Although it is distantly related to the ancient lyre, the violin, with its modern characteristics, hails from sixteenth-century Italy. A stringed instrument and highest-pitched member of the violin family, the violin typically contains four strings that are tuned to perfect fifths. The instrument is played by a violinist who bows the violin. Usually regarded as an acoustic instrument, the violin may also be electrified.
Violins are constructed in an hourglass shape and comprised of such parts as the soundboard, back, strings, neck, endblocks, ribs, neck, bridge, strings, soundpost, and typically (though not always) the chinrest. The hourglass portion of the violin contains two upper bouts and two lower bouts that are divided by a waist. At the waist are two concave bouts. The instrument’s strings are tuned at the tuning pegs in the pegbox which is located under the scroll. Maple is the preferred wood for violin construction. A violin’s bow is essentially a stick strung with a ribbon of horsehair.
Violins are traditionally played with the instrument’s chinrest placed beneath the left side of the jaw and supported by the violinist’s left shoulder. The fingers of the left hand maneuver the strings while the right hand bows them. Various playing and bowing techniques make the violin one of the best known instruments in the world. When the violin is played for folk styles of music it is regarded as a fiddle and its players are known as fiddlers. The violin is considered one of the most important instruments in classical music.
The violin is a relative of the lyre and most particularly connected to the Byzantine bowed lyre. Scholars believe the first bowed instruments stemmed from the equestrian cultures of the ancient Central Asian steppes. The present form of the violin comes from Northern Italy where its origin is particularly connected to Venice and Genoa and other nearby cities associated with the Silk Route. Although the date of 1515 is oft disputed, this date is widely accepted as the date of the earliest constructed four-string violin. This particular violin is credited to Andrea Amati who is among the world’s earliest violin makers. Earlier three-stringed versions existed, but these were known as violettas.
From its birth, the sixteenth-century violin became popular among all classes of musicians. Some of the world’s finest examples of violins, like the Gasparo da Sala (c. 1574), remain in museums. Other early and acclaimed violin makers include members of such families as Inverardi, Bertolotti, Guarneri, and, most famously, Strativari. Violins made by Strativari and other “Golden Age” violin makers are among the most collectible instruments in the world.