Violin Information

Glossary

 

Adjuster - See: Fine tuners and Screw button.

Antiquing – The technique in varnish application to make violins look older than they are.

Back, back plate – The part of the violin opposite of the top that does not have the bridge on it. Made from Maple

Baroque violin – A violin made prior to the updated neck length and bass bar that has a more mellow sound. Set up with gut strings to play the music of the Baroque era.

Bass bar - Wooden bar that runs most of the length on the inside of the top on the bass side, it transmits the bridges vibration to the entire top. Made from spruce.

Belly - See Top.

Body - The body consists of the top (belly), the back and the sides (ribs).

Bottom nut - See: Saddle.

Bow - Violins and violas are played with a bow. The bow is made from wood Pernambuco or Brazilwood) or a number of different composite materials and is strung with horse hair. See also: Bow hair, Frog, and Stick.

Bow grip - Piece of leather around the stick of the bow; also used with silver, silk or fake whalebone winding or lapping adjacent to it. It’s also known as thumb grip.

Bow hair - The hair of the bow made from the tails of horses bread for their tails. For a full size bow the hair needs to be around 30” in length. The horse hair is sometimes removed from dead horses but also the hair is cultivated for its length from live ones as just a few inches longer hair can double the value of the hair. 

Bridge - The strings run over the bridge, which passes the vibration of the strings on to the top. The bridge is never glued on to the top of the violin. It sits on its feet about midway between the f-holes on the top and is held up only by the sheer pressure of the strings. The thicknesses and quality of the wood are very important to the sound and an improper bridge can ruin the sound of a good violin. Made from Maple.

Button - See: End button.

Catgut - The oldest material used for violin strings. The name comes from cattle gut, although actually sheep gut is used. And this was what violin strings were made up for centuries before the development of steel and then synthetic core strings.

C-bout - The waist or narrow part of the body.

Cello – The largest member of the violin family. Sounds an octave lower than a viola and tuned adgc with the C being the lowest note. It is placed with an extended end button or endpin that rests on the floor. The cello is the most natural instrument of the violin to play.

Channel - The 'valley' near the edge of both the top and the back before the upward arching begins. The purfling sits in this channel.

Cheeks - The sides of the pegbox.

Children's violins - See: Fractional sizes.

Chin rest - is a shaped piece of wood (or plastic) attached to the body of a violin or a viola to aid in the positioning of the player's jaw or chin on the instrument. The chinrest may be made of ebony, rosewood, boxwood, or plastic. It was invented by Louis Spohr in the early 19th century in response to increasingly difficult repertoire which demanded freer left hand techniques than had previously been used.

Curl - See: Flamed wood. 

Ebony - A dense black wood, most commonly yielded by several species in the genus Diospyros, but ebony may also refer to other heavy, black (or dark colored) woods from unrelated species. Ebony is dense enough to sink in water. It is used for the pegs, tailpiece, fingerboard, nut, saddle, chinrest and endpin.

Electric violin - An electric violin can be plugged straight into an amplifier, just like an electric guitar. It can refer to an instrument made specifically for that purpose that may or may not have a resonating body, or it can be an acoustic violin where a pick up or transducer is attached.

End button - A pin on the lower bout of the violin or viola where natural or synthetic but strong rope called a tailgut is attached to the tailpiece.

End pin - The end button on a cello that includes a length of steel or carbon fiber rod to assist the player to support the instrument on the floor.

End screw - See: Screw button.

Eye, Parisian eye - Inlaid decoration on tuning pegs, frogs, and other parts. A Parisian eye is a mother-of-pearl dot with a small metal ring around it.

f-hole - The sound holes of a violin are shaped like an f.

Fine tuners - Small, additional tuning mechanisms in the tailpiece. Also referred to as tuning adjusters, string tuners, and string adjusters. After the strings have been closely adjusted by the pegs, then you should fine tune it with the fine tuners.

Fingerboard - When you play, you press down or stop the strings against the fingerboard. It is made from Ebony and on the violin family of instruments it is unfretted.

Fittings - Collective name for the violin's replaceable parts, e.g., tailpiece, chinrest, endpin, pegs, and nut, but the fingerboard as well. Also known as the trim.

Flamed wood - Many violins have a back and ribs which look as though they have been 'licked by flames'. This flamed, figured, or curled wood is usually more expensive than plain wood.

