Questions about electric violins

Edited: November 27, 2018, 8:17 AM · Hello! I'm a violin student and soon I'll move to a place I can't make a lot of noise, so I won't be able to practice with my acoustic violin.
Because of that I want to buy an electric violin to keep practicing (More specifically I'm checking for a Yamaha SV 130) and wanted to know what strings and rosin would be good for it. Any recommendations for bows would be welcome too. (I'm searching for a mid term between quality and low price.)

Right now I'm using a cheap (~60 dollars) violin which I wanted to upgrade for a while, with Pirastro Tonica strings and rosin.

I've also read somewhere that of possible you should not use the same rosin, bow and strings you used in your acoustic violin in an electric violin, is that correct?

Replies (19)

November 27, 2018, 10:47 AM · Have you thought about getting a practice mute instead of an electric violin? My practice mute takes the sound down almost as much as playing an electric violin -- it still makes noise but not enough the bother neighbours through thin walls as long as it's not the wee hours of the morning.

Electric violins are fun though, so go for it if you're interested in getting one! They can be a little unwieldy but the Yamaha SV series is a good option.

All the same accessories (bow, rosin, strings, etc) will work ok with an electric violin, but different strings might work better than others.

Timothy is right when he says they are different instruments, you definitely want to keep playing on an acoustic instrument to keep track of your progress, as the sound and technique are different between electric and acoustic instruments.

Edited: November 27, 2018, 11:20 AM · I'll just jump in here before people comment and say that you are mainly on a forum with classical violinists. With all due respect to them, they don't generally have much experience with electrics but will still comment from what I have seen. Some will have tried a very cheap electric and judge all by that, with just a sprinkling of prejudice to be frank. Typically they'll say it will mess up your playing or something like that which is not really true. As somebody who goes between the two (even 5 string), I don't really see the big deal - you just adapt accordingly. If there are trade offs then it's the same with a mute or even playing in different rooms. I never heard anybody say 'don't practice in a resonant room as it will make you sound better than you are, give you a false sense of projection... 'etc. I know some of those instruments have onboard reverb but you can turn it off if you want to work with your naked tone. Tone production still applies for electrics.
I know your situation entirely as somebody that was once a student in a small apartment with thin walls. I would have benefited tremendously from having an electric for practicing at night. The important thing here for you is more playing and doing it without the worry of causing a disturbance.
Strings and rosin you don't have to worry about - use what you like. A rare few have magnetic pickups but other than that, all strings work. What I know about the model you mention is that it is for practice rather than for playing out through an amp. If that's all you need it for then it should be fine.

To anyone asking about electrics, do yourself a favor and talk to the Electric Violin Shop (I'm not affiliated) or go on - I hear uninformed advice about electrics here.

November 27, 2018, 11:26 AM · If the electric violin has electro-magnetic pickups you need to use all-steel strings. The D'Addario NS electric strings are good and even cheaper than their Helicore siblings. I think they sacrificed some volume to get the most mellow sound possible out of steel strings. Codabow has the "Joule" bow designed for electric violins, I've haven't tried it yet. ~jq (ex-Don Ellis band)
November 27, 2018, 3:42 PM · As someone who travels a fair bit, I have to say I prefer an electric to a heavy practice mute, although apractice mute only costs ten bucks!However, I could not really get on with the Yamaha SV130. I found weight and balance to be bothersome, and the fixed shoulder rest annoying an uncomfortable. My goto travel electric is a Stagg. It was very inexpensive, feels balanced like an acoustic, and can be used with or without a shoulder rest. Whenever possible I use my acoustic, but the Stagg is great for quiet practice and travel where humidity and temperature are beyond my control.

Having said all that, try a mute first. It will save you achunk out of your budget!

Edited: November 27, 2018, 4:34 PM · I own a Yamaha YSV104. I posted a mini-review of it:

As Christopher Payne says, many of the negative comments about these instruments are from people who have never tried them and who simply pass on negative feelings based on assumptions.

The YSV104 is a more modern instrument than the YSV130 - it doesn't have a resonant body at all so it is pretty quiet. It has a small box of electronics with it that add the resonance back when you listen through headphones. Yamaha designed this as a "refined practice instrument" and having had it for nearly six months now, I think I can say that it is just that.

In all other respects, it's incredibly similar to my 100-year-old acoustic violin. They weigh almost the same, I use the same bow and rosin, though I do use different strings - I have kept with the D'Addario Zyex strings the YSV104 came equipped with, and use Evah Pirazzi on the acoustic.

