Violins: History, Shapes, Sizes and Wood
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Violins: History, Shapes, Sizes and Wood

The violin's shape and construction remained the same for 300 years until unusual shapes like the box violin and guitar-shaped violin were recently released. Certain woods have been proven effective for violin construction and have been used by violin makers since the 16th century.

Although an instrument similar to the violin was introduced in the 15th century, it was not until the late 16th century that today's standard violin was created. The Italians were known for their craftsmanship of the violin, particularly for the all-natural varnishes that were used. For the next 300 years, the violins were nearly identical with slight differences in wood or carving. In the 1900s, the shapes of the violin changed while maintaining the tone and sound of the instrument.


Although the shape of the violin did not change much over the course of 300 years, today there are a few extra choices in violin construction. Many instrument constructionists had tried to simplify the shape of the violin with little success, either due to loss of tone or quality of sound. Francis Chanot and Nicolo Guseto created the guitar-shaped violin. With the body of a guitar, the instrument still produced the sound of a violin. Felix Savart created the box violin, which is more trapezoidal in shape.


The most common wood used for the belly of the violin is spruce. The back piece is typically created from maple, while the scrolls, pegs, tail piece and fingerboard are carved from either ebony, jacaranda, boxwood, which are harder woods than those used for the rest of the violin. Different woods account for coloring differences among violins.


Varnishes are typically made from all-natural substances but have deteriorated from the time when the Italians made the best violins. Varnishes can account for differences in color and appearance of violins. The varnish is designed protect the instrument from deterioration due to dirt and weather. Raising the possibilities of the sound and emphasizing the wood's natural beauty are two other purposes of varnish.

Choosing a Size

Violins can be bought in a variety of sizes, which are normally chosen based on the player's arm length. Measuring from the neck to the palm of the left hand, the violin is typically a half inch to an inch longer than that. For example, if a four-year-old child has an arm length of 14 inches, the best violin length for that child is 14.5 inches. An adult with an arm length of 23 inches may choose a violin of 23.5 inches. This rule may be broken if the player does not sacrifice sound at a greater length.


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