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Should You Get An Electric Or Acoustic Violin

Electric violins have been around since the 1930s. Around the same time electric guitars were invented. However, it still feels like a relatively new invention to this day. And that's because for some time, we violinists have had certain notions of electric violins.

But times are different. Technology is more advanced than ever. Any musician can make music off an iPad and share it with millions of listeners online. You don't need to go through a record label anymore to spread your music. And this also gives you more freedom to explore new genres that you like, instead of music that makes economic sense for record labels.

In this article, we're going to explore some of the differences between an electric violin and acoustic violin. And we'll also explore some of the old notions that have stopped violinists from considering electric violins in the past. And why you shouldn't make your decision off those old notions anymore.

The Old Notions Of Electric Violins

It Doesn't Sound Like An Acoustic Violin

One of the most common things we hear is that the electric violin doesn't sound like an acoustic violin. It doesn't sound as good as the classical rich tones of a traditional wooden violin.

We love acoustic violins! The sound is timeless. And it is very hard to replicate, even to this day with the best of technology. Which is why many film composers still prefer real orchestras than software instruments.

However, should an electric violin sound like an acoustic violin? We don't really see guitarists commenting on how their electric guitars do not sound as good as acoustic guitars. And that's because there's a lot more genres of guitar music that require the unique sound of electric guitars.

With the unique sound of electric violins, that means there's more opportunity to get creative and explore new sounds and genres that haven't been explored with acoustic violins.

You Need A Lot Of Equipment

The electric violin doesn't have a soundbox like the acoustic violin. You'll need to plug it into an amp or speakers. Depending on the electric violin, you may need a direct box. And if you want to throw some effects on your sound, you'll need several effects pedals… sounds expensive.

Electric Violin

And it was… back in the day! But now if you have an iPhone with Garageband, you're basically walking around with a 2 million dollar studio in your pocket. The hundreds of effects within Garageband you have access to are extremely good! You even get your own personal virtual drummer.

So yes, you can make incredible music nowadays with just your electric violin, Garageband, and a good set of headphones.

You Can Practice In Silence

This is definitely true, and one of the great benefits of electric violins. But the notion that this is all the electric violin is good for is definitely outdated.

Yes there are many violinists that may get electric violins so that they can plug in their headphones and practice without bothering their neighbors. There are even electric violins out there call "silent" electric violins for that purpose.

But imagine guitarists just getting electric guitars so that they can practice in silence.

Being able to practice in silence should just be one of the many reasons to choose an electric violin. Not the main reason.

So as we continue to explore the differences between electric and acoustic violins, we must approach it with the mindset that the electric violin is not simply a copy of the acoustic violin, or that it should sound like the acoustic violin.

Both are different instruments with different creative opportunities. And you are the musician that decides the direction you want to take with these instruments.

 

Electric Violin vs. Acoustic Violin

Different Sound Sources

The most obvious difference is the body of the violins. Acoustic violins have wooden sound boxes. As the violin is played, the strings vibrate the bridge, which carries that vibration through the soundpost and throughout the hollow body of the wooden box. The sound is then projected through the f-holes.

Acoustic violins can be worth millions because of the quality of the sound that the wooden sound box produces. Plus the intricate combination of craftsmanship, varnish, and type of wood used to create these sound boxes can be incredibly difficult to replicate.

Electric violins do not have a sound box. If you play the electric violin without hooking it up to any amps or speakers, you really won't hear much. The secret is in the pickup.

The violin pickup is a device that converts string vibrations into an electrical signal that can be amplified through amps or speakers. On electric violins, the pickup is usually integrated into the bridge of the violin.

The difference between high-end and cheap electric violins is mainly the pickup. A cheap pickup will produce a cheap sound.Whereas a technologically advanced pickup will produce really high quality sounds.

Both acoustic and electric violins produce very different sounds, because the way they produce those sounds are incredibly different.One is not better than the other. They're just different.

But remember, you get what you pay for. So don't compare a $5000 acoustic violin to a $200 electric violin, and come to the conclusion that electric violins sound cheap!

Recording Capabilities

As mentioned before, if you have an iPhone, you get Garageband for free. It's like having a 2 million dollar studio in your pocket. But you still need a clean violin sound going into Garageband, or any other recording software that you use.

Electric violin music software

Acoustic violins have beautiful rich tones. But recording that tone is a whole nother world. You need a decent microphone, and correct microphone placement. Too far and you'll be getting too much reverb. Too close and you'll hear yourself breathing.

