Electric Violins: Preamps

This post is part of a series. Read our previous posts for more information about electric violins, amps and pickups.

Do I need a preamplifier for my electric violin?

Short answer: Yes. A preamplifier, or preamp, is key to getting a great tone out of an electric violin, viola or cello.

Long answer: We need to get technical.

The electric string instruments and pickups we stock at Johnson String Instrument all use variations of piezo electric sensors (piezo for short). Piezo pickups work differently than the magnetic pickups found on electric guitars; instead of sensing a string’s vibration, a piezo pickup senses an instrument’s vibration.

Piezos work best under pressure, which is why these pickup systems are usually found in or beneath the bridge of an instrument. As the instrument vibrates, the piezo generates an electrical signal that can be amplified. However, piezos have ultra high impedance outputs. In order to maximize the frequency response and tone of a piezo pickup, you must match it to an ultra high impedance input. This is what a preamp does: it buffers the impedance of your signal, making it fuller and stronger.

Why is this important? Most amplifiers and accessories on the market are designed for electric guitars and their impedance, not electric violin. Plugging a passive electric violin directly into an electric guitar amp will work, but the sound you get may not be what you were expecting.

Do I need to buy a preamp?

That depends on your setup. Many electric instruments already have on-board preamps that take care of this impedance mismatch. These instruments are what is called “active” and typically require batteries. “Passive” systems do not require batteries.  An external preamp is highly recommended with these piezo systems. The chart below shows products we carry and which category they fall into:

These passive pickup systems all produce a very strong signal so a preamp is not mandatory. However, we highly recommend a preamp to maximize your instrument’s amplified tone.

The benefits of external preamps go beyond impedance matching; all have XLR outputs, allowing you to connect easily to a PA system. This is a major time saver when playing live. When you connect to a PA, you  do not have to leave your tone up to the sound guy; most preamps feature tone-shaping EQ controls. Many preamps on the market also have boost functions, allowing you to boost your volume by a few decibels when you are ready for a solo or need help cutting through the mix.

NEXT: watch for our Preamp Buying Guide to find out which preamp is right for you.

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Copyright © 2017 · All Rights Reserved · Alex Wagner

The 2016 Holiday Gift Guide

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Our annual Holiday Sale is back, and so is our Holiday Gift Guide! This year, we have a mix of exciting new products as well as old favorites for musicians of all levels and ages.

Electric Violins

JSI Companion

JSI EV-4 Companion Outfit in red. ON SALE $320.00

JSI EV-4 Companion Outfit in red, ON SALE $320.00

Our brand for electrics, this instrument is a great option for those getting started with electric violin. An outfit comes with the instrument in one of five colors, bow, case and headphones.

Yamaha YEV

Yamaha YEV-104 Black Electric Violin Outfit ON SALE $696.00

Yamaha YEV-104 Black Electric Violin , $595.00

Winner of Best in Show at the 2016 NAMM conference! This innovative instrument can be purchased with four or five strings in two different colors. The outfit includes the instrument, bow, case, cable and rosin.

We haven’t forgotten about you viola, cello and bass players! See all of our electric instruments currently on sale on our website.

Galaxy Cases

Galaxy 300SL Comet Violin Case in green ON SALE $337.00

Galaxy 300SL Comet Green Violin Case, ON SALE $337.00

A newer, lighter case makes a great gift! This JSI exclusive, both durable and light, is a great option. Available for violin, viola and cello in nine different colors!

Ukulele

Cordoba 20SM Soprano Ukulele $149.00

Cordoba 20SM Soprano Ukulele, $149.00

Check out why the ukulele is such a great instrument in our blog post and give someone the gift of this versatile instrument this holiday season. There are four types to choose from: soprano, concert, baritone and tenor. May we also suggest this book to help them get started?

