By Greg Cahill | From the November-December 2022 issue of Strings magazine
Tis the season to celebrate the plugged-in string player in your life—the owner of an electric violin, viola, cello, or bass. Or the player of an acoustic instrument set up with a microphone or pickup. Of course, all string players—plugged-in or not—share certain needs and desires: music stands, sheet music, iPads, rosin, instrument cases, gig bags, and so on. Which is not to say that most players wouldn’t love to wake up on a holiday morning to a shiny new electric instrument by NS Design, Yamaha, Bridge, Jordan, ZETA, Glasser, Realist, Barcus-Berry, Eastman, 3Dvarius, Aura, Fourness, Aurora, or Wood, to name a few. And, of course, cash and gift cards are always welcome. Here are a few suggestions to get you started.
- Go with the Glow
- Now Hear This!
- Play That Tune (in Tune)
- Make a Connection
- Play It Again, Sam
- Say Goodbye to Cables
- Briefly Speaking
- Case Study
- Crank It to 11!
- Stand & Deliver
- Plug & Play
- Keep It Real
- It Might Get Loud
- Silent Night
- Good Things, Small Packages
- Shining Star
Go with the Glow
Johnson String Instruments’ website has an entire section devoted to gifts for string players. Stocking stuffers include Rockin’ Rosin, little cakes shaped like cats or dogs (or butterflies), and Magic Rosin’s glow-in-the-dark rosin emblazoned with a Bach manuscript or other fanciful designs. Or perhaps you know someone who would appreciate a playfully decorated SmartStop cello stop, maybe something in an antiqued copper color or sporting playful pink hearts. $11.95–$22.95
Now Hear This!
Musicians know good sound, so consider an annual gift subscription to a high-resolution streaming service. Tidal ($9.99–$19.99 a month) and Qobuz ($14.99 a month) offer CD-or-better quality audio beamed over Bluetooth or AirPlay. What better way to groove to such electric-violin heroes as Don “Sugarcane” Harris, Jean-Luc Ponty, Lindsey Stirling, or the Trans-Siberian Orchestra?
Play That Tune (in Tune)
The D’Addario Micro Violin Tuner is an unobtrusive battery-operated device. Features includea non-marring, lever-lock clamp that holds the tuner securely to the instrument while allowing easy application and removal; a built-in piezo transducer that picks up an instrument’s vibration rather than sound; a tri-color reversible backlit LCD screen that makes it easy to tune in dark environments; and a wide calibration range (410Hz to 480Hz) applicable to both violins and violas. $24.99
Make a Connection
D’Addario’s tweed-patterned braided instrument cables are quite stylish, but they’re also durable, featuring a coaxial oxygen-free copper conductor with two layers of impenetrable noise-rejecting shielding formulated for low capacitance. The lower cable-capacitance allows an instrument’s brilliance, presence, and character to be transmitted with the utmost transparency. Additionally, the nylon braiding protects the cable against abrasions, cuts, and kinking. And they look sharp. $43.99 (20-foot)
Play It Again, Sam
The Ditto Looper by TC Electronic is a pocket-sized pedal (it weighs just .17 lbs) that allows a player to record up to a five-minute loop, onstage or in the studio. It has a single control knob and a stomp switch and can produce a layered sound with ease (a USB port is included for software updates). There are bigger, more complex looping stations available, such as the Ditto Looper 2 or the BOSS RC-5 Loop Station, but the Ditto is one of the most intuitive units on the market. AC adaptor required. $89
Say Goodbye to Cables
The Fiddlerman FWS-10 wireless instrument transmitter and receiver system liberates electric violinists from the confines of their instrument cables. The system is designed to allow for fast and dependable audio transmission between an electric violin or pickup and an amplifier, without any tone loss. Includes re-chargeable batteries (a charge lasts over five hours) and a standard USB cable. Great for strolling fiddlers. $118
The camo-design Performance Trolley Pocket briefcase from BAM Cases is the perfect place to stash stuff: sheet music, iPad, smart phone, whatever. It’s smart. It’s stylish. It’s soft. It’s sturdy. And it’s got urban attitude. $122
The Pedi Double Bow Case for violin, viola, or cello is a stylish, yet practical, accessory for bowed string musicians.This durable, black leather-bound case from Pedi includes a shoulder strap and twin padded compartments to protect two violin, viola, or cello bows, on-the-go or at home. $130
Crank It to 11!
