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.
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.
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-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 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!
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?
These books are great holiday gifts for young musicians! Some of our favorites are:
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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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:
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.
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?
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!
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
These things required but highly recommended for players of any age:
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.
Practice Planner: These are great for tracking practicing, recording assignments, assessing progress, and all-around organization.
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!
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.
It’s exactly what it sounds like: an insurance policy with specific coverage for your instrument(s). It usually takes the form of either:
A rider on your current renter’s or homeowner’s policy, or
A separate policy through a company that specializes in insuring musical instruments
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.
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:
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.
You will need a couple of things before you start looking:
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.
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.
In addition to the school year being done and the promise of warm, hopefully beach-filled days, many of you are getting ready for summer programs. Not sure what to bring? We have a few suggestions:
Extra Strings. This may be the single most important item to bring excluding your instrument. In most cases you won’t be near a shop and you do not want to be in a bind because you didn’t have an extra A string. Bring at least a full set of new strings, and hang on to those old ones that may be less than ideal but better than nothing in a pinch.
An organized way to carry your music. Maybe you have a music pocket in your case that works just fine. If not, a messy pile on the floor you grab before running to rehearsal is not gonna cut it. Whether it’s a backpack, tote bag or something else entirely, make sure it safely fits those original parts.
Tuner/Metronome. Yes, many of you have an app on your phone. However, it is nice not to have to drain your phone battery. Plus, these metronomes and tuners can be much louder and more versatile. Go for a combo to take up even less space.
Peg Compound. This product is small but useful. It’s helpful in both summer and winter to help pegs grip and to lubricate them. When you are far away from a workshop, this can be an invaluable product.
THINGS THAT GET LEFT BEHIND
Water Bottle. Hydration is the key to success. You may not be rehearsing in the AC, and these programs, while rewarding, are also tiring and can take a lot out of you. Stay healthy and hydrated.
Sunblock. This is an important and easily forgotten item. You’ll be spending a lot of time outside. Stay protected! Playing a violin with a severely sunburned shoulder is not fun.
A Fan. AC is not a given in the dorms you are most likely staying it. Even a small box fan in a window can do wonders for air circulation.
Pencils. This is a no-brainer. You are a musician and need a pencil in rehearsal. Grab a package of them before you leave (and a sharpener if you prefer non-mechanical ones) so you’re not caught without one.
ONE LAST THING!
Before you leave, visit a luthier. Get your instrument and bow looked over. Be sure to let your luthier know if you will be going somewhere with a drastically different climate so they can prepare your instrument accordingly.
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.
Our Sales Department consists of our sales consultants and director of sales and acquisitions. These are who you talk to when you are looking to purchase an instrument, be it by phone, email, or in person. We asked them to answer a few questions about themselves:
What is your position at JSI?
Allan Espinosa: My position at Carriage House Violins of Johnson String Instrument is Senior Sales Consultant.
Matthew Fritz: Director of Sales and Acquisitions
Armenuhi Hovakimian: My position is a Violin Sales Consultant.
Robert Mayes: Cello Consultant
Phil Rush: Viola Sales Consultant
Lucy Turner: Assistant Sales Manager
Where did you study your main instrument?
Allan: I spent three years of study at the University of North Texas. I then moved to New England and completed my studies at the Boston Conservatory where I completed my BM and MM in violin performance.
Matthew: Bachelors in violin performance from Arizona State University. Masters in Orchestral Conducting from The Eastman School of Music.
Armenuhi: My education started in Armenia and then in Rochester, NY at the Eastman School of Music Prep Department. I received my Bachelors at Indiana University of Pennsylvania and my Masters in violin performance at Western Michigan University.
Robert: Walnut Hill, New England Conservatory, Julliard, Boston University
Phil: UC Riverside (composition/theory) B.A.; California Institute of the Arts, Viola Performance M.F.A.; Florida State University, Viola Performance D.M.
Lucy: I have a BMus degree in violin performance from Vanderbilt University and an MMus from Boston University.
What does a typical day look like for you?
Allan: My typical day at CHV revolves around my clients. This would include speaking with my clients to gain a better understanding of what they are looking for in an instrument, hunting down those instruments within our inventory and spending one on one time to help select a particular instrument with the player. When I am not working directly with clients, I spend time with the luthiers of the workshop, fine tuning instruments and making sure our instruments are in top condition. They day is full of communication be it face to face, on the phone or via email.
Matthew: My days are varied. Much of my time is spent evaluating instruments as potential appraisals, consignments or acquisitions and advising clients about buying and selling instruments and bows. Additionally, I oversee the sales staff and support them as they endeavor to match clients with the perfect instrument and bow. On any given day, I can be found at my desk, attending trade events, traveling for sales and acquisitions opportunities or meeting with my staff.
Armenuhi: My day begins with emails and phone calls to my clients. Then I work with our highly qualified luthiers and bow makers to adjust instruments and bows to reach the goals and needs of my clients.
Robert: I begin by practicing for 2 hours on 2-3 different cellos and 3-4 different bows. I find it important to be as familiar with the instruments as possible. When I work with my clients I want to provide them with my honest opinion of the instrument or bow. Every day at the shop is different because we work with a wide range of musicians. At the beginning of this week I was in Los Angeles with members of the LA Philharmonic and on Friday I will be working with one of the cello professors at the New England Conservatory.
