Violin Information and FAQs
English name for the Violin, originated from the Latin Vitula via Norse and Germanic versions. The French words Vielle and later Viol and Spanish Vihuela are also from the same Latin root.
The violin top and back are carved out from solid wood. The top is spruce and the back, sides and neck are generally from sycamore. The bassbar is an integral and tonally important part of the top. The soundpost is fitted about 1/4" behind the treble foot of the bridge and connects the front and back of the instrument acoustically in a way that shapes the sound considerably. The most popular type of sycamore used in violins has a curl in the grain which shows up as a flame effect.
SOME TYPES OF VIOLIN
Fiddle | Hardanger Fiddle
FiddleBack to Top
Definition: English name for the Violin, originated from the Latin Vitula. The French words Vielle and later Viol are also from the same Latin root.
Hardanger FiddleBack to Top
Introduction: Folk violin of western Norway; 8/9 strings, usually 4 sympathetic strings running under the fingerboard; narrower, shorter-necked and more arched than the ordinary violin. For more info: Hardanger Fiddle Association of America.
FURTHER INFORMATIONBack to Top
The edges of the body are almost always inlaid with a band of purfling. Copies and originals of the Italian maker Maggini will have two separate purflings.
The Violin (tuned GDAE) is part of a family of instruments which includes the Viola (CGDA), Cello (CGDA) and Double Bass (EADG)
Violin Pickups and Electric Fiddles, by Dom Schlienger
In This Article:
For most fiddlers there comes a time when they consider amplifying their instruments, either to be heard better or to experiment with the possibilities of electro acoustic sounds. Most fiddlers immediately regret even having thought about it the moment they enter the maze of pickups, solid body electric fiddle, microphones, pre-amplification, acoustic amps etc… And it never quite sounds the way you expected it to! Nonetheless it is probably fair to say that there is a solution for every fiddler, from the occasional experimenter to the pro who plays in a stadium, and the absolute beginner who pities the neighbours and decides to learn on headphones with a “silent violin”!
To keep the sound as “acoustic” as possible and simply amplify the sound of your violin, nothing will beat a microphone, which can register the richness of the whole instrument. The downside though, is that whoever will be playing around you will obviously be amplified too. If the microphone is readjusted to only pick up the violin you will be forced to stand very still while playing! The Microvox Swann Neck Microphone system (with preamp) solves this with a microphone that clips on to the actual instrument. This is a good solution for small, not too noisy ensembles or for solo playing.
Taking the sound from the entire instrument rather than just from the bridge (which is the limitation of most piezzo pickups) is the thought too behind The Band violin Pickup from Headway, which literally wraps around the middle of the instrument. The result is an amazingly warm and rich sound, and a low impedance signal, which means that very little or no preamplification is needed.
Most electro acoustic systems, whether you have a pickup or a solid body fiddle, do need a pre-amp. A Pre-amp is usually a little box, which boosts the signal of the pick-up. Most pick ups use piezzo transducers which have a lower output by nature than, for example, the magnetic pickups used in electric guitars or the output of a digital piano. Usually only so called “active” systems don’t need pre amps, the reason being that they have pre amps already built in. Most graphic EQ pedals, for example the Danelectro Fish’n’Chips or the Arion Graphic Equalizer Pedal, do the job and additionally give you the option of adjusting your sound to your own preference.
The most popular pickup system consists of one or two little metal plates with an imbedded piezzo crystal which slots into the wings on the bridge of the violin. The Fishman V200 Violin transducer and the BM0715 Shadow SH941 Violin Pickup are good examples of this. A very accurate brilliant signal is characteristic of this system. As the pickup actually blocks the wings of the bridge, the acoustic sound will be slightly muted, and the sound on the pick up doesn’t necessarily represent the actual sound of your violin. This doesn’t need to be a problem though! In many cases it turns out that a very cheap, average sounding acoustic fiddle actually sounds great with the pick up! Many fiddlers go that way and often take a step further by super-glueing the pick up permanently to the bridge, (This prevents the pick up coming loose while playing, which makes a very unpleasant noise) lining instrument body with foam to minimise feed back, or closing the F-hole with transparent sticky tape. Obviously these steps don’t do much for the acoustic sound of the instrument, and players who do this will probably keep another, untampered-with instrument for acoustic use.
There are systems however, which can be permanently fixed and don’t mute the instrument. The Shadow SH940 is one of these, and is a whole traditional bridge with a piezzo transducer built into the bridge body rather than the wings. Also available is the Schaller Violin Pickup 10/80 which has a surprisingly warm, round and pleasant tone.
The piezzo in the bridge system is a system most of the solid body electric violins use, be it from the entry level Carlo Giordano Electric Violin (active! So no pre amp needed!) to the fully professional Skyinbow S1 Electric Violin (Which is very good value for one of the top instruments available!)
The main difference between a solid body fiddle and an acoustic one is, obviously, that you will hear a lot less of the actual instrument while playing. This means that good monitors are crucial. Usually the best way to ensure you get the sound you need is to have your own amp which you can take along to gigs and sessions. For violins, - solid body or with a pick-up fitted- acoustic amps (Or keyboard amps as it happens!) are a lot better than electric guitar amps. Electric guitar amps are built for the (Restricted) frequencies of the electric guitar. (Most violins, when plugged straight into an electric guitar amp sound tinny, nasal and squeaky.)