Fractional sizes - Violins and violas in small or proportional sizes, designed for children. Fractional sized instruments need fractional sized strings. The violin has small sizes from ¾ down to 1/16 and violin which uses inch sizes goes from 14” down to 11” in ½” increments. The violin family of instruments is the only instrument that can be played by children as young as 3. No other instruments can be made small and sound the same as their larger brothers. However the smaller instruments do not have the power or quality of sound as the full size counterparts.

Frog - One end of the bow hair is held in place inside the frog. At the bottom of the frog is the slide. Most frogs are full-lined with a metal back plate. At the front, where the hair enters the frog, it passes through the ferrule or D-ring. The frog end of the bow is where you hold the bow when you play. Mostly made from Ebony, however tortoiseshell, ivory and composite materials have been used.

F-stop - See: String length.

Full-size violin - The regular, 4/4 size violin. See also: Fractional sizes. A full size violin is 14” in body length, viola – 15-17”, cello - 30”.

Fully-carved - Fully-carved instruments have tops and backs made by carving only, no laminated materials.

German silver - See: Nickel silver.

Hair - See: Bow hair.

Heel – aka back button. The semi-circular projection of the back where the neck is glued in. 

Lining - Thin strips of wood glued to the inside edges of the body. They run along the edges of the top and back plates to give strength and provide a wider gluing surface.

Luthier - Another name for a (master) violin maker.

Master violin - Built by a master violin maker from start to finish.

Mensur ratio - See: String length.

Mountings - The metal parts of a bow.

Mute - A mute makes your sound a little sweeter and softer. Practice mutes muffle the sound a lot.

Neck - The neck connects the body with the scroll of the violin. The fingerboard is attached to the neck. The neck and scroll are one piece of wood unless a repair was needed requiring a neck graft.

Nickel silver - Mixture of copper, zinc, and nickel. Also known as German silver.

Nut - The wooden strip over which the strings run at the top end of the neck. Also called top nut. Made of Ebony.

Parisian eye - See: Eye, Parisian eye.

Pegbox - The (tuning) pegs are fit into the pegbox. The pegbox houses the strings as they wind onto the pegs. 

Peg compound, peg dope - A number of commercial products are made to lubricate the pegs to make them move smoothly.

Pickup - Small, thin sensor that converts the vibrations of your strings into electrical signals, so that you can plug your violin into an amplifier.

Plain strings - Unwound strings. See also: Wound strings.

Plain wood - See: Flamed wood.

Plates - The back and the top (table or belly) of the instrument.

Practice mute - See: Mute.

Practice violin - A violin without a sound box for silent practice.

Proportional instruments - See: Fractional sizes.

Purfling - Inlaid decoration which also protects the top and back from edge cracks spreading into the plate. Many old violins the purfling is made from whalebone or thin strips of wood, 2 of which were stained black. Today in addition to dyed wood, a composite fiber material is widely used. The purfling style is one of the “signatures” of the maker.

Quarter-cut, quarter-sawn wood - If you saw a tree trunk or sections of it into quarters (the way you would cut a cake into slices), you get stronger wood.

Ribs - The sides of the body. Made from maple, when completed the ribs are only about 1mm thick on the violin.

Rosin - Without rosin to make the bow hair sticky, your bow will do nothing at all. Rosin is made from the Resin or Sap from Pine type trees. Rosin is a filtered and cooked version of Resin with different materials added to make it have different properties. Light and Dark rosins differ in their stickiness and thus allow different playing characteristics.

Saddle - A strip, usually of ebony, that prevents the top from being damaged by the tailgut that holds the tailpiece in place. Also known as the bottom nut.

Screw button - Used to tighten and relax the bow hair. Also called end screw or adjuster. It threads into a brass eyelet in the frog.

Scroll - The scroll or volute is a decoration at the top of the neck. Another of the makers signatures, the scroll can deviate the most from standard making it a true signature.

Shoulder rest - Ranging from simple pads or cushions, to complicated multi-adjustable supports. A shoulder rest allows the violin or viola to be placed on the shoulder with support and allowing the arm to be freer to move around the fingerboard and into the upper positions.

Slide – Also see: Frog. The slide is a pearl or plastic covering that hides and protects the hair as it enters the frog.

