Electric violin and computer interface. What do you think?
March 1, 2004 11:38 AM   Subscribe

I need tips on computer components and electric violins. MORE INSIDE!

The situation:

I played the violin for about 10 years and then I quit, regretably. Now, 5 years later, I want to start playing again and I fancy an electric 5-string violin. I want such a violin because I need to buy a new violin anyway and I would like to be able to record myself on a computer. I want a 5-string because I think it would be cool.

I will also need to buy a new computer. I will be buying a new PC anyway, realistically so that I can start playing games again, but also for the purpose of doing work in my home office for my consulting business. I also want to start getting more involved with my digital photography business.

I have a few thousand dollars saved up for these hobbies and I'm willing to spend money to get things going, but I'd like to keep it below $3000 if possible.

The questions:

I don't know anything about sound cards and recording from an electric violin. I also don't know anything about electric violins. I want a violin that can play classical well but also can play jazzy stuff etc and will record cleanly and clearly. I want the computer sound components that will allow me to do these things on a hobbyist/amateur level. I would appreciate any and all input on these topics. Even something as simple as testimonials on violins would be awesome.
posted by crazy finger to Media & Arts (11 answers total)
I'd say you either go with the latest Creative Labs standard (I think its now Audigy) and you can work with music and play games, or you go with a better card for music recording that won't work for games.

The good part is that Creative has gotten better at music, thanks to their purchase of E-mu and Ensoniq (synth makers).
posted by Goofyy at 12:07 PM on March 1, 2004

I run a computer shop and I'm going to give you advice that I probably shouldn't...

Don't buy a computer to play video games. You are wasting your money unless you are an absolute hardcore gamer.

Just buy a GameCube/Xbox/PS2 and use that. You will save a lot of money this way...

As far as sound cards go, whenever I ask about those (or am asked) Turtle Beach sound cards usually get the best rep. Creative Labs cards are decent too, but not top of the line for the best recording quality.

Just my 2 cents.
posted by shepd at 12:19 PM on March 1, 2004

Response by poster: But I am a hardcore gamer, I've just been broke during college. Now that I'm free of college, though, I can go back to playing games more regularly. I am not solely using the computer for games though, it's also for my photography and hopefully music. Also, I don't like consoles.

As for recording quality, I'm not going to be putting out CDs- at least not selling them. I just want to be able to play and record my violin. It's more a hobby than anything else.
posted by crazy finger at 12:36 PM on March 1, 2004

Response by poster: Also, in regard to saving money buying consoles over PCs... console game prices are pretty high and you might get stuck paying for crap. PC games, on the other hand, can be previewed for free and paid for if deemed worth it.
posted by crazy finger at 12:38 PM on March 1, 2004

Response by poster: I would like to hear from electric violin people. Anybody play these or have experience with them?
posted by crazy finger at 12:38 PM on March 1, 2004

if you're going to be doing any recording at all you'll probably want to get some consumer-grade pro-sound stuff (low-end prosumer) -- m-audio makes a box that's fairly inexpensive and has built-in preamps, which you're probably going to need if you want to directly record an electric violin. Heck, you're probably going to need more than that.

if the soundcard happens not to work for games (i doubt this will be an issue; i haven't had any real compatibility problems post-win98; windows treats sound as sound, whether it's pro stuff or not -- it might not be 5.1 or whatever, but it'll work fine) you can always pick up an inexpensive sound card for a few bucks, or just use the built-in sound that every motherboard seems to come with nowadays.

i don't know much about violins, electric or not, but it looks like you may have the option of picking up one with a midi controller, which i would totally recommend, as this will give you near-infinite tone options.
posted by fishfucker at 1:16 PM on March 1, 2004

Bowed Electricity has reviews of electric violins, along with manufacturers' links.
posted by Smart Dalek at 1:41 PM on March 1, 2004

I have adapted 2 violins to be electrics and own a third (a Skyinbow). The Skyinbow looks cool and sounds pretty good through a PA.

To be honest, there's no real need for electrics outside of performing on stage when you want mobility. Unlike guitars, violins don't feed back easily, and electrics do not typically have a very distinct tone colour. (Eg, an electric guitar with humbuckers is utterly distinctive and couldn't be mistaken for a miked acoustic, but an electric violin without effects just sounds like a violin).

(By the way, the best way to mike a violin is with a boom above the violin, with the mike 1-2 feet from the instrument at a 45 degree angle.)

Typically extra reverb and echo work well. I've never had much luck with distortion effects. I think that they're made with guitar harmonics in mind and instead of sounding fuzzy and fat, they sound just plain nasty. (This may be what you want, of course).

You can adapt an existing violin quite easily - I've had excellent results from Fishman pickups, which mount in the bridge. In any event, use a piezo based pickup that's firmly mounted rather than those dinky stick-on ones. I had a friend mount make me a new tailpiece with the output jack mounted in it, which worked really well with a right-angled jack and the cord going over my left shoulder. You will need to experiment with the placement to get the correct balance between strings. Also, I always find myself dropping the midrange frequencies out of the eq by a reasonable amount, depending on the equipment I'm plugged into.

There may be microphone inserts like the ones they make for guitars, but I would be scared to do that kind of violence to an instrument without professional assistance.

You will probably also want a pre-amp. A cheap'n'cheerful one can be made at home for a few dollars; check the amateur electronics section at the public library.

I've had great results miking a violin mounted with a pickup and mixing the miked input with the direct input.

Have a good think before you go for the 5 string. I tried one for a while, and went back to 4. That low C string detunes really easily, and because it's so slack, playing it loudly can make it noticeably sharp. And to accomodate it, the string spacing on the bridge changes quite markedly from standard, which makes it hard to swap instruments easily without a few minutes getting used to it. If you want a grunty chainsaw C, put your best John Cale suit on and get a viola. You'll be able to use the same pickup on it with all likelihood.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 3:49 PM on March 1, 2004

Get in touch with this guy via email or AIM. Don't let the AOL address scare you--he should be able to give you more information than you ever wanted to know about this subject.
posted by littlegreenlights at 4:13 PM on March 1, 2004

I always found Zeta electric violins/violas/cellos to be excellent instruments. I stopped playing my accoustic viola, as I much prefered the sound and feel of the Zeta. Unless you spend a LOT of money on your violin, a comparatively cheap electric violin will be lots more fun to play. Distortion effects CAN sound great, but you have to be very choosy as to what distortion it is. Vintage style tube-driven distortion is best, or at least very good quality pre-amps that simulate overdriven valve amplifiers.
posted by BobsterLobster at 4:17 PM on March 1, 2004

Crazy_finger, console games, unlike PC Games, can be legally resold everywhere. PC Games aren't so easily sold legally (but often are anyways).

So, if a game sucks, sell it. Problem solved! :-)

(Of course, people knowing my other occpation know there's something else I'm dying to discuss, but won't.)
posted by shepd at 11:36 PM on March 1, 2004

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