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

Which Edition of Sheet Music Do I Buy?

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Your teacher tells you you’re starting a new piece. You go to buy the sheet music, only to discover there are multiple editions to choose from.

Which edition do you choose?

The easy answer? The one your teacher tells you to buy. They like that edition and want you to get it for a reason. If they don’t have a preferred edition, it’s up to you to decide. While finances sometimes dictates that choice, here are a few things you should know about choosing sheet music:

What Do I Look For? 

Everyone has different priorities when choosing an edition, but here are some things to keep in mind while browsing sheet music:

  • Is it easy to read? Can you read the notes? Are articulations clearly marked? It’s a good idea to look at different editions in person. Compare them side-to-side and see which one is easier for you to read.
  • Are there a lot of marked bowings and fingerings? These are easily changed with a quick pencil scribble. However, if too many are already marked in the part it can start to look messy if you need to fix them. Some people prefer to get sheet music with the least amount of bowings and fingerings so they can clearly mark their own.
  • Does it lie flat? Does the sheet music lie flat on the stand, or would you have to secure it? Would you have to break the binding to get it to stay where you need it to?
  • Price: More expensive editions cost more for a reason. You may find it helpful, or you may not notice a difference.
  • Is it Urtext? This only applies to certain pieces, but sometimes it’s helpful to use an urtext edition instead of a more modern one.

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We pride ourselves on our sheet music selection at Johnson String. Stop in to compare in person or visit us online. We also do special orders; contact our sheet music specialist, Joan Faber at joan@johnsonstring.com.

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Copyright © 2016 · All Rights Reserved · Silvija Kristapsons

Departments of JSI: School Programs and Delivery

Departments of JSI

It’s time for another installment of Departments of JSI! This series highlights the different people in 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 they use 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 School Programs and Delivery department are the people you see at our rental nights throughout New England and New York State. They handle any deliveries, exchanges, and other transactions done through school districts or at rental nights throughout those areas. They are constantly in contact with teachers and school administration to make sure everyone has what they need.  We asked some of them to talk about what they do:

What is your position at JSI?

Justin Davis: School Program/Guitar Specialist.

Natalie Harrington: I’m the Rental Delivery and Programs Manager.

Steve Soucy: I am a School Programs Specialist. This means I work specifically with teachers and administrators of various public and private schools in Massachusetts and New Hampshire to cater our products and services to meet the needs of their string/orchestra programs.

What does a typical day look like for you?

Justin: My days tend to be quite varied. Some days I will be setting up and repairing guitars, others I will be scheduling with and otherwise contacting teachers to ensure that they and their students have all of the proper instruments and accessories that they need to succeed. In the busy times, mainly the start and end of the school year, I will be visiting each of our programs in Connecticut and Southern Massachusetts while also helping out the rest of the team where needed.

Natalie: That depends on the season. My top priority is always working with our teacher clients to ensure we’re meeting their programs’ needs. Sometimes that means driving to schools myself; other times it’s coordinating staff, vans, instruments, and product to send on the road. I always need to be at my desk for at least a few hours a day to answer emails, update our service trips web page, and make sure everything is ready to go for the next delivery.

Steve: In September, I start the day at my desk to answer any questions or fill any requests made by teachers and clients the previous night or earlier that morning. Then it is off to the workshop to review and pack instrument and accessory orders for the event that night. Once we are packed, we head off to the event. There we unpack and prepare for parents and students. Afterwards, we pack up, head back to the workshop, and unload. Once unloaded, we close up the workshop and prepare for the next event.

What is your main instrument?

Justin: I call guitar my primary instrument but violin was my first instrument and I played that all through school as well. I was always a bit of a jack of all trades with experience with viola, cello, mandolin, and ukulele as well.

Natalie: Violin. I started in the Suzuki method when I was four, and continued to play seriously, even becoming concert mistress of my orchestra, until I graduated from high school.

Steve: Electric Bass

Did you go to school for music?

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

Natalie: No, actually: I got my degree in Cognitive and Linguistic Sciences from Wellesley College.

Steve: No, economics.

What is your favorite part of your job?

Justin: My favorite part of my job has always been seeing the excitement that a new player has when they first pickup their instrument. You can just see in their eyes that this will be a lifelong learning adventure for them.

Natalie: I love a challenge! We rent to over 100 school programs throughout New England and New York, so there is a lot to coordinate. Doing my job well involves keeping an eye on a wide variety of staff, procedures, and departments, and anticipating problems so I can solve them before they happen. Never a dull day!

