Choosing a Violin (or Viola or Cello) Amp

Choosing a Violin (or Viola or Cello) Amp - Electric Violin Shop

So you've chosen your perfect instrument, but did you leave room in your budget for a good sounding amp?! One of the questions we're most frequently asked is, "what's the best amp for violin?" As you'll see in this video, the answer totally depends on:

  • Price
  • Size / Weight / Power
  • Voicing
  • Input channels (number and type)
  • Onboard effects
  • Battery power
  • Input impedance
  • Outputs

>> Shop Amps


What you spend on an amp depends in part on what it's for--just for home practice, to provide sound for coffee house gigs, to monitor on stage with a loud band, etc.--but you don't have to spend a fortune necessarily. There are many great sounding amps under $500. Amps over $500 either tend to be very hi-fidelity specialty amps designed especially for acoustic or bowed stringed instruments and/or have very specific feature sets you may or may not need.

What you don't want to do, however, is spend $1,950 of a $2,000 budget on a really nice instrument and then plug it into a $50 amplifier. No matter how good that instrument is capable of sounding, it will only end up sounding as good as the $50 amp!

First time electric players who won't be playing outside the home (yet) can save money by getting a small 5 or 10 watt practice amp, but we always recommend upgrading to at least the Kustom Sienna acoustic amp line for a better playing experience.

Most shoppers will find a happy medium somewhere between the BOSS Katana 50 MkII amp (12-inch speaker and tons of onboard effects), the Fishman Loudbox Mini (one of our all-time best sellers, which sounds great with almost any electric or acoustic-electric violin) and the Fishman Loudbox Artist (professional quality acoustic amp with 2 channels and plenty of nice features).

Size & Weight

Historically in the guitar world, bigger has always meant better. Not necessarily so for violinists. Many amp manufacturers are getting more and more clever with how to design smaller, more portable amps without sacrificing much tone quality and power. The limiting factor is mostly speaker size. Now, it's true you'll get better bass frequency response and more air displacement (i.e. volume) from an amp cabinet with a larger speaker or speakers, but giant 2x12 (or larger) cabinets can weigh upwards of 100 pounds and may not fit in your car!

If you play with a touring heavy metal band that has guitars, drums and bass and plays auditoriums and arenas, you may need a Marshall stack, but if that's your circumstance there's a good chance you have a truck and roadies to haul your gear for you. Most string players aren't in this situation and can get by with something much more practical. Almost all of the amps we carry fit into the dual category of sounds-great-with-violin and is-relatively-small. Among our small-to-moderate-sized amp options for performers we recommend the biggest speaker(s) and most power that fit into your budget. Some of our amps have D.I. output so you can monitor with them on stage and send their signal to a soundboard for house sound so that you don't need such a big cabinet to produce sound for the audience. Even amps without D.I. output can be mic'd up and sent to the board for sound.


How many watts do you need? It depends on the size of the room you need your sound to fill and how loud the other sounds you're competing with are. Volume increase with wattage is not linear though. For example, a 100 watt amp isn't twice as loud as a 50 watt amp, but instead just 20-30% louder. Wattage, while contributing to volume, is also the contributing factor in "headroom" or how much signal you can pass through the amp before the sound starts to break up. For this reason many rock guitarists actually like small wattage amps because they're easier to break up to create distortion. Bowed strings tend to perform better through cleaner voiced acoustic amps, and if you want to add distortion it can be done with an effects chain.

Also keep in mind that volume decreases over distance, which is why sound at a rock show is at a comfortable volume level in the back row but deafening near the main speakers up front. The amps we carry will tend to provide enough sound to fill smaller venues. For medium to larger sized venues we recommend not necessarily a bigger, more powerful amp, but to use your amp's output through a PA system, which gives you more control over tone and balance than just pumping more sound directly.

50 to 100 watts will satisfy the general amplification needs of most string players. Some specialty amps, such as those by Acoustic Image, can have up to 600 watts, which allows more headroom and, along with their precision speakers gives an extremely clean tone. Amps under 30 watts are best used in practice settings as they aren't very loud beyond several feet and may have unwanted breakup with too much signal (from double stops) or gain.

