How To Amplify Bowed Strings
Presented by Julie Lyonn Lieberman January 2002 at the International Association for Jazz Educators Conference in Long Beach, CA
Presented by Julie Lyonn Lieberman July 2006 at the Texas Orchestra Directors Association Conference in San Antonio, CA
Presented by Julie Lyonn Lieberman March 2003 and March 2005 at the American String Teachers Conference
For excellent phone support, a choice of amplification options from around the world, and great prices, visit The Electric Violin Shop, the only store in the world dedicated to bowed string-players' ampiification needs!
Standard approaches to Amplification:
Play into a standing microphone or use a small clip-on mike (wireless is an option)
Attach a pickup to the bridge or soundpost
Buy a transducer bridge and mount it on the instrument
Purchase a solid-body electric which has no acoustic sound and must be plugged into an amp
Once you establish what you can afford to pay, make sure you factor in the cost of an amp, a preamp (if necessary), some guitar chords, and batteries (if necessary) before choosing your system.
Assess the environments the player will be rehearsing/performing in such as band size, instrumentation, and solo or with a group of string players, before choosing an appropriate system. There are limits to how much volume one can achieve from a pickup mounted on the instrument (without feedback or distortion) when playing with brass or in a large ensemble. There's a trade-off when you choose a solid-body, which can project a lot of volume, but tends to eliminate the acoustic tonal quality, and literally sounds electric.
Each system will either change or enhance the acoustic sound. Obviously a microphone or clip-on mike will give the truest representation to your instrument, with the Kurmann soundpost system coming in a close second; then the L.R. Baggs System if accompanied by its sophisticated Para Acoustic DI preamp. Transducer bridges offer a warmer sound in general than solid-body, but so much of this is influence by the preamp and amp, that it's important to try it all out when possible at a local music store or a friend's house before investing in a full system.
Pickups that attach to the bridge are excellent for a modest boost. Without a preamp, they will provide you with enough power to be heard in a small club with a small ensemble, but in most cases, give little ability to boost beyond that. Some pickups can potentially ruin or push your bridge out of place because of how they attach, so factor that in when you choose a system.
A transducer bridge generally boosts the outgoing signal significantly more than a pickup. It is a violin/viola/cello bridge that has the electronics built into it. It usually has a wire coming out of the bridge that attaches to a fixture with a guitar jack on the side of the violin. You plug one end of the cord into the fixture and the other into your preamp or amp. Sometimes the use of a transducer bridge can alter the tone of your acoustic violin (for the better or for the worse, depending upon the maker). Be prepared for a change, or use a second violin for the bridge. Factor in the cost of having the bridge shaped by a Luthier to fit your instrument, if it's a L.R. Baggs bridge.
The solid-body violin has little or no sound when played acoustically. It has to be plugged into an amp to be heard. There is no danger of feedback when you boost the volume, and most solid-body violins will provide you with all the volume you need. You can also choose between fairly tame-looking instruments or really flashy designs that distinguish you when you step onto stage. Make sure the instrument isn't heavy or uncomfortable to play before you purchase it.
Solid-Body with MIDI
If you would like to have the ability to use a computer program that transcribes what you play, or a system that will add control over the sounds your instrument emits (like making your instrument sounds like a flute or even like percussion), then you will need a violin that has MIDI capability.
The preamp is a small box that you can use as an intermediary between your pickup and amp or house system. It provides tonal control, as well as the capability to boost the volume. It also supplies the player with close-at-hand control over the equalization (treble and bass ratios). Note, that some pickup systems come with their own companion pre-amp.
No pickup or solid-body is effective without an amp. Purchasing decisions should be based on budget, volume requirements, the tone, and transportation concerns (they can be heavy). Always have extra guitar chords on hand. Since string players need to hear themselves in order to play in tune, be prepared to either place the amp directly behind the player or to put it in front and tilt the amp back to face up towards the string player -- otherwise it's impossible to play in tune over a large ensemble.
Electronic effects come in boxes that you can plug your instrument into to change your overall sound. Digital delay, which creates an echo, phase shifter, which fattens the sound and gives it a spatial quality, octaver, which adds a second interval (usually an octave, though it can be tuned to any other interval), are just a few of the effects available in either a small box, or rack-mountable size. The Zoom box is relatively inexpensive and offers a wide range of effects to choose from.
The Use of Fine Tuners
Besides the fact that well-fitted pegs are generally not always a luxury found on instruments in a $2,500 (and under) range, fine tuners are a must when it comes to playing on an amplified instrument. The use of fine tuners for each of the four strings is an excellent way to make fast, subtle adjustments. Use the Thomastik tailpiece or a Wittner Ultra with four built-in fine tuners instead. (Available through 1-800-248-SHAR)
I particularly recommend D'Addario's Helicore strings. For alternative styles, these strings provide a smoother surface for slide technique, give softer resistance to the hand, and sound great!
see www.lightbubble.com/bowed/index.htm for additional information on amplification
The Fishman Transducers
Crown or Audio Technica clip-on mike
Transducer Bridges and/or Amplified Acoustic
Ithaca Stringed Instrument
The L.R. Baggs Pickup
A number of acoustic and solid-body developed by SHAR.
The Kurmann soundpost system
Yamaha Silent Cello and Violin
Sam Ash Silent Violin
Jordan Electric Violins
You can reach Julie Lyonn Lieberman directly via Email at
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