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An electric viola provides so much flexibility. Whether you’re an accomplished viola player or an absolute beginner, finding the best electric violas opens a world of possibilities.
They’re easy to amplify, and you can even practice in near silence by listening on headphones.
Though the market is far from flooded with violas, there are some great options from top brands. Read on to explore the top 6 electric viola models according to the editorial staff at Consordini. You can find an ideal model for you, whatever your budget and skill level.
Buying Guide – Choosing an Electric Viola
What are the criteria for choosing an electric viola that suits you? We’ve explored more below, to allow you to make the correct choice for your needs. There’s also some need-to-know information on the instrument, and some “hack” versions of the electric viola.
- Cost – We’d all love to work with an unlimited budget when it comes to buying an instrument, but unfortunately this is not an option for most of us. If you’re new to an instrument, it also doesn’t make a lot of sense to throw a lot of money at it before you have built up your skills. The cost will undoubtedly play a part.
There is an element of getting what you pay for. If you want an elite, professional electric viola like the NS Design CR4, be prepared to shell out thousands of dollars.
Fortunately, there are some cheaper options that can do a good job for beginners. The Stagg S-Shaped Electric Viola Outfit is a great way to get everything you need, including accessories, without having to spend a fortune on it. Viola isn’t a cheap instrument when compared to other string instruments. Even violins tend to be cheaper, but budget electric viola brands like Stagg ensure you can get started.
- Sound – Obviously, the sound is going to play a huge part in your decision to buy an electric viola. Nobody wants an instrument that doesn’t sound good. How do you decide on the sort of sound you want?
- Tonewood – The tonewood (or tonewood alternative) definitely plays a big part in how the viola sounds. If you still want a hint of acoustic sweetness in your sound, you will want to opt for a viola with a tonewood that could just as easily be used on an acoustic instrument. An example of this is the Bridge Tasman Electro Acoustic Viola, which uses maple, giving a sweet and traditional tone.
The Glasser Carbon Composite is on the opposite end of the spectrum. It’s a reliable instrument and great for adding effects to, but it is not the most traditional in terms of its sound. Carbon composite is used instead of a tonewood, and some resonance may be lost as a result. The tone of this instrument is still clear, it just may not have the traditional edge.
- Electronics – It’s vital that the pickups and electronic systems within these instruments are up to scratch. An active electronics system is likely to do a better job of carrying the sound. Many violas will have piezo pickups, which can stay out of sight, but also provide a faithful replication of the sound, ready to be fed through an EQ and amplifier.
- Portability – One of the additional benefits of the electric viola is the fact that it is more portable. You don’t need the full-size of an acoustic viola to generate the resonance and tone. Some people value portability more than others. If you’re only ever going to play it at home, then it might not be much of an issue.
People who are constantly taking their instrument to gigs or lessons may value the extra portability offered by smaller violas. The Yamaha SVV200 Silent Viola is a great example. It’s compact and lightweight, but doesn’t sacrifice the viola tone. It’s also rugged and well-built, so the smaller size doesn’t mean it is easy to damage at all.
Yamaha SVV200 Silent Viola – Best Overall
Yamaha produces virtually every instrument in the world. You can always rely on them for a level of quality and reliability when it comes to classical instruments. The Yamaha SVV200 Silent Viola is no different, and though it requires a fairly big investment, this is a truly professional instrument.
The incredible electronics make this a great choice for the pros, and it means you can use the viola in the studio or on-stage and not have to worry about the sound letting you down. Quality piezo pickups are supported by noise-free circuitry.
As you’d expect, it has the full scale of a viola, at 16”. Whether you’re taking up the instrument from scratch or you are moving over from violin, you’ll find the wooden frame to feel natural and easy to use. It also has the ability to work with virtually any chin rest.
As with many of the products on this list, the fact that it is electric means that you can control the EQ. This means you can fit the sound to the room or the quartet you’re playing with. Yamaha has made a specific circuit that can isolate the harmonics and create a richer tone.
With this model, you have all the benefits of an electric viola, and the ability to play professionally, but also the option to play at a greatly reduced volume for solo practice.
- Exceptional electronics and EQ system
- Natural wooden body.
- Professional sound.
Stagg S-Shaped Electric Viola Outfit – Best for Beginners
If you’re buying your first ever viola, you probably don’t want to spend a huge amount of money. You might be unsure of whether you’re going to stick to the hobby. That said, you still need to make sure that you get all of the equipment you need. The best solution could be the Stagg S-Shaped Electric Viola. As well as a reliable instrument for beginners, you also get the accessories you need to get started.
Traditionalists will find the look and feel of this model a little confusing. It’s definitely not similar to most violas you see on the market. The S-shaped design is particularly unusual. However, the tone is pretty reliable, and you can still learn all of the skills you need. The front of the viola has your control panel, where you can alter the EQ and output of the instrument. There are multiple headphone jacks and even an MP3 input via a 3.5mm jack input. This means you can practice with your favorite songs.
This is an outfit rather than just the instrument alone, so it comes with the accessories you need. This means you get a bow, rosin, case, and even some headphones for privately practicing. On top of all this, there is a convenient carry case, so it’s perfect for taking to lessons or performances.
