No matter how nice your acoustic violin is you might be surprised at how much simpler it is to achieve great amplified tone using a purpose-built acoustic-electric instrument as opposed to a pickup. There are several advantages of acoustic-electric violins as compared to using a pickup or in certain amplified settings, as well as some circumstances where an acoustic-electric may not be the optimal tool. In this video Matt outlines some of the pros and cons of acoustic-electric instruments compared to using pickups or solid-body electrics.
1. Feedback resistance
Your classical acoustic violin or fiddle is like a machine, designed to amplify resonance and project sound. When you add a pickup or microphone and further amplify your sound through a speaker, those amplified sound waves can re-enter the body of your violin through the f-holes, which the violin in turn pushes out through the pickup, creating a feedback loop.
Acoustic-electric violins, while consisting of an acoustic violin body and a pickup, are designed more for amplification and less for straight acoustic resonance. Since they are meant to be amplified, the bodies are a bit deader than fine acoustic violins. What this results in is a nice, resonant-sounding authentic tone that is considerably less prone to feedback issues than a fine violin that has been mic'd or picked up.
2. Two-way play
Although these instruments are designed primarily to be amplified and, as outlined above, are somewhat less projective than fine acoustics, they do still project acoustic tone. This is useful because in addition to being great for plugged-in performance it makes them playable in acoustic settings. While you may not favor the tone or projection of your acoustic-electric over your classical violin in, say, a classical quartet or orchestral performance, it'll totally do the trick in rehearsals or acoustic jams, allowing you to bring just the one instrument along to most casual musical gatherings.
School orchestra directors, we've found, really like 5-string acoustic-electrics for the ability demonstrate violin and viola parts (and cello parts an octave up) on an instrument they can also used plugged in. And speaking of cello parts, with an acoustic-electric you can utilize effects such as pitch shifters to access lower ranges, or add reverb, delay, EQ and other effects to liven up your amplified tone.
3. Ideal tonal balance
The acoustic-electric violins we carry are well-thought-out instruments made by reputable brands. In addition to these makers' knowledge of acoustic bodies they have real expertise in pickup technology and electronics. Therefore, the better acoustic-electrics represent a careful pairing of complementary electronics and violin bodies that work together to produce an optimal amplified tone.
Furthermore, while we pride ourselves on carrying a number of solid-body electric violins that put out very nice "acoustic-sounding" tone, nothing can replace the tonal effect of a resonant violin body. You can take a good solid-body electric and apply tone-warming effects (reverb, delay) and EQ to make it pretty convincingly acoustic, but if true acoustic tone amplified is your primary goal, then a purpose-built acoustic-electric is pretty hard to match.
4. Traditional look/feel
Looks aren't everything, but they can matter. If you're a traditionalist, or playing a more traditional style (for instance, bluegrass) then you may not want the wild shapes or colors of an electric violin on the one hand, or the appearance of wires and plugs from a pickup on the other. Many acoustic-electrics are very discreet looking. Some have volume or tone knobs that are wooden and blend in with the design. Some have the output jack subtly integrated into the body. If you want to plug your violin in with the rock band but still be able to sneak it into an orchestra rehearsal, an acoustic-electric will fit in with either!
Wait, wasn't feedback resistance a 'pro'? Yes and no. As explained above, qcoustic-electric violins are relatively feedback resistant when compared to most microphones or pickups applied to acoustic violins. However, in louder amplified settings (i.e. rock band) or when using distortion-style effects an acoustic-electric violin is still prone to feedback. For players wanting loud, amplified distortion, especially on stage, we strongly recommend going full solid-body electric to avoid feedback hassles.
If you are playing an acoustic-electric amplified and using effects, you, and quite possibly your audience, are going to hear a blending of your acoustic violin body and the effected tone coming from the speaker. This is not going to be a problem in larger venues where the audience will hear only the PA sound, but if you are playing solo in a coffee shop be aware that listeners may hear both at once. This may or may not matter depending on the effect you are trying to achieve. (See 3:18 in the video above for a demonstration of how a pitch shift effect sounds blended with the acoustic tone.)
3. The investment
A good, purpose-built acoustic-electric instrument is not cheap. It's an investment that is well worthwhile for certain amplified performers, but for the only occasional plugger-in, a decent pickup or microphone might be worth the savings. Likewise, for an amplified player focused more on loud performances (especially with drummers and guitarists in a band), owning a solid-body is a better choice.
Eventually a player may want to own both a solid-body and an acoustic-electric in order to cover all performing bases, but you should be certain about which instrument type meets the majority of your needs before investing in one or the other as a first amplified instrument. If you're still uncertain whether a acoustic-electric is right for you, don't hesitate to call us at 866-900-8400 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for our personalized advice and recommendation!