I use the same shoulder rest (a bonmusica) on each and can move effortlessly between them.

Let's deal with some of the nonsense quoted here. First off - bow pressure. Well, the Yamaha has this thing called a volume knob, so I can adjust my setup such that the volume I hear in the headphones is the same as the volume I experience for the same pressure on my acoustic. It ain't rocket science.

Clearances will be different. Not sure what this means (as there are a number of possible interpretations), but let's consider this. The geometry of the two instruments is virtually the same, so the distance between notes is essentially the same between the two instruments.

I do find that I need to depress the string further on the Yamaha than I do on my acoustic. Is this a problem? No.

If you follow the argument of "you should only use one instrument" to its logical conclusion, then we'd all be playing the starter kits we began playing on.

It's a daft argument. Part of being a good violinist is the ability to constantly listen to the sound you are making and adapting your playing to current conditions. So, violin goes out of tune midway through a performance - do you see Hilary Hahn stop and ask for an A? No. That's because she listens to her sound and adapts. It's the same principle when moving between instruments. Listen to what you play and adapt to the instrument currently in your hands. This will make you a better player, not one who needs "retraining".

November 27, 2018, 5:45 PM · Thanks everyone to all the answers! It did clarify a lot of the questions I had!
Edited: November 27, 2018, 8:55 PM · I have a Carlo Robelli electric violin. I bought it at Sam Ash a few years ago for about $250. In some ways I've never liked it, but there are days I'm very glad I bought it.

Although fashioned like a violin-shaped donut (violin outline but lots of open space like a hoop), it actually looks great --fake wood finish looks like real grain, and though obviously modern/electric, the outline pays homage to the traditional violin shape. The bridge shape and geometry of it make it harder for me to play than my 2 real wood acoustic violins, but I don't think that's all bad --I like Tony Leatham's attitude above in that I agree switching between instruments makes you a better player because it forces you to stay sensitive to your angles, pressures and balancing of the bow and instrument, to not play robotically and out of pure repetitive motion but rather to always have full awareness and sensitivity and continual adjustment according to the moment and the actual results you are getting.

I don't much like it because for some reason my bow hairs often rub the violin frame when I'm playing on the E string, something I never do with my real violins. Must be the geometry of the bridge and frame size --I've never made a detailed measured analysis of that geometry, but it still happens. Of course, I don't play that instrument much, and when it happens it is, again, forcing me to be very present in attention to exactly what I'm doing with the bow --actually a good thing.

What I do like about the instrument is it is impervious to temperature and humidity, and it is very rugged construction (thick plastic instead of thin glued wood). I often take a violin to work at various construction sites throughout the year, so that ruggedness makes it my preferred winter or rainy day instrument so I can still practice at lunch time. And of course it has the added benefit you specifically are looking for: zero resonance, so relatively quiet (my Gliga "Genial" violin RINGS loud and true --I love it but then everybody can hear at exactly what level I'm still playing).

So don't make the decision too torturous --if you want a quiet violin for discreet practice, and if the electrics appeal to you for any reason, indulge yourself. Add it to your collection, each instrument serving different wants and needs in your musical life. I have 3 violins, and each is dear to me in its own way. I enjoy being able to choose which depending on my mood and the setting, not to mention variety keeping interest high.

In fact I know an expert violinist in a professional orchestra who tells me his violin is worth perhaps a half million dollars --and he also has a Yamaha electric that he says he likes. Apparently he took it to a luthier and got it set up as he likes, but still, for him its a cheap instrument and he plays it. He plays also in a few other ensembles like local opera companies and chamber groups. I've never seen his electric but he once told me he plays it in a rock band! He's so classical, we've never traded probably even a full sentence about rock music, so I find it hard to believe but of course I believe what my friend tells me.

November 27, 2018, 10:15 PM · Entry level decent for an electric violin is about $800 give or take. Imagine your eBay or Amazon VSO compared to a fine instrument. Well, there are such things as EVSOs!
November 28, 2018, 4:56 PM · @Timothy Smith

You completely misunderstood my comment about the volume knob. I didn't say that I use the volume knob as a substitute for bow pressure. What I said was that I use the gain control to set a similar level of perceived sound pressure between the two instruments.

This means I can bow each in a similar way with a bow pressure suited to the passage I'm playing without compensating for which instrument I'm playing - I am not having to press hard on the electric and then finding that when I play my acoustic instrument I'm too loud.

