Picking out the Perfect Pickup
There are a number of considerations you must take into account when selecting a pickup. Do you want a permanent pickup solution or something that is removable? Is how quickly and easily the pickup can be installed and removed an important factor? Beyond volume, how important to you is tone reproduction? What are you willing to spend on a pickup?
Pickup types for bowed string instruments can be divided into two main categories: permanent pickups (usually bridge replacements) and removable pickups. As we will see, there are several different types of removable pickup, which suit different performance needs.
Removable pickups come in a wide variety of styles and options, which vary greatly in terms of price, ease of use and tone quality. Many players have only one instrument and rely on it for performing both amplified and un-amplified. For these players a removable pickup is often the best or most convenient solution. There are several different types of removable pickups. In general, the more expensive the pickup, the better the tone, and the better the tone, the more delicate installation procedure.
Easy fit pickups
These pickups are extremely quick to install and remove, but relatively low-fidelity pickups. Slap one on in seconds and you'll be playing amplified. Although somewhat "boomy" sounding, these pickups do a pretty decent job of transmitting your instrument's tone.
Bridge mounted pickups
These style of pickup typically wedge in your bridge's wing slot or clip on to the side of the bridge. These are still relatively quick to install and remove but provide better, stronger and more reliable tone than the 'easy fit' pickups. We recommend the Kremona, Fishman or Barcus Berry pickups to amateur players who have somewhat high standards for tone but can't justify spending too much money on a pickup. Professionals with a need for excellent tone quality should consider the Schertler STAT-series pickups. A good middle of the road option in this category is the Mi-Si active pickup, which is a Kremona pickup with a small, battery free rechargeable preamp that attenuates the tone and boosts the output.
Under the bridge pickups
The Realist brand pickups* offer great amplified tone because they collect vibrations from both the bridge and top of your instrument. However, installation and removal is a little tricky, so while they are not "permanent" pickups you will likely leave them on most of the time.
(*The Realist SoundClip for cello and bass is a bridge clamp-on pickup.)
Attachable microphones can offer excellent tonal fidelity and are relatively easy to install and remove. Their two drawbacks are 1) mic direction and placement must be precise for optimal tone and 2) they can be prone to feedback too close to amplification sources or in a particularly loud playing environment. That said, if you're not signal processing and want to reproduce a gorgeous acoustic tone, clip-on microphones are one of the best options!
The Schertler DYN-series pickups are the best of both worlds between mics and pickups. They are safely installed and easily removed even on expensive fine acoustic instruments and provide excellent tone reproduction! As with clip-on mics, placement is key for optimal tone and feedback is occasionally an issue. Also, to get all the benefits of contact mics you should expect to pay more.
Watch removable pickup demos
Permanent pickups integrate with your instrument and provide a reliable, ready-to-go amplification source that can sound great. For anyone who has an instrument they can designate for permanent amplification, a bridge replacement pickup tends to offer excellent tone and hassle-free amplification every time you pick up the violin (just plug and play!).
Most bridge replacement pickups are simply standard maple violin bridges with embedded piezo pickups and wire connecting to an output jack. As such they do not significantly alter the acoustic (unplugged) tone of the instrument and you can therefore still use the converted violin for acoustic performance purposes. The only caveat here is that the presence of a wire and in some cases attached output jack might visually prohibit one from performing on their acoustic-electric in, say, a classical orchestral setting.
These bridges are typically priced mid-range relative to other pickup options, but require the expertise of a luthier for installation, the additional cost of which must be factored in to the price. Consult with your luthier about the cost of bridge crowning/fitting or contact us for a quote.
Some bridge replacement pickups, such as the Starfish Designs bridges, offer multiple piezo elements for a more balanced amplified tone and greater signal output, but as more massive bridges they may sacrifice some of the tone quality of the unamplified instrument.
We carry a wide selection of all different types of pickups to meet the amplification needs of almost any string playing scenario. With prices starting under $50, we're sure we can help any player on any budget sound great and be heard! If you need assistance picking the perfect pickup for your needs and budget, don't hesitate to contact Electric Violin Shop by calling 866-900-8400 or emailing to firstname.lastname@example.org.