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
- 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.
- 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.
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.
- 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
- 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
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.
*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*
- 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
- Quiet - it's still fairly quiet live
- Thin sound in live settings
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!