Electric violins and amps
October 3, 2005 8:19 PM   Subscribe

Your experiences with amplifiers for electric violin performance, please.

I have been using two instruments, one old violin with a Fishman pickup + external pre-amp, and one solid-bodied Skyinbow with builtin preamp. Up until now, I have simply put them through the PA when playing with a group. I've decided that I want an amp of my own for various reasons - solo performance, better monitoring on stage, and ease of experimentation with effects.

I think I'm more interested in using effects than recreating a pure authentic violin sound. However, I'm not sure whether a guitar amp is the right choice.

What have you used successfully for playing with amplified bands?
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen to Media & Arts (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
"Guitar effects" doesn't have to mean "guitar amp." Have you considered a full-range solid state keyboard amp? Roland's the brand to beat, making pretty much the same amp at a range of sequential output levels. For playing with a band, though, the final verdict on whether or not your sound will sit well with the other members' is left to the man at the mixer.

As far as effects, guitar stompboxes aren't expecting to see a preamplified input signal. That may or may not matter; it'll depend on the circuit at hand. If you don't already have an effects arsenal and are willing to give up the ability to experiment with ordering, I would suggest any of the competing multieffects boxes geared towards acoustic guitar. Besides the acoustic emphasis, they're meant to be used with a preamp'd signal.

Finally, if you'd like a range of suggestions, I'd suggest asking this question at the Harmony Central forums (fora?). People there really know their stuff, in my experience.
posted by electric_counterpoint at 8:45 PM on October 3, 2005

Maybe not an 'electric guitar' amp, Joe, but an acoustic guitar amp. Amps for electric guitars are not built to play a wide frequency range and even the speakers are designed to distort, even when playing clean.

Amps for acoustic guitars however are designed to handle a wider frequency range and the speakers are voiced for the acousitic properties of the instrument.

Have you looked into what Fishman or Skyinbow recommend?
posted by mischief at 9:10 PM on October 3, 2005

I've played an amplified violin through both a Roland JC-120 (solid state) and a Mesa Boogie Mark IV (tube). The violin in question was your run of the mill student quality violin with a pickup stuck to the bridge.

The Roland was nice and loud and did a credible job of reproducing a violin tone - decent, not great. The built in chorus and reverbs sounded pretty nice. No distortion at all - nice and clean.

The Boogie was a hell of a lot fun to play through, but I wouldn't accuse it of delivering good violin tone. I fiddled with differing levels of distortion and added reverbs/delays/choruses/etc... into the effects loop and I was in electronic heaven. It sounded raucus, vulgar, and glorious. The feedback was a bit of a trick to manage, but I figured out that if I stood just 'here' facing just 'thataway' I was able to avoid excess feedback. Each room I played in presented a new and unique challenge with respect to feedback management.

If you want to have a semblance of violin tone, I'd suggest using a keyboard amp. They are geared to sound good in a wide range of frequencies. You can still throw stomp boxes between the violin and the amp and experiment with odd noises. Enjoy!
posted by Rubber Soul at 9:14 PM on October 3, 2005

Response by poster: mischief, Fishman make their own (expensive!) amp. Skyinbow don't seem to have any specific recommendation, although I will email and ask.

Resources I've found online so far seem to assume that you want to preserve the violin sound as much as possible, perhaps for a folk or country style. What I'm missing is any information on why you would avoid a guitar amp or how other interesting sounds might be created.

Also, I haven't found descriptions of specific setups (pickup X + preamp Y + effect Z + amp A).

The Skyinbow is an S1 if that makes a difference.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 9:18 PM on October 3, 2005

Check into the band Zox, they're well known around here for being "violin laced" rock/raggae/punk. I'm pretty sure he plays his violin through a normal guitar amp, producing what sounds like a really smooth electric guitar. Definitely a band worth checking out!

(On their site's main page, click on "Can't look down" to hear a great example of how it sounds.)
posted by knave at 10:53 PM on October 3, 2005

I was looking to see what happened to the FRAP pickup, which had been the pickup of choice for acoustic instruments 20 years ago. I found the Trance Inducer which, among other things, will match gain and impedance to the rest of the system, which is probably what you want in order to take advantage of guitar amps.

In the 80's Max Mathews was using Barcus Berry pickups for violins, but the application was highly specialized for getting as much of the signal as accurately as possible.
posted by plinth at 8:28 AM on October 4, 2005

I would second the suggestion of an acoustic amp of some sort. They usually have a horn which reproduces the high frequencies/harmonics particular to acoustic instruments. I am not a fiddler, but do play acoustic.

BTW, you know the difference between a violin and a fiddle?

A violin's never had a beer spilled on it.
posted by wsg at 8:56 AM on October 4, 2005

Consider the Peavey Nashville series. They're designed for both fiddle and steel guitar and are incredibly loud and clean. Also cheap. They come in three sizes, the 400, 1000, and 112. The 400 is no longer produced but is pretty easy to find and goes for ~$300. Like the 1000, it has a 15" speaker and 2-300 watts of power. The 1000 goes for around $600 new, I think. The 112 has a 12" speaker and 80 watts of power. It's much lighter and easier to carry around.
posted by stet at 8:57 AM on October 4, 2005

I'm pretty sure he plays his violin through a normal guitar amp, producing what sounds like a really smooth electric guitar.

Most of what makes a guitar sound distinctive is the distortion introduced by the amp, and that distortion works pretty much the same way no matter what the input signal is. I was excited when I first plugged my synth into a guitar amp - "wow, it's all so warm and punchy!" - and then after flipping through a couple of dozen patches I realized that they all kind of sounded like an electric guitar, and the more I cranked up the amp's drive, the more similar they all sounded. With all the knobs at eleven, the synth settings become almost irrelevant, except for controlling the speed of the attack and decay.
posted by Mars Saxman at 10:22 AM on October 4, 2005

The fiddle player in my band swears by a Polytone amp. First get the clean tone thru the amp; then for EFX you have a wide range of stompboxes you can try out.
posted by omnidrew at 11:24 AM on October 4, 2005

Response by poster: Heh. knave, that would appear to be a Skyinbow S1 also.

Thanks everyone, I have a lot of thinking to do.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 12:06 PM on October 4, 2005

« Older How to replace a phone whilst under Cingular...   |   Writing a Law? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.