One of the popular stringed instruments of the violin family is the violin. This musical instrument possesses a hollow wooden body that amplifies the sound generated by the strings’ movements. It produces its sound by drawing a bow across its strings, by plucking, and by striking the strings with the wooden part of the bow. The violin has a distinctive appearance in comparison with other stringed instruments. The most prominent identifying feature of the violin is its waist. The waist or C-bout divides the violin body into upper and lower bouts. The C-bout also provides the position where the bow can strike the strings. Another feature that is inherent to the violin instrument family is the pair of f-holes. The f-holes allow the amplification of the sound that the strings produce. The instruments in the violin family include the violin, the viola, the violoncello (or cello), and the double bass. The violin is the smallest instrument of the family.
Throughout the years, the violin has evolved and developed into the instrument we know today. There are various types of violins. At present likewise, there are three general categories for grouping the different violin types, namely: by size, by genre, and by time period.
Violin Types According to Size
There are at least ten violin sizes that are in existence today. The standard full-size violin—which has a body length of 356 mm or 14 inches—is mainly used by adults. But there are some adults of small stature who cannot handle the full-size violin. Their option, therefore, is to acquire a smaller violin. The smaller-than-standard violins have fractional names, and thus, they are called the “fractional” violins. Fractional violins include ⅞, ¾, ½, ¼, ⅛, 1/10, 1/16, 1/32, and 1/64. The standard full-size violin is also called the 4/4 violin. These names do not reflect the actual size of the smaller violin when compared to the full-size violin. For example, the ¾ violin which has a body length of 355 mm or 13.2 inches, is not three-quarters the size of the 4/4 violin. These variations in size allow for the use of the violin even by young and small violin players.
Another procedure in determining the suitable violin size for a person involves the measurement of the student’s reach. To do this, you should extend the student’s left hand to the side with palm facing upward. Then, swing the arm slightly forward off the student’s body. Then, measure the distance between the base of the neck to the middle of the palm. The resulting measurement should correspond to the right violin size. Here is a list of the most common violin size and corresponding reach.
Violin Types According to Time Period
The violin had been a subject of various modifications and refinements since its introduction in the 16th century. Since then, the violin was modified continuously throughout its existence. These modifications include the violin design, the construction technique, and the construction materials used in the instrument. Some modifications became associated with a specific time period. This association leads to the naming of violin type according to the period of time. Moreover, the same association leads to the naming the violin type according to its design, designer, and mode of operation.
1) The Pre-Baroque Stringed Instruments
Before the introduction of the violin, bowed instruments were already in existence. Some of the notable examples were the Byzantine Lyra and the Arabic rebab. Both examples were played upright like the cello. Other pre-baroque stringed instruments like the medieval rebec, vielle, and the lira da braccio from the Renaissance period, were influential to the development of the violin.
The rebec was distinguishable by its boat-shaped body which has been carved from solid wood. This string instrument was either played under the chin or arm. The number of strings of this bowed instrument may vary from one to five, but the three-stringed variant was the most common.
The vielle was similar to the violin but with an oval body. This body was a lot longer and deeper than that of the violin. The vielle’s strings may number from three to five.
Many people consider the lira da braccio as the forerunner of the violin for obvious reasons. First, the body of the lira da braccio looked very similar to the violin’s with minor variations. The most apparent difference was the use of five strings. Moreover, some lyra da braccio had two additional strings outside the fingerboard acting like drones.
2) Baroque Violin
This is the prototypical violin. To an uneducated eye, the Baroque violin can easily pass as a classical violin. This is because both the Baroque and classical violins are very similar and use the same number of strings. Despite these similarities, there was no standard violin model for the Baroque era; however, there are some distinct features inherent to the violins of this period.
Typically, Baroque violins used gut strings. However, the Baroque violins also used a metal-wound gut string. The Baroque violins also featured a shorter fingerboard than that of the classical violin. Moreover, the neck of the Baroque violin was set at a shallower angle in relation to its body. Yet, this angle may differ from violin to violin of that period. Another feature of the Baroque violin was its lack of chin rest.
The Baroque violin employs a different bow with the elegant “swan-bill” head or the earlier pike-head. These bows were generally straight in appearance or with a slight outward bend. Snakewood was the prime material for the manufacture of these bows.
3) Classical Violin
During the early 18th century, a new technique in violin-making had become available. This technique involved increasing string tension. The increased string tension will result in better sound projection and higher note range. In fact, this design breakthrough culminated in the introduction of the classical violin. In order to facilitate the increase in tension, the existing violin design needed to be modified to allow for the use of metal strings. These modifications included the more slender neck, a deeper angle of the neck, and a sturdier bass bar. More recently, the chin rest was added to the violin to provide the user with a comfortable fitting to hold on the instrument more firmly.
