Electric violins have been around for almost a century. In the past decade the number of companies has skyrocketed while the price has dramatically decreased. To review each individual instrument would take a website of its own (maybe in the future) so for today we are going to look at two instruments that seem very similar on paper, but are actually quite different.
NS Designs was founded in 1990 by Ned Steinberger. All of the bowed instruments have a special tuning system. In the image on the top of the page you can see that there are no pegs. The ball ends of the strings are actually at the top of the instrument and then thread through the precision tuners that clamp the string into place. This allows for the instrument to feel very light by keeping much of weight off of the top of the instrument.
The most noticeable difference you might see is that the NS Design WAV retails around $600 and the NXT retails for around $1,200. With a price that is double the WAV it is hard to understand what would create such a large difference.
We took both violins apart to see if there was a difference in the wiring. On the left you can see the WAV and on the right is the NXT. You can see that the NXT has a third switch for the Arco/Pizzicato setting. At first glance is seems that there is not much difference between the two. On the NXT though there are four separate wires going to the bridge while the WAV only has one. The hardware itself seems to also be of better quality on the NXT. both the quality of the parts and the extra wires for the pickup are a major part of the tonal difference between the two instruments.
What everyone really wants is a demonstration of the two instruments. The video on the top of the page shows a comparison between the WAV and NXT with different tone settings, playing with Arco and Pizzicato, as well as the use of distortion/effects. The NXT without a doubt has a more "natural" tone to it. I have played multiple weddings with both of these instruments. While playing the WAV it is quite noticeable that the instrument is "electric." When the NXT was used I receive very surprised looks when guests see that it is not an acoustic violin after hearing it. The pizzicato switch seems to create a more natural effect by tapering off the sound in a way you would expect from an acoustic violin. Even with distortion there is an obvious warmth to the tone that is achieved without any extra tweaking of the amp.
What Should You Buy?
There are many companies out there and each one has multiple styles ranging from 4 to 7 strings, fretted/non-fretted, active/passive pickup, etc. This review is not to endorse one specific company. The best option is to find a store that carries them to try each one out. In the past three years I have gone through four different violins finding the best one for me. If you are just testing the waters or only will be using it for for electronic sounds the WAV, or anything in that price range from other companies should work nicely. If you are needing something that can also be used for a more natural sound the NXT is the way to go.
The next step is finding the right amp for your electric violin which opens up a whole new world of options.
My current set-up
After playing a Plug 'n Play, a Mark Wood Stingray, and a NS Design WAV electric violin I currently use a 5-string NS Design NXT. It has a natural sound quality that is great for gigging at weddings and the 5th string allows for more possibilities when improvising. Transitioning to a 5-string can be difficult if you are not used to it, but the arch on the NXT bridge is very well carved and was easy to adjust to. For effects and looping I use a Zoom G3X. It has a ton of built in options, it's simple to use, and it has a battery compartment that makes travel very easy. The amp I use most is a Fishman Loudbox Mini. The Loudbox is extremely portable but packs a big punch. Since the amp is made more for acoustic instruments it helps keep the natural tone to it. For those just starting out I would recommend the Peavey Vypyr line. Besides being very affordable, the Vypyr amps have all of the effects built right in and are super simple to use.
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