If you are a violin player who wants to record or amplify their playing then it is worth considering the merits of one of the best violin pickups. These products amplify your playing and allow it to easily be hooked up to a PA system or amp. Pickups are the same technology that makes an electric guitar easy to amplify, but they can be added to acoustic instruments too.
As technology continues to become more important for music and musicians, violin pickups are becoming more of a mainstream product. If you’d have shown someone playing a violin a pickup 100 years ago they would have been confused by the technology, but now, it is a way to make life easier.
In a hurry? Here are our top picks..
What Does a Violin Pickup Do?
A violin pickup senses the vibrations of the instrument and turns them into a signal that can then be amplified. An electric guitar is a good example of a pickup on a stringed instrument. With this electrical signal from the violin, you can easily either amplify the signal through an instrument amp, or connect to a mixing desk. It also opens up options for recording as you can connect the signal to an audio interface. You can even add effects and manipulate the audio signal in other ways if needed. 10 or 20 years ago, recording your violin playing in your bedroom would have been very difficult, but it is very much a possibility now.
There are a lot of other factors that go into the sound, such as the type of pickup and where it is placed. We will cover more in this guide as we review some of the very best violin pickups.
Electric Violins vs Acoustic
If you are buying a new violin then you might have noticed the fact that there are a lot of different models out there for those who want an electric instrument. The convenience of an electric violin is undeniable, but it is not the most traditional way of learning the instrument and you might be drawn to an acoustic model.
By adding a pickup to your acoustic violin, you are effectively turning it into an acoustic-electric model, giving yourself the choice of whether you want to amplify the signal or whether you play the violin as is, and rely on its projection.
You can buy specific acoustic-electric models which give you bot options. Effectively, these are just acoustic models with the electronics inbuilt already. If you have a violin already, though, you can fit a pickup to convert it.
Permanent vs Removable
You may think that the decision on whether you want to get a permanent or removable violin as a very basic buying decision, but there may be more to consider than you thought. A lot of the removable models are preferred because they are so easy to install, you can probably do this even if you aren’t the most tech-savvy violin player, especially if there are clear instructions. Permanent installations might be a slightly bigger job, and you may need a professional to do this, especially if you aren’t the best at making alterations to your instrument, you shouldn’t try! This can result in permanent damage.
A violin with pickup included is definitely a good idea if you are going to always be using it in an amplified way, otherwise there is a strong argument that using a pickup that can be removed is a good option.
A lot of the removable options do a perfectly good job, but they often get clipped onto the instrument and require a lot of care when doing so. You don’t want to scratch or stain your instrument by constantly clipping and unclipping a pickup on it. A professional violin pickup will normally be a permanent model.
Types of Pickup for Violin
There are multiple styles of pickup for your violin, as well as numerous places you can install the violin pickup. You should try to fully understand these before making an installation.
The kinds of violin pickups include bridge, magnetic, micro-goose, and piezo pickups. Piezo is by far the most popular.
Piezo models can be available relatively cheaply, and they do a good job for the money. If you buy a cheaper pickup it will probably be of the piezo style but they are still a good option nonetheless. It’s a brighter sound, which picks up a lot of the higher frequencies, which some people say is a bit too sharp, but the beauty of this is that you can correct it with EQ. If you want to negate this higher sound, then a piezo being closer to the f-hole will probably help you to get a deeper tone.
Magnetic pickups are popular too, but they can give a bit more of a warm tone and also allow you to express volume more, as they pick up the nuance of quieter and louder playing. Though they’re pricey, they are preferred by some professional violin players.
Micro-goose models are effectively small mics that allow you to control the positions and the sound. They’re very good for flexibility, but not consistency, as you can’t always get it in the same position twice.
Bridge – you can get a full bridge that is to be installed on your violin, or you can get models that clamp on bridge models and convert them by using transducers. They aren’t very visible so they’re good for a subtle look, but be warned, if you want quality from a bridge of this style you are going to have to part with a fair bit of cash.
Active or Passive
If you know much about guitars and their pickups you will know that this is often a big decision for guitarists. Choosing between active or passive pickups for guitarists sometimes has a big impact on the tone of the instrument. Sometimes, metal guitarists or those who want a big and chunky sound will go for a certain style of active pickup.
Passive means they don’t need power to work, whereas active do. The active pickups may produce higher sound quality, and they effectively work as a little pre-amp in themselves. Obviously you have the downside of having to think about the battery, and run the risk of it running out. You can get active or passive in piezo pickup designs or pretty much any other styles of pickup!
Price and Other Considerations
As you can see there is a lot to think about when you are buying your pickup, and we hope that the guide above will have helped you to make your choices based on some of the terminology and spec of the top violin pickups, whether you want to equip your violin piezo pickup or you are looking at some of the other models.
You should match up your violin pickup price with the value of your violin. It’s great to get the very best quality out there, but if you don’t have an amazing, professional violin then there is no point in spending hundreds and hundreds of dollars on a violin pickup. On the flip side of this, if you have an excellent violin, you aren’t going to get the most out of the violin if you buy a cheap pickup that doesn’t offer this level of quality. There is a balance to be struck.
For a good quality pickup, violin players are probably going to have to spend around $100 or more. This is not unusual for buying any sort of music tech equipment. However, there are some very cheap transducers out there. In fact, you can buy pickups and contact mics that cost around $10-20. These are fine for practice, but they probably won’t do a very good job when it comes to making recordings or even playing live.
Violin Pickup Reviews
1. Barcus Berry 3100 Clamp-On Bridge Violin Piezo Pickup – Best Overall
The Barcus Berry 3100 is one of the best-known models out there, it offers plenty of quality and the piezo design may be pretty standard, but this doesn’t mean that it isn’t worth considering as an option. The pickup has a fantastic frequency response with a well-rounded tone. Some of the piezo pickups out there have been criticized for being a bit too “bright” in their tone, but this does a good job of having a balanced sound with the mid and low frequencies thrown in.
