I play electric guitar but love the sound of violin. I have read articles where violins have been placed under spectral analysis and show rich overtones of harmonics. Is there any device I can use to duplicate this?
I have tried adding octavers and harmonizers but the sound they generate is not akin to a harmonic overtone.
I prefer not to go midi or synth, but any suggestions will be appreciated.


Guitars are already rich in overtones and harmonics. Experiment with the position of your right hand. Picking near the neck emphasises the fundamental frequency. Picking nearer the bridge brings out more overtones.

The biggest differences between a guitar and a violin are the size of the instrument, and the fact that a violin is bowed.

You could try smaller guitar-like instruments, such as mandolins or ukuleles -- or you could shorten the scale of your guitar with a capo.

Another important difference between a guitar and a violin is that the violin is fretless. That means a soft finger at the neck-end of a fingered note, rather than a hard fret -- for less sustain and fewer high frequencies. It also means more opportunity for sliding. You could try obtaining a fretless guitar, or just try playing with a slide.

You could try bowing your guitar -- you wouldn't be the first. Because the guitar bridge and nut are not curved, bowing a single string is pretty much impossible. You could try an Ebow, which vibrates electric guitar strings using an electromagnet.

Alternatively, why not learn to play the violin?

  • 2
    If you don't have an eBow, you can do amazing things with the volume control, or an external volume pedal. – Doktor Mayhem Aug 27 '14 at 17:29
  • Excellent point @DrMayhem, and come to think of it, adding in a chorus pedal could then be used to make something more akin to a string section instead of a single instrument. – Pat Muchmore Aug 27 '14 at 17:53
  • Thanks. I've done the bow thing. Didn't work:) Tried learning violin too but this is more of a tonal change, mood thing that I'm trying to accomplish. Is the bow so integral to 'that' sound we all hear comming from a violin? Does an Ebow mimic that? – smiley Aug 27 '14 at 19:38
  • Saw this online 'Many of the most useful features of the orchestral string instruments result from their use of bows. Compared with pizzicato (plucking the string), the bow allows the player to continuously input energy and so to maintain a note. This is important to the timbre, too: after a pluck, the high harmonics fade away quickly, leaving only the fundamental and some weak lower harmonics. Bowing maintains the rich harmonic spectrum.' So back to injecting those harmonics into the guitar sound. – smiley Aug 27 '14 at 20:56

Overdriven, distorted guitar sounds contain loads of harmonics, and tend to emphasise them quite well. By experimenting with these sorts of sounds, along with different pup settings, and plucking in different places on your strings, you may come close.Valve amps do it better, but there are several pedals also.

  • True. I've done that. In fact Eric Johnson calls his fuzz face sound his violin tone. I am trying to get the richness of the effect without distortion though. – smiley Aug 27 '14 at 19:42
  • It's worth noting that although distortion or overdrive would definitely increase the presence of a number of harmonics, the majority of the overtones added by distortion are inharmonic or aharmonic (not to be confused with enharmonic). Because these added frequencies don't belong to the harmonic sequence, they constitute an addition of noise that would only (mostly) be a part of a violin sound if the player was using extreme bow pressure and/or playing very close to the bridge. Both are very cool sounds, but probably not what @smiley is aiming for. – Pat Muchmore Aug 27 '14 at 21:48
  • @PatMuchmore: that's mostly true when you play chords. When you distort a simple, cleanly played single note then the extra frequencies are in fact in the harmonic series, or very close to it (as close as in a violin). Perhaps you mean there are dissonant overtones; that's of course true for a violin as well. — Really the main reason that distorted guitar sounds so different from bowed strings is the attack character: a bow gives a quiet but "fuzzy" friction sound, a pick gives a loud and sharp click. Also, the playing technique, phrasing etc. idioms are of course completely different. – leftaroundabout Aug 28 '14 at 10:33

Slim's answer already covers some of this, but I just want to emphasize how massively rich in overtones any guitar is. Only a pure sine wave doesn't have overtones, any natural instrument is rich in them (in fact each overtone is a sine wave). The only spectral difference between a violin and a guitar lies in which overtones are most present, and what their relative amplitudes are. The primary way to manipulate the relative amplitudes of the overtones in your guitar sound is filters. Even very basic filters like hipass and lopass filters can offer you some cool shaping possibilities. For instance, a wah-wah pedal is actually just a fancy lopass filter—moving the pedal just changes the filter's cut-off frequency and Q settings. It doesn't have to be used to make bom-chicka-chicka-wah-wah effects, interesting sounds can be explored involving leaving the pedal in a single position or moving it very slowly.

For serious control, you would want a fixed bank of bandpass filters, each filter centered on closing off or opening up different overtone frequency ranges (some devices that do this are called formant filters, but those are often very specifically designed to replicate human vocal sounds. As long as there is an option to manipulate each fixed filter individually however, these can be made to work in the way I'm discussing). I believe there might be a Moogerfooger pedal along those lines, but I'm not sure. If you look up a spectral analysis of a typical violin and a typical electric guitar (or do it yourself, the software does exist) you could theoretically try to close off some of the frequency ranges of your guitar's sound that aren't present in the violin while trying to emphasize some of the frequencies that are more present in violin sound. Although, I think this would potentially be very interesting, I very much doubt it would suddenly make your instrument sound like a violin terribly much. Still, with an ebow like slim suggests, you might be able to sculpt something with an interesting sound that is intriguingly reminiscent of the violin, and that might ultimately be more interesting than just turning it into a poor violin clone.

  • Very interesting point about the bandpass filters. You got me to find an article on Sound on sound which may be helpfull. I will experiment later. – smiley Aug 27 '14 at 19:40

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