We love discussing violins, so much that we’ve also written an article about some of the best Cecilio violins for sale. So make sure to check that too after you finish reading this.
Electric violins have been around for some time – in fact, they may be older than you expect. Using a pickup, they capture the sound produced by the strings and with the help of an amplifier they give out a beautiful, somewhat metallic sound.
They are actually old
At the start of the 20th century, people started to experiment with microphones and telephone transmitters placed inside instruments to achieve electrical amplification. This also happened to violins around the 1920s and this is the time when jazz and blues musician Stuff Smith started playing with modified violins.
He was one of the first people to adapt pickups and amplifiers on violins and he transformed them into electric violins in his music. As the years passed, certain companies started to adopt this concept too and in the ‘30s and ‘40s, manufacturers like the Electro Stringed Instrument Corporation, or the Vega Company started producing them.
But in the beginning, these electric violins were only classic ones with a pickup added to them and painted in a different, more modern color. The first solid body model was released in 1939 by Vega. The ‘30s were a good period for the skeleton models too, similar to the ones most popular today.
In that era of extreme experimentation, some interesting companies joined the race to produce good electric violins. Amongst these, General Electric tried to create some models, but they got the design all wrong, attaching a megaphone to the instrument and making it unplayable.
One of the most commonly used methods of transforming the violin into an electric instrument was by employing a device called a DeArmond. This was like a microphone that was stuck to the instrument. But these electric violins weren’t solid body and thus they suffered from the problems that electro-acoustic guitars at that time had too.
Early electric violins had undesirable strong feedback and an inferior tone. It took some years for these instruments to be playable, until the ‘60s, when rock music appeared and electric violins started to be popular.
They had a great impact on rock
The violin was seen as an instrument that could only work in classical music, and maybe in jazz and blues. However, at the beginning of the 1960s more rock artists started to experiment with the electric violins and found them to suit their style.
This is the case with Frank Zappa, who made good use of two electric violinists during the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. Together they showed that the electric violin was an instrument that fitted rock music really well. They managed to create memorable and modern songs like “Willie the Pimp” and “Fifty-Fifty”.
Electric violins not only served the purpose of providing the background melodic sound in the songs, but creative players also had the ability to showcase their skills in electric violin solos. One of these virtuosos was Jean-Luc Ponty, who worked with Zappa but also had collaborations with Elton John and the Mahavishnu Orchestra. He still does concerts playing the electric violin.
After touring the whole world and selling millions of albums he became known as one of the best jazz-rock musicians and he did that using an electric violin. Another great electric violin player at that time was Jerry Goodman, who still plays today too. His innovative style of play and the fusion that he managed to achieve by playing this instrument inspired others too.
Some memorable songs that make use of an electric violin are “Dust in the Wind” by Kansas and “Baba O’Riley” by The Who. All the success that this instrument had, led to the inspiration of Mark Wood creating the company named Wood Violins that designs and produces unique electric violins.
He is one of the people that love playing this instrument and he tries to teach others how to do that too, with the help of his music education program called “Electrify Your Strings”. He travels across the United States and teaches children in schools how to blend music styles like classical, rock, jazz and blues to obtain beautiful music.
Manufacturers continue to perfect them
Electric violins haven’t reached their maturity yet and certain manufacturers still do research and try new things. The development of this instrument didn’t stop in the 1970s and companies always try to improve on their designs. Being less established than the electric guitar or bass, the electric violin is seen as an experimental instrument.
Although the original violin has 4 strings and a certain body figure, there are now many variations to that design. Some manufacturers change the frets, they add extra strings, experiment with baritone strings and add machine heads, like the ones used in tuning the guitars.
There is a model created by the luthier Yuri Landman and it has 12 strings which are clustered in 4 groups of 3 strings each. Having an additional pickup too, this electric violin sounds like a chorus when played.
The biggest development that came across the years, however, is the usage of solid-body violins. This kind of body was needed to allow the violin to have good amplification and to avoid it having unwanted feedback.
An interesting development in electric violins is the appearance of silent violins. As the name suggests, they don’t output sound if they aren’t connected to an amplifier. They are a good choice for those looking to practice while keeping things quiet and using headphones.
Another advantage that the silent violins have is that they have input jacks, allowing you to connect them to an external device capable of delivering sound to them. This allows the player to play along with his or her favorite songs while hearing everything in the same headphones.
Silent violins also have a built-in preamp that helps the player to have more control over the end sound. You can have a flat, unaltered sound, or you can make use of the built-in reverb and feeling like you play in a big concert hall. The preamp lets you experiment with distortion and delay as well and use external processors too.