The Barcus Berry is also very flexible, which is one of the reasons we love the pickup. You can attach and remove it really easily, and you won’t leave any marks on the violin. It clamps on the bridge which makes it very popular for those who are worried about their instrument. It is connected via a 1/4 inch output jack and you can simply and easily attach this to other audio equipment. It couldn’t be much more easy to install.
There’s also a cleverly added function – feedback rejection. This makes it harder to end up in a feedback loop and create the annoying sound that might sound okay as an effect on your guitar, but sounds awful on a violin.
- Protects the instrument very well with no marks left on the violin.
- Easy to install, clamps onto the bridge.
- Well-rounded tone.
- Not very discreet – you can see it on the front of your violin.
It’s a bit of an annoyance that this is so visible on the front of your violin, but if this doesn’t matter to you then it is hard to argue with the Barcus Berry 3100 as being one of the very best violin pickups you can buy, with a rounded-tone. If you are the sort of person who doesn’t know a great deal about modifying your instrument this could also be a very good option. You don’t have to be a luthier to get this working on your bridge.
2. AKG Pro Audio C411 PP High-Performance Miniature Condenser – Best Contact Mic Pickup
This is one of the ways you can effectively amplify your violin – rather than a piezo pickup you can use this style of miniature microphone. AKG is an absolute powerhouse of a brand when it comes to microphones and the C411 PP is an amazing model that can clamp on your violin and give you an incredible tone. If the sound quality is your number one priority then consider something like this.
The microphone comes in a very small and lightweight enclosure, which means that it doesn’t change the feel of your instrument as you will barely know it is there. Because it is so small and flexible you can install this model on the violin in any way you wish, and experiment for the best sound. You can also take it off and use it for other string instruments.
The transducer has a condenser design and this makes it very good for picking up detail. The figure of eight polar pattern also means that it picks up detail from both the left and the right for a rounded tone of your instrument.
- Excellent level of detail.
- Incredibly small casing which is easy to fit on your violin.
- Has an XLR output rather than a standard 1/4 inch jack. This is awkward for some amps.
- Requires power due to the condenser design.
This might be a better option for recording than playing live due to the fact that it has an XLR design, but nonetheless, the amazing audio of the AKG C411 makes it worthy of consideration for a pro musician.
3. LR Baggs Violin Pickup with External Jack Mount – Best Discreet Option
If you are looking for very high quality then this model could be a good choice for you, but it is worth mentioning that not just anyone can install this. We recommend a luthier being given the task, as it will need to be trimmed and altered to size. This is a bridge-style design, so you are effectively replacing the bridge of your instrument with this pickup. Not easy to install, but great for sound.
Because of the bridge design it is very discreet on your violin, and people won’t even notice that it is there in the majority of situations. That said, the trimming to size and soldering really is a job for the pros.
In terms of the sound, it has a brilliant, multi-directional design so it can pick up sound from all around the instrument and give you a well-rounded violin sound. The transducers are also designed to reject the feedback you might experience so that you only pick up the sound of the violin itself, and your beautiful playing, of course. There’s a professional feel to this, and it is great for established players who don’t want to switch to an electric violin.
- Permanent design. Sits brilliantly on your violin at the bridge.
- Discreet and subtle.
- Rejects feedback.
- Well-rounded tone from multiple directions.
- Very expensive compared to some other models.
- Needs to be professionally fitted.
The LR Baggs is not the sort of thing you can just slap on your violin and be ready to play in a heartbeat. However, if you are a pro musician and you often find yourself needing to amplify to a professional standard, this professional violin pickup could be the one for you, with a great sound and subtle design.
4. KNA VV-1 Violin/Viola Pickup – Best Value
The VV 1 has a bit of a chunkier design when compared to some of the other violin pickups on the market, but it still looks pretty classy, so you shouldn’t be too concerned about this. For those who need something that offers plenty of sound quality but still doesn’t break the bank, this is arguably one of the very best options.
It’s designed to provide a natural, untainted sound. When the signal reaches an amp or PA system it sounds pretty reliably like your acoustic violin, without being impaired by the pickup. The sensor itself has casing, which is really easy to install within the eye of the bridge, but this does look more obvious than any of the other models on this list. That said, it is detachable, and simpler than the majority of other violin pickups to unclip from your instrument, so you can use it elsewhere if needed. Plus, you don’t have to have it installed if you don’t want to. Say, you’re only planning on playing an acoustic set.
It connects to a standard 1/4 inch jack and gives you a simple setup for playing your instrument through an amp or PA.
- Easy to install.
- Well-rounded sound so you don’t have to worry about the violin tone being tainted.
- Good value for money. This is cheaper than some other models.
- Not very discreet.
This model is proof that you really don’t have to spend a fortune to get a decent violin pickup. In some places, it can be picked up for under $100, which is far cheaper than the pro models on the list that can be up to $200 or more. It may not be quite as professional as some of the other options we’ve included on the list, but the VV-1 has a lot to like nonetheless. If your violin isn’t worth a lot of money, there’s no point spending hundreds and hundreds trying to get the right piezo pickup!
As you can see from our list, there are a few really important decisions you will need to make before you take the plunge, such as how much you wish to spend on your violin pickup, how discreet you want the design to be, and whether you are going to install the pickup yourself or get a luthier to do it for you. You can go for a really cheap option, but the chances are that the sound will be poor quality, and won’t do your beautiful violin justice. The four products on this list all give something slightly different, and any one of them could be the right violin pickup for you.