An Introduction to the Parts of a Violin and What Difference they Make
In this Buyers Guide about the violin, we hope to offer some insight into this beautiful instrument and explain what each of its component parts are, what they do, where they fit and how they influence the quality, sound and 'feel' of the violin.
If you are currently looking to buy a violin, we have a lovely selection here, alternatively come along to one of our showrooms in Kent or Surrey and speak to a specialist.
What Makes a Violin so Special?
The Violin: a popular instrument that is also technically remarkable, the modern-day violin is one of the four bowed-string instruments (violin, viola, cello and double bass) that make up the String Family in the orchestra. While many of the components are the same for each of these, in this article we focus on the violin.
What are the Parts of a Violin?
*The scroll, pegbox and neck are all parts carved and crafted as part of a 'single piece of wood'* (usually Maple), establishing the structural strength required for the violin.
What does the Scroll on a violin do?
Seen at the top of this 'single piece of wood'*, the Scroll sits at the very top of a violin and it's primary function is aesthetic.
Often displaying the quality of workmanship of the maker, the scroll is carved in the shape of a rolled-up spiral (a volute)** and is a well-recognised feature of nearly all modern-day violins.
**Historically on some violins, instead of a scroll, the top was carved as the heads of people or animals.
What is the Pegbox on a violin?
The violin Pegbox is located just below the scroll - and is the narrow section between the fingerboard and the scroll.
Crafted and hollowed out from the same piece of wood making up the scroll, pegbox and neck, the pegbox has four holes drilled through which hold the pegs securely in place to tune the instrument.
Quality, 'aged' woods, precise manufacturing process (whether by machine or luthier), all help in creating a pegbox that will have peg-holes that keep their shape and offer a better tuning experience over a longer period.
How do the pegs on a violin stay in tune?
The Violin Pegs are located in the holes in the pegbox and have the tops of the violin strings wound around them, allowing tuning of the instrument by turning the peg clockwise or anti-clockwise. The pegs are held in place by a friction fit in the pegbox.
[There are also pegs called 'Perfection Pegs' that offer easier, accurate tuning, available from Brittens Music Shops, which can be fitted as an option. See the article "What are Perfection Pegs and What Makes Them Special?"]
What is the Nut or Top Saddle on a violin?
The Nut is fitted at the top of the fingerboard, just below the pegbox and is made from a small piece of wood, usually ebony, but can be synthetic material or bone. Acting as a guide for the strings onto the fingerboard, it maintains the spacing between the Strings and acts as the resonating break point, meaning the tuning vibration for the strings is between the nut and the bridge.
Where is the Neck on a violin?
The Neck, pegbox and scroll are carved from a single piece of wood*, with the neck section being just below the pegbox, the other end being attached to the main body of the violin. Along with the fingerboard it is crucial in offering rigidity to the instrument and for holding the fingerboard at the correct angle. A fully tensioned set of strings puts a great deal of strain on the neck, so strength here is a key requirement. It is in effect the 'backbone' of the violin.
What is the Fingerboard on a violin?
The Fingerboard is the long thin strip of wood (usually Ebony due to its strength and hardness) attached to the upper-side of the Neck. A smooth, precisely curved piece of wood, it is usually in a black finish and is where the violinist will hold the strings down to create the required notes for playing.
(Unlike a guitar, the Fingerboard does not have any frets to indicate the different notes, so the positioning has to be learned.)
What is the tuning for the Strings on a violin?
The violin has four strings tuned to G, D, A and E (from low to high) which are made from a variety of materials. Historically, gut strings were the most commonly used and are still prized by some violinists. Nowadays there are many options available including steel (E String), gut core, steel core and synthetic core.
Dependent on the type of strings, there are also choices of gauge available (light, medium and heavy). These choices offer different tone and playability and will usually come down to the preferences and skills of the individual player.
What is purfling on a violin?
On the majority of violins the black lines are the outer edges of the Purfling itself, which is usually a laminate - typically of 3 very thin layers of material that are sandwiched together, with the two outer dark layers creating the familiar lines around the edges and a lighter wood or other material in between.
Purfling is important to the robustness of the top and back plates, protecting their edges and in doing so, helping to avoid potential cracks and splits as well as enhancing the aesthetic appearance of the instrument.
See the full article, What is Purfling and Why is it Important?
Do I need a specialist to setup a Violin Bridge?
By contrast, when setup professionally by a luthier or technician, the bridge will make the instrument easier to play and ensure the acoustic design of the violin and the abilities of the player can shine through at their best.
What wood is a violin Top Plate made from?
The Top Plate is the heart of the violin and is where the real 'magic' begins to happen. It must be carved in such a way that the sound waves can move freely around the surface and, via the soundpost and sides (ribs), through to the rest of the violin.
One of the most important elements of any violin is the wood used. Most violins use Spruce for the top plate, but that is where the generality usually ends.
As violins move up in quality, the wood that's used is generally 'aged' and 'dried' (seasoned) for a number of years, and sometimes includes additional processes to help improve the acoustic qualities still further. In most instances though, the more seasoned the wood that the violin is built from, the higher the instrument quality.