Children’s Books

These books are great holiday gifts for young musicians! Some of our favorites are:

Berlioz the Bear

Berlioz the Bear, written and illustrated by Jan Brett

Berlioz the Bear, written and illustrated by Jan Brett, $6.99

“Berlioz and his orchestra are scheduled to perform at a gala ball in the village square. But just before showtime, their bandwagon becomes stuck in the road. Whatever will they do?”

Zin, Zin, Zin, A Violin!

Zin! Zin! Zin! a Violin

Zin! Zin! Zin! a Violin by Lloyd Moss, illustrated by Marjorie Priceman, $7.99

A Caldecott Honor book, this classic is a great introduction to the orchestra. Intended for ages 4-8.

The Philharmonic Gets Dressed

The Philharmonic Gets Dressed by Karla Kuskin, Illustrated by Marc Simont $6.99

The Philharmonic Gets Dressed by Karla Kuskin, Illustrated by Marc Simont, $6.99

“It is Friday evening. The sky is getting darker and darker. Here and there, all around the city, one hundred and five people are getting ready to go to work. Some of them take showers, others bathe. Some shave or trim their mustaches, others put on dusting powder and a little jewelry. Then they all get into special black and white clothes and travel to midtown with their instruments. There, at 8:30, they will work together–playing beautiful music in an orchestra.” Intended for ages 4-8.

Stocking Stuffers

Magic Rosin

Magic Rosin Bach Manuscript 3G $16.00

Magic Rosin Bach Manuscript 3G, $16.00

Not only is this rosin available with a Bach manuscript, it’s also available in GLOW-IN-THE-DARK!

Rockin’ Rosin

Rockin' Rosin Frog ON SALE $9.95

Rockin’ Rosin Frog, ON SALE $9.95

This fun rosin is available in six different shapes including frog, snowman and even pizza!

Overscore Tape

Overscore Removable Manuscript Tape $8.00

Overscore Removable Manuscript Tape, $8.00

The tool you never knew you needed: REMOVABLE manuscript tape!

You can find even more stocking-stuffer ideas here.

Don’t forget to sign up for our newsletter to get our exclusive December Deals December 12-18th and for even more savings.

Happy Holidays from all of us at Johnson String!


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Copyright © 2016 · All Rights Reserved · Silvija Kristapsons

Departments of JSI: Front Staff

Departments of JSI

It’s time for another installment of Departments of JSI! This is a series that highlights the different people that work within our company. We’re able to run such a large business through the expertise of and collaboration between our different departments. Everyone has a skill that they utilize to accomplish everything from coordinating rental trips to selling instruments to repairing instruments to shipping things on time and safely. This series will help you get to know the variety of people and jobs that are done here at JSI.

The Front Staff are among the most visible departments in our company. If you’ve ever come in to our Newton location, you have probably talked to a member of our front staff. They handle everything from rentals to selling merchandise to fitting chin and shoulder rests. We asked them to answer some questions about themselves and their jobs:

What is your position?

Justin Davis: Guitar Specialist/School Programs Specialist

Julie Metcalf: I am the Assistant Store Manager at JSI.

Amy Nolan: Store Manager

What is your favorite part of your job?

Justin: Finding the perfect instrument for a player, whether that be a first time student or a more advanced musician looking for a forever instrument. The process of pairing an instrument to a player is very rewarding.

Julie: The most exciting thing we do in the storefront is rentals! All kinds of people, young and old, come in each day looking to play an instrument for the first time. It is magical to share with them my joy and enthusiasm for music. I take care to help them select the right instrument and set them up with evrything they need to get started. Rental customers come in each day with many different needs: maybe the player grew and needs a bigger size, or there’s an open seam on a rental cello, or a violinist has a broken E string. It’s rewarding to be able to help people on their musical journeys.

Amy: Helping everyone from kids to adults find joy in music!

What does a typical day look like for you?

Justin: A typical day can include setting up each guitar to a tight specification to ensure proper playability, intonation, and quality. Working with customers to find them the perfect guitar, mandolin, or ukulele. Scheduling and/or visiting a school program to service students’ instruments to ensure that they are practicing on the highest quality rental instruments possible.

