Jean Pierre Gheerardyn                                                                                                                                                                                                          

Vioolbouwer - luthier



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The violin has been not invented but developed out of other musical instruments. Therefore, it is not possible to attribute the violin to one musician or maker. However, its development is not unequivocal. There are no written resources because originally the violin was a folk instrument.

The instruments which contributed most to the development of the violin are the rebec, the renaissance fiddle and the lira da braccio. The development into the violin has happened very fast and intensively because the violin combined the techical and musical properties of these three instruments : a good and strong tone, the tuning in quints (fifth's), a good playability and the possibility to play on a single string.

The rebec



- pear-shaped, folk instrument from the Renaissance (15th and 16th century);

- 3 strings in quints (fifth's) (g-d'-a'). (The violin is tuned in fifth's as well (g-d'-a'-e'');

- a sharp and penetrating sound;

- commonly used during open-air feasts and dance parties;

- the bridge has a slightly rounded shape to be able to play on a single string;

- rosette (like the lute) and c- or f-holes;

- a flat front and an arched back;

- ribs are absent;

- side-tuners


The combination of these characteristics did not occur anymore during the further development of stringed instruments.

The last representative of this kind of instrument was called the “pochette en bateau” or sordino. The relationship between the rebec and the violin is not in the form of the instrument, but in the tuning in fifth’s and the presence of side-tuners versus sagittal screws.


The fiddle

(from vitulari (in latin) = jubilate; cf. angels on paintings)



- the basic form was already present in the 12th and 13th centuries;

- a flat back, but sometimes slightly arched;

- a flat front;

- the presence of ribs.


The fiddle can already be considered as a violin-like instrument. During the 14th and 15th centuries, several improvements have occurred:

- an increased constriction of the middle bouts to promote playability (this was possible because of the use of corner-blocs);

- a scroll with side-tuners;

- a slender neck, a more curved bridge and fingerboard to improve the playability.


The lira da braccio

(developed from the fiddle)



- instrument from the 15th and 16th centuries;

- still showed some characteristics of the fiddle but also had certain properties of the violin, which developed later on;

- the front and the back are arched;

- edges of front and back protruding;

- a soundpost;

- two bourdon strings and five normal strings (tuning of the bourdon strings: d-d’, of the normal strings g-g’-d’-a’-e’ (violin: g-d’-a’-e’’). So four strings are identical   to our violin!

- a heart-shaped tuning plate with sagittal screws;

- two sizes : 70 to 75 cm (27.6 – 29.53 inch) and 90cm (35.43 inch)




The existence of the violin can be confirmed when an instrument with the principal characteristics of our present-day violin has been depicted in a drawing or painting (iconography). The number of strings should be left out of consideration as the first violins only had three strings. During the 18th century, there even existed a small violin with five strings : the “quinton” (tuning : g-d’-a’-d’’-g’’ or g-c’-e’-a’-d’’).

The oldest picture of a violin can be found on a painting from Guadenzio Ferrari (°ca. 1480 - +1546) : “La Madonna degli arranci (the Madonna with the Orange tree). This painting hangs in the church of San Cristofori in Vercelli (South of Milano - Italy). The painting has been made around 1529/1530, and shows the violin with only three strings. In paintings from about 1550, the violin is shown with four strings already. It can be stated with certainty that the violin came into existence around this period

© Copyright J.P. Gheerardyn