Unlike many instruments, whose origins are lost to the mists of time, the birthplace of the modern violin is comparatively easy to pinpoint. The fiddler’s Garden of Eden was Cremona, Italy, where, in the middle of the 16th century, a stringed-instrument maker named Andrea Amati made Cremona the center of violin making in Europe. In the 17th century, Amati’s grandson Nicolo ran the atelier, where Giuseppe Guarneri was an apprentice, as well as Antonio Stradivari, although the evidence for that claim is inconclusive.

Whether Stradivari, who made about 1,000 violins in his lifetime (about half of which still exist), actually learned his craft from an Amati or not is almost beside the point, since his earliest violins are in the Amati style. By the 1680s, though, Stradivari was making the instrument his own, changing its shape, the size of the blocks that reinforced the body from the inside, and even the color and composition of the varnish.

In fact, today some people believe the varnish used on Stradivari violins may have been the secret sauce that made their sound so exquisite and their construction so enduring. Stradivari mixed silica and potash into his varnish, and soaked the instrument’s maple body with the shimmering, hard-drying liquid. Today, his 18th-century violins are the most highly-sought instruments in the world, routinely selling for hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars at auction.

What is not known about Cremona is why violin-making there faded away after around 1750. By that time, though, the instrument had arrived in the United States, where founding fathers such as Thomas Jefferson performed Mozart for his guests. Reportedly, Jefferson also taught his slaves to play violins (doing so was a standard practice among slave owners), which means African Americans were probably playing violins before guitars.

By the end of the 19th century, violins were inexpensive and widely used instruments in America, second only to pianos. Sears and Montgomery Wards sold them for as little as $2 each, importing the instruments from Bohemia (the present-day Czech Republic), where they had been produced since the 1600s. That tradition would be essentially halted during World War II, as would the resurgent violin industry in Cremona, which started up again in the 1960s and has become a draw for tourists visiting the northern Italian city.

Meanwhile, in the United States, bluegrass and Western swing musicians turned their violins into fiddles, not so much due to the modifications they would make to their instruments (often there were none) but for the style of music they played. Famous fiddlers of these down-home genres included the late Vassar Clements, who played a 300-year-old French-made Duiffoprugcar with everyone from bluegrass legend Bill Monroe, who formed the Blue Grass Boys in 1939, to Jerry Garcia, who played banjo with Old and In the Way when he wasn’t working his day job as the lead guitarist of the Grateful Dead. One of the most versatile violinists on the scene today is Andy Stein, who played saxophone and violin with Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen before performing for 22 years with the Prairie Home Companion radio show’s house band (for the record, Stein usually plays a “no-name Chinese fiddle," which, he says, "works pretty well for most of my purposes”).

Not surprisingly, the violin has also been embraced by jazz musicians. Parisian Stephane Grappelli played an 18th-century Montagnana, as well as a Gioffredo Cappa, which may have been even older. Other musicians have chosen to go electric, including Jean-Luc Ponty, who favors a six-string Violectra, among numerous other instruments. In recent years, violin makers such as Christophe Landon have kept the traditions of the glory days of Cremona alive, while makers such as Guy Rabut and especially Roger Lanne have pushed the design of violins in radical new directions.


Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

National Music Museum

National Music Museum

The National Music Museum, which is located at the University of South Dakota in Vermillion, features 15,000 instru… [read review or visit site]



