How are violas and violins made



Interesting facts about string instruments
String instruments

2 families - one string class
The name says a lot
Parts of the string instruments
What are string instruments made of?
Great violin makers


The genre of stringed instruments encompasses considerably more instruments than the violin, viola, cello and double bass played in the string classes. There are older instruments, such as the viola da gamba (heyday from the 16th to 18th centuries), which represent a whole family of instruments:



or the so-called "dance master violin", the pochette.



There are also string instruments in other cultures, e.g. in China the erhu:



or in Russia the Gudok:




2 families - one string class

Of the four string class instruments, the violin (violin), viola (viola) and cello belong to the violin family. They have great similarities in construction. The double bass, on the other hand, is a descendant of the viols, which is shown, among other things, by the fact that it is tuned differently: While the violin, viola and cello tune their strings to fifths apart (5-tone spacing), the double bass is tuned to fourths (4- Tone spacing).

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The name says a lot

The name "violin" actually means "little viola", ie "little viola". Violoncello means "little violone" (the violone is a forerunner of today's double bass). So you can jokingly say that the viola and double bass are the “main instruments” and the violin and cello are the respective scaled-down versions.

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Parts of the string instruments
The main parts of the four string instruments are built in the same way:



Image: Feitscherg, edited by Olaf Adler
License: [GNU Free Documentation License].

You can find the original file here: wikipedia


Instead of a spike, the violin and viola have a chinrest.
Here is a schematic representation of the cross section through a string instrument:



The bass bar and sound post are very important for the sound quality of the instrument. They ensure that the wood of the instrument vibrates optimally. The sound post is not glued on, but is only set up with the help of a sound post setter. If it slips or even falls over (e.g. after a strong shock to the instrument), a violin maker has to put it back in the right place.

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What are string instruments made of?

Spruce wood is used as the material for the top, the sides, back and neck are made of maple wood.

The quality of the wood is crucial for the sound of the instrument. Good tonewood has grown slowly and is therefore very strong. This can be seen in the wood for the top by the grain, the distance between the annual rings. If the annual rings are close together, the wood has grown slowly. If the violin makers use wood with annual rings of different sizes, they prefer to take the other annual rings outwards. This makes for a warmer sound:



The maple wood should have a "flame" for good instruments. The flame in wood is caused by undulating growth. If such a "barred" maple is split, the surface looks like a washboard. After the board has just been planed, the wood fibers on the surface point in different directions. After staining and painting the instrument, the impression of a moving image is created, similar to a hologram.



The fingerboard is made of ebony, the black heartwood of trees of the genus Diospyros (mostly from Africa, Sri Lanka or India), pegs and tailpieces are often made of this material. Ebony is very hard, so it is only after a long period of use that you can discover indentations on the fingerboard where your fingers often grip. If that is the case, a violin maker has to “peel off” the fingerboard, that is, plane it again.

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Great violin makers

Of course, violin makers not only build violins, but also all instruments in the violin family, often double basses as well.
In the 16th century, when the current shape of the instruments of the violin family emerged, Italy was the most important center of violin making.

One of the first famous violin makers whose instruments are still played today was Nicola Amati (Born September 3, 1596 in Cremona; † August 12, 1684 ibid), who was also known as the teacher of Andrea Guarneri and Antonio Stradivari.

Probably everyone has the name at some point Antonio Stradivarius (* around 1644 or, according to more recent research, 1648, the place of birth is unknown; † December 18, 1737 in Cremona), he is probably the best-known Italian violin maker. He built around 1100 violins, violas and cellos, of which 650 are still preserved, which are among the most expensive musical instruments. The world record price for a musical instrument is held by the “Hammer” Stradivarius, which was auctioned in 2006 for a good 3.5 million dollars (2.65 million euros).

Instruments of the violin making family Guarneri (17th and 18th centuries) are almost as popular with top musicians, especially those of Guiseppe Guarneri del Gesu (* August 21, 1698 in Cremona; † October 17, 1744 in Cremona). Just like Stradivarius, the Guarneris mostly lived and worked in Cremona.

Other important violin making centers developed in:

• Tyrol through Jakob Stainer (* around 1617 in Absam; † 1683 ibid), whose instruments around 1800 north of the Alps had a better reputation than the Italian ones.
• Saxony through Caspar Hopf (also: Hopff; * 1650, probably in Graslitz; † August 21, 1711 in Stolberg [Harz]), who developed his own violin model.
• Southern Germany through Leopold Widhalm (also Withalm; * October 2, 1722 in Horn in Lower Austria; † June 11, 1776 in Nuremberg).
• France through Jean-Baptiste Vuillaume (* October 7, 1798 in Mirecourt; † March 19, 1875 in Paris), who was strongly based on the Italian model.

Nowadays most violin makers build their instruments along the lines of Stradivari or Guarneri. Differences between the models can be seen, for example, in the shape of the F-holes:



The Guarneri model (left) has slimmer, elongated F-holes in contrast to the Stradivari model.

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