Leave it to Mark Wood—the rock violinist, educator, and manufacturer—to design a practice amp with a gain knob that goes to 11 (a nod to the heavy-metal parody movie Spinal Tap). Wood Violins WVA10D 1×7 violin amplifier is a small unit that packs a punch. The 10-watt, two-channel amp has a sturdy metal speaker grill, seven-inch speaker, headphone output, tone controls, and special effects (distortion and delay). $179
Stand & Deliver
StringWorks offers a handsomely crafted handmade wood tripod stand for a violin, viola, or cello. It’s available in solid walnut or cherry wood, with a hand-rubbed satin finish. The stand supports are leather lined to protect the instrument and its varnish. Available with an optional bow hook. Made in Wisconsin. $210 (violin, viola); $365 (cello)
Plug & Play
The L.R. Baggs violin pickup is a no nonsense way to transform an acoustic violin into an electric powerhouse. This tiny transducer with multi-directional sensors is built into a 4/4-size maple Despiau Superior bridge blank and will effortlessly capture an instrument’s inherent dynamics. It includes a specially housed, clamp-on 1-inch output jack and instructions, and requires professional installation. A preamp is required (a good candidate is the L.R. Baggs Para Acoustic DI Preamp). $169 (pickup, bridge, and jack only).
Keep It Real
The Realist pickup for acoustic upright bass, designed by Ned Steinberger in association with bass luthier David Gage, is a small wonder. The flexible element fits under the bridge foot, picking up sound from both the bridge and top plate to produce a rich, powerful response that is acoustically true for both pizzicato and arco without adjusting controls. No preamp or other battery-powered amplification is required. Uses a ¼-inch instrument cable (not included). $219
It Might Get Loud
The Fishman Loudbox Mini BT Amplifier is a lightweight, portable, feature-packed solid-state amp.The Bluetooth-compatible Mini packs 60 watts of clean acoustic power and has two channels, a three-band EQ, and tone control. The amp also features digital reverb and chorus effects for the instrument channel and reverb for the microphone channel. The Loudbox Mini sports an MP3 input and balanced XLR D.I. output. Suitable for practice, rehearsals, stage, or street (ideal for busking). $369.95
The Yamaha Silent Series YSV104 electric violin is a versatile, lightweight instrument that incorporates a control box and allows a violinist to practice through headphones (perfect for apartment dwellers or those not wishing to disturb family members or roommates). An Aux In jack lets the violinist play along with recorded tracks (this model is not made to be amplified, though the classic Yamaha SV-200—$1,499—is built to be amplified and can be used in practice or in concert). The YSV104 has a spruce body, maple neck, composite fingerboard, and piezo pickup system. $846.99 (Yamaha HPH-50B headphones sold separately, $34.99)
Good Things, Small Packages
The DPA Microphones d:vote Core 4099 is a diminutive supercardioid condenser microphone that clips to an acoustic stringed instrument atop a flexible gooseneck. It is adaptable for violin, viola, cello, bass, or any other instrument that suits your fancy. It’s easy to mount. The Core 4099 features an enhanced shock-mount design, providing excellent isolation from handling noise and rumble. The 4099 is designed to produce a clean, natural sound. $620
The CodaBow Diamond GX delivers a warm, robust tone. Says CodaBow:“It facilitates a wide variety of techniques, playing quick, articulated strokes as effortlessly as even, resonant long tones. The GX blends naturally in ensembles or projects richly for soloists.” Features include a blended natural-and-Kevlar acoustic core (including Kevlar, carbon, and natural fibers) infused under high-pressure to achieve impressive timbre, overtones, and range. $895