Monday, April 25, 2011

How to Play Violin in a Metal Band - Types of Violins

What kind of violin should you get if you want to play violin in a metal band, acoustic or electric?
Preferably, both.
Electric violins are great for achieving the volume needed while practicing with the band or playing live shows, but when it comes to recordings, nothing beats the sound of an acoustic violin.
If I had to choose one? I would say electric. But it also depends on your priorities, and most importantly, your budget.
Here's a little comparison that may be helpful, but also keep in mind I'm not an expert on the technicalities of electric violins or violins in general, this is based on experience and observation:

Electric vs. Acoustic (vs. Acoustic-Electric)
Electric

Pro's
  • Louder - easily makes itself heard over heavy guitar riffs and double kicks.
  • Fuller tone in live settings - most electrics have built-in reverb.
  • Built-in volume control
  • Looks cool/customizable - let's face it, you've always wanted a purple 5-string electric violin.
Con's
  • Flat sound on recordings - they lack the crisp, full sound that the acoustic violin has on recordings, and just sound kind of muddy and thick. Post-production will help, but it will never sound quite as good as an acoustic.
  • White noise - some electric violins have background noise, which isn't a huge deal, but some people might want to buy a noise gate pedal to reduce the fuzz.
  • Feels different - electric violins are shaped different and feel different from acoustic violins, so it may take some adjusting. The solid body electric violins especially take some getting used to as they are quite a bit heavier, and may impede movement of the left hand while playing, as well as shifting between positions.
Price range: Low end* is about $400, Mid is $600-800, and High-end is $1,000-3,000

Good Brands: Yamaha, NS Design, Zeta, Wood (as in, Mark Wood from Trans-Siberian Orchestra).

* I've tried a low end electric violin before, and the main difference I heard from good ones was it was scratchy-sounding.


Acoustic

Pro's
  • Great sound on recordings - nothing compares to a real violin
  • You wouldn't have to buy another violin - if you already own an acoustic, it's cheaper to just buy a pickup for it than to buy another electric violin
Con's
  • Not loud enough - putting a microphone up to the violin will not make you loud enough to be heard over the rest of the band, and will also cause feedback problems. You will need to buy a pick-up for the violin, but it still won't be as loud as an electric.
  • Thin sound in live settings - the pick-up will make you heard, but the sound will be thin
  • You'll need to buy a pick-up for it - if you don't already own an acoustic violin, before you go out and buy one to play in a band, keep in mind you will also need to buy a pick-up for it
Price range: Low end, around $300-400. For a decent violin, $600 and up. For a good one, $1,000 to you-don't-even-want-to-know. Or you can buy violins for $100 at Costco, but I do not recommend this.

I don't know anything about brands as far as acoustic violins go, sorry! As far as I know, it doesn't matter too much. Just talk to the people at the music store, don't buy from Costco or Walmart, and you'll be fine.

Pick-ups are about $100-300, and some good brands are Fishman and Barcus Berry.


Acoustic-Electric
*I have never seen acoustic-electrics used in metal before (besides myself having used one for a short time), but I'll put it up here anyways, since it is another option*

Pro's
  • Good recording sound - if recorded by microphone, and not line-in
  • Built-in volume control, and then some - the one I used also had a dark/bright tone control
  • Looks like a violin, but comes in different colors
Con's
  • Quiet - it's still fairly quiet live
  • Thin sound in live settings
Price range: Low is $200-400, Mid $600-800, High: $1,000-2,000

Good Brands: I have no idea, sorry!


Other things to think about
  • Other essentials - These prices do not include the case, bow, rosin, etc.
  • Shoulder Rests - Most electric violins come with a shoulder rest (although mine was very uncomfortable and I never use the one it came with), but acoustics and acoustic-electrics do not.
  • Strings - Most violins come with strings, but as violinists, we know we never use the strings that come with the violin, right? For acoustic violins, Dominant or Obligato strings are preferable, but for electric violins it seems that D'Addario Helicore strings are best (which is great, because they are actually cheaper than Dominant and Obligato!).

Also, if you want some examples, go ahead and look at the violin metal bands that you like and see what they use. You may think they use some really expensive electric violin that you can't possibly buy, but you'd be surprised!


Other suggestions? Experiences you want to share? Comment below!

