Updated: Nov 13
A quick look at the process of making a violin.
Alongside instruments like the piano and guitar, the violin is one of the most popular and well-known musical instruments in the world, the sweet, soprano sound it produces making it a staple part of many forms of music. But how does a violin achieve its iconic sound?
Initially a three-stringed instrument, the violin originated from 16th century Italy. It quickly grew in popularity, not only among the common folk, but with nobility as well, and in 1560, French king Charles IX commissioned luthier (string instrument maker) Andrea Amati to make 24 violins for him, including the oldest surviving violin to date, the "Charles IX". Eventually, during the "Golden Age" of violin making in the 18th century, the most famous luthiers like Antonio Stradivari and Bartolomeo Giuseppe Guarneri crafted violins that formed the basis of the modern violin, their design only slightly changed since then. The most notable of these changes saw the fingerboard lengthened and attached at more of an angle. This allowed for greater tension across the strings, which in turn improved the range and projection of its sound.
A violin's various parts. Pyrkosz, Michael. (2013). Reverse Engineering the Structural and Acoustic Behavior of a Stradivari Violin.
However, the typically metal or synthetic strings are only the start of a violin's sound. When the strings, held taut by the tail piece and the tuning pegs, are bowed, the played string vibrates, transmitting the motion through the bridge, which itself affects the sound, into the body of the violin. Consisting of two arched wooden panels joined by the bordering ribs, this sound box can resist the tension of the strings whilst simultaneously being light enough to vibrate. So, as vibrations arrive from the strings through the bridge, the body resonates with the air inside, producing the rich tones violins are known for. Simple, right?
A more detailed look and explanation of hand-crafting a violin
Well actually, that's just the basics, as almost every aspect of a violin has an effect on its sound. Material-wise, various parts of the violin usually use spruce, maple, or ebony, but on top of the type of wood, the preparation process and the quirks of the individual pieces of wood have to be taken into account, since wood isn't uniform. Meanwhile, many of the violin's parts can be adjusted to fine tune the sound. The sound post inside the body, for example, can be moved. So if the sound is too thin and shrill, the post could be too close to the f-hole, or if the sound is weak, it could be too near the center of the violin, and so on and so forth. On top of these factors, various maintenance procedures like surfacing the fingerboard, or adjusting the string spacing contribute to each violin's unique condition and intonation.
Ultimately, the renowned string instrument's beautiful sound is a culmination of centuries of craftsmanship, and the subject of many a study. Having an idea of how it works isn't crucial to appreciating the music it produces, but perhaps the next time you listen to one, it might just resonate with you a little more.
Text by: Ambrose Cheung/Licha Stelaus Productions
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