If you’re a violinist or fiddle player, it’s likely that at times you will need to be amplified. Whether it’s for the sake of recording, a performance with a band or even just to try out having some fun with effects.
Your first instinct might be to try mic-ing up your instrument, but without an extremely specialist mic, you can quickly fall victim to feedback, lack of EQ and generally poor quality amplification. The remedy, not to mention the more ‘proper’ way to do it, is to use a violin pickup.
At a Glance: Our Choice of the Top Violin Pickups
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- What is a Violin Pickup?
- Buyer’s Guide – Key Things to Consider
- Product Round-up and Mini Reviews – Best Violin Pickups
What is a Violin Pickup?
The violin pickup is a small device you clip or attach to your acoustic instrument to amplify the sound of your violin. These accessories take many forms, from tiny microphones to stick-on piezos to bridges with built-in transducers. Each of these does the same job: they transform your sound into a signal but in slightly different ways. In this article, we’ll help you to find out the right method for you and your violin.
Alternative to an Electric
One of the main reasons you might be considering one of these is as an alternative to buying an electric violin. Perhaps you play in a folk or rock band and have a nice acoustic model that’s proving impossible to mic up at gigs. You could buy an electric, but decent ones are pretty expensive, and you might lose some of your acoustic tone. Could a pickup be a cheaper, better option? You bet! Even some of the high-quality options, as we’ll see, cost significantly less than a new instrument would.
Lead Parts in an Ensemble Performance
Perhaps you are a classical musician or a teacher of classical musicians, and you’re wondering how you can make solo parts stand out above an ensemble. These are perfect for that, as they can be quickly and easily fitted and transferred to different members of a band, to amplify sections when necessary in order to help them stand out from the backing instruments.
It might be the case that you’re a performer, who needs a louder sound than you can get acoustically, or with a mic before it feeds back. Installing a pickup will boost your volume infinitely, without any unwanted feedback. It’s the only real option besides buying a new instrument that’s already partially electric, which would be expensive.
Buyer’s Guide – Key Things to Consider
So, now let’s have a look at some of the different type out there, and features you expect to see.
Types of Pickup
There are four main kinds: piezo, magnetic, micro-goose and bridge pickups.
Piezos are extremely common, available at all price points. They work by picking up vibrations from your instrument to create a high output and bright sound. Many people deem the bright sound that they create ‘too harsh’, but this isn’t always the case. Fitting a piezo close to the f-hole will produce a deeper sound to one that’s positioned behind the bridge.
Magnetic pickups are similar to piezos, but they’re more sensitive to dynamics and produce a warmer sound. Unlike piezos, which convert vibrations immediately into a high output signal, the magnetic variety allow themselves to be modulated by the vibrations of the string balance, with varying levels of output, depending on the dynamics of the playing. These tend to be more expensive than piezos, but favored by professional players.
Micro-goose style pickups are very versatile and natural-sounding. They work like tiny microphones which are attached to little pre-amps so that you can control the sound. The micro-goose fitting means that they are extremely adjustable, so you’re able to experiment with different positions and they’re also easy to attach and to remove. One drawback is that finding a great setting is often difficult to identically repeat.
Some pickups come as full bridges that you will need to install as your permanent bridge. These bridges contain transducers that pick up the sounds and convert them to signals. This can be an excellent option for those who perform regularly and require something that’s not aesthetically obstructive. However, they take some time and patience to install, and they’re usually pretty expensive.
While some are designed to clip onto bridges, or even come as full bridges, there are others which have more versatility. Many piezos that stick on have the option of being stuck wherever you choose to stick them, while some which clip onto ‘f’ holes have some flexibility of exactly where on the ‘f’ hole you put it.
Micro-goose pickups are by nature extremely flexible, so you’re able to experiment with positioning until you find the perfect, richest and most transparent tone. One downside here is that it might take a bit of fiddling to find that again, and again. Generally speaking, for a louder, deeper sound you will position the mini mic towards the f-holes, while beneath the bridge is more likely to give a natural sound, though that can seem ‘harsh’ to some people.
Removable vs Permanent
How often are you likely to use your violin plugged in? For those who are rarely going to require the feature, it might be best to opt for one that’s easy to remove as well as to install. Many can be clipped (or clamped) on and off effortlessly, with obvious positioning and no alteration at all to the instruments.
More permanent options are the bridges that include transducers. These are perfect for those who regularly perform plugged in, and want something that’s consistently high quality.
Passive vs Active
Pickups are also either passive or active, both of which have their benefits.
The passive type is called so because they require no batteries. Their magnets and transducers produce electrical currents themselves, so you can plug them in straight away. These then pass over the job of further shaping the sound to the amplifier or preamp they’re plugged into.