8 comments:

  1. I have played with an acoustic violin with an LR Baggs pickup for 5 years in two metal bands, and all I got was a nasty hollow tone, tremendous feedback problems, little versatility and just plain not the sound I was looking for. Then I realized that, like a guitar, an electric violin is different instrument from an acoustic one and should be treated as such. It has its own possibilities and pitfalls, and in the end is so much more versatile. The idea is to throw down and get a good one, or invest in some other nice equipment and effects to complement it, and make sure you're playing it through a decent amp. Getting to know my other equipment has been indispensable in finding a tone and voice that can both sing through above the guitars and drums but also fill in around them when I want. I now play a five-string Jordan solid-body electric violin, (also played by Earl Maneein in Resolution 15 and Boyd Tinsley in the Dave Matthews Band) with an EHX Cathedral stereo reverb pedal and a modified Rat pedal for distortion, currently through a Rickenbacker 120 watt head and 2x12 Mesa cab with my loud bands and a 50 watt Marshall valvestate combo with my quieter bands. I'm still experimenting with different amp combinations, but it's really the Jordan that gives me what I want. I would choose my electric any day over what ever acoustic-electric setup you've got to offer. The tone is warm and clear, and yet as complex and sensitive as you want it. I certainly would not make the generalization that all electric violins sound muddy and thick on recordings, or will always be second-rate to an acoustic for sound. A good electric violin will sound better than a crappy acoustic, and it really depends on who's playing it. The purpose of the electric violin is not always just so that there can be a violin in the band and have it sound as much like a violin as possible, but because it is a unique and infinitely expressive instrument that can contribute so much to the music. If what you're looking for is a really nice acoustic violin sound, then yes I'd agree that nothing beats an acoustic violin. However, I'd love to see makers move away from trying desperately to just make an electric violin sound like a violin, and instead focus on making an electric violin that sounds GOOD. Good with distortion, good with an overdriven vintage tube amp, good with effects and at high or low volume. Not comparing it to what a "real" violin sounds like and sighing, but good in its own right, just cause you like how it sounds. Demand and interest are increasing for electric violin, the route it needs to take to really develop some new technology (like amps and pedals designed with electric violin in mind?) is to change our way of thinking about it. The electric violin is its own instrument, as separate from an acoustic violin as an electric guitar is separate from an acoustic guitar. The possibilities are out there!

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    1. Christine - Thank you so much for your input! That's a good point, so far I have only used electrics strictly as a replacement for my acoustic violin, but I haven't yet explored the possibilities of the instrument in and of itself. What would you say is a good sound for the electric violin? What kind of effects and how much distortion do you think is fitting? Also, what bands have you played in, and do you have any websites? I would love to check you guys out! :) (Sorry, I know this comment is very late!)

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  2. Hi there, violin friends :)

    I am playing on five string electric violin. I was playing in a few bands on more than violin (guitar, vocals, bass) from heavy to death metal.

    I have my own design of instrument, I let my violin hand-maded from one violin maker from my country. It was more expensive, but I have really what I want. Also my amplifier is made exactly for me. Measured, tested and built especially for electric violin.

    I am sound engineer, so I think the best sound you can reach is made by good amplifier and box, designed for violin, because guitar amps are only to 3.3kHz in impedance peaks, max for 4kHz in power amp part of amplifier, but violin can create sound over 5kHz, these freqs are little bit compressed and it makes a flatter thinner electric sound on.

    Of course, electric violin cannot sounds like real acoustic, but it can be a pretty good sound. So I use my special amplifier and good piece of instrument and with equalizer and noise gate (which I use, both of them from rack-mounted techniques from Lexicon) I can reach almost real acoustic violin sound.

    Also strings are important on electric violin, more than many people knows. I use Thomastik Vision with 5th (C ) string and I prefer carbon bows.

    I am very glad with my sound and feel free to record in studio and play on live stage or in rehearsing only on electric instrument.

    My own design is focused on weight, of course, it is heavier instrument, but not so much :)

    For everybody, lets experiment, do not fear the tests, it is fun and you will reach many knowledge about :) feel free to test everything and continue doing this beautiful piece of art :)

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    1. Hi Mlok, thanks so much for your advice and insight on choosing an amp, I've been wondering about that myself. Interesting, what made you decide on using Thomastik Vision strings? I use D'Addario helicore but only because that's what everyone else uses. Do you have any advice on choosing strings for electric violin?

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  3. I think that very easy to learn violin because several free video lessons available on the net every time which we can see to learn violin hence most people easily to learn violin and develop own music skill.

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  4. emm it it better to get a 4 or 5 string violin for metal ???/

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    1. It depends on what you're planning on playing. A 4-string is plenty for most situations, if you are just planning on playing melodies and tunes on the violin in addition to a metal band. The only reason to get a 5-string would be just for fun, for added range so you could go down to the low C on viola. But if you're planning on playing chords and using your violin to play metal guitar parts, you would probably want a 7-string in that case. Hope this helped!

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  5. You can learn to play the electrical fiddle. it's nice|an excellent|a good} vogue and produces an exceptional sound to inspire great performances. Technically speaking, any fiddle that happens to be equipped with an electronic output is taken into account to be an electrical fiddle.

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