Sound post - Thin, round piece of wood lightly wedged between top and back. Referred to as the 'soul' of the violin, the sound posts thickness and especially its placement is critical to the sound of the instrument. In addition to supporting the Treble side of the bridge, it acts as a pivot point for the top as it undulated under the vibrations caused by the string movement.

Stick - The wooden - or synthetic - part of your bow.

Stop - See: String length.

Stradivarius - Antonio Stradivari, often referred to as Stradivarius, is the world's most famous violin-maker. He was trained by Nicolas Amati related to the father of the violin, Andreas Amati. Stradivari is the most copied violin maker of all time with literally millions of violins displaying facsimiles of his labels. Most are not even close to being copies. Stradivari is known to have made around 1100 instruments which around 500 exist today and are known where they are. It would be easier to win 10 million dollar lotteries in a row than to find an unknown Stradivari. 

String adjusters - See: Fine tuners.

String Bass – aka Double Bass, Bass Viol, Bass Fiddle, Bull Fiddle, Acoustic Bass, Upright Bass.  Larger than the cello, it is actually not a member of the violin family, but rather the viol family like the viola d’ gamba. It is tuned with the same notes of the violin GDAE, however the G is highest on the Bass while lowest on the Violin. It is thus tuned in 4ths like the Viol family vs the violin family being tuned in 5ths.

String height - The distance from the strings to the fingerboard, measured at the end nearest the bridge.

String length - Usually refers to the length of the strings between nut and bridge, also known as their vibrating or speaking length. Violin makers also use the term f-stop, referring to the distance from the top edge of the body to the notches of the f-holes. The ratio between the distance from the nut to the edge, and from the edge to the notches is referred to as the stop or the mensur ratio. String length is also referred to as scales.

String tuners - See: Fine tuners.

Strings - replacing strings - Violin strings are available in gut, synthetic-core, and steel-core versions, and with winding's made of all kinds of metals. Steel strings are typically used by beginners as they are cheaper and can be used more efficiently with fine tuners. They are also used in alternative music styles such as jazz and bluegrass music. Gut strings are mostly only used on very fine instruments as the subtleties that they can bring out are not noticed on all but the best instruments or on period instruments playing baroque music.  Synthetic strings are the most common string used, they have a type of nylon core and are then wrapped with different materials to give different sound characteristics.

Table - See: Top.

Tailgut – A gut, metal or synthetic loop that attaches the tailpiece to the endpin or end button.

Tailpiece - The strings are attached to the tailpiece, and the tailpiece is attached to the end button with the tailpiece loop or tailgut. It is made from Ebony, Rosewood or Boxwood.

Top – It has the “f” holes and is the most important components of a violin: the top of the body, also known as table or belly. The opposite side is the back.

Top nut - See: Nut.

Trim - See: Fittings.

Tuning - Violins are tuned using the tuning pegs or the fine tuners.

Tuning adjusters - See: Fine tuners.

Tuning pegs - Violins are tuned using four tuning pegs, sometimes in combination with one or more fine tuners. Often simply called a peg. The pegs are made from Ebony, Rosewood or Boxwood.

Varnish - The varnish used is important for the sound and the appearance of your violin. Varnish is made from natural materials from different gums and resins. It is colored with materials both from natural and man-made pigments. It must be not too hard or it will dampen and brighten the instruments sound or be easily chipped. It also must not be too soft as it will be sticky and muddy the sound. Varnish is either a spirit (alcohol) base or an oil base. The great old makers of Italy used oil varnish probably originally made and sold by the local apothecary. 

White violins - Unfinished violins referred to as “in the white”.

Winding - See: Bow grip and Wound strings.

Wolf tone, wolf tone eliminator - A wolf tone is produced when a note being played matches the natural resonating frequency of the body of a musical instrument, producing a sympathetic overtone that amplifies the frequencies of the original note, which is frequently accompanied by an oscillating or beating (due to the difference in frequencies between the natural note and artificial overtone) which can sound similar to a howling animal. Frequently, the wolf is present on or in between the pitches E and F♯ on the viola or cello, and around G♯ on the double bass.  A wolf can be reduced or eliminated with a piece of equipment called a wolf tone eliminator. A brass wolf tone eliminator typically placed on the G string (second string from the left) of a cello, between the bridge and the tailpiece.

Wound strings - Most violin strings are wound with some type of metal wire; often the E-string is the only unwound or plain string but a few manufacturers make a wound E.

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