The active sort require a battery, but they also work as a mini amp in themselves, some of them even including a pre-amp. The output is higher, so your tone will be more consistent and will require less external shaping.
Product Round-up and Mini Reviews – Best Violin Pickups
The Cherub WCP-60V is an extremely affordable piezo. It was designed with ease-of-use in mind, and can easily be clipped onto the violin’s ‘f’ hole to then pick up all of the vibrations from the instrument’s surface. The clips have rubber fittings to ensure that there’s no damage to the instrument and that it can be taken on and off easily.
It’s plastic, making it lightweight and it requires no batteries to get going, and is connected to a 2.5M cable with a standard ¼ jack at the end. This is quite short, but on a small stage or at home this won’t be a problem.
As well as being short, the included lead is quite thin, which doesn’t scream ‘quality’, but at such a low price it’s to be expected. It’s able to eliminate external noise, making it less prone to feedback than you might expect for such a low-priced product and capable of creating a clear sound.
Looks wise, this is a little bit obvious compared to some of the others. As it clips on the f-hole, it covers the body and can take away a little bit from the good looks of your instrument. If you’re keen to keep the traditional aesthetic of your violin, you might prefer something that subtly clips onto the bridge.
Who is this suited to?
At its budget price, the Cherub WCP-60V will be perfect for the beginner who would like to try out plugging in either at home or on a small stage. The sound isn’t perfect, or very adjustable in terms of EQ, so it will be less suited to professional musicians.
– Extremely inexpensive.
– Easy to clip on and off.
– Rubber fittings mean your instrument won’t get damaged.
– 2.5M lead is pretty short.
– The sound is quite harsh.
The KNA VV-1 is a slightly more professional product. It’s another piezo, but this one’s designed to be fitted into the bridge. It’s clipped on there, then the small ebony box is attached to the side of your violin’s body. This compact box has a jack output, where you plug your own jack lead in. In this way, it’s preferable to the Cherub as the lead can be a length and quality of your choosing.
Like the Cherub WCP, it considers your instrument’s body and uses protective cork around the clips to ensure there’s no damage to your instrument.
The KNA VV-1 offers a clear, warm and transparent tone which truly amplifies what’s already there. One drawback is, like the Cherub, there are no controls – so you’ll need to adjust volume, EQ and anything else on your amp. Another downside for some players will be that it needs to be attached via the bridge. This limits your tonal options and opportunities for experimenting with sounds.
It looks quite a lot better than the Cherub, but the ebony of the box where the output is plugged in won’t match all woods. This might cause an unwanted visual clash that you’d rather avoid.
Who is this suited to?
The KNA VV-1 will be perfect for those who are serious about starting to amplify their violins on stage but don’t want to spend a fortune.
– Clips on and off easily.
– Protective cork.
– Jack output rather than built-in lead.
– Has to be fitted to the bridge (limiting your options).
– There’s no volume control.
Barcus Berry 3100
The Barcus Berry 3100 is another budget-friendly piezo that works after it’s clipped on to the bridge and then connected to a jack output, although – unlike the KNA VV1 – this isn’t in a stylish, wooden casing. Rather, there’s a small, black case that holds the jack output socket.
It includes a ‘feedback rejection’ feature, ensuring a clear, isolated signal that’s true to your violin’s original sound. There’s also a wideband frequency response in the device, adding to the clarity and transparency of the sound.
Price-wise, it costs a little more than the KNA model, and quite a lot more than the Cherub. However, the clarity of sound is superior and it’s extremely easy to connect to your instrument. Removing it isn’t too difficult, either, as it’s clipped on with a no-tools-needed holder and the output jack is connected via a metal clip that fits easily onto the body of the violin.
Its looks are a little subtler than either of the other products, making it a good choice for those who are keen not to alter their instrument’s aesthetic. However, it isn’t the most invisible accessory out there.
Who is this suited to?
The Barcus Berry will suit those who are looking for something not too costly that will amplify decently and transparently, that can also be applied with little trouble. Like the other two budget models, there are no volume or EQ controls here, so it might not be suited to more advanced players who require immediate control over these settings.
– Easily fitted with no tools or drills needed.
– ‘Feedback rejection’ feature.
– Includes an output that you can plug your own jack into.
– Although it’s not as bulky as some of the others, it’s still a little intrusive.
– There are no volume or EQ controls.
The Band by Headway
The Band by Headway is an easy to use system that sounds great. It’s an instant, passive, magnetic pickup system that attaches using velcro around the body of the violin (as opposed to a clamp or mount). This enables it to pick up the full, natural sound of the instrument that’s very intuitive, with a large dynamic range.