Most watched eBay auctions    

Miniature Violin Case Victorian Antique Travelling Inkwell Dip Pen Wipe Brush200+ Years Old Italian 4/4 Violin Violon Geige Lab.: C.g.testore 1715200+ Years Old Italian 4/4 Violin Violon Geige Lab.: J.b.guadagnini 1741C.tononi 1729 Label ! Old 4/4 Masterpiece Violin Violon Geige Amazing ViolinOld Master Italian Violin Labeled: Alexander Gaglianus 1723 ! Fine Old Wood ! ! Very Old 4/4 Violin With Label: C.camilli 1781 Geige Violon ViolinOld Master Italian Violin Labeled: Mario Bedocchi 1940 !!! Fine Old Wood ! ! Antique Silvio Paoletti Italian Labeled 4/4 Old Violin4/4 Violin Old For Parts Or RestoreAntique Heinrich Th. Heberlein Jr. Markneukirchen 1927 Violin Germany Antique 1927 Wurlitzer Violin "master Art" Grancino Reproduction, Ready To Play!Old Master Italian Violin Labeled:joseph Rocca 1856 !!! Fine Old Wood ! ! Good Antique German Violin For Set Up And Repair-no Reserve!Old Master Italian Violin Labeled: Panizzi Giovanni 1937 ! Fine Old Wood ! ! Cajetanus Sgarabotto Old Labeled Antique Italian 4/4 Master ViolinOld Interesting And Fine French Violin Gand 1859 Geige Violon Violino ViolineAntique English Violin By Walter Mayson, The "spencer", No.7, 1883 Rare Antique French - Joseph Hel Labeled 4/4 Old Master ViolinExcellent Antique Silver Mounted English Violin Bow-ready To Play!Old Violin, John Juzek, Ca. 1950s, Good Cond., Good ToneVery Old 4/4 Violin With Label: Degani G. E. 1908 Geige Violon CelloGorgeous Old Violin Silvius Delenus Romae Anno 1949Antique Giovan Paolo Maggini Brefcia 1650 Full 4/4 Violin W/bow And Wooden CaseOriginal Viennese Violin By Johannes Christophoros Leidolff, 1787Great 4/4 Viola Ready To Play Bratsche Violin Violon Geige L:g.l.bisiach 1958Antique Authentic 1926, Fritz Gutter, German Silver Mounted Violin Bow, Nr1925 Albert Deblaye Signed French Violin Lutherie ArtistiqueFine Old 4/4 Violin, Giege, Viol, Viola, Cello, Violon, Used Antique VintageVintage Mid Century 4/4 Violin Lot W/ Stamped Bausch Bow German & Alligator Case100 Years Old 4/4 Violin Geige Violon Label: L.storioni 1770To Enjoy! 4/4 Violin Lab: V.bellarosa 1950 Geige Violon Violin Great SoundOld Fine Master Violin Venice 1726 Geige Violon Violino Violine Viola FiddleYamaha Sv-130 Silent Violin Old Antique 4/4 French Labeled Violin, Emile Germain A' Paris 1896A Lovely!!! 4/4 Violin Lab: Simonazzi Amedeo 1951 Geige Violon Antique Nicolaus Amatus Fecit In Cremona 1731 Violin In Case 4/4 Full SizeNice Very Old 4/4 Violin With Label: Chanot 1825 Geige ViolonGorgeos! Antique Old 4/4 Violin Lab: P.michetti 1928 Violon Geige $.99 No Reserve! Ornate Antique! Vintage 4/4 Violin. Very Old Case And Fresh BowOld Vuillaume Paris French Violin In Wooden Case Used By Henny Youngman Comedian******* Old Labeled Italian Master Violin ************** Old Labeled Italian Master Violin *******Fine Old Italian Violin Bellarosa Napoli 1944 Certified //antique Vintage RareAntique Joseph Collingwood Violin, 1919, American, Excellent ConditionOld 4/4 Violin Stradivarius / Antique Violin Stradivarius / Alte GeigeOld Vintage ViolinVery Old 4/4 Violin With Label And Stamp Stainer Geige Violon CelloExtremely Rare!!!! French Violin Bow By François Bazin C.1850! No Reserve! 60gOld Fine Master Violin Labeled Pacherel 1836 Geige Violon Violino Violine FiddleOld Violin Dated 1931 No. 76 ,maker: M.h. Cook Vancouver, Wash. Beautiful,lqqk!!Antique Vintage German French Italian Antonius Stradivarius 4/4 Violin1940's Antique Gibson V-15-1041 Violin Fine, Antique Old Italian School Violin 4/4Violin John Juzek Circa 1920s Prague Czechoslovakia Signed Old Fine Rare Violin Lab V.postiglione Geige Violon Violino Violine Viola FiddleHofner Violin Bass 1967 Project Beatles Model Neck Is Bowed Mccartney BassBarcus Berry Vibrato-ae Series Acoustic-electric Violin BlueAntonio Stradivari Copy A T20 Violin Perfect Arching&thickness,open Warm ToneRare Fine Quality Antique Cornerless 4/4 Violin With Two Piece Back No LabelVintage 4/4 Violin By Roth And Lederer 1927 With Case