Steve: Working with schools and music teachers. Providing students with a high quality instrument that allows them to enjoy playing music and develop a life-long passion for it.

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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

Mandolin Line Based On Popular Classic Models

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The mandolin has a rich historical history. While we associate mandolin primarily with folk music these days, the instrument is more versatile that you may expect.

The Mandolin Family Is Based On Classic Instruments

The mandolin family is based on classic instruments from the baroque period. The mandolin started its life in classical music. In fact, many famous composers wrote mandolin concertos including Antonio Vivaldi. This instrument family itself is a lot like a traditional string trio. The mandolin is the treble voice, the mandola the inner harmony, and the mandocello bass support. Mandolin orchestras, as they are commonly called, are still around today.

Because the mandolin has the same tuning as a violin, it is a reasonable transition for any violinist looking for a new challenge. It means using a pick rather than a bow, but since the fingerings are the same between the two instruments many players can make the transition with a little practice.

Over time, the mandolin evolved from a small bowl-backed instrument meant for ensemble playing to a solo instrument mostly used in bluegrass and country music. The Gibson Company and their sound engineer Lloyd Loar are credited with modernizing the “bluegrass” (F-style) mandolin. With a powerful, clear treble voice and a decorative curling scroll, the F-style mandolin is an instantly recognizable instrument by sound and appearance.

Mandolin Eastman

The Eastman Music Company still follows many of the classic designs developed in the late 1920s through the mid-1930s (known as the golden age of mandolin building). Along with the F-style, the teardrop-shaped A-style mandolin is a popular choice for players who tend to play more chords than leading lines.

Mandolin Styles Graphic

Eastman offers a great selection of both A and F style mandolins in a variety of price ranges. Featuring all solid woods and hand-crafted precision, Eastman mandolins are terrific instruments for everyone from the new player to the veteran picker.

The Guitar Shop of Johnson String Instrument offers many of Eastman’s best mandolins, all of which are set up in house to ensure proper playability, tone, and intonation. Though we may be best known as a violin and guitar ship we are a mandolin store as well. Visit us in store or online to see our full selection of Eastman mandolins.

Back to School: First-Time Players

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It’s that time of year again!

Is your child starting an instrument this school year? Not sure what they need? Whether they are taking lessons through their school or elsewhere, their teacher will have a list of what they require for their students. However, we can also give you a basic list of what your child will need to succeed:

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Where are you getting your instrument? For a child just starting lessons, many families choose to rent. This is a great way to have access to a high-quality instrument without the financial commitment of purchasing one. All of our rental outfits come with an instrument, bow, case, and rosin. They also come with insurance, which includes things like broken strings, accidental damage, and size exchanges. Check out the video below to learn more about our well-respected rental program:

Not interested in renting? Buying is also a great option! When shopping, make sure that the shop you buy your instrument at has a trade-in program. Keep in mind that most children are not going to start out in a full size instrument; they will need something smaller and will change sizes as they grow. Our sales department at Carriage House Violins has a trade-up program that allows you to trade any instrument or bow purchased with us for another of equal or greater value. Keep in mind that if you buy an instrument, you will be responsible for the cost of repairs and strings.

**A note about instrument shopping and rentals: Always work with a reputable shop. You may notice lower prices on sites like Amazon or eBay. To learn an instrument, you need something that is high enough quality that it works with your child, not against them. Quality can’t be guaranteed on sites like these, but it can at shops like Johnson String Instrument whether you choose rent or buy. 

Back to School Blog Books Subheader

Almost all programs require a beginning method book. Your child’s teacher will tell you which one they use. Make sure to pay attention to the edition they ask for; a lot of publishers make significant changes between editions and group classes all use the same book. You can find our full selection of method books here.

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No matter which instrument your child chooses, you’ll need something to help stabilize it. For violin and viola, this is a shoulder rest. For cello and bass, it’s an endpin rest. Both help the player hold the instrument and promote good technique. Talk to your child’s teacher about their preference.

Back to School Blog Music Stands Subheader

Some teachers list music stands as optional, but they are important. Like a podium for a public speaker, it puts the music at a comfortable level and angle. You don’t need anything fancy – our JSI folding stand will do the trick! It comes in a wide variety of colors and is easily carried and stored. We also carry other models and non-folding stands here.