As it’s passive, no batteries are required and the way it’s fastened means that no tools are necessary for attachment.
Obvious downfalls to the Headway system are the velcro fastening – which wears out over time – and the way it dominates the looks of the instrument. The Headway goes across the width of the instrument, with a logo on the front. The jack output is also on the top, so you’ll have a lead sticking out of the side of the instrument. This won’t bother everybody, but it’s far from subtle.
As far as the jack output goes, it’s a solid, metal output that you fits a standard, quarter-inch jack into. This is easier in many ways than an eighth jack output, when it comes to plugging into amps on stage.
Who is this suited to?
The good sound quality and dynamic capabilities make it appropriate for professional and semi-professional performers who want something that’s easy to put on and take off, to instantly amplify their instrument. Its bulkiness will make it unsuited to those who wish to keep their fiddle’s traditional aesthetic.
– Easy to apply and requires no tools or drilling.
– An intuitive sound that’s true to the instrument in all its dynamics.
– Passive and magnetic, so no batteries are required.
– It’s difficult to hide as it covers the width of the violin.
– There are no built-in volume controls.
‘The Feather’ by Myers Pickups
The Feather is different from any of the items we’ve looked at so far. It’s active, including a Lithium battery power that’s pre-installed and it’s lightweight and tiny.
This works like a small microphone that you clip on to your violin (or any other instrument such as a viola, or cello). The clip has a flexible goose-neck, so you’re able to position the microphone itself to the place that produces your preferable tone, then there’s a lead attaching to a little pre-amp that you goes in your pocket or clips on to your belt. This pre-amp has a volume knob, putting you in control of your output and allowing you to make small adjustments from the stage.
As it’s so small and subtle, it will barely affect your instrument’s aesthetic, making it perfect for purists or classical musicians who would like their look to remain unaltered.
Also remaining unaltered is your instrument’s sound. Where piezos sometimes harshen the tone or cause it to lose its natural qualities, The Feather works just like a high-quality microphone would: to amplify it faithfully.
Who is this suited to?
With its discreet looks, transparent tone and on stage controls, this instrument is perfect for the performing musician who requires a traditional look as well as sound. It’s pretty pricey, so won’t suit those who are looking for a cheap alternative to an electric violin.
– Discreet and light.
– Very transparent tone.
– Includes a pre-amp.
– Requires batteries.
– It’s pretty expensive.
The Mighty Mini is another option with easy installation. Unlike the others which use clips, this one simply threads lightly between the strings of your violin, below the bridge.
This passive pickup is a small black band, which is attached to an 11.5-foot cable. Although, as we’ve established, it can be preferable to have the option to insert your own cable, this does make it handy and saves you needing to worry about more than one thing.
There’s no messing around with the Mighty Mini and it amplifies the tone of your violin as transparently as possible. There’s a significant sensitivity to dynamics and its positioning means that it’s unlikely to get in the way.
Another benefit to the Mighty Mini is how it is extremely unlikely to damage your instrument. Piezos that stick on or even the ones that clip on can leave cosmetic damage. All that the Mighty Mini touches is your strings, so you can rest assured that the body won’t get altered.
Who is this suited to?
The Mighty Mini would make a great option for teachers who at times need to amplify different members of an ensemble. The ease of installation, lack of impact on the instrument and the way it’s an all-in-one device make it excellent for on-the-fly amplification. It doesn’t look wonderful, to be frank, so it might be less suited to solo performers who like their violin to look as well as sound beautiful on stage.
– All-in-one including jack lead.
– No battery required.
– Extremely easy to install, touching only the strings.
– Doesn’t look very nice – a black band beneath the bridge.
– The included jack lead might break.
This is a bridge pickup that looks very discreet and sounds great. The bridge has multi-directional sensors built in, which enable a natural sound that comes from your violin and nothing else. As it’s a bridge, you might need to get it fitted professionally, and even trimmed, but once it’s there, you can leave it be.
Linked up is a small jack output that can be clipped to the edge of your violin. This has protective cork casing to protect your instrument, but getting the jack in place will require soldering, which you might prefer to ask a professional to do.
This includes transducers which reject unwanted sounds such as finger noise and feedback, encouraging only the musical sounds you would like to project.
It’s a little pricey, but not as much as a high-quality electric violin would be, making it still a bargain for what you get. It’s the top choice of many professionals, especially in classical music due to its nonintrusive looks and sensitivity of sound.
Who is this suited to?
This is perfect for classical musicians who need to amplify themselves without feedback, and want something that’s permanently fitted. At this price, it won’t be appropriate for those who are looking for something as an alternative to getting an electric violin.
