The structure of the violin
The main elements of a modern violin
A violin with its distinctive "hourglass" shape is made of many components: the top plate (or belly), made of well-seasoned spruce, maple ribs and back, a tailpiece to fasten the strings, a bridge, the f-holes or soundholes at the "waist" of the instrument, a neck with the fingerboard, a soundpost (inside the instrument), a pegbox housing the four tuning pegs for the strings (in former times made of catgut, still employed today for Baroque instruments) ending in a scroll. Modern instruments have various fittings, including a chinrest, which may attached directly over, or to the left of the tailpiece, and at least one fine-tuner for the E-string (nowadays made of plain or gold-plated steel), attached on the tailpiece.
The front, back, and ribs are joined together to form a hollow soundbox. The soundbox contains the soundpost, a thin, dowel-like stick of wood wedged inside underneath the right side of the bridge which connects the front and back of the violin; and the bass-bar, a long strip of wood glued to the inside of the front under the left side of the bridge. The soundpost and bass-bar are important for transmitting sound, they also provide additional structural support.
The bridge is made of a precisely cut piece of maple that forms the lower anchor point of the vibrating length of the strings and transmits their vibration to the body of the instrument. Its top curve holds the strings at the proper height from the fingerboard in an arc, allowing each to be sounded separately by the bow.
One slight difference between a "fiddle" and an ordinary violin is a small change of the bridge. Fiddlers often prefer a less curved bridge, which makes it easier for them to rapidly play double stops, and makes triple stops possible, allowing one to play chords, one of the prime characteristics fiddle music.
The neck is usually made of maple. It carries the fingerboard, typically made of ebony, because of its hardness, beauty and superior resistance to wear, as the maple neck alone is not strong enough to support the tension of the strings without bending, relying on its lamination with the fingerboard for strength.
The strings are fastened to the tailpiece.They rest on the bridge, suspended over the fingerboard, and run to the pegbox, where they are attached to the tuning pegs (commonly made of rose wood) that can be turned to change the pitch of the string.
Violins of the Baroque period are distinct in a number of features from their modern counterparts. The neck, usually shorter than those of modern instruments, projects straight out from the body so that its upper edge continues in line with the belly's rim. The fingerboard is wedge-shaped and, again, shorter than the modern fingerboard. Bridges were cut to a more open pattern and were very slightly lower. The bass-bar was shorter and lighter and the soundpost thinner. Baroque violins (and violas) lacked chinrests, as they usually rested at the chest or collar-bone (see below). Their tone is brighter, clearer, but produce inferior volume (partly due to the use of catgut strings) and are less "mellow" than those of their modern counterparts.
As the violin is usually played with a bow, essential fiddling as well, a closer look to its structure and slightly different forms may be instructive
A violin bow consists of a wooden stick, usually made of Pernambuco, a hard but very flexible reddish wood from Brazil (hence sometimes called "brazilwood"). The bow's ribbon has about 150 horsehairs from the tail of "white" (technically, gray) male horses, preferably those from northern climates, since their hair provides more friction. The increased length (see the following) together with the downward curved form of the stick are the results of the upcoming long melodic lines in the music of the Classical and Romantic period. This form of a violin bow, used until today, was developed by the French bow maker Franz Xavier Tourte (1747-1835) according to suggestions of the famous Italian violinist and composer Giovanni Battista Viotti (1755-1824).
The hairs are fixed in a groove inside the head of the bow and to a nut in a movable frog that slides along the stick allowing one to tighten or loosen the hairs with the help of a screw adjuster. A typical violin bow may be c. 74,5 cm overall and weigh about 60 g and is made by specialized bow makers.
Before using the bow, the hairs must be prepared by rubbing them with violin rosin, a resin made of pines and other conifers, to increase the friction capacity of the bow, and therefore to enhance the sound production.
The bows used in earlier centuries, however, differ to some degree from modern ones most likely consequence of the different musical styles which had been developed through the centuries.
While today's violin bow curves downward in the middle, the earlier period bows are straight (Baroque bow) or slightly convex-arched under tension. The period bow becomes thinner near the tip which comes to an exaggerated point. It is shorter and therefore lighter in weight, which makes it far more suitable for playing dance music which requires agility and rapidity. The tension of the bowhair could be controlled to some degree by holding the bow with the thumb placed under the bow strings. In this way the player could tighten or relax the bowstring tension at will. Increased tension was used for playing on a single string while a relaxing of the bowstrings' tension, together with a less curved bridge (see above) permitted playing on two or more strings simultaneously.