Electric Viola project idea

I have lots of evil creative ideas creeping around inside my head.
One of which bubbled to the surface as I was watching a strings performance last weekend.
My son plays viola, I have a cheap viola I bought for myself before he was born to replace one which turned out to be stolen (Damn You Cash Converters!).
He has never liked the sound of this one and having heard good violas I tend to agree.
I was thinking about adding pickups, because, why not?

The body is very similar to that of my viola bass so I was thinking of using that sort of humbucker, possibly two, and adding a tone pot. I would position the pups similarly to a Hofner arrangement-not sure which version yet but likely close to the bridge.

Any thoughts?
Am I mad, bored or just wasting time I could better use practicing bass?


There are quite a bit of Eviola and violin for very reasonable price. You can find a cheap electric one for $250-300. A good Yamaha one would run about $1800

You don’t want to put a magnetic pickup like humbucker on the acoustic instrument if you want to make yours an electric conversion you probably need to get a piezo pickup or saddle transducer of sort. Than the preamp. You gotta figure out how to work in the hollow body through the F hole(s)

Here’s the electric viola. It’s probably a cheaper alternative.

Of course if you are talking about the Beatle bass then it’s another story altogether lol.

What’s the fun in buying one?
Why wouldn’t you put a magnetic pickup in?
It should function exactly like a Hofner-it has steel strings

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I’ve seen acoustic guitars with magnetic pickups, so I think it would work, but perhaps it doesn’t replicate the acoustic sound characteristic? Would be interesting to know. :slight_smile:

I played upright in the americana / bluegrass music scene for a long time.
There are a lot of pickups out there for violin which - I imagine - would work quite well for viola.

They don’t tend to be magnetic, as the sound the strings make when bowed does not translate well to a pickup that isn’t also trying to pick up the resonance of the wood.
Most violin or upright pickups for bowing will be some sort of contact piezo pickup at the bridge, or a small adjustable microphone.

It will definitely work, and I wish you the best!

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Yeah that’s what I suspected it’s the hofner violin bass not electric viola conversion.

Well if that’s the case you should have a bunch of options as long as the pickup fits and or you are willing to route out additional space to fit the new pickup.

It also a good idea to upgrade the contact points if you have tonal issues. Nut, bridge, string.

They make pickups for violas. Have you looked at them?

This occurred to ma last night while I was pondering- It may be a different type of vibration (ie the body as you say) producing the sound not the strings as much.

I mean a viola made to function like a Hofner- I’ll put up pics.

I haven’t and may but the idea was to try an EB type pickup setup which after Gio’s comments may not be possible due to the differing mechanics of the sound production.
I might look at the dedicated viola pups tho if the ideas sticks


You can use the optical pickup and not having to worry about the type of strings as they pickup the string vibration via optics but that’s not exactly the type of DIY you are looking for. Willcox lightwave makes them, a few years ago they said the aftermarket modules will be available soon I assume it’s ready. I have 2 of their fretless they are one of the best pickup I tried. Unreal harmonics.

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Just a sample resource. There are tons of pups vendors out there for violin/viola/cello.

These are acoustic instruments by definition. The bodies need to resonate in order to create and project the sound. As Gio mentioned, bowing a string is not equal to plucking one, so having what essentially is a very lightweight microphone strategically attached to an arguably delicate body is how it’s done. Electric bass pups are no-nos.

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Cool, thanks for the knowledge guys.
This is a “missiles on the moon” idea I came up with while watching a strings performance so I’m not sure if I will even go through with it (would be cool to put a viola through the Zoom B1 tho) and if I do it will not be with anything expensive.

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I ended up getting an Ebay piezo just for a try.
Only costs a bit and will be worth it just to play with the effects.
I might get my son to record something.