Phil: My day begins with correspondence via email and phone in response to customer queries. After that I set up for any appointments I have, work with our luthiers and bow technicians on adjusting instruments and bows that need it, and reach out to my sales contacts who are looking regarding our latest acquisitions.
Lucy: The first thing I usually do in the morning is respond to client emails and return calls. Once I’m caught up there, I work with clients who have in-store appointments or I play instruments in preparation for shipping trials. A lot of my managerial duties involve inventory and getting new instruments and bows ready to trial and sell, so I take care of tasks related to that throughout the day as needed.
Do you play any secondary instruments?
Allan: I do not claim to play a secondary instrument very well but I did spend time studying piano and clarinet and have sung in choirs.
Matthew: I do not make music other than playing the violin and conducting.
Armenuhi: I played piano for 20 years.
Phil: I also play piano and guitar. I guess you could say that as a violist, the violin is also a very important secondary instrument….
What is your favorite part of your job?
Allan: My favorite part of my job is the moment when a young musician has found the instrument that inspires creativity and pursuit of creativity in music. I also enjoy the vast array of instruments and the opportunity to work with contemporary luthiers hand in hand with the sales staff and clients.
Matthew: I enjoy many aspects of my job. The instruments are fascinating, especially then it comes to the craft and history of the violin. There is so much to learn, and even the internationally-recognized experts are constantly adding to their knowledge on a daily basis. I also enjoy traveling and meeting a variety of people from players to makers and collectors. In my position, there is never a dull moment, and you never know what a day will bring.
Armenuhi: Seeing my clients smile and working with my clients to find a great tool and the right instrument to carry their passion for music.
Robert: I enjoy being able to interact with so many musicians of all levels. Finding the right instrument or bow is crucial and I am thrilled to help people find their voice.
Phil: My greatest satisfaction comes from helping our clients find the instruments that inspire them and take them further toward their goals, whatever they may be.
Lucy: I love working with a client to figure out exactly the sound they’re looking for in an instrument or a bow. It’s really satisfying to find an instrument for a client that’s a perfect match and that they’re excited about playing.
They did it! All of the hard work, late nights, practicing, homework and dedication have paid off. If you’re looking for ideas for what to get the grad in your life, we have a few suggestions for you:
This is a great gift in so many different forms. Maybe it’s the Urtext edition of their favorite chamber piece or a piece they have always wanted to learn. All of our folk, fiddle, jazz, pop and world music is included in the Grad Sale, which includes things like Star Wars, Disney, The Fiddler’s Fakebook and more.
While not included in our Grad Sale, our ukuleles start at at just $89, making them budget-friendly in addition to being an accessible instrument. Curious to learn more about the ukulele? Check out our previous post about them.
Upgrade Their Instrument
Our Grad Sale for commercial instruments is back! Selected commercial instruments are 10% off through June 30, and you can take 15% off the bow and case when purchasing an instrument on sale as part of an outfit.
Want to purchase your rental instead? We’re offering double your first year equity when you purchase a rental instrument from us. Keep in mind that while you can always use your equity to purchase an instrument through our sales department at Carriage House Violins, this double first year offer is only available when purchasing your rental instrument.
Always available in any amount.
Still not sure what to get them? You can’t go wrong with a gift certificate! You can purchase one in any amount (call for details) and they are valid on everything from accessories to instruments.
You can check out the products listed here and much more in store or on our website. A heartfelt congratulations to all graduating this May and June. Good luck with your future endeavors!
Summer is almost here, and with it comes the start of wedding season. The parade of weddings and parties, both outdoor and indoor, has the potential to keep freelancers employed for the entire season. If you’re new to the life of wedding gigs, here is a starter kit of things you’ll need:
Folding Stand: Never show up to a gig without one! Some people are satisfied with the traditional folding stands, but these can be flimsy when you have a large gig binder or you are outside and subjected to a strong wind. A sturdier stand with a flat back that is still portable, such as the ones by Peak, are a great alternative if you run into this problem.
Clothespins: Don’t let your music fly away! We all have stories of forgetting clothespins and suddenly watching our music make a run for it across the lawn or flip open to a different piece. Traditional clothespins are a great option–lots of musicians keep a box in their car for this reason. We also carry an over-sized music clip for a more elegant solution.
Gig books: Every wedding will want something a little different, but in many cases they will want standard fare such as the Mendelssohn Wedding March or Pachelbel Canon. Lots of musicians build their own gig binders with a set of arrangements that they can use for multiple weddings. The Latham wedding series and the Last Resort Music compilations are among the most popular since they come for multiple types of ensembles. The Last Resort Music series can even be mixed and matched depending on instrumentation.
Note: Make sure your music is appropriate for the venue and ceremony. If you are given free reign to choose repertoire, don’t play something that you wouldn’t normally perform in a church or synagogue.
Stand lights: This is another great back-up item to keep in your car because you don’t know what the lighting is going to be like at any given gig. We carry our own JSI brand in addition to popular brands like Mighty Bright and Lotus. Stock up on extra batteries too–no light in the middle of a performance is not ideal.
Outdoor instrument: This is definitely not an option for everyone, but a great idea if you are able to swing it. Many people hold on to their old instruments when they upgrade and use them for outdoor gigs or any performance that they wouldn’t feel comfortable bringing their usual instrument to. Some players use alternate bows as well, especially carbon fiber bows like Codabow and JonPaul.