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I need to make violin-like sound using a guitar for some project of mine. It's going to be a normal guitar passage, followed by the same (or almost the same) passage with a different timbre.

Using a real violin bow should be possible, but I don't have one, and I'd like this project to be in DIY spirit. So I keep this option for the case everything else fails.

I tried using a spare guitar string as an improvised bow; that didn't work. What else can I try?

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    Using a real bow will not be possible, unless you're only playing on the high E or low E string, or you plan on removing some strings- and even then that will be difficult. The guitar's strings are all roughly on the same plane, so it will be impossible to bow the A, D, G, or B string without also bowing all the other strings.
    – Edward
    Feb 20, 2022 at 19:08
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    Jimmy Page had a go at it [even though I've always considered the results to be more Spinal Tap than Spinal Tap;)
    – Tetsujin
    Feb 20, 2022 at 19:22
  • Actually, as long as you don't mind playing chords, of course you could bow all six strings. And of course the chords have to use all six strings. But should you explore this route, I think you'll find a double bass bow better suited than a violin one. It's shorter, stiffer, and has a bit more hair, so you can get more "grip." I've been in some avant-garde pieces that called for such bowed chords on electric, and they used a bass bow. Feb 20, 2022 at 20:13
  • There's always left-hand muting, which Jimmy is doing in the "Dazed and Confused" video I found. He's also not remotely trying to sound like a violin. Feb 20, 2022 at 21:05
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    Also, I want to challenge you to clarify what constitutes a "violin-like sound." As a violinist, when I'm in rock settings I spend a lot of time trying to sound like an electric guitar (rhythm chops or screaming overdrive leads). Violin isn't just about long sustained notes. Also, one off-the-wall suggestion I haven't seen so far here: just get a synth and a good violin patch involved. Feb 20, 2022 at 22:13

4 Answers 4

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An EBow.

Wikipedia link

Manufacturer's site

The EBow is a hand-held electronic bow for guitar. This small battery-powered unit replaces the pick in the right hand letting the guitarist mimic strings, horns, and woodwinds with unbelievable sensitivity. The EBow produces a powerful infinite sustain, rich in harmonics for incredible guitar sounds. Unlike plug-in effects, the Energy Bow does its work on the string itself... Direct String Synthesis™. Infinite Sustain is just the beginning.

I've had one maybe 40 years. Mainly it sits in a drawer, but when it's needed, there's nothing like it.

Check out their sound clips - the violin is pretty close, but you can get way better spicatto than their sample. I used to use it for "George Martin cellos"

Comments made me think of this… Jimmy Page vs Nigel Tuffnel;)

enter image description here enter image description here

I have so little recorded material using it, but this was my 'cello' sound… from the mid 80s, just on a home demo

https://soundcloud.com/graham-lee-15/e-bow-cello

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    The patent expired and competators are coming up Feb 20, 2022 at 21:06
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    "there's nothing like it" – actually there is: sustainer pickups in Fernandes guitars and Moog Guitar. Feb 23, 2022 at 6:58
  • @DaveJacoby I dropped and irreparably damaged my 30-year-old E-Bow a couple years ago, and the replacement I bought includes a (more recent) switchable harmonic feature, probably in part to keep an intellectual property advantage over competitors.
    – Theodore
    May 10, 2022 at 21:23
  • @Theodore My ~30-year-old Fernandes guitar has a sustainer with switchable harmonics. (So it's not really more recent.)
    – gidds
    May 11, 2022 at 19:52
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It depends on what aspects of the violin you're trying to get. To me, the primary aspects I'd be looking for are sustain and limited attack.

I say limited attack, but kinda, whenever your bowing a violin, you have attack, but with the pick, the start is noticably louder. The Boss compressor I have is also a limiter, to bring down louder sounds as well as bring up quieter sounds. I also use a volume pedal to hide the attack. You can use the volume knob, but if you're picking, your hand is busy. Some of the aspects of pick attack that call attention to themselves can be minimized by pick material. My general pick preference is Dunlop Ultex, but their Tortex are softer and less clicky. Alternately, get really solid with your legato playing.

For sustain, you want some compression. You can get that with overdrive or turning up, but a compression pedal gives you some of that without the dirt. If you use a boost pedal (or add volume from the compressor), you can use a volume pedal to compensate for note decay; that's how pedal steel players do it. To cover up gaps between notes, I like a little delay, as well.

As mentioned, you kinda get both effects with the EBow, and because the patent expired, the are now competators. Some guitars have a sustainer unit. My EOB Strat does it, but the effect comes in a bit later than I'd like, and not particularly well on the B string. I recall the EBow coming in more directly when I've played with one, but I'm not sure.

Then there's range to consider. The lowest note on violin in standard tuning is the same as a guitar's open G string.

I'm seeing violins as low as $88 on eBay. It will take some time to learn one (guitarists don't have internal intonation, bowing is hard, and holding an instrument under your chin is weird), but unless you have an EBow, compressor, volume pedal, etc, already, it's cheaper and easier to just get the right tool.

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    I have to caution against an $88 eBay violin. I've had enough students bring in "violin-shaped objects" with issues that simply make them unusable without work, usually more than $88 worth of work—bridge blanks that are unshaped, making the action about an inch too high off the fingerboard; strings of an incredibly light gauge, sometimes unwound when they shouldn't be; pegs that don't have enough purchase to bring the string up to pitch. If you want to, expect a minimum of about $200 USD for a reliable violin, bow, and case, and buy from a source that specializes in strings, or at least music. Feb 20, 2022 at 22:11
  • On the other hand, if you want to sink $2K+ into it, Mark Wood makes a violin with frets and 7 strings, taking it well down into cello range. Feb 20, 2022 at 22:15
  • Andy, if the point is to get a sound for a recording (which is what I got from the question), you can suffer through for one take. If instead, the point is to learn a second instrument, I agree 100%. When I pick up the bow, I dream about sounding like Vassar Clements or Alicia Svigals (will never happen) so I don't see the point of Wood's instrument, but that's just me. Feb 20, 2022 at 22:51
  • This is exactly what I thought: sustain and limit attack, which can be achieved several ways. But not the Jimmy Page gimmick, that didn't sound like a violin. Edd VanHalen on "Cathedral" comes to mind, even if that was meant to (and did) sound like a pipe organ. May 10, 2022 at 18:13
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    A real violin might be incredibly hard. I've played guitar since about 1977, bass guitar since about 1983, and fretless bass guitar since 1988. I got a violin from a family member in about 2010 and adapting to the scale difference is really difficult-- I get a semitone change by rolling my finger for what would be an imperceptible rounding error on bass.
    – Theodore
    May 10, 2022 at 21:27
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I agree with comments, a real bow will be difficult to impossible unless you have some crazy left hand muting abilities. The violin family has very small radius fingerboards to accommodate bowing, something guitars don’t have.

The EBow is a good option but you have to have or buy one. Another option is to use a smooth distortion or overdrive sound, maybe roll off some treble to take the edge off. Combine that with a volume pedal or pinky volume control to take away the sharp attack of the pick on the strings. As long as it’s not a complex and busy part you are playing you should be fine.

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You can try a feedback pedal like the one boss sells or the freqout pedal from digitech. Youu can set them to feedback almost immediately.

Then when you got your sound you can sculpt it with a volume pedal and a whammy bar or a vibrato arm.

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