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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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