The reason that drying and ageing is so important is that with less moisture present in wood, sound waves can travel through it more easily, allowing the top-plate to resonate more freely. With better timbers, makers feel able to spend much more time over detailed thicknessing and tuning plates.
Both of these factors are highly beneficial to sound, clarity, volume and projection, all very important when building good quality instruments.
For example, all Sandner Violins use aged and dried woods in their manufacture to achieve a high quality sound, stable tuning and a great sound projection, and in keeping with this article, as you move up through the models from the 300p beginner violin, to the high end CV4 or 309 Intermediate Violin and on to the MV4 316 'Master' Violin, the woods used are aged and dried for longer periods.
What is the Soundpost in a violin for and where is it?
The Soundpost, also referred to as a Soulpost is small cylindrical dowel, usually made of Spruce wood, that is stood inside a violin between the top and back plates. It sits under the top plate, below the treble foot of the bridge, but set slightly behind it (nearer the Tailpiece).
It has two main functions:
i) Transmit the soundwaves from the top to back plates
ii) Adjust the relative tensions across the front and back
See the full article "What is a Soundpost on a Violin and What Does the Soundpost Do?"
Where is the Bass Bar on a violin?
The Bass bar on a violin is hopefully never seen in full by the violinist (unless they are a luthier!), as it is fixed to the underside of the top plate of the violin, but it can be glimpsed by looking through the 'f' hole on the bass side. Like the soundpost, it has two roles...
i) It adds to the strength of the top plate to work alongside the soundpost in accommodating the down-pressure of the strings.
ii) It helps spread the sound across the top plate improving the projection.
See the full article "What is the Bass Bar on a Violin and What Does it Do?"
Why does a violin have F Holes?
The F Holes on a violin serve 3 purposes;
i) Aesthetic - they are a root styling in the design of a violin, which creates the familiar look that everyone knows
ii) Sound output - they help allow the sound waves created inside the body of the violin (the resonant chamber) to be projected more easily from the instrument.
iii) Access to the inside - The F holes also act as the access to the inside of the violin, needed for erecting the Soundpost, interior cleaning and other maintenance.
What type of wood is used when making a violin Back Plate?
The Back Plate on most violins is made of Maple, with upper quality models having many additional features that enhance the sound and often the look of the instrument. On higher level models, there may be flamed Maple colouring to a lesser or greater degree. In some cases there is a single plate for the back and on others a book-matched back, which gives the design a mirrored appearance.
What are Ribs on a violin?
The sides of a violin usually referred to as the 'Ribs' are usually made from the same type of wood as used for the back-plate. Again this will most usually be Maple and is part of the strength and structure of the violin.
What part of the violin is the Tailpiece?
The Tailpiece [see 'Fine Tuners' picture below] again has a crucial role in literally pulling the instrument together in terms of keeping the strings attached or anchored at the lower end on the instrument. When fitted correctly, it will enhance the harmonics and sound of the instrument by helping keep everything acting as a single acoustic unit.
Tailpieces are made from various types of wood and more recently plastic and carbon-composites have become popular too. Some types of tailpiece have fine tuners built into their structure.
The tailpiece in-turn is secured in place by the tension of the strings on its upper end and by the Tailgut at its lower end. This tailgut is then stretched over the end of the violin and loops around the violin Endpin.
What is the Endpin (Tailpin) on a violin and what is it for?
The Endpin, a small but significant part of all violins, it is a small piece of tapered wood (usually ebony for its hardness) that is fitted into the hole at the end of the violin body (supported inside the violin by a specially taper-drilled block of wood), creating a firm anchor for the Tail-Gut / Nylon to be looped around and securely held in place.
Where is the Bottom Saddle on a violin and what does it do?
The Bottom Saddle is fixed into the lower end of the top plate [under the tailpiece], protecting the edge of the plate from the tailgut which is tensioned down across it, attached to the endpin.
Why are there Fine Tuners on a violin?
Fine Tuners [as seen in the image] are to be found on most standard violins, usually on all four strings. However, on higher level instruments, owing to the increased levels of precision, and quality of components and build, it is more common to see a fine tuner only on the high 'E' string, as this is the most sensitive string to tune.
Fine tuners are a very useful addition to the violin as, due to the nature of friction-fit pegs, it is not always easy to achieve accurate tuning without them, especially for beginners.
There are alternative pegs, known as Perfection Pegs, which remove the need for fine tuners [see above].
Do I need a Chinrest and can you change it?
The Chinrest plays an important part in achieving a comfortable posture and playing position when using your violin. It is mounted above the lower end of the violin top plate and is fitted by a clamp mechanism attached to the chinrest.
Chinrests are available in different woods, styles and quality levels, and a violin will usually be supplied with a chinrest which can be easily changed.
Why have a Shoulder Rest for your violin?
Getting the right combination of chinrest and Shoulder Rest helps a player's confidence, comfort and posture.
This is especially important for younger players and beginners helping them to establish their playing style and feel confident holding their violin.
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