“If I like dubstep and electronic, why don’t I make the violin fit me rather than making myself fit the violin?”- Lindsey Stirling
Last month we looked at the origin of the acoustic violin, and we thought it would be fun to contrast it with the electric violin. Surprisingly, the electric violin will soon be celebrating its centennial, as it first appeared in the 1920s and 30s during the jazz age. Stuff Smith, a famous jazz violinist of the era, performed on one in his band Stuff Smith and the Onyx Club Boys during the 1930s.
Now, nearly a century later, violinists have a wide variety of options to choose from when considering electric instruments. As usual, however, you do get what you pay for. If you buy the cheapest instrument you can find off the Internet, you may be disappointed with the quality of sound it produces. Most classically trained violinists who venture into the world of electric sound prefer the Yamaha line, including popular artists Black Violin and Lindsey Stirling. All members of Uptown Violins perform on a Yamaha SV-130 Concert Select Violin. Brittany experimented with a few others before deciding on purchasing the first electric violin for the group, and she found that this violin most closely resembles the feel of the acoustic. Some of the other brands she tried out had a weak sound, and she wanted something that still sounded refined but with an electric edge. Although some electric violins look impressive with their minimalistic straight neck approach, we definitely prefer electric violins with a shoulder in order to better accommodate left hand shifting. For violinists who also double as violists, the five-string Yamaha SV-255 Silent Violin Pro can be a good fit because it includes both the E and C strings.
We at Uptown Violins love the versatility of playing on both acoustic and electric instruments. We were all trained on acoustics, which allowed us to develop better dynamics and, most importantly, excellent tone. Students who try to bypass using an acoustic often deprive themselves of these fundamentals needed for violin playing. However, the electric instrument offers violinists the opportunity to expand their sound palette, as well as adapt to more contemporary venues that were designed with electric instruments in mind.
Here are a few the things we consider when deciding whether to use our acoustic or electric violin.
Musical genre: If our gig is classical in nature, we often prefer to play our acoustic violins, as these were the instruments used by the composers whose music we are interpreting. This certainly doesn’t mean we can’t play Bach on the electric with a contemporary twist!
Ensemble: When performing in a large group, like an orchestra or large chamber ensemble, we usually perform on acoustic instruments, as electrics are much less universal. Large groups need the string section to elicit a more uniform sound, which would be impossible to do if some string instruments were amplified and others not. In contrast, if we are playing in a rock/pop/praise band setting, we prefer to use our electric instruments, as they can compete more easily with the other instruments in the group, including electric guitars, keyboards, and drum sets.
Venue: Sometimes we perform in large venues that necessitate amplification. For example, when playing in a stadium, contemporary church/building, or outside, we often need our electric violins to help our sound project throughout the entire space. However, if we are playing in a small setting like a home, in a traditional church, or in a classical concert hall, we usually prefer to use our acoustic instruments, as they are more suited to these environments.
We hope you all have a Merry Christmas, and an Electric New Year!