Instruments | Violin | Early Baroque | Classical

The basic construction of the violin, with its waisted or figure-of-eight body (with a hard-wood back, usually maple, and a softer front, usually spruce), was established early in the sixteenth century.

The strings (tuned, from the top downwards, as E, A, D and G) run from a peg box, where tension can be adjusted by turning the pegs, and along a fingerboard. Here the player’s left hand alters the length of the vibrating string and thus its pitch by ‘stopping’ it (firmly placing a finger on the string) at different positions to produce different notes. The strings pass over a bridge to the tail piece, which is attached to the end of the violin by a loop of gut. The surface of the fingerboard is made of a hard wood, to survive the constant wear on it. The soundpost sits underneath the foot of the bridge and runs towards the back; it supports string and bridge pressure while carrying and balancing string vibrations.

When their social status rose, violins began to be decorated with a marquetry inlay around the edge of the front (known as the ‘belly’) called ‘purfling’. To allow the sound to escape from within the instrument, the belly was pierced on either side of the bridge by two sound holes shaped like an old-fashioned ‘f’.

The Baroque Violin

The Baroque violin was different from the modern instrument in having its neck set perpendicular to (or only very slightly tilted back from) the line of the instrument’s body. The bridge, which lifts the strings away from the body of the violin so that they can sound clearly, was lower than it is today. As a result, the strings lay slightly closer to the fingerboard, the tension on the strings was lower, and consequently the volume was less.

The way that the Baroque violin was set up made it difficult to change the string on which the bow was playing; the difference in height between the strings was less marked than it is today. This same set-up obviously made playing on two or more strings at once far easier. The technique, known as double stopping, is one of the most notable elements of Baroque music.

An Evolving Design

As the demands made by composers on the instrument increased, so its makers changed their designs. Necks were set back at a slightly greater angle and were made longer. Instead of being attached by glue and one nail, they were jointed in the top block (a chunk of wood at the top of the body, at the point where the neck joins it). Bridges became slightly higher. The soundpost, which sits inside the belly of the violin, underneath the bridge, to stop the pressure of the strings from driving it through the violin’s front, was strengthened to take the increased tension.

Strings were initially made of pure gut before a technique was developed for wrapping them up by winding a silver thread around them in a spiral. Particularly...

To read the full article please either login or register .


An extensive music information resource, bringing together the talents and expertise of a wide range of editors and musicologists, including Stanley Sadie, Charles Wilson, Paul Du Noyer, Tony Byworth, Bob Allen, Howard Mandel, Cliff Douse, William Schafer, John Wilson...


Classical, Rock, Blues, Jazz, Country and more. Flame Tree has been making encyclopaedias and guides about music for over 20 years. Now Flame Tree Pro brings together a huge canon of carefully curated information on genres, styles, artists and instruments. It's a perfect tool for study, and entertaining too, a great companion to our music books.

Rock, A Life Story

Rock, A Life Story

The ultimate story of a life of rock music, from the 1950s to the present day.

David Bowie

David Bowie

Fantastic new, unofficial biography covers his life, music, art and movies, with a sweep of incredible photographs.