This is a question that comes up on all violinist forums, and to which we find few answers… One element keeps coming up and specifies that for electric violins it is better to opt for a bass amplifier, rather than a guitar or keyboard amp.
What you really need to understand is how an amplifier works, why are there different amps for each instrument and what parameters should be considered when choosing an amp for an electric violin?
The role of an amplifier
The amp will amplify the signal it receives so that it becomes audible. But it will also play a role on the sound that will be transmitted. Each amp will have its own characteristics related to the instrument with which it will be associated. On the market, there are amps for acoustic guitars, electric guitars, keyboards, basses, etc.
There are no amps specifically designed for electric violins. The difficulty for a violinist will therefore be to find his heart’s desire among the existing amps.
An amplifier for an instrument
The problem is that each instrument is played differently and therefore produces a sound with different nuances and frequencies. For example, we will pluck or strum the strings on a guitar, while we draw the bow across them on a violin. The strings also have different properties that will nuance the sound obtained. All these multiple parameters mean that the sound frequencies between the instruments will not necessarily be identical. They will differ from one instrument to another, which is why there are different amps.
In the guitar player world, there is no real problem because guitar players play the electric guitar to make an electric sound, not acoustic. In this case, they invest in the amp adapted to the electric. You got it: an electric guitar amp is intended for an electric sound and an acoustic guitar amp for an acoustic sound.
It is possible to play an electric sound with an acoustic amp, but you will have a disastrous sound and may damage your amp. The latter is absolutely not designed to handle the sound of an electric instrument.
The violinists’ problem
For violinists, it’s a little different. They like to be able to play electric but also to get a more traditional sound with their electric violin.
A violin is often an accompaniment instrument in a band. The electric violinist will use different effects to match the type of music played. He can very well play with distortion on some songs and have a more classical sound on others at the same concert. We therefore have a single instrument for several types of practices! It is difficult to meet every need…
As any other musical instrument, the electric violin is compatible with all amps. A sound will necessarily come out of the amp, but depending on your playing style, the sound may not meet your expectations. To choose an amp, you will have to consider several parameters: the type of instrument, its type of sensors, its impedance, the desired output volume, the effects used, etc.
How to choose an amp for an electric violin?
We will focus on 2 types of use:
- One use to play in small groups or alone at home
- One use for playing at shows and concerts
There are several parameters that should be considered before making a decision. We will try to clarify each of them. You are free to define, afterwards, which ones are the most important for you in order to be able to choose the amplifier that best suits your needs as a violinist.
|Playing at home||PLaying on stage|
|Power||10 to 30 watts||Over 30 watts|
|Type of playing and amp||No effect||With effects||With or without effect||No effect||With effects||With or without effect|
|Guitar amp||Guitar or bass amp||Guitar or bass amp||Guitar or bowed string instrument amps||Bass amp||Bass or bowed string instrument amps|
|Budget||starting at 80 €||over 150 €|
A more detailed explanation of the reasons for the choices expressed in this table is given below.
The power of an amplifier consists of its maximum output volume. It is expressed in Watts.
If you want to play at home, there is no need to buy a powerful amplifier. Go for a minimum of 10 or 15 watts, and a maximum of 20 to 30 watts. If possible, avoid 1 watt amplifiers, they are very weak…
For live performances, everything will depend on the type of music you play, on the type of use (monitor or amplification for the audience) and on the sound power required.
Every musician plays under different conditions in each performance. Sometimes it is necessary to push more or less the output volume. However, the sound quality of an amp will depend on this output volume. The more you push it, the more likely you are to saturate the sound. After a while, the sound produced will no longer match what you want.
To choose an amp, you need to know your usual playing conditions and the output volume you will need. This will help you determine the minimum power you will need to play. For example, for a rock or metal band, you generally need a lot of power… Ask a sound engineer for advice or compare the power used by the guitarist of your band for example.
To play at home, a small 20- to 30-watt amp will be more than enough. If you play on stage and the amp is your monitor, then everything will depend on the overall volume and the monitors of the other musicians.