Input Channels

What do you need to connect to your amp? Are you just playing your violin and nothing else? Then 1-channel is probably all you need. Do you play *and* sing? If so, you should consider a 2-channel amp with separate instrument and microphone inputs. Some amps feature hybrid jacks that allow you to plug either a line level instrument or an XLR microphone input into the same jack, adding to its flexibility. Each channel may have its own gain, EQ and effects. Some specialty amps even have 3 or 4 channels acting as a mixer/PA. If you need beyond a couple of channels for all of your instrument and mic inputs then you should probably consider getting a mixer and a personal PA, such as the Bose L1 or Fishman SA systems.

Another nice feature for both home practice and solo performance is an auxiliary input, usually labeled AUX IN, which is often a stereo 1/8 inch plug for connecting your phone, laptop or MP3 player and playing along with tracks through the amp. Many practice amps have this feature but not all performance class amps do.

Onboard effects

As stated above, our catalog mostly features acoustic instrument amps, and many of these amps do contain effects but they are typically geared towards making an acoustic instrument sound more acoustic, i.e. reverb, delay, chorus, etc. Some amplifiers to contain a more full suite of effects options, including even distortion and modulation effects. In the practice amp class, the Yamaha THR10 has nice onboard effects options and amp models. The BOSS Katana series amps have not only access to a suite effects (of which up to three can be combined at once through the panel) but can connect to BOSS Tone Studio software where you can create complex effects tones and save them to the amp's channels for quick recall during performance.

Do you *need* battery power?

Unless you're specifically busking (street performing) then chances are you don't *need* or want a battery powered amp. Batteries add weight and expense, but can be very useful to players who supplement their income on street corners or in the subway. Some battery-powered amps like the Fishman Loudbox Mini Charge and the Bose S1 Pro can run off an included rechargeable battery system. Other smaller amps such as the Roland Mobile Cube and Yamaha THR-series can run off small store-bought batteries, which can become expensive and may not last long.

Input Impedance & Amp Voicing

Impedance is a measure of the resistance in a circuit and most electric string instruments, especially those with piezoelectric pickups, which would be a vast majority of them, have very high impedance when compared to instruments from the electric guitar family. Therefore, when you plug an electric violin into an amp that is designed for electric guitar you may get a very undesirable result, such as thin, tinny, overly bright sound. Similarly, guitars produce a more mid-range signal that is complimented well by amps that are voiced to sound brighter. Violins and other string instruments tend to sound bright on their own, and when you play them through a brightly voiced guitar amp the sound can be like nails on a chalkboard.

It's for these reasons that we recommend acoustic instrument amps, or amps that contain an acoustic amp model and EQ, such as the BOSS Katana series. Acoustic amps are designed to accept hi-Z (high impedance) inputs and are typically more neutrally voiced, allowing the characteristic sound of string instruments to shine without being obnoxious.

If you already have an electric guitar amp or want to use one for some reason, consider at least investing in a quality preamp that will lower your violin's impedance and, ideally, provide some EQ to help you match tone to the amp.


We've covered all the ways you can plug into different amps. What signal you can run out of an amp can also be useful. Under 'Size & Weight' above we discussed how some amps have a D.I. output. This is what lets you inject the tonal properties you've set on the amp into a sound board. With the D.I. feature you can hear your tone and monitor your sound on stage from your amp and also know that what you're hearing is the very tone you've fed to the board for the PA speakers.

Another nice output to have on an amp is a USB out, which lets you connect to Digital Audio Workstation software on your computer for recording.

We hope this gives you a better idea of how to compare and choose between the amps you find in our catalog or at a guitar store. As always, if you need further help or our expert, personalized recommendation, don't hesitate to call us during business hours at 919-806-3311 or write to us anytime at

Older Post Back to Research Newer Post

Leave a comment