Julie: I work in the storefront every day, assisting customers who come in the door. I do a little bit of everything: helping people find sheet music, advising them on strings, fitting chinrests and shoulder rests, and showing accessories like cases and music stands.

Amy: Everything from renting instruments to new players and helping advancing players select higher quality instruments to working with local teachers to make sure they have everything they need for their students. I enjoy working with staff at all levels of the company to ensure great levels of customer service and a love of music all around.

What is your main instrument?

Justin: I have played violin since the age of 7 and started playing guitar in middle school. I have always been a jack of all trades and “master” of none. Anything with strings I can probably play it. But if you were to force me to pick one, I suppose it would have to be guitar as that is what my degree is in.

Julie: Violin. I have played many different styles of music on violin and viola.  I mostly play fiddle for contra and square dances in the Boston area. I also play jawharp, and I am learning banjo and guitar.

Amy: Cello.

Did you go to school for music?

Justin: I went to the University of Maine and double majored in music education and classical guitar performance.

Julie: I went to Berklee College of Music, where I studied violin performance.

Amy: Yes, University of Southern Maine, studying piano and cello.

Were you a Johnson renter growing up?

Justin: No.

Amy: I was! I had only been playing for a couple of years when I switched to a JSI rental cello and had a great time. Later on my family used the rental equity to purchase a cello once I could play a full-size, and I still play that instrument!

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Copyright © 2016 · All Rights Reserved · Silvija Kristapsons

Electric Instruments: Pickups

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This post is part of our ongoing Electric Instruments series. Check out our previous posts on finding an electric violin, getting started with your new electric instrument, and choosing an amp

You want to start experimenting with electric violin, but you either don’t want a second instrument or need something budget-friendly. What’s your best option? Electrify your acoustic by installing a pickup! Now for the harder question: which pickup should you choose? Like finding the right electric violin or amplifier, there are different factors to consider. First let’s take a look at different pickups options that are available:

The Realist

This is one of our favorite pickups at Johnson String. Designed by Ned Steinberger of NS Design fame in collaboration with David Gage, the sound quality is fantastic. Even though the pickup element sits under the bridge, your instrument’s acoustic tone will not be affected. However it can only be installed by a luthier, so it is not easy to remove.

The Band by Headway

Players looking for a pickup that is easily installed and removed don’t need to look any further than The Band. This instant-fit pickup wraps around the body of your instrument using Velcro, making it easy to take off when you don’t need it. The Band produces a strong, lively tone suitable for a variety of styles from fiddle to classical.

LR Baggs Violin Pickup

If you are looking to transform your violin into an “electric-acoustic,” then a replacement bridge like the LR Baggs violin pickup is a great option. Featuring a transducer embedded in a Despiau Superior bridge blank, this pickup will effortlessly capture your instrument’s inherent dynamics. However, this also means the pickup requires professional installation to fit your instrument. The LR Baggs was our pickup of choice when creating our JSI Performer-Acoustic Violin.

The next step in selecting a pickup is to consider your needs. If you need to be amplified on a regular basis and do not mind leaving a pickup on your violin, the Realist or LR Baggs are great options. If you need a little more flexibility or only need to amplify your violin once in a while, the Band may be the one for you. It is difficult to make a wrong choice with any of these options as each produces a great sound that can always be tailored with a little EQ.

Finally, all of the pickups mentioned in this post are “plug and play.” This means that once installed, you can plug straight into an amp or PA system and start rocking and rolling. While preamps are not required with any of these pickups, they are highly recommended. Look for my next post to find out why!

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Copyright © 2016 · All Rights Reserved · Alex Wagner

What is Instrument Insurance?

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Instrument insurance is an important part of caring for your instrument. Professionals use it regardless of their genre and music shops have it to protect their inventory. Whether you recently bought an instrument or own one that isn’t already insured, we highly recommend purchasing a policy to help protect your investment.