I fully understand that you said they are two different types of instrument. But in doing so you potentially misled the original poster who was asking about a silent violin to help him practice when he's at college.

I have tried to balance your view (which in my experience and opinion is erroneous) with a positive experience of using a dedicated eletric practice instrument intended for the exact purpose that Kajiro has.

November 29, 2018, 10:06 AM · I was in a similar situation some years ago. I bought an electric violin (not very expensive but in well condition and more than good enough for any beginner), and I lasted just 3 months. I hate electric violins so much, hahahaha, but hey, I gave them a try.
Edited: November 29, 2018, 10:48 AM · Without having read the whole thread word by word, I suspect there are some cross-purposes resulting from a distinction that hasn't been made between: -
a) a good violinist, will an electric/i.e. silent violin affect their acoustic playing? and,
b) a beginner, will will an electric/i.e. silent violin hinder their progress on an acoustic?

I suspect the answers are a) no; b) yes.
Otoh, I'm not convinced Artino practice mutes are good for beginners. But that would depend on whether their tone or their intonation was worse.

I know of a folk'n'roll band I'd like to join one day. I don't know if, assuming they'd ever have me, they'd want an acoustic with a mic or an electric. I'll keep my options open.

Edited: November 30, 2018, 8:06 AM · I'm more likely than not to recommend an acoustic for a complete beginner - if an adult beginner only wants to play electric then i would accommodate as a teacher.

However, I think there is this thing that goes on in the mind of violinists. There is this fantasy, for themselves or for their students, of being a concert soloist in a big hall. Even though we all know it's a long shot, there seems to be this worry that playing electric will mess it up for that one in a million!! Little Jimmy never learns to project and never becomes the next Heifetz!
I'm more of a working violinist though so I know what the realities are like. You play all kinds of gigs in all kinds of places. I was once at the beach and there happened to be a wedding going on there. They had a string quartet near the shore and it was interesting to see what it was like from the other side. I was about 20 feet from the players and couldn't hear them. I have done similar gigs and have certainly used a pickup with a battery amp in that case - it would have been too windy for a microphone. If you are expecting to work as a violinist you would be wise to at least have a pickup, microphone and amp. Maybe even an actual electric if you want to expand your options. I say all this because I have seen over the years how teachers are out of date or just have a cushy teaching post and discourage students from doing things that might help them get work or deal with on the job situations.

November 29, 2018, 4:36 PM · @Timothy Smith

I'm an experienced violinist, and that is the perspective I write from. I think I agree with Andrew Fryer that a beginner playing with an electric practice instrument might not be the most productive approach. That said, it probably wouldn't be massively hard to transfer to an acoustic - it would require a period of adaptation but that in itself would be part of what I would consider a good grounding on the instrument.

But for me, I don't for a minute feel I'm developing or transferring bad habits that are unique to one instrument. And remember, I speak from experience. I've not seen anything in your posts to suggest that you have similar experience - your comments come across as being assumptions. In fact, you state that you do not own an electric violin.

So I admire the confidence of your assertions, but no matter how logical they are to you, I can't find evidence that they are more than assumptions and for me, they are not reflected in what I experience each time I pick whichever violin up.

I too am guilty of making an assumption - I assumed the OP was going to college. He didn't actually say that - what he did say was "I'm a violin student and soon I'll move to a place I can't make a lot of noise, so I won't be able to practice with my acoustic violin."

Which sounded to me like he was going to college. I'm not sure what impact that has on our discussion as it was actually about the suitability of electric violins as quiet practice instruments.

In my opinion AND experience, they are very suitable and much quieter than an acoustic with even the heaviest of mutes.

November 29, 2018, 8:59 PM · I like @Christopher Payne answer. It reflects my position: no matter how much we worship them, the violin is just a tool. A professional has the right tool for the job and knows how to use it.

I want to add, on the other hand, that it is not so very difficult or expensive to soundproof a room. Not perfectly, but good enough. Adaptability and ingenuity are the most important assets.

November 30, 2018, 8:18 AM · Yes, to the professional the violin is a tool. I think to some, particularly amateurs, they think of it more like a fine wine - nothing wrong with that aspect, just that some of us need to be adaptable.

I'll also add that you can further mute a violin by covering the belly. When I was in this situation I remember some setup with several mutes on the bridge and a piece of custom cut felt to cover the top over the f-holes - kind of tied around as I remember. you can also take pieces of foam and block the f-holes. As much damping as you can do on the body helps.

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