatever sound your violin makes, that's what the audience will hear". As Timothy says, "more authentic" would be less controversial.
September 4, 2018, 11:40 AM · this complete Bullshit that magnetic pickups can still pick up non ferrous metals like silver and aluminum has to stop, its just complete rubbish from people that don't know a thing about electronics.
September 4, 2018, 8:08 PM · I don't know enough to debate this topic, but, I can google. I found this.

https://www.seymourduncan.com/blog/swd-qa/using-non-ferrous-bronze-strings-on-an-acoustic-guitar-how-does-a-magnetic-pickup-in-the-sound-hole-or-under-the-strings-pick-up-the-string-vibration

September 4, 2018, 8:17 PM · As your link clearly states, the pick ups work because the inner core of the guitar strings is ferrous steel, not so for synthetic violin strings.
September 4, 2018, 8:19 PM · As we tested with a magnet, on synthetic Tonica strings, only the G and e string are magnetic, because the G string is wrapped in chrome steel and the e is steel, the d is silver and the a is aluminum so they don't pick up with a magnetic pickup.
September 5, 2018, 3:35 AM · Yes, I was aware of what it stated, which is why I posted it ( just in case you thought I was trying to contradict you). There was another similar article, but it took too long to explain the point, so I left it out.
Edited: September 5, 2018, 7:54 AM · Timothy Smith
I've heard many good things about DPA microphones. They seem great for solo work or groups like violin and a rhythm section. Unfortunately, microphones mounted on instruments, from any manufacturer, don't work in loud bands, e.g., C&W or with an orchestra because microphones cause feedback screeches. As you say, at $600, price is also an issue versus many other alternatives.

That said, I'm curious about how the RMA pickup with both magnetic and microphone pickups avoids the feedback problem. It could be as simple as using the slider/mixer to go 100% magnetic, or it could be some 'magic' circuitry in the pre-amp, or something else. If anyone knows, i.e., has some facts, I'm interested.

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