Why we recommend against cheap electric string instruments
You may have seen, heard or played one. Perhaps as an affordable means of going electric for the first time you've been tempted to buy one. It costs under $200 online and looks kind of flashy, even if reminiscent of an ampersand that's been left out in the sun too long (see picture). It's clear that one of the coolest thing you can do as a strings player is to go electric (or so we at EVS believe) and the enticement to entering into electrification cheaply is certainly understandable. However, by purchasing a cheap solid body electric instrument you will likely end up disappointed, frustrated and all around discouraged from continuing your electric experiments for at least one or more of the reasons given below.
(If you already take our word for it and just want skip ahead to our alternative recommendation, click here.)
Weak output/brittle tone
- We're so happy that you are curious about electric strings because, sadly, there are thousands of others who have been completely turned off to the idea already because their only experience was playing or hearing a cheap internet violin and they assume all electrics to sound so nasal and shrill. We have yet to hear a violin under $499 or a cello for under $1000 with a pleasing, natural tone. It is true that with the help of preamps, EQ devices and effects you could warm up the tone of a cheap instrument enough to make it listenable, but by the time you've purchased all that extra gear you could have afforded a quality instrument that didn't require it in the first place.
- As alluded to above, these instruments can come in some very odd shapes and sizes. Now, in fairness, that is true of much of Electric Violin Shop's stock as well, but a major difference lies in the fact that the non-traditional designs of NS Design's or Mark Wood's instruments were conceived by musicians who are expert instrument designers and were created with string playing ergonomics in mind. The cheap instruments are not. Good luck fitting a shoulder rest comfortably on a distorted violin frame!
Cheap components = poor reliability
- The quality of the materials and parts used in an instrument is every bit as important as the design. The tone, playability and reliability of your instrument depend ultimately on what was used to construct it. Soft woods may warp or, if used for pegs or peg boxes, may wear themselves down over time and require expensive re-bushing to restore tuneability. Every bit as important as the wooden components are the electronics -- it is, after all, an electric violin we're talking about here! One EVS staff member tells the story of accepting a beginning violin student on a brand new "bargain" brand electric violin only to have the output jack become loose by the second lesson and the pickup completely fail by the third! It is true what they say -- you get what you pay for.
Poor setup/no setup
- The majority of internet-only retailers of such inexpensive electric instrument kits are not qualified to do setup or adjustment work on bowed string instruments. That is not to say you can't find a well set up cheapie out there, but by and large the random eBay, Amazon or generic 'cheapelectricviolins.com'-type site listings for these instruments are not being posted by reputable or qualified strings luthiers. And you can probably bet that if no interest is shown by the seller in making the instrument as good as it can be before the sale that there will be little interest in support and customer service after the sale. Truth be told, even electric instruments from highly reputable makers often require adjustment to fix imperfect bridge curvature or balky pegs. This type of setup work is included for free with every instrument Electric Violin Shop sells and is crucial to customers having a great experience with their purchase. Be careful, be safe, be happy -- buy from the pros!