AER does a fantastic range of affordable high end acoustic amps, (Starting at around £385.00) For home use the Ashbury acoustic amps will probably fit the bill nicely. If you prefer to hear the actual instrument while playing, electro acoustic fiddles like the European built Ashbury Electro Acoustic Violin are an affordable solution. The fact that solid body instruments are actually “silent” is used as an advantage in the range of “silent Violins” which were originally intended as practice instruments enabling you to play in the middle of the night without disturbing neighbours, etc. That’s why the Silent Electric Violin Outfit includes Headphones which plug straight into the onboard pre amp. The more professional version made by Yamaha has become one of the most popular electric violins on many stages.
Strings for Electrics
You can use normal violin strings on an electric violin. For frame or solid body electric violins (ie not an electro-acoustic), strings with a steel core (as opposed to Nylon) will give you the best response.
HISTORYBack to Top
Primitive bowed instruments of many types exist around the world and some are still widely used, but the modern Violin first appeared in Italy in the early 16th century. Well known early fiddle makers include Guarneri, Amati and Stradivari. The modern classical violin has a longer neck and fingerboard, and a greater neck angle than the original baroque design, in order to provide more volume. Many early violins were modified in the early 1800s to match the requirements of the new design, and can be identified by the grafting on of a new neck.
CHOOSINGBack to Top
Violin General Advice
Italian Violins are very much sought after, French are probably next most popular. Most old violins available are German from the period 1860 to 1935. Many lesser instruments were made in Czechoslovakia, Romania and Hungary and more recently in China and Korea.
WHAT TO WATCH OUT FOR:
Notes taken from an article in "Fiddler" magazine by Tom Culbertson
This is an American magazine so my price conversions should be taken as very aproximate.
1 Hairline cracks coming from out of the pegholes.
If fixed correctly will have bushings around the pegholes. To repair - around £20 cost per hole. Doesn't necessarily devalue the fiddle except for the cost of the repair. 2 Grafted on headstocks.
Can indicate that the fiddle is very old - early 1800's or older. If the join is very slick it could be a fake repair! This was done, even on commercial violins to make them appear older than they are - not a damage problem.
1 F hole or wing cracks.
Devalue the instrument because they look nasty and stand out to eye but are not a great problem to the fiddle.
2 Saddle cracks.
They come from the stress the tail gut puts on the saddle and are often hidden underneath the tail piece. If they are small - less than half an inch - then they probably have been stopped by the end block holding the top inside the instrument and this is not too serious. However with longer cracks the top may have broken free from the end block and this is more serious. the top will have to be removed to fix it. That's not a big deal to the repairer - but it costs money all the same.
Sound post crack On the treble side of the top running with the grain, a thin crack where the soundpost has pushed at the top. An expensive repair and considered serious to the value of the fiddle. The same applies to a bass bar crack which is in a similar position but on the bass side of the instrument, roughly in line with the bass side edge of the fingerboard.
(Fiddle makers call the side of a fiddle the ribs.) Not considered a big deal except that they may look nasty.
It's not uncommon to see the back or top of a fiddle coming away from the ribs. This is not a big deal as long as no one has done an amateur repair job. If it looks clean it can be fixed fairly easily. In fiddle terms taking the top of a glueing it back on is no big deal. (Some makers will do this even when it's not actually necessary simply because they want to see how the fiddle was made in the first place.)
This is a biggy - a sound post crack on the back. The back has been carved out of maple and should be very strong, if it cracks then something's wrong and it is difficult and expensive to fix. Even well fixed the instrument is considerably devalued. It may not look bad. "It can't be that bad." you say. Well, brother it is.
CARE AND MAINTENANCEBack to Top
Basic Violin Setup
The sound post should be close to the foot of the bridge on the treble side of the violin. The closer it is to the bridge, the sharper and louder the sound. Further away, the sound is mellower and quieter. This is best done by your dealer or repairer, but soundpost setting tools are available for the player to buy. To check the position and height of the bridge, roll a biro or pencil around the top of the fingerboard - the distance between the strings and the fingerboard should be approximately the width of the pen. The bridge can be sanded down if necessary, but the feet need to make good even contact with the violin. The bridge normally sits between the notches in the f holes, and it is usual to set the bridge so it leans a very small amount toward the tailpiece.
When you're not using it, the hairs on the bow of your violin should be slackened (the metal end of the bow acts as a screw). This protects the bow from losing its curve and tension.
Avoid touching the hairs of the bow, the grease from your fingers will spoil it. In order to play, you will need to put rosin on the bow hairs. Most violins come with rosin. Before you use it for the first time, it helps if you roughen the surface of the rosin with sand paper. Rub the rosin against the bow hairs until you feel some friction between the rosin and the bow hairs. Repeat whenever necessary.
Sometimes the tuning pegs on a violin are loose. This is fairly normal, even on hand made violins. To solve this problem, you can acquire some 'peg paste' (stocked in most music shops), and with this you simply draw a few marks on the peg to create the friction you need.
Read our Full Article on Stringed Care & Maintenance