- Comes with everything a beginner needs to get started
- Quality case included to protect the instrument
- Easy to amplify and connect to headphones
- Not an elite sound quality
- The S-Shape design is hard to get used to
Glasser Carbon Composite Acoustic Electric Viola – Best Durable Viola
The Glasser Carbon Composite model is a sign of just how much innovation has taken place in the industry in recent years. The body is long-lasting and designed to be light and easy to transport. On top of that, it has some real distinct advantages over wood. It doesn’t matter so much if it gets wet, and it isn’t as susceptible to issues such as warping in temperature changes.
That durability has meant that Glasser’s viola has become a hit with touring musicians. You don’t have to worry so much about the rigors of touring and transporting your instrument, this carbon composite can put up with virtually anything.
All of this doesn’t account for the most important thing; the sound. Luckily, the Glasser violin does a brilliant job of sounding authentic when played acoustically or plugged into an electric system like an amp or PA.
The instrument is also available in a variety of different sizes, so you can pick the ideal one for your age and build. There is a Glasser bow and backpack case included. The instrument also has responsive Larsen viola strings.
Once again, this instrument is a bit of a departure for those who are used to playing an acoustic or traditional viola, but it comes with the benefit of being incredibly durable.
- Durable and hard-wearing
- Sounds fantastic in spite of unusual materials
- Comes with a bow, case, and other accessories
- Not a traditional viola sound or feel
NS Design CR4-VA-QM Quilted Maple Viola – Best Sound
NS Designs have multiple Violas in our list of the best electric violas. This model is one of the more expensive products to come from Ned Steinberger’s fascinating brand.
The tone of the instrument is something that really impresses the majority of musicians. Just because of the fact that this isn’t the most “traditional” of instruments, doesn’t mean it can’t sound great. The incredible hand-made design, manufactured in the Czech Republic, and combined with the highest-quality electronics, means that this instrument has a real warmth to it.
You can also control the tone, with a switch to allow you to switch between a pizzicato sound, a bowed sound, or both. This is a way to alter your playing based on style. You also get the control over EQ that allows you to ensure your instrument sounds its best and cuts through when played with other instruments.
On top of the great sound and control, it has an adjustable chin rest and shoulder pad, so it is extremely comfortable. You can also remove the upper bout if you want, which makes it easier to shift to higher playing positions.
- Incredible sound and craftsmanship
- Five-year warranty on all NS Design instruments
- Comes with headphones and bow
- Very expensive
“Make” an Electric Viola
These methods are worth discussing. A viola is quite a specialist instrument. Structurally, they are very similar to violins and some other stringed instruments, which opens up some possibilities when it comes to learning how to play.
Restringing an Electric Violin – A Beginner Option
The violin is more popular than the viola, especially among beginners. There are some options that allow you to use this to your advantage. There are many more budget options for aspiring violin players, and some of the electric violins on the market are under $200.
Because a viola isn’t so vastly different, it is possible to change the strings to viola strings and end up with a pretty good approximation. The instrument won’t be perfect, and we don’t recommend doing this to a $1,000 violin, but it is fine for cheaper beginner models. It’s a good way to start to learn on a budget.
For those who don’t know, the viola is only different from the violin in some subtle ways. A viola is normally a larger instrument of around 16 inches, whereas violins are 13-14 inches. It’s also tuned slightly lower, which is why you need to replace the strings if you plan to use a violin to learn how to play viola.
Adding a Pickup to a Viola
Another option for those who want electronic functionality from their viola is to add a pickup yourself. A pickup is the key part of the electronic components of any electric instrument. The best electric violas will come with these pickups already installed, but they can also be retrofitted.
Pickups attach in a variety of different ways, but many modern options don’t require any physical changes to a viola. The KNA VV2 installs on the bridge, and it is detachable. It also works just as well for violin or for viola.
If you already have a viola, or you want to consider buying an acoustic model to turn into an electric, then a pickup can be an incredibly simple and straightforward solution.
Summary – Choosing Your Electric Viola
Although there aren’t hundreds of electric violas to choose between, you can find the ideal option for a beginner, intermediate player, or a professional on our list of top electric violas.
It’s also crucial that you learn a little about pickups, and the viola as an instrument, to help you to fully understand other options, such as adding a pickup to an acoustic instrument to get the same results. Make sure you take the right approach for your own needs.
How Do I Know What Size Viola to Buy?
For a large adult, a 16” or 16.5” viola will probably be the most comfortable size. Average or smaller adults may find that a 15.5” model suits their build better. Small adults and teens may opt for 15” or even below. For a child, you can get models as small as 12” but it is vital that you consider the age and build of who you are buying for. It is a good idea to try out a viola for size if you are unsure what feels comfortable.
Are Violas More Expensive than Violins?
In general, violas are more expensive than violins. This is true of both the electric varieties and historic, acoustic instruments. Violas are rare when compared to violins, and this scarcity drives up prices.
Can Violinists Play Viola?
Though the tunings are different, the technique of bowing both violin and viola instruments is very similar. A lot of violinists are able to switch to the viola and vice versa. Once you learn the foundation of technique, it becomes much easier to change between the instruments, with only subtle alterations for the size and tuning to get used to.