How did the Autolycus violin pickup evolve?
In 1984 I found myself increasingly playing fiddle in band situations. Regular playing at paying gigs became a normal activity sometimes two or three times a week. It soon became clear that the violin needed amplification. Standing and holding the instrument close to a microphone for four hours was not sensible. Also the volume required often encouraged totally unacceptable feedback using a mic.
I spent what was to me large sums of money on the few (then) available pickups. The results were disappointing to say the least. Some of these expensive devices were hard to fit and equally hard to remove, others degraded or muted the acoustic sound by interfering with the bridge. Some needed glue or adhesive to attach. Another system relied on both a piezo and a small mic which fed into a mixer box that had to be worn or clipped to the player. It was like preparing for a space walk! Neither the bulk or the 9 volt battery drain were welcome. This particular outfit did have a reasonable sound.
Most systems however sounded thin and scratchy and lacked a healthy output level. Even a high impedance pre-amp and good quality gear was no cure for all these ills.
As an electronics engineer I thought I could do better. It was at a time too when I started winning country music awards and the band was becoming more popular. I was keen in 1986. I eventually found a suitable piezo element exactly tailored for the audio frequencies of interest. Then I spent a long time finding the best place and method of mounting it.
Slowly but surely we made progress, so much so that in 1987 I plugged my home made violin pickup into the DI box on the Auckland Town Hall stage. It was my turn to compete in the ARCMA Senior Instrumental section. That hall was full, over 2000 cm fans from all over New Zealand were there. I couldn't see past the footlights but the rosin dust from my over-rosined bow was quite astounding in the bright light.
But the sound from my violin pickup feeding a 10Kw amplifier system was rewarding to say the least. The mixer man was delighted too. I won the Senior Instrumental that day and we had quite a party with the prize money.
So word got around about my pickup, more improvements were made, I used it in the band without fail and made quite a few for others.
The reasons for the success were clear.
The pickup was fairly easy to fit with a little care.
No adhesives or instrument mods were needed.
The sound, derived from the body of the fiddle, was excellent.
Acoustic tone and volume were unchanged.
Cost was very much reduced.
My little preamplifier ended up in a footpedal and a pre-set volume toggle for lead breaks.
I could alter my volume whilst playing and I could put the violin down anytime - not being attached by wires.
The "system" received a US Patent and has been sold worldwide for a number of years. The many unsolicited letters of acclaim have encouraged continued sales of the pickup.
The Internet has grown, lots more devices are now available.
If a better value and better sounding pickup arrives I will probably use it myself and stop making my own. Until then the Autolycus will remain to satisfy those who find as I do.
I have always tried to keep costs down, no fancy packages, costly ads, nor false claims.
Many available pre-amps will be found suitable for use with Autolycus pickups and I no longer sell them. A high input impedance preamp is needed and a fairly short input cable is best. I have never found a graphic equaliser to be needed or even useful but a little echo or reverb effect, like vocalists use, can sound very nice.