The violin, next to the guitar is possibly one of the older instruments of our time. Both the guitar and violin have progressed from a simple wooden bowed string instrument, to becoming available as electrical instruments producing enhanced and customised sound effects. The violin was once popularly associated with classical music since the Baroque era, until the twentieth century reinvented its sound using electric violins in modern popular music.
Electric violins are not as established as electric guitars or bass guitars, but many violinists use the violin for performances in mainstream pop and rock music. This produces an amplified sound of the violin, using an electric pick-up. Non-classical musicians popularly use these for experimental music. One band in particular, known as 'Yellowcard', uses the electric violin for their punk rock genre music. It has also been used in musical theatre productions, more famously with 'Whistle Down the Wind' by Andrew Lloyd Webber.
However, electric violins have been around since the early twentieth century, as far back as 1935, to which this had profound influence on the music industry today, fusing contemporary music with classical sounds. The main differences were that the sounds are sent down an electric pick-up, and unlike conventional violins, they were made with six strings as opposed to the standard four. The extra two strings stretched the sound further.
The actual violin as we know it has been in use for over 500 years which was designed by an Italian family known as the Amati family; however, earlier versions of the violin have been around for 7000 years. The electric violin was first in production during the 1930s by Richenbacker, who were also behind the production of the first electric guitar. This sparked the rock and roll era, taking music to another level. This also coined a new name for the violin as 'electro'.
During the 1950s, Leo Fender had redesigned this and reproduced electric violins tailoring it for modern music. However, these were heavy blocks of wood, therefore were not as popular. Fender is commonly associated with making popular electric guitars that are produced and widely used today.
Musical Uses and Design
Violins that are customised with an electric pickup tend to be easier to play without needing to be plugged in all the time. Whereas a normal electric violin will only sound out the desired tones when it is plugged, because they are designed differently.
Since the electric violin is still considered new, this does not come with a specific generic body design, so makers and musicians can freely create a unique shape to it. However, electric violins do come with a solid body rather than a hollow wooden back, because the electric pickups are more likely to cause a piercing feedback noise, whereas a solid body will not create this kind of a feedback.
The electric violin is widely experimental and far more diverse in the music seen than the acoustic violin. Some people have even installed electric pickups to the bridge on standard acoustic violins, similar to how bass guitarists customise their instrument to either change the pickup or make it fretless. The electric violin on the other hand, is commonly used to create reverbs and chorus distortions making it unique in its sound.
Musicians that use the electric violin tend to create experimental and progressive music; this has also been used in punk rock or avant-garde music, making it quite a diverse instrument. However, this is not used in traditional or classical music. One thing is for certain, this will develop into the next rock music must have accessory, like the electric guitar because of its unique sound in music.
Anna Stenning is an expert on electric violins, as she enjoys listening to music that is progressive and electric in genre.