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These things required but highly recommended for players of any age:

  1. Metronome/Tuner: You can find some great apps that do the same thing, but sometimes a dedicated device just works better. Available as individual products or combos, we carry all major brands and models.
  2. Practice Planner: These are great for tracking practicing, recording assignments, assessing progress, and all-around organization.
  3. Flashcards: These are a great tool for beginners. They are available for all instruments in different positions as well as for general music.

Don’t forget: Your child’s teacher is your greatest resource! They will tell you exactly what they want their students to have. If your child is taking lessons locally, many school districts and teachers have arrangements with us to have a rental night where you can pick up all of these supplies at school in your area.

We hope everyone has a great start to the school year!

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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

Ukulele Line Modeled On Prized Classic Instruments

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While their name may suggest a focus on other fretted instruments, Cordoba Guitars makes exceptional ukuleles in a wide range of sizes and prices.

The ukulele first appeared in the Americas (most notably in Hawaii) by way of Portuguese immigrants during the 19th century. Having evolved from the Portuguese braguinha, a small strummed instrument commonly used to accompany a folk singer, the uke continues to be a popular instrument for musicians of all ages.

These Ukuleles Recreate Some Coveted Models

Cordoba Guitars designs their instruments based on time-tested building techniques and aesthetic features such as hand-inlaid wooden rope-style rosettes and bindings. When Cordoba began expanding their ukulele line, they sought to honor the rich tradition of the instrument while still making efforts to innovate and carry it into the 21st century. Using patterns established two hundred years ago, many ukuleles in the Cordoba line are available in a number of different sizes such as soprano ukulele, concert ukulele, tenor ukulele, and baritone ukulele. Having such a wide variety of sizes allows the player to find the perfect instrument for their hand size and tone preferences.

Starting at only $89, ukes made by Cordoba Guitars are sure to provide you with years of enjoyment strumming ukulele chords. Whether that be on your couch, by a campfire, or in the park, the ukulele has an amazing ability to evoke a sense of calm and transport you to an idyllic island in the Pacific.

For more information on the Cordoba Ukuleles carried by Johnson String Instrument, please visit our website.

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Copyright © 2016 · All Rights Reserved · Justin Davis

Fiddles and Violins: What’s the Difference?

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We’ve all heard the terms “fiddler” and “violinist” used interchangeably. Maybe you associate one term with specific genres or prefer to be called one over the other. You may also be confused as to why we’re quibbling over labels.

A Fiddle is Just a Violin–isn’t it?

Yes. A fiddle is a violin and vice versa. Fiddle refers to a style of playing rather than a completely different instrument.  However, the specifics are not that simple. Fiddle can refer to a number of different genres including country, jazz, rock, bluegrass, old time, and so many more. It can be a traditional acoustic instrument or an electric fiddle.

But what’s the difference???

“Fiddle” and “violin” are used to describe the same instrument in different genres of music. What most people call fiddling consists of traditional styles that were historically taught by ear and passed down between generations. This was music you would hear at a community dance, at house parties, or on the back porch. It was meant to be heard over a band before amplification and in some cases to simulate multiple instruments at once, so many techniques were originally intended to help the sound carry over a band or in a large space. For the purposes of this post, when we say “fiddle,” we’re referring to old-time, bluegrass, and similar styles.

When people talk specifically about the violin, they tend to be referring to classical players who were trained by teachers over an extended period of time. Classical music incorporates written music and was historically heard in churches, concert halls, small salons, and similar venues.

There are some additional differences as well:

Physical

While none of these adaptations are required to play one style or another, many fiddlers make some changes to their instrument:

  • Flatter bridge. Some players request their bridges to be less rounded to make string crossings and double stops easier to play.
  • Different bow hair. Many fiddlers (or players of other alternative styles) will use a combination of or completely coarser hair. Since these styles are more percussive and require more aggressive bow techniques, this helps keep the bow hair from breaking.
  • Flatter profile. This brings the strings closer together, again making string crossings and double stops easier.

Technical

Since these styles are different, the techniques vary too:

  • Positions. Classical violinists are all over the fingerboard while traditional styles require less shifting, almost never going higher than third position.
  • Alternative Bowing Styles. Fiddlers use percussive techniques such as chopping, while classical players have a less percussive type of bowing style.

Keep in mind that we’re talking about these genres in the broadest of terms. Some prefer to play more within one or the other, and many fall somewhere in the middle. Regardless of what genre(s) you prefer to play, we have everything you need to make playing your instrument enjoyable!

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Copyright © 2016 · All Rights Reserved · Silvija Kristapsons