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?
Several parameters will have to be analyzed before you decide. We will try to clarify each of them. It is then up to you to determine which ones are most important to you in order to choose the amp that best suits your needs.
1. Type of pickup
The pickup use sensors. They are the element that allows the vibrations produced by the strings to be transcribed into an electrical signal. An instrument can have one or more sensors. And, there are several types of sensors each with its own specificities. For example, electric guitars usually use magnetic sensors, while electric violins are equipped with piezoelectric sensors. The electric violins manufactured by 3Dvarius use piezoelectric sensors. It is generally well noted because equipping an electric violin with a magnetic sensor is also possible. Each type of sensor will define the impedance of your instrument.
That’s why we tend to read on the Internet that an electric violin does not sound right with an electric guitar amp. These amps are not designed to handle the high impedance produced by piezoelectric sensors. As soon as you turn up the volume or play the high notes, the sound will not have a high-quality.
Be careful, you don’t have to exclude every guitar amp. Some can handle this high impedance and be of good quality for a violin. You have to test them and check the sound produced.
2. The impedance of your electric violin
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.).
No need to get into impedance calculations… Simply note that a piezoelectric sensor produces a higher impedance than a magnetic sensor. An electric violin will have a higher impedance than an electric guitar. You will therefore need to find an amp that can handle it. Testing each amp is essential! Do not hesitate to seek advice from other violinists or from shops specializing in violins (and not in guitars).
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.
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….
3. Output volume
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.
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.
4. A sound with and/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.
If you do not use effects, try acoustic guitar amps instead.
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 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.
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