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5 Tips for Using a Violin Pickup Well

It takes time and practice to learn how to use a violin pickup, as well as getting used to how your instrument will sound. In addition to amplification, in order for your violin to sound its very best will require minor adjustments on your part.

The following tips will help you break in your new pickup (meaning, break yourself into the groove of using a pickup), optimizing your overall sound quality.

1. Install – and use – according to the instructions

So, you’ve borrowed your friend’s pickup before, and you’ve seen other orchestra or band members use their violin pickups a million times. Who needs instructions, right? Wrong.

It’s essential that you read the installation instructions carefully, and follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for using your pickup. Not all pickups are created equally, and while yours may look similar to others, there could be important variances in how it’s installed and used. Most importantly, you don’t want to damage your violin body trying to install your pickup differently than instructed.

2. Start soft – then play with loud(er)

This is going to be a whole new sound for you, and that means you may need to cultivate new sensory memory when using your pickup. Start softly and notice what you hear, then play louder and notice that. Are there sounds that get lost? Are there harsh sounds that seem over-amplified? Practice with alternating bow pressure and hear if that corrects – or exacerbates – certain tones or nuances.

Over time, you’ll develop a slight variation of muscle memory, one that’s attuned to playing with the pickup, and one that comes into play when you’re unplugged. Once you’re comfortable on your own, it’s time to bring your violin pickup into a group setting, using it with other musicians or band members as you find your place – and your sound – within the group.

3. Play with different positions (or pickups)

Once you’re adept with attaching the pickup, begin experimenting with variations in positioning to alter the voice of your instrument for particular pieces of music or to elicit certain moods. Just as different types of rosin can be used to alter the voice of your violin, different pickups/positioning vary in optimal sound translation. For example, some piezo pickups are known for showcasing the midrange response, others may be more sensitive to bass or higher-pitched tones.

4. Invest in a decent-quality amplifier

The quality of your sound is now dependent on factors beyond your instrument quality and bowing technique. Now, you’re relying on the pickup and the amplifier to translate your sound. Do yourself a favor and invest in a decent-quality amplifier.

Some of the amplifiers know to work best for acoustic violins include Wood Violins Electric Amplifier, the Fishman Loudbox Mini Amplifier, and the Rogue 10W 1x5 Guitar Combo Amp. The Danelectro Honeytone N-10 Guitar Mini Amp is also great for practicing, and small events or busking, but isn’t powerful enough for larger gigs, concerts, or excessively loud venues. Talk with your local string instrument store and peruse online forums to learn more about amps to use – and amps to avoid.

5. Planning to gig? Spring for a DI box

If you’re planning to go electric in band/gig form, consider purchasing a direct input/interface/induction box (DI box). Even with an amp, your sound can be lost because sound waves spread out into the audience, especially at outdoor events. Your ears may struggle to hear what you’re playing amidst all the other noise. Your own DI box filters that big and potentially messy sound into a lower, more pure version that the sound mixer can feed directly into your earpiece. This way, your violin pickup works two ways – amplifying your sound to the audience, while providing clear feedback for you, wherever you may be on stage.

Going from acoustic to electric is a big change, especially for classically-trained string musicians who are branching out into other musical genres. All you need is a little practice and experimentation, and you’ll be rocking your violin with the best of them.

Image courtesy of wikimedia.org - Piezoelectric violin bridge pickup

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