Almost every part of the violin uses a specific variety of wood. The violin has quarter-sawn spruce for its top plate or soundboard, maple wood for ribs and back, and ebony for fingerboard and pegs. These wooden parts are then glued together using animal hide glue.
Otherwise known as acoustic or modern violin, the classical violin has gained much popularity since its introduction and has maintained its status as the premier bowed instrument of its class. As a testament, classical violins made by Stradivari is still one of the most sought-after instruments. Even after more than a century of existence.
4) Stroh Violin
The Stroh violin was a violin development by an electrical engineer named John Stroh in 1899. The Stroh violin or Stroviol is a four-stringed instrument that uses a mechanical amplification. A metal resonator on its body amplifies the sound produced by the string. The amplified sound then passes to a horn that is also attached to the body. The Stroviol produces a much louder sound than the classical violin. The Stroviol also produces a timbre that is unlike those produced by a classical violin.
The Stroviol possesses two horns. There is the larger horn that projects its sound towards the end of the fingerboard, and there is a small horn as a monitoring horn. The smaller horn provides the musician a monitor device for the music, while the larger horn allows for the sound projection towards the audience.
During the early 20th century, the Stroviol became a prevalent instrument, and its loudness was favorable to producing phonographic records. It also did not need an acoustically designed theater for it to be heard. However, when the microphone was introduced, the finer sounding classical violin regained prominence and the Stroviol slips into near oblivion.
5) The Semi-electric Violin
The semi-electric violin is basically an acoustic violin with an electronic fitting called a pickup. When plugged into an amplifier, the pickup dramatically amplifies the sound produced by the instrument. The classical violin can readily convert into a semi-electric violin by merely adding a pickup. Yet, many classical violin owners have their reservations about this modification. This is due to the installation process of early model pickups. However, modern violin pickup installation does not need any perforation to the violin’s body. The installation of the violin pickup is a simple DIY process. This process involves the clamping of the pickup to the violin’s bridge and the plugging of the output jack to the violin’s body. Despite the addition of pickups, the semi-electric violin still retains the original acoustic sound of the classical violin. You can do this by simply unplugging the pick-up from the amplifier, and you can go acoustic.
6) The Electric Violin
The electric violin is a type of violin that produces its sound electronically. To produce a sound, the bridge transfers the string’s movements to a built-in electronic pickup for processing and amplification. The electric violin’s sound is similar to those produced by a semi-electric violin, but a lot thinner. Moreover, the violinist can manipulate and distort the sound in a similar fashion to that of the electric guitars. The absence of a bulky sound box means that the electric violin is lighter. Many electrically-designed violins sport a solid body representing a sound box. However, this body has no functionality and is only there for an aesthetic reason.
7) Silent Violin
The silent violin is a type of violin designed for solo or room practice. This violin is much suitable for newbies. This violin helps newbies to build the confidence they needed while learning how to play. This violin type comes in either acoustic or electric violin formats.
In the acoustic format, silent violin provides the feel of a classical violin. It also offers minimal sound. This sound is applicable when you are practicing indoors.
The electric version of silent violins comes with a built-in jack for earphone for private listening. You can also plug the silent violin to an amplifier like an ordinary electric violin. Moreover, the silent violin offers a flat, clean sound and the sound is controllable from the instrument itself.
Different Types of Violin by Genre
Another way to classify a violin type is by genre. The musical genre can also pertain to the musical style of an era. So, the violin type of an era can play the prevailing genre. In essence, the violin type according to time period and genre is interchangeable. However, this is not always true. Some violin incorporates a modification to suit a particular genre.
1) The Fiddle
The term “fiddle” is a slang term describing the playing of any bowed instrument. Often, the term fiddle is synonymous to the violin. This is especially true when a musician uses a violin to play folk or country music when playing folk or country music the violin is called a fiddle.
There are some arguable differences between a fiddle and a violin. First, the fiddle’s bridge is flatter while that of the violin is rounder. The fiddle’s flatter bridge allows the bow to strike multiple strings at once easily. Another difference is the use of steel core strings on fiddles.
Both the fiddle and the violin are capable of playing various musical genres. Some musicians can play multiple genres with the same violin. The fiddle is more suitable to free-flowing genres like jazz, Cajun, blues, and others. But only the violin can play the more rigid classical music piece.
2) 5-String Violin
The 5-string violin is another modification to the classical violin. This violin is very similar to the classical four-stringed violin. Upon close inspection, the former has a deeper and wider body than the latter. Also, the 5-string violin sports a larger pegbox. With the inclusion of a fifth string, this violin combines the ranges of both the violin and the viola. The 5-string violin is compatible with various musical genres like bluegrass, jazz, country, and swing.