This article gives an overview of the basic differences between electric violins and acoustic violins.
Body: Acoustic violins retain a classic curvaceous shape and a hollow wood interior due to their need for acoustic resonance to produce sound. They are delicate instruments. The luthier or stringed instrument maker generally regarded as the finest producer of violins is Antonio Stradivari (1644-1737); ahh memories! The body of an electric violin is usually solid and can be made from a variety of materials such as glass, kevlar, and carbon fiber.
Strings: Acoustic violins have four strings, G-D-A-E. Most electric violins have five to seven strings. Traditional strings can be used on either instrument. Some electric violins have frets, metal strips on the fingerboard, commonly seen on guitars.
Sound: At the very core, the sound of an acoustic violin is rich and warm while the sound of an electric violin is raw and cold. Through technique (for acoustic) and filters (for electric) any sound on the musical spectrum may be achieved. An acoustic violin is very sensitive to changes in temperature and humidity which prompt its wood to either expand or contract, affecting tone and pitch. This means that a dedicated player will eventually become an expert at tuning by ear. Frequent tuning is not an issue for the electric violin.
Playing Form: The form of holding and playing an acoustic violin is essentially the same for the electric violin. Shift your weight to the left foot, rosin your bow hair, get your bow hand ready, so on and so forth.
Pickups: A pickup is a device that can be attached to the bridge of a stringed instrument to convert the vibrations created by the fingers and/or the bow into electronic signals. Performers will use a pickup to amplify the music created by an acoustic violin for a larger audience. Electric violins have built-in pickups which may be used to distort sound or create special effects.
Now for a little fun…the following Pepsi commercial from 2005 features two dueling violinists, Miri Ben-Ari and Mark Wood.
Miri Ben-Ari came to New York City from Israel in the late 1990s. After her violin performance received a roaring reception on The Apollo, Miri began to collaborate with many R&B and hip hop acts. One of her notable contributions include string work on Alicia Keys’ song “Fallin'” (Songs in A Minor, 2001). She also wrote, produced, arranged, and performed all of the violin work on Kanye West’s debut album (The College Dropout, 2004). Miri plays an acoustic violin that is around 200 years old.
Mark Wood has been making custom electric violins since age twelve. He is the master luthier at Wood Violins and former member of the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, a touring group of classically-trained musicians with an affinity for hard rock music. Mark plays a seven string fretted electric violin that he calls “Viper”.
Personal experience with an acoustic violin.
Katharine Rapoport. Violin for Dummies, 2008