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    

Original 120 Years Old Great Italian 4/4 Violin By G.fiorini 1890 Geige Violon18th Century Amazing Beauty Very Old 4/4 Violin Lupot Violon Geige18th Century Amazing Beauty Very Old 4/4 Violin L.: D.tecchler 1721 Violon Geige18th Century Antique 4/4 Violin C.tononi 1729 Label Old Geige ViolonGorgeos! Antique Old 4/4 Violin Lab: L.e.t.carcassi 1749 Violon Geige Beautiful And Old, Antique 18th Century Violin, Excellent Concert Sound!Fantastic Old Violin With Label Marcus Stainer Viola Geige BratscheAntique French D.salzar Violin W One Piece Back Old Wooden Case Ready For RestoJ.guarnerius 1732 Label Old 4/4 Violin Violon Geige Very Very Old!Amazing Wood Old 4/4 Violin Chappuy 1770 Geige ViolonAmazing! Very Old 4/4 Violin Lab.: J.b.guadagnini 1703 Geige Violon ViolinHofner Violin Bass Sunburst B-bass Hi-series Beatle Bass W/case - No Reserve7/8 J.f.pressenda 1829 Antique 4/4 Label 3/4 Old Geige Violon Great Violin !!!Antique Joh. Bapt. Schweitzer, Fullsize Acoustic Violin, No Cracks ! No Reserve Old Violin Italian Labeled Giacinto Bertolazzi,milan 1939 Antique VintageOld Fine Italian Violin Lab. L.bisiach Geige Violon Violino Violine Fiddle 1898Josef Guarnerius By Roth Lederes? 23 Inch Vintage Violin Fiddle + Bow & Case OldExtraordinary Antique Markneukirchen,german Violin-excellent Original Condition!Old Fine Master Violin Lab. R.antoniazzi Geige Violon Violino Violine Fiddle200+ Years Old Italian 4/4 Violin Violon Geige Lab.: C.g.testore 1715Very Good Antique Dutch Violin, M Kessels, 1907, Ready-to-play, No Reserve!Hurdy Gurdy, Modeled After 16th Century Renissance Era Mechanical ViolinSuperb Italian Violin By Plinio Michetti Turin 1928Fine Old 4/4 Violin, Giege, Viol, Viola, Cello, Violon, Used Antique Vintage1960's Beatle Bass With Hard Case- Made In Japan- Violin ShapeAntique Repaired In 1915 Full Size 4/4 Double Fancy Perfling Violin W/ 2 BowsVintage German Violin (early 1900's) Great Condition Beautiful ToneHopf German Vintage Old Antique Violin W/ Case & Acessorries Beautiful Antique Violin 4/4 Full Size With CaseAntique 4/4 Violin Maggini Copy Circa 1890 - Beautiful Figured WoodOld, Antique 4/4 Violin Labeled TestoreScherl & Roth 2004 Full Size 4/4 R32e German Violin W/accessories, Bow & Case18th Century Markneukirchen Violin, J.g. Hamm School (old, Antique)Yamaha Sv-120 Silent Violin Practice Electric Violin W/case / Box/ Glasser BowC.tononi 1729 Label ! Old 4/4 Masterpiece Violin Violon Geige Amazing ViolinDaguerreotype 6th Plate Violin Player Full Leather Case. Great Contrast.Yamaha Violin V-5 No. 05164 4/4 With Bow Hard Case Great Student ModelOld, Antique 4/4 ViolinExcellent Silver-mounted G. A. Pfretzschner*** Violin Bow For RestorationVintage Heberlein Violin 1936Nice Playable Antique Violin Labeled Harwood Art Amati Full SizeAntique Violin Closed To 100 Years OldExcellent Silver-mounted Adolf Thoma Violin Bow For RestorationGuarnieri 'del Gesu' 1743 "the Cannon"copy ! A T20 Violin !aubert Bridge,loud!Fantastic Old Violin With Label Johann Fritz Viola Geige BratscheAntique Jacobus Stainer Violin W/ New Parts For Restoration. Vintage 1970 Er Pfretzschner Mittenwald German Antonius Stradivarius 4/4 ViolinOld Violin 4/4 Geige Viola Cello Fiddle Fullsize Label Jacobus StainerOld Violin 4/4 Geige Viola Cello Fiddle Fullsize Label David TechlerOld Violin 4/4 Geige Viola Cello Fiddle Fullsize Label Sanctus SeraphinOld Violin 4/4 Geige Viola Cello Fiddle Fullsize Label John OwenOld Master Violin Labeled Calcanius Geige Violon Violino Viola Violine Italian Equester Vy4 Acrylic Electric Violin, Carbon Fiber Fingerboard, Handmade + CaseMatteo Goffriller Violin Viola Geige BratscheDavison 4 String Violin Bass Guitar (hofner Style)Old, Antique 4/4 Violin Labeled Georg KlozEastman Halo Violin 4/4 Full Size W/eastman Bow-case-accessories Potter ViolinRare 1960s Vtg Teisco Violin 6 String Solidbody Electric Guitar Japan No ReserveItalian Violin By Vasco PecchiniOld Master Italian Violin Labeled: Mario Bedocchi 1940 !!! Fine Old Wood ! !