Insurance What Is Subheader

It’s exactly what it sounds like: an insurance policy with specific coverage for your instrument(s). It usually takes the form of either:

  1. A rider on your current renter’s or homeowner’s policy, or
  2. A separate policy through a company that specializes in insuring musical instruments

Insurance Why Should Subheader

Any insurance policy is about financial protection should damage or theft occur in the future and instrument insurance is no different. It is designed to protect you against things like theft, accidental damage, and devaluation. Always check with the insurance provider about specific coverage questions, but most companies will cover common problems that can happen with musical instruments.

Insurance Options Subheader

Rider: This something you can add to a preexisting renter’s or homeowner’s insurance policy. This is a great option if you are not a professional musician but still want protection for your instrument. Be sure to ask about the kind of coverage a rider has with your current insurance company before adding anything.

Separate Policy: If you use your instrument professionally, this is what you will need. The main companies used by most musicians and shops in no particular order are:

  1. Heritage Insurance Services, Inc. 
  2. Clarion Associates, Inc.
  3. Huntington T. Block Insurance Agency, Inc. (formerly known as Merz-Huber)
  4. Traveler’s Insurance (they have a valuable items policy that includes musical instruments)
  5. Total Dollar Insurance

The benefit of these companies is that they understand the specific nuances of musical instruments and their value. It’s also a good option if you have multiple instruments, a lot of equipment, or travel frequently.

Insurance Policy Subheader

You will need a couple of things before you start looking:

  1. A list of items you need to insure. Many companies will insure everything from instruments to electrical and recording equipment, sheet music, and cases but always ask the company what is and is not covered first.
  2. Up-to-date appraisals for all of your instruments and bows.

Once you have this information, start shopping! Talk to the companies you are considering about any concerns and ask what they specifically cover in their policies. Make sure to compare deductibles as well as rates. For example, if you have a $1,500 instrument and the deductible is $1,000, that policy may not be your best option. Get quotes from everyone you are thinking of using, decide what will work best for you, and enjoy the piece of mind that comes with knowing your instruments are protected.

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Copyright © 2016 · All Rights Reserved · Silvija Kristapsons

Electric Instruments: Amps

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Finding the right amplifier can be just as difficult as finding the right electric violin. Unfortunately for us electric violinists, most amplifiers on the market are designed for guitar, specifically electric guitar. Now, any amplifier will amplify your electric violin, but you may have difficulty getting the exact tone you are looking for. Why? A violin has a much wider frequency range than a guitar, and produces many over and undertones. Through years of trial and error, I found that most electric guitar amplifiers cannot quite handle the upper octaves of a violin; they start sound quite shrill once you get to the E string.

The best solutions we have found here at Johnson String Instrument are amplifiers designed for acoustic instruments and guitars, like the Fishman Loudbox and the Roland AC series. These amps are designed to reproduce the sound of the instrument that you plug in, a tremendously helpful feature when you are trying to make your violin sound like a violin. Acoustic amplifiers can also handle the wide range of a violin, and most have anti-feedback systems which are extremely useful when you are using a pickup on an acoustic violin.

Figuring out which one to purchase? This decision is highly dependent on what you are planning. A little amplifier like the Roland Mobile AC is surprisingly loud, but would have difficulty competing with a full band. It is a great little amp for practicing, traveling and busking. If you are looking for a portable amp that is loud enough for small venues and groups, a Fishman Loudbox Mini or Roland AC-33 will do the trick. The Loudbox Mini packs a little more punch, which the AC-33 counters with an on-board looping function you can use to channel your inner Andrew Bird.

Looking for more volume to play with a rock band? The Roland AC-60 or Fishman Loudbox Artist should do the trick. If you need even more volume to compete with guitarists using tube amps and drummers with full kits who like to play loudly, you may need the power of the Fishman Loudbox Performer. The performer will allow you to be heard in any situation.

