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Fiddle or Violin Information and FAQs



INTRODUCTION


The violin top and back are carved out from solid wood. The top is spruce and the back, sides and neck are generally from maple. 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 maple used in violins has a curl in the grain which shows up as a flame effect.

SOME TYPES OF FIDDLE OR VIOLIN


Fiddle | Hardanger Fiddle

Fiddle

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Definition: 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.

Hardanger Fiddle

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Definition: 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 INFORMATION

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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.

HISTORY

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Fiddle History
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.

CHOOSING

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Violin General Advice
Italian Violins are very much sought after, French and German are probably next most popular. Many lesser instruments were made in Czechoslovakia, Romania and Hungary and more recently in China and Korea, though the quality of Chinese made violins in particular is increasing all the time.

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Choosing the right violin for you.
Stephen Silcock NSVM

When choosing a violin is has to be said tone is the most important consideration for you. It may surprise you to know when valuing a violin, tone is hardly considered if at all. Who made the violin, where and what date it was made and it's condition all seem to come before the actual sound of the instrument, this is probably because a master maker with all his or her experience will very rarely make a poor sounding instrument. Tone is after all a very subjective subject and what one person will absolutely adore someone else will find terrible, there is indeed a violin out there somewhere to suit everyone!

Price plays an important role in your choice and there are few people who can afford to pay whatever it costs to buy the very best and compromises do have to made. People often say you should pay as much as you can afford to obtain the best possible instrument for you, and the same goes for a matching bow to get the best tone from your new purchase.


What you should look for when choosing a violin.

It is always best for you to buy an instrument in as near perfect condition as possible. Some repairs even if carried out by the best restorers do effect the instrument's value. There are many minor cracks and repairs that are not that significant to the value and these include wing and saddle cracks. Even these to be repaired correctly will necessitate the front to be removed and then replaced, which is quite an expensive process in itself.

Separated seams are quite common but easily repaired by a competent restorer, but do not be tempted to use a readily available commercial glue yourself. The glue in violin making is very special and is designed to be soluble in water , so the instrument can be taken to pieces where necessary and so repaired.

Sound post and bass bar cracks are the most costly and difficult to repair and they greatly affect the instruments value. It is said that even a well repaired sound post crack in the front reduces the instruments value by about half and one in the back by about two thirds.

Look carefully at the peg box and notice if there are any cracks, if so, the peg holes will have to be 'bushed' with new wood to make an effective and long lasting repair.

Carefully check the button area of the back of the instrument, this MUST to be free from any damage as most of stress and pressure of the neck and tension of the strings is held in this very small area. Again repairs to this area in form of patches and grafts are very expensive.

The correct height of the bridge is very important, the elevation should be 27.5mm. Too high a bridge increases the pressure on the belly and makes for a very 'pinched' or muted tone, whereas too low makes the violin in some cases almost impossible or difficult to play. Even 2 mm above or below this will have a very negative effect on how the fiddle plays, beware of bridge being too high or too low and always ask the seller what the elevation is?

String heights should be just under 6mm for the G string and just under 4mm for the E. This is for a 'classical' set up. Fiddlers and folk players will prefer a lower action as they often use steel strings and are probably not using the higher positions as regularly. I would be very wary of going lower than 5mm and 3mm respectively.

The varnish is very important, an instrument that does not have it's original varnish has lost a lot of it's value. I have seen some truly horrific attempts at varnishing with all sorts of readily available substances such as 'it does what it says on the tin'! and 'waterproof in ten minutes' etc. Varnishing is usually done to try to hide or disguise a badly repaired or glued crack. You should be very wary of buying such an instrument as you will not know exactly what is underneath the 'new' varnish, woodworm and/or wood filler are usually present.

Always seek professional and qualified advice from a competent Luthier or restorer before embarking on any work and they will usually happy to quote and discuss your repair in detail.

At Hobgoblin music we have experienced and fully qualified staff who would be very pleased to help and advise you

Finally, Good luck in your search for your perfect violin!
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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.

HEADSTOCK

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.

TOP

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.

SIDES

(Fiddle makers call the side of a fiddle the ribs.) Not considered a big deal except that they may look nasty.

SEAMS

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.)

THE BACK

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.

TUNINGS AND FINGERING

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The Violin (tuned GDAE) is part of a family of instruments which includes the Viola (CGDA), Cello (CGDA) and Double Bass (EADG)


MUSICAL STYLES

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Violin Pickups and Electric Fiddles, by Dom Schlienger

In This Article:

Pickups

Preamps

Electric Fiddles

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”!

Pickups

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.

Preamps

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.

Electric Fiddles

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.

CARE AND MAINTENANCE

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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.


Hobgoblin's Basic Violin Setup Routine:

What you will need:
3 in 1 Oil or similar
Rosin
Hill’s peg paste
A sharp pencil with soft lead
Wire cutters and a ruler,

Open the case and remove any packaging.
Rosin the bow, best to use an old block of rosin for
this and not the new one with the outfit.
Lubricate the screw of the bow using a little 3 in 1
oil and replace

Remove the strings, bridge and tailpiece from the
instrument, lay aside the strings in order, violin G D
A E, so you cannot get them mixed up.

Remove the pegs one at time and lubricate them
with ‘Hills’ peg paste, putting a small amount
around the pegs where they come into contact with
the peg box,, return them to the peg box turning
them to run smoothly, pushing them quite firmly into
the peg holes.

On the underside of the tailpiece, trim the nylon tail
gut about 3mm from the gold screw adjustments.
Lubricate the top nut grooves with a pencil (lead)
rubbing it into the grooves, this makes the string
slide over it, repeat this process with the grooves
on the bridge. A soft pencil is recommended.

Place the violin on a flat surface on something that
won’t scratch the violin. Replace the strings and tailpiece.
When winding the strings on, always wind the towards
the peg box wall. Start with the G putting the
bridge in an upright position and repeat D, A and E.
The correct position of the bridge is level with the
inner ‘nicks’ of the F holes, make sure the bridge is
straight and in a perfectly upright position, now you
can begin to tune the instrument.

As the instrument is tuned to pitch the string will pull
the top of the bridge forward making it lean over.
Carefully restore the bridge to the up right position
by pulling the top of the bridge backwards, this
stops it from falling over, warping and breaking.
Use the ruler to make sure the bridge sitting in an
up right position with the back of the bridge at a 90 degree angle with the top of the instrument.

Well Done! the instrument should now be ready to play

Read our Full Article on Stringed Care & Maintenance

Try the instruments for yourself! We keep a huge and varied stock of new and secondhand instruments.

CUATRO DE PUERTO RICO

   
Definition: Of the guitar family; found in South America and the West Indies. The Venezuelan Cuatro has 4 strings, looks like a ukelele. The Puerto Rican Cuatro has 10 strings and looks more like a Cuban Tres.

Read the full Other Fretted Instruments FAQ Page.