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    

Violin French Labeled Collin-mezin 1923Rare A. Sitt Guarneri Antique Old Violin Violino Violine Viola Violini CzechNice Old Antique Vintage "e. Reinhold Schmidt" Full Size Violin - No Reserve Fantastic Antique Markneukirchen, German Violin-exc. Cond. - Big, Sweet Sound!!Antique Old Vintage 1913 "lyon & Healy Style 1023" Violin - NrOld Manggini German Violin Copy, High Quality 4/4size W/ Bow In Case Nr!!!Antique Jtl Virtuose Violin, Jerome Thibouville Lamy, 4/4, Made In France, Nr!!! Old Antique Vintage Violin Lab. Giuseppe Pedrazzini 1929 No Reserve! No ReserveAndrea Guarnerius 4/4 Violin In Case W/ BowFine Antique French Violin Bow By Collin Mezin C. 1900 Ready-to-play, No ReserveRare O'neill Bisque Kewpie Playing Violin With Doodle Dog On Basket Trinket BoxVintage Violin Collection No Reserve Amati Signed Germany Stamp Estate #2Antique Box Rare Wooden Treen Double Stamp Box In Form Of Violin Circa 1880Antique ViolinWilliam Dring 1977 English Still Life Oil Violin Flowers In Vase On Table SignedVintage Antique Jan Basta ViolinOld Master German Violin Labeled: Nicolaus Diel 1800 ! Fine Old Wood !Jean Baptiste Vuillaume Old Violin Viola Geige BratscheAntique Giovan Paolo Maggini Brefcia Violin In CaseVery Good Antique 18th Century Hopf School Violin-ready To Play-no Reserve!! Vintage Violin Collection No Reserve New York Handmade Antique Violin Estate #5Vintage Stradavarius Label Violin 1800's German Mittenwald Grafted ScrollVintage Violin Collection No Reserve Paris Violin Aparis Fent Stamp Estate #1Vintage Violin Marked Hopf With Bow And Coffin CaseFine Old German Violin 1930 - See Video - Antique Violino バイオリン скрипка 小提琴 603 Vintage German Bohemian Violin Old Antique Playable Bright Classy Sound Nice Antique Old Vintage "john Juzek" 2 Pc. Back Violin - No Reserve Sxl 6035 Ed1 Original David Oistrakh Plays Bruch, Hindemith Violin WorksAlbert Nurnberger 4/4 Violin Bow Ebony Frog, Silver Mounted, In Hardcase!Antique Adolph Dresden Violin German Wood Case & Bow19th Century "the Ruggielli" Violin, Made 1891 (old, Antique ViolinAntique Old Vintage 1935 "wm. Moennig & Son -johannes Glassel " Violin - NrFantastic Old Violin With Label Franciscus Geiffenhof Viola Geige BratscheDecca Sxl 2197 Ruggiero Ricci Violin Ed1Joannes Baptifta Guadagnini Old Violin Viola Geige BratscheNew Full Size Rothenburg Concert Violin/fiddle-germanNew Full Size Rothenburg Concert Violin/fiddle-germanOld, Antique, Vintage Violin Umberto Roazzi Roma Ca. 1960 No Reserve No Reserve!M. & G. Voigt Markneukirchen Antique Old Violin Violino Violine Violini German Fine Old Violin Bow, Pernambuco StickStunning Old Violin Bow, Fine PernambucoAn Interesting Old Antique Violin Labeled Giuseppe OrnatiVtg Teisco Violin Electric Bass Eb Scroll Top Aria-apollo-univox 60`s 70`s JapanOld, Antique, Vintage Violin Lab. Wilhelm Dueler 1911 No Reserve ! No Reserve!!!Master Violin Performance! Guarnieri 'del Gesu' 1742 "lord Wilton" Violin! M20Two Fine Antique Violins For RestorationCaspar Da Salo Violin With Bow And CaseVintage Violin Body And Parts Joseph Augustus Titus Restoration Project Large Lot Of 4 Vintage Old Antique Vintage Violins - No ReserveOld French Violin Vuillaume - See Video - Antique Master バイオリン скрипка 小提琴 743Master Piece Violin! Stradivari Model ! European Wood,aubert Birdge&135b StringsHandsome Violin & Bow With Case/ Solid Back All Antique/ No Labels/ Super LookOld Violin 7/8 Geige Viola Cello Fiddle Fullsize Lab Joannes Baptista Guadagnini 4/4 Antique Violin Old $0,99 No ReserveFine Old Violin Around 1950 - See Video - Antique Violino バイオリン скрипка 小提琴 530Yamaha Av-5 Student Violin 4/4 Scale Av5-44skm W/ Bow & Hard Shell CaseAntique Hopf Violin In Antique Case With Bow -coffin Style CaseAntique Violin German Vintage Old Fiddle With Case Cira 1920-1930 Unknown MakerCecilio Mv500 Violin & Tuner Solid Wood Violin 305340 N3Old Master Italian Violin Labeled: Giovanni Dollenz 1827 !!! Look