Did you ever wonder about the history of the violin? The first violins emerged in northern Italy in the 1500s. The word “violin” begins to appear in documents starting in 1300. While no actual instruments from that time period survived, there are several depicted in paintings. String instruments of approximately 300 years are the most sought after for both performers and collectors. In addition to the skill and reputation of the maker, the age of the instrument can increase the price.
“The construction and art of building violins would reach its peak in the 1600s with the two most famous violin makers, the Guarneri and the Stradivari family of violin makers (also called luthiers). They were both located in Cremona, Italy and both learned from the Amati school of violin craftsmanship. These musical instruments are still considered the best ever made. They are very much in demand by the top violinists in the world and a Stradivari violin, nicknamed The Hammer, sold for $3.5 million in 2006.”
Someone who makes or repairs string instruments is called a luthier. Some of the most famous of these lived between the early sixteenth and seventeenth century. The parts of a string instrument are usually made from different types of wood: usually spruce, maple and ebony for the fingerboard. Typically, the top of the instrument’s soundboard is made of spruce.
The back and ribs are typically made of maple, often with a matching figure. Backs may be one-piece or a two-piece. Backs are also purfled but their structural importance is less than the top. Some violins have scribed or painted rather than inlaid purfling.
The fingerboard is usually made of ebony. Ebony is considered the preferred material because of its hardness, beauty, and resistance to wear. The scroll at the end of the pegbox provides essential mass in order to tune the body of the instrument. It also provides a convenient groove for fingers to brace against while tuning one-handed. Some scrolls even have scrolls like animal heads rather than the typical spiral shape.
Stay tuned for my next blog where we will dive deeper into the history of string instruments!