What happens if your play with an amp whose impedance is not adapted to your instrument?
The amplifier will need more current, which will require power supply and can technically create malfunctions. When overloaded, the power supply will have a strange behavior that can distort the sound, and ultimately damage the amp.
What will usually happen is a poor reproduction of the sound played. It can move towards the high notes particularly, and be more saturated than usual. You can identify this problem if you try to plug an electric violin to a small speaker by example. The impedance created by the electric violin is so powerful that the speaker cannot reproduce it.
What is impedance?
Impedance is the resistance of an electrical circuit (or device) to the alternating current flowing through it. All musical instruments and devices have different input and output impedance values (electric violin, acoustic guitar, effects pedals, amp, microphone, etc.)
If you use a great amp made specially for music instruments, you won’t have any problem.
In fact, this is how the saturation effects of electric guitars such as distortion were born. Before the introduction of effect pedals, saturation effects were achieved through very powerful settings on tube amplifiers. The signal sent to the amp was too loud, and the sound could no longer be reproduced accurately by the amp. It was then completely saturated and distorted.
The “destruction” of an amp is rare and will only happen if you push it to its maximum for a long time, two factors that are already strongly not recommended for any amp or speaker.
There is no need to turn up the sound to the maximum, if you don’t hear yourself, it’s because the amp power is insufficient. You should switch to a more powerful amp with a higher output volume….
Playing and sound type
The playing and sound type depends on the type of music you are going to play. And in the case of an electric violin, it depends on whether you are going to play with or without effects.
If you don’t add any effect to the sound of your electric violin, it might be interesting to test different amps in order to find a nice tone.
Every amp can transform the tone of your sound. They offer settings to manage the output sound via different knobs (volume, gain, etc.). All these settings can color your sound and add a little something.
In this video, Daniela Padrón was playing a 4-string Line. She just adjusted her sound by using effects provided by her amp.
If you want to play without effects, we recommend that you choose a guitar amp (preferably acoustic) or a bass amp, or, if you have the budget, you can choose from one of the few amplifiers that have been specially designed for bowed string instruments. As far as we know, only Acus offers this kind of amps.
If you play the electric violin while being constantly connected to a multi-effect pedal, you might want to look for an amp that can handle most of your effects.
Each FX chain will have its own audio frequency, leaning towards the treble or the bass. And of course, you will have to find an amp that can handle all your effects. This can be complicated since the range of effects can be very wide. Try to find an amp that fits your favorite effects.
We would tend to direct you towards bass amps, but don’t neglect electric guitar amps… Some might fit your needs, test several of them before you decide.
In this video, Laurent Bernadac was playing a 3Dvarius associated to a lot of effects. Here you can hear a distortion.
With and without effects
And here is the most common case, the electric violinist who will play sometimes with effects and sometimes without! Since you will not find an amp that meets all your expectations, you will probably have to make some compromises. In this case, we would recommend a bass amp instead.
Not everyone has hundreds of euros available to afford a great amp! Bass amps are usually more expensive than guitar amps.
From our point of view, if you’re just starting to play electric and want to play at home, a small guitar amp will be more than enough to satisfy your needs. You can change it when a stage opportunity arises, or if you feel that that first amp is reaching its limits. If, in the same context, you have a slightly larger budget, you can also consider bass amplifiers.
If your budget is unlimited! We suggest you consider a very good bass amp or an amp specially designed for bowed string instruments.
Try several amps! And find one that suits you!
We cannot say it enough; senses differ from one person to another. And if a violinist enjoys the sound of an amp, a second violinist may not feel the same way. The best way to choose your electric violin amp is to try it by taking into account the parameters mentioned above!
The amp you choose should meet your expectations and please you in terms of sound. Each amp will give a different sound to your electric violin depending on whether its sound has effects or not.
Above all, do not limit yourself to electric guitar amps, very few are suitable for electric violins. Try bass and acoustic guitar amps. Then choose the one that best fits your instrument and your playing style!
Images: Unsplash – the nigmatic, freestocks, william iven