You need a quiet recording environment. Ideally a soundproof space so that you don't have to stop your recording everytime a car drives by.

The space you record in also needs to absorb sounds, so you don't have your microphone recording all the sounds bouncing off the walls.

And if you're recording on top of a track, you'll need to use headphones so that the microphone doesn't record the track itself on top of your violin.

With electric violins, you have the option to plug it in directly to your recording software. You don't have to worry about your recording space, or cars driving by. You can talk as you record. You can also record over a track as it plays through your speakers. No need for headphones as you record.

The electric violin is much easier to record with.As long as it's the electric violin sound that you're going for.

You may also get violin pickups for your acoustic violin. These are generally little devices that you can attach to the bridge, and have the sound of your acoustic violin go directly into your recording software. This takes away a lot of the challenges with recording through a microphone and controlled environment.

However, this works if you're going for that acoustic sound. If you're trying to get creative with sound design by using a lot of effects, you'll still be hearing the acoustic sound of your violin in your left ear. It's like playing an organ but hearing a piano in your left ear. This could hinder the creative process for some violinists.

Maintenance

Which instrument is easier to maintain? Generally an electric violin would be easier to take care of. Acoustic violins are fragile wooden instruments. And there are many factors that can affect the sound of the instrument.

One of them being temperature. Wood is an organic material. It is affected by the surrounding environment. It can be damaged by dangerous temperatures. Wooden violins can't be stored in places that are too hot, too cold, too humid, or too dry. You need decent violin cases that can help control and insulate the internal temperature of the cases.

This is also why many violinists prefer not to perform outdoors under the hot sun for summer weddings.

Electric violins on the other hand, are much more temperature resistant.The sound isn't affected by temperatures. There are limits of course. You still wouldn't want to leave your electric violin cooking in the trunk of a car. Which can possibly overheat and damage the electronics within the instrument.

Loudness

The acoustic violin is surprisingly loud for such a small instrument. It's always fascinating to see violin soloists play with an entire orchestra, and you can still clearly hear the sound coming out of the soloist's violin.

However, if you've tried playing an acoustic violin with a band, church choir with drums, or any ensemble where every other instrument is plugged into amps and venue speakers, you know the challenge!

Electric violin loudness

No matter how loud you play on your acoustic violin, it's just too difficult to compete with these other amplified instruments.

When an electric violin is plugged in and amplified, you can focus more of your energy on the music, instead of trying to be heard.Many electric violins also feature volume knobs, so you can control the loudness of your violin directly on the instrument.

Some high-end electric violins also have EQ controls. So you can control the treble and bass frequencies of your instrument. This is useful if you're playing with a bass player, and you want to "tone down" your bass frequencies so that you're not fighting with the bass player in that frequency range.

Playability

Both acoustic and electric violins should be easy and comfortable for violinists to play. Some electric violins also have frets. Perfect for beginner violinists or musicians accustomed to fretted instruments.

Electric violins do take some getting used to though. Since there is no sound box, the instrument doesn't vibrate as much as an acoustic violin would. This may be a strange feeling for proficient violin players classically trained on acoustic violins.

Keep in mind, price does play a big factor in the playability of both instruments. Not only are you paying for the sound, but you're also paying for the craftsmanship.

We sometimes hear violinists commenting on how the playability of their electric violins aren't as intuitive as their acoustic violins. But again, they may be comparing a $500 electric violin to a $5000 acoustic violin.

But when you compare a $3000 electric violin to a $3000 acoustic violin, you may find the result of both instruments surprisingly satisfying.

Electric Violin Or Acoustic Violin?

Both instruments are very different. Acoustic violins are timeless. The sound will always be rich, full, and difficult to replicate. Electric violins on the other hand, have so many features that would fit modern day genres and performance needs.

If you're just starting out on the violin, it really depends on which musical direction you want to go in. Do you want to play in an orchestra? Or do you want to play in a band? Do you want to focus on classical skill and technique, or creative sound design and music production?

And for classically trained violinists that grew up playing acoustic violins, what new genres can you explore that you couldn't with the acoustic violin? Do you want to take full advantage of Garageband, and not worry about recording technicalities? Would you want to connect your violin to the DJ's speakers at weddings for an amplified sound that everybody can hear?

There's definitely no right answer. And one instrument is not better than the other. They produce very different sounds, they have different capabilities, and they both can take you in very different musical directions. You decide where you want to take your creativity.


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