Electric violin

An electric violin is a violin equipped with an electronic output of its sound. The term most properly refers to an instrument purposely made to be electrified with built-in pickups, usually with a solid body. It can also refer to a standard violin fitted with an electric pickup of some type, although "amplified violin" or "electro-acoustic violin" are more accurate in that case.

Electrically amplified violins have been used in one form or another since the 1920s; jazz and blues artist Stuff Smith is generally credited as being one of the first performers to adapt pickups and amplifiers to violins. The Electro Stringed Instrument Corporation, National Valco and Vega attempted to sell electric violins in the 1930s and 1940s; Fender produced a small number of electric violins in the late 1950s. Larger scale manufacture of electric violins did not happen until the late 1990s.

Acoustic violins may be used with an add-on piezoelectric bridge or body pickup. To avoid feedback from the resonances of the hollow body under high amplification on stage, many instruments have a solid body instead. The timbre (tone color) of a standard unamplified violin is due in large part to these resonances, however, so depending on how the signal is picked up, an electric violin may have a "rawer" or "sharper" sound than an acoustic instrument. This raw sound is often preferred in rock, pop, and some avant-garde genres. Several "semi-hollow" designs exist, containing a sealed but hollow resonating chamber that provides some approximation of acoustic violin sound while reducing susceptibility to feedback.

Solid-body electric violins typically have a non-traditional, minimalistic design to keep weight down.

They are often seen as "experimental" instruments, being less established than electric guitar or bass. Hence, there are many variations on the standard design, such as frets, extra strings, machine heads, "baritone" strings that sound an octave lower than normal, and sympathetic strings.

Acoustic 5-string violins exist, but it is much more common for an electric violin to have 5, 6 or 7 strings than an acoustic instrument. The typical solid body also accommodates the extra tension caused by more strings without stressing the instrument too much. The extra strings are usually a low C string for 5-strings, a low C and low F for 6, and a low C, F and B-flat for 7.

Electric violin signals usually pass through electronic processing, in the same way as an electric guitar, to achieve a desired sound. This could include delay, reverb, chorus, distortion, or other effects.


Electric violins commonly use either magnetic or piezoelectric pickups. Magnetic pickups require the use of violin strings that have ferrous (iron-containing, as in steel) metal cores. A few single-coil guitar-style magnetic systems are available, and one unusual acoustic/electric violin system uses the strings as a linear active pickup element. This circumvents the problem that the small body size and arced string arrangement of a violin often limit the amount of space available for coil placement.

Generally, piezoelectric pickups are more common. They detect physical vibrations directly, sometimes in or on the body, or in some cases actual string vibrations directly, but more commonly general bridge vibrations are sensed. Some piezo setups have a separate pickup (or two, or even four in the case of some Barbera Transducer Systems pickups) within the bridge under each string. A few systems use transducers oriented in various directions to differentiate between bowed and plucked string motion.

Piezo pickups have a high (capacitive) output impedance, and must be plugged into a high impedance input stage in the amplifier or a powered preamp (a charge amplifier is best). This buffers the signal to avoid low frequency loss and microphonic noise pickup in the instrument cable. Preamplification is often done by an external signal processor, but some electric violin body designs can provide internal housing for preamp circuitry.


Although the violin is an instrument used extensively in classical music, electric violins are generally employed by classical performers only in the performance of contemporary classical music. The electric violin is more frequently used by non-classical musicians in popular genres such as metal, rock, hip hop, pop, jazz, country, New Age, and experimental music. Famous rock violinists include David LaFlamme, Darryl Way, Jerry Goodman, Eddie Jobson, Nash the Slash of FM, Simon House of Hawkwind, Mark Wood, and Boyd Tinsley of the Dave Matthews Band. It is used extensively in folk rock; one prominent exponent in the area being Dave Swarbrick. Folk metal band Turisas also puts a lot of emphasis on the electric violin in their compositions. It has also found its way into modern musical theater, a recent example being Whistle Down the Wind by Andrew Lloyd Webber. One popular band that uses the electric violin is the pop punk band Yellowcard. Another is Operator Please. Classically-trained violinist Emilie Autumn has also made extensive use of the electric violin, particularly on her instrumental Laced/Unlaced album. Another area in which a traditional usage of the violin has been once again popularized in modern music is in the area of the Irish fiddle. The fiddle is quite prominently featured in such bands as the Celtic punk bands Flogging Molly, and The Levellers.

Tape-bow violin

Laurie Anderson's tape-bow violin, an electronic instrument developed in 1977, resembles an electric violin but does not have strings. It produces sound by drawing a bow, strung with a length of recorded magnetic tape rather than hair, across a magnetic tape head mounted on the instrument where the bridge would normally be. This anticipates the later technique of "scratching" in rap and hip-hop music, where a vinyl recording is turned back and forth on a turntable.

MIDI violin

In the mid 1980's, Zeta Music developed a prototype violin for Laurie Anderson that, through the employment of a custom pickup and a conversion module, sent MIDI data, allowing the violinist to control synthesizers. This design was later refined and turned into a commercial product. While no other dedicated violin-to-MIDI systems have been manufactured, more generic pitch-to-MIDI systems like those from Roland, Yamaha and TerraTec can be adapted to use standard electric violin output. Most systems allow only monophonic operation—only one pitch can be detected and digitised at a time—but through the use of proprietary pickups, some limited MIDI polyphony can be achieved.

Notable artists who have performed using a MIDI violin include Jean-Luc Ponty, Charles Bisharat, Drew Tretick, Gregory Docenko, Sean Mackin from Yellowcard, and Boyd Tinsley from Dave Matthews Band.


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