Any of these amps are a wonderful choice and will help make your electric violin sound like a violin. If you decide this isn’t what you want, you can always dive into the wonderful world of effects and add distortion, delay and modulation stomp boxes; stay tuned for more on these and other topics related to electric instruments!

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Copyright © 2016 · All Rights Reserved · Alex Wagner

Find the best violin strings for your playing

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We’ve highlighted the general search for strings, and talked about the particular challenges facing cellists. Now, we’re entering the world of violin strings.

Violin is used in an astonishing range of genres, each style making different demands on the player. Ultimately, as we’ve mentioned before,  you will need to experiment and find what works best for you. Some factors to consider are:

Style of playing: Different styles make different demands. Are you an orchestral musician? A soloist? A bluegrass fiddler? Play violin in a band? All of these are going to require different types of sound and therefore different types of strings.

Price Range: While it might not the same financial commitment as cello strings, high level violin strings can be pricey. It’s worth getting advice from your peers or talking to a luthier to find out what type of string would work best for your genre or instrument before making a purchase.

That infamous open E-string whistle: I’m sure many of you are hearing it as you read this. Whistling happens when the string vibrates in a twisting (torsional) motion instead of side to side. This can be caused by many different things, but essentially anything that impedes how the string vibrates can cause that sound. Some instruments are more susceptible to it than others, but most players have experienced this at least once in their lives. There are a few things that can fix this:

  1. Make sure that your left hand is not touching the string at all.
  2. Keep your bow closer to the bridge when you’re playing open E.
  3. Use a wound E string.
  4. Have a luthier check your setup. There could be something about it that is exacerbating the problem.
  5. Many violinists swear by the Kaplan Solutions Non-Whistling E string or the Pirastro No. 1 E string.

A note on E strings–many violinists will buy one set of strings for the bottom 3 strings and a separate E string, or a whole set of  one brand of strings for the instrument (a generalization, but a preference we’ve noticed). Here is a list of preferred violin strings: 

Popular Violin Strings Chart

Check out our complete listing of violin strings here.

As always, feel free to call or stop by our Newton store for more recommendations!

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Copyright © 2016 · All Rights Reserved · Silvija Kristapsons

Upright bass: integral to jazz and classical music

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The bass is arguably the most integral component of any group. Can you imagine a jazz standard without the bass line, or an orchestral masterwork without a bass section? As the instrument with the lowest range, the bass provides the foundation for almost all music we are familiar with. For all of its importance, it is also a surprisingly unknown instrument and one that invites myriad of questions, including the favorite “don’t you wish you played flute?”

(The answer is no, by the way.)

Whether you call it upright bass, double bass, string bass, or just bass, it is different from the rest of the string family in a few ways. First, it is tuned in fourths rather than fifths. It also sounds an octave lower than what the player reads on the page.

The two main genres people associate with the bass are jazz and classical. Each of these genres have their own use for the instrument and superstars who dominate the field. What are some of these differences?

TECHNIQUE

In jazz, the bass is almost exclusively plucked.  Classical repertoire requires both the bow and pizzicato. Bass is unique among string instruments in that it has two different types of bows and bow holds: French (similar to a cello bow) and German (held with an underhanded grip).

TYPES OF PERFORMANCE OPPORTUNITIES

Of course, there is always room for innovators in any genre (think Esperanza Spalding or Edgar Meyer), but these are the most prominent positions you can expect to see for bass players in the two this post addresses:

Bass performance chart

 

ACCESSORIES

Bass players will need things like rosin (most popular are Pops, Nyman, and Carlsson), a wheel for transport, and a bib for comfort. Jazz players may also need a pickup on their instrument, an amp, or may even use an electric bass for ease of transportation among many other benefits. Brands that manufacture electric basses include Yamaha and NS.

Keep an eye out for more posts about bass in the future!