– Extremely subtle and can be permanently fitted.
– Has a natural sound whilst also eliminating feedback.
– Multi-directional sensors make the tone even truer.
– Takes a lot of setting up – you’ll probably need to get it fitted professionally.
– It’s a permanent bridge, which might not be something you wish to change.
Fishman V-200 Classic Series
The Fishman V-200 is another professional violin pickup, priced similarly to the Mighty Mini. Like the LR Baggs, this one also works at the bridge, although it can be clipped to your existing bridge.
It’s lightweight, so won’t muffle your tone and it’s pretty easy to install, requiring no drills, soldering irons or other tools. Like some of the more budget-friendly products, this professional option clips on to the side of your violin, providing a jack output that you can then connect to an amplifier.
It’s passive, so requires no batteries and can be either permanently fitted or attached and removed as and when suits you. Fishman recommends it’s used in combination with a pre-amp, to reach its full potential and give you more control over your output, though this isn’t required.
The design itself is pretty discreet, but the jack output is silver and quite striking. This might put off some musicians who are keen not to distort the aesthetic of their violins.
Who is this suited to?
The Fishman will suit violinists of all genres who require high quality, transparent tone that picks up from the bridge. It can’t be fitted elsewhere, so will not be well suited to those who wish to experiment with different positionings.
– Easy to install to the bridge.
– Has a jack output that you can plug your own lead into.
– Passive, so it requires no batteries.
– To get the most out of it, you’ll need a pre-amp, too.
– The jack output is quite bulky.
The Carpenter Jack (love the name!) is a small, active, all-in-one choice that’s versatile, easy to use and quick to install. It looks like a little black box, with a thin microphone attached and it’s very easy to forget it’s there whilst you’re not using it.
Like The Feather, it can be used on a variety of instruments and it also has a micro-goose neck which is adjustable so that the miniature microphone picks up from an angle that you think sounds best.
The Carpenter Jack’s pre-amp is clipped on to the edge of your violin along with the built-in jack output. This will need a battery to work but there is one included and pre-installed. It’s probably the most subtle, effective and easy to use pickup here, as, once it’s installed, all you can see is the small black box on the side of your instrument and a tiny microphone pointing wherever you choose to point it.
Sound-wise, expect a transparent, high-quality tone with no feedback. This is truly a fantastic device, with the only downside being that the micro-goose neck might be difficult to fit permanently into place.
Who is this suited to?
The Carpenter Jack will suit those who require a versatile, flexible source of amplification, that they can adjust themselves mid-performance. It will be less suited to those who need a ‘permanently-in-place’ one.
– Easy to install and to adjust.
– Nonintrusive to the design of the violin.
– Feedback-eliminating features.
– It might be difficult to fit the micro-goose permanently in place.
– It’s quite expensive.
If you’re on a budget, the Cherub WCP piezo will far from break the bank, whilst providing you with the ability to instantly amplify your instrument. The KNA VV-1 is also relatively inexpensive, whilst offering quality ebony fittings and a jack output that you can insert your own lead into. The Barcus Berry 3100 is similar, and whilst it doesn’t look as good as the KNA VV-1, it does offer internal equalization which shapes your sound into something less harsh than either of the other two.
More premium options take us to ‘The Band’ by Headway and ‘The Feather’. The Band is, as it sounds like, a band that goes across your violin, producing a magnetic pickup that is clear and responsive. The Feather is easier on the eye and works like a small microphone that you can adjust to a position that sounds perfect to you. The Carpenter Jack is very similar to this, though where The Feather’s pre-amp is clipped onto your person, the Carpenter Jack pre-amp is a part of the all-in-one device.
If you’re looking for something that’s super-easy to install, the Mighty Mini can be fitted in an instant by slipping it between your strings. This is a great option for teachers who need to quickly amplify one student, then another.
Those looking for a permanent device have the option of fitting the LR Baggs to their bridge. It has to be professionally fitted, but once it’s there, it will stay, making it an excellent choice for those who need consistency and quick setups for frequent performances. The Fishman is similar, though it can be fitted to your existing bridge. It’s temporary compared to the LR Baggs device, but tonally and functionally similar.
Whichever of these you decide to go for, we hope that it’s the start of an exciting, beautiful amplified time in your musical career. No longer must you struggle with screeching microphones, that simply can’t do your instrument justice.
Ged is Founder and Editor-in-chief at Zing Instruments. He’s a guitarist for London based gypsy jazz band ‘Django Mango’ and a lover of all things music. When he’s not ripping up and down the fretboard, he’s tinkering with his ’79 Campervan.