But I'm back now, and as I now share my home with my wife and partner of twenty years, I needed to find a way of practising without driving her crazy. She's very understanding and extremely supportive, but I could imagine all too well the horrors of listening to someone who still thinks he should be able to play the Mendelsohn flawlessly but can't.
It was immediately obvious that the "normal" violin I have was just too loud. So I took a gamble and decided to order the new Yamaha YSV104 Silent Violin.
I thought it might be worth posting my experiences here as there isn't much information about these instruments available online.
This is not an instrument intended for performance - it's strictly practice only. It does not have a resonant body (to keep it quiet), and the resonance is added back by a small box of electronics, so it's necessary to wear headphones when playing. The box has two modes - room and hall, designed to reproduce the acoustics of those types of spaces.
The first thing to say about the YSV104 Silent Violin is that it's not silent. Far from it. It is, however, *very* much quieter than my normal instrument, but a long way from silent. Out of the box, it made more sound than I wanted.
Fortunately, before I bought it, I checked with the supplier and it is possible to use the instrument with a mute. I felt the need to check this because the electronic pickup is in the bridge, and I was concerned that fitting a mute could damage the pickup, or alter the audio response of the box of electronics unacceptably.
So, I grabbed my super-duper artino practice mute and tried to fit it. No deal. The artino mute is metal, and its tines would not bend sufficiently for it to slide onto the bridge, which is quite a lot fatter than a normal one (the pickup has to go somewhere).
I then ordered one of the rubber-type ultimate mutes and that fits perfectly and takes the sound levels down a notch to a point where outside the room I practice in, the sound is almost inaudible.
The violin comes fitted with D'Addario Zyex strings, which Yamaha say are good for electric instruments. As I've no experience of other electric violins I can't really comment on that. What I can say is that in the headphones, they sound pretty good.
That said, the nut of the violin is quite high, meaning that there is quite a distance between the string and the fingerboard, and after a few months, I found that my fingertips had formed callouses - this is something I've never experienced before. The violin I passed grade 8 on
and played for two hours each day for 15 years requires much less force to stop the string.
I solved this problem by fitting the YSV104 with a set of low tension Zyex strings. This has had the nice side effect of making the entire sound of the instrument more pleasing. The new strings definitely sound better (to me) than the ones originally fitted.
Incidentally, the original strings lasted about five months of playing 1-2 hours per day. At that point, they seemed to go a bit dead and my fingers were black with some kind of residue after playing for a bit, so I replaced them.
I tend to play with the box set to hall - this compensates to some extent for playing with the mute. The electronics faithfully reproduces the kind of resonances one expects from a standard acoustic instrument, so playing an in-tune D on the A string causes the D string to "resonate" - at least, that's what you hear in the headphones.
The sound is actually very pleasing and the instrument plays much as a standard acoustic instrument does. It's enabled me to regain some of the skill and musicality I had as a young man, and my wife hasn't left me. Overall I'm incredibly pleased with it and would recommend it to anyone looking for a quiet (but not silent) way of practising.
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