The electric violin is a modern take on the traditional acoustic violin, with electronics to capture and transmit the sound. The majority of true electric violins are designed and built for use in amplified music settings, where the violin’s signal is sent to an amplifier and speakers. Many of these instruments have a sleek, modern design that only vaguely resembles the contours of an acoustic violin. Acoustic violins that have been retrofitted with an electronic pickup and output jack are more accurately referred to as acoustic-electric or amplified violins, and are not to be confused with electric violins.
Because the acoustic properties of the materials and design used in electric violins are less important, they can be found in a wide range of exotic shapes and designs. The shape, top bracing, and hollow body of an acoustic violin produce the volume required to project the instrument’s sound, whereas the true electric violin is entirely dependent on an electronic pickup to capture and transmit sound to an amplifier. As a result, solid or semi-hollow bodies are commonly used in electric violins to help eliminate resonances that cause feedback in high-volume settings. Semi-hollow models have a sealed acoustic chamber, which reduces feedback while producing a warmer, more acoustic-like tone.
The sound of a solid-body electric violin is typically brighter and more cutting than that of an acoustic violin. These instruments’ harder-edged timbres can be quite appropriate in certain rock, pop, and jazz contexts, but they may sound too “edgy” in classical or country music performances. The tone of the instrument can be modified externally to some extent because the amplification equipment used usually has its own tone controls. Electronic effects processors connected between the violin and the amplifier can further alter the sound.
Kevlar, carbon, and glass-reinforced plastics are just a few of the non-traditional materials that can be used to make a modern electric violin. Solid-body electric violins can handle more string tension and have as many as eight strings thanks to the strength of modern materials. One of the most common five-string electric violin configurations is to add a low C-string, which gives the performer more range.
On electric violins, the pickups are usually magnetic or, more commonly, piezoelectric. Magnetic pickups, like those used on electric guitars, require the violin to have strings with a metallic wrap or core. The physical vibrations of the strings are captured piezoelectric pickups, which transmit a high-impedance signal that requires an amplifier or preamplifier with appropriate input jacks. They are primarily used to capture vibrations generated the bridge and can be mounted on or within the instrument’s body. In order to produce more nuanced tones, sophisticated pickup systems employ several different pickup elements mounted in various locations on the instrument.