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Electric Violins 101

Electric violins      Custom hand-crafted electric violins

Frequently Asked Questions
About Vector Electric Violins

1) Are preamps necessary with Vector Electric Violins?

Yes, a preamp is necessary, unless you plan to buy an amplifier specifically designed for use with piezo-equipped instruments. Most amplifiers and public address systems are not able to handle the high impedance output of these instruments and the result can be a thin tone. The use of a preamp will yield a full rich tone with warmth and woodiness to the sound. Vector Electric Violins use an EMG system mounted inside or an L.R.Baggs Para Acoustic DI between the instrument and amp. The EMG system has an onboard 9V battery compartment, which allows the battery to be changed in a matter of seconds.

2) What sort of amplifier do you recommend?

As your final sound is a direct result of the instrument/amplifier combination it is essential that you buy a compatible amp. There’s a new generation of models specifically for use with piezo-equipped instruments but they tend to be a bit pricey and generally are designed for acoustic/electric guitars. They have some very useful features but I find them a little "edgy and brittle" in terms of their sound and they tend to over emphasize the mid-range and high frequencies. What you are really looking for is an amplifier that is meant to deliver the full range of frequencies. These are typically small personal PA's, vocal monitors and keyboard amps.

I frequently recommend the Peavey, Fender or Yorkville KB30, KB60 or KB100. These units are full range, available everywhere and can be found for as low as $150 used. What you want to avoid is electric guitar amps. These are meant mostly for creating a compressed, distorted sound with a heavy emphasis on the mid-range frequencies. One of my favorite amps is the Fender Blues Jr. It has a full, rich sound and puts out 15 loud watts of tube sound.

How much power do you need? If you only play by yourself at home or just with acoustic instruments, then 10-20 watts is sufficient. Be careful about getting anything larger as you will find yourself running the amp at about 1 (on a scale of 1-10, 10 being the loudest). Amplifiers sound best when the volume knob is around 6-8. For small electric bands you will need at least 60 watts to hear yourself and if you don't intend to send a line out or mic the amp to the PA then I would recommend getting at least 75-120 watts.

3) Do the instruments make any sound acoustically?

My electric violins are not designed to be used acoustically. The small amount of sound they generate is chiefly to augment the bridge vibration. However, there is plenty of sound for you to play and practice without an amp.

4) What are the advantages of a 5-String Electric Violin?

About 60% of my orders are for 5-String instruments. In violins this is a low C, giving you the range of a violin/viola. What you gain is a very powerful and resonant sound which allows you greater expression for soloing and a wider tonal range for ensemble playing. The neck is slightly wider and you have to adjust your bowing technique slightly to accommodate the extra string. A 6-string model with a low F and C is also available.

5) What about effects?

One of the great features of an electric violin is the wide assortment of electronic effects that can be applied to your sound. From the little "stomps-boxes" ($50+) to the rackmount processors ($300+), there is a myriad of ways to enhance and modify your signal.

The most basic and essential is Reverb. Most amps have a spring reverb built in, but they tend to be very "boingey" and do not sound anywhere as lush as a digital unit. Reverb warms up and fills out the sound and adds richness and a sense of spaciousness (or spacyness). It creates the illusion of a room, from a bouncy glass and tile bathroom tone to a dark chocolaty sea of reverberations that can go on forever. The Chorus effect gives the illusion of a thick lush string sound. It can be used to sound like several instruments playing in unison. Great for modern jazz and the Kevin Burke style of Celtic fiddling.

Octavers take your signal and drop it down one or two octaves, so that when you blend it with your regular sound you get a very heavy and bassy tone. Imagine a violin, cello and bass playing in unison. Use with caution!

There are many other effects available such as Delay which creates echoes, Pitch-shifting which enables you to play in 3rds, 4ths and 5ths etc, Wah-Wah pedals can give you a horn-like sound and are useful for those Jimi Hendrix solos.

Your best bet is to borrow or rent a good effects processor and plan to spend a bit of time twiddling knobs and learning about the potential for sound enhancement. I’m currently using a Digitech RP200 which has 40 programmable sounds, 12 computer modelled amplifiers, a pedal to control the volume and effects, built in tuner, drum machine, etc, etc all for $150.

6) Do I need the upper bouts?

The upper bouts on my electric violins are optional. Without them in the way you have total access to the whole fingerboard which greatly facilitates playing in the upper registers. I would suggest you examine your technique and observe where your hand rests on the instrument as you slide up to the higher positions. Most players find that as long as the heel is still in the same spot that the hand will naturally fall into place and after a little practice the lack of body becomes an asset to performing and promotes a more natural and stress-free approach to playing.

7) Will I get any feedback?

I guarantee you that you will never experience any feedback at any volume level with your Vector Electric Violin. Even though the bodies are hollow and lightweight, they have been carefully tuned internally to produce an acoustic tone without any chance of feedback occurring at high sound levels.

8) Do your electric violins feel any different from regular acoustic models?

Vector Electric Violins retain standard dimensions. Neck size, scale lengths, bowing angles & string spacing are all identical to classical acoustic instruments. You can close your eyes and still detect all the physical cues that are necessary for holding and playing. You should not have to modify any of your present techniques except that you will not have to play as hard to create more volume.

9) Can I play with headphones?

Yes, you can, but unlike other Silent Violins, you plug into your stereo effects processor. I don’t believe in having electronics on the violin because; a) it adds a lot of weight, b) like computers, the technology changes too fast to keep up with and something that is built in means the whole instrument soon becomes obsolete and c) far more control and options are available through an inexpensive effects processor.

10) How do I arrange to try one out?

Trials are available anywhere in North America. As I do not have dealers in many areas this is the best way to truly experience what a Vector Electric Violin could do for you. I suggest that you schedule the trial so that you can use the instrument at a practice or gig and really give it a good workout. I require a full deposit by VISA, certified check or money order prior to shipping. You will then receive the instrument in 3-5 days and will have up to 7 days to play it. Hopefully you will fall in love with it and want to keep it. If not, then you ship it back to me, at your expense and your deposit is returned. If you like it but decide that you want something more customized to your needs, then I pay for the return shipping and we start construction of your custom instrument.

11) What about insurance, duty and shipping charges?

Electric Violins are classified under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) as "instruments played with a bow" and are therefore duty-free. The violins are bubble-packed inside their heavy-duty plush-lined cases, with paper packaging and high strength cardboard boxes. It generally takes 3-5 days in North America and 5-7 elsewhere. Full insurance is placed on all instruments and they are hand delivered right to your door. Costs are as follows:

Shipping Costs for Violins
$40 CDN
$60 USD
$125 USD