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Copyright © 2016 · All Rights Reserved · Silvija Kristapsons

Electric Violins are a new take on a classic instrument

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The world of electric violins is a small yet wonderful world. If you are ready to take the plunge, then read on!

The first step in choosing an electric violin is determining what its primary use will be. Are you looking for an instrument for performance or for silent practice? What style of music will you be playing? Rock, jazz, classical? It is also important to consider the tone you are looking for; do you want an instrument with a more acoustic tone, or an instrument with a distinct electric sound and feel? Think of the difference between an electric and acoustic guitar.

Now on to choosing the right violin. At Johnson String Instrument we are proud to carry a selection of electric instruments from Yamaha, NS Design, Realist, Bridge and our very own Johnson EV-4 Companion. For an instrument suited to silent practice, the Yamaha SV-130, SV-150 and Johnson Companion are great options. Both the SV-130 and Companion are quite versatile and make great entry level instruments for performance as well.

If you are looking for an instrument with a focus on performance, Yamaha and NS Design make fantastic options. The Yamaha SV-200, 250 and 255 all work well for performance with their advanced pick up systems, but retain the headphone output for silent practice. The NS Design violins all have a focus on performance; from the WAV to the CR model, all feature a unique solid body design. How to choose between a Yamaha and an NS Design? In this author’s opinion, the Yamaha instruments feel and sound much closer to an acoustic violin, while NS Design violins feel very much like an “electric” instrument. Both are very high quality instruments, so you cannot go wrong with either.

Another option is an acoustic-electric violin, like the Realist RV-series instruments. Essentially a regular violin with a built-in pickup system, these instruments provide the best of both worlds. A similar solution is to install a pickup on your acoustic violin. Choosing the right one is similar to choosing the right electric violin: it involves experimentation and knowing what you want out of the instrument.

Once you have chosen your electric violin, there are a few accessories you will need. As far as bows go, you can use the same bow you have always used. If you are looking for something specific, CodaBow has developed the Joule, a carbon fiber bow specifically designed for use with electric violins. Gig bags are available for Yamaha electric instruments, but any standard case can also accommodate their models. NS Design requires a brand-specific case. An amplifier is necessary as well for almost all electric instruments we carry except the Yamaha SV-150, which is exclusively a practice instrument.

Keep an eye out for future posts about choosing amplifiers and more information about electric instruments!

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Copyright © 2016 · All Rights Reserved · Alex Wagner

Cello strings that fit your instrument and style

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We’ve already talked about choosing strings in the general sense. However, what about the specific needs of the cello? There are many additional factors to consider:

Price: Cello strings are more expensive than those for other instruments. The G and C strings in particular are costly–a C string alone can run the same price as a full set of violin strings. Thankfully, a cellist’s C string is not as thin as a violinist’s E and will last longer.

Playing level: More expensive brands may not be necessary for beginning players, while less expensive brands may not provide enough color or nuance for more advanced players. Teachers will often have recommendations or preferences for their students, and what you prefer when you are first starting out will probably differ from what you prefer further into your playing career.

Style of playing: This does not refer to genre alone–how you play will also determine what you’re looking for. Have an aggressive playing style? You may need something different than someone who doesn’t.

Mixing and Matching: More so than violin, most cellists do not use a complete set of one brand. Many use two different brands for the top and bottom strings, while others go so far as to have different brands for all strings. You’ll need to experiment to find the right fit for your instrument. See the chart below for common preferences:

Cello Strings Chart

But what about electric cellos?

The same principle applies–you’ll need to experiment and see what works best for your instrument. Some brands make strings specifically for their instruments (like NS Design), but many electric cellos can use the same strings as an acoustic instrument. Be careful though; some pick-ups will require a specific type of string in order to function correctly.

When in doubt, talk to your luthier or salesperson–they will have invaluable firsthand knowledge that can help you find the right cello string for you.

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Copyright © 2016 · All Rights Reserved · Silvija Kristapsons