400 years old… the violin…
I will not relate here the story of the violin or even make a thesis in musicology.
Many pages have already been written on the subject.
I will only mention the facts that haven't been touched upon. 

The violin has evolved due to changes in society. Art and culture have been influenced by money, power and religion. But it has not prevented geniuses from flourishing…

I will also mention the few details that we can be sure of, regarding the string quartet accessories; these are the parts that have been changed in order to modernize an ancient instrument, without taking their story into consideration.
The evolution from the 16th to the 18th century 

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Evolution from the 16th to the 18th century

The advent of the violin

In the middle of the 16th century, Andrea Amati from the Cremona school set the standard of the violin as we know it today. It comes from two families; the family of vielles, a popular instrument played on the shoulder, and the family of the aristocratic viols played on the lap or between the knees, like the cello. The violin's rise in popularity has been difficult since the court musician would have to play on crudely made instruments of the people.
At the time, music was often religious, the church was strongly linked with the aristocratic world. This lobbying encouraged the promotion of the violin. Italy brilliantly supported the violin whereas in France, they disadvantaged the cello.
Another involuntary support to the accession of the violin in France was during the fashion of the "sheepfold and rural music" (Bergeries et Musiques Champêtres) at the court of Versailles.
The first official sign of recognition of this instrument was that the King's group, which had 24 violins, played to welcome and support the merrymaking of the hunters return.
The tendencies for the divine, mythological sources, sentimentality and all ritualising activities of the baroque period, have provided a perfect setting for the expression of the violin. Once the aristocracy found a need for that instrument, they offered the wherewithal to its merit. They thereafter supported composers, concerts, dance and musical activities, the making and the playing of the violin, and encouraged commerce which created strong artistic links in Europe.
Cultural development became universal for the aristocratic community of the ancient continent.

Violin makers

The idea of respect towards old instruments, the notion of antiques didn’t exist. How many instruments considered as old-fashioned at the time, only to reappear transformed into other instruments later on: baroque guitars transformed into a hurdy-gurdy or the rough re-cut of viola de gambas into tailor cellos.
If a luthier has a personal knowledge, it would be the ability to choose wood. Myths are strong and many of the woods used at the time were not that nice: "I've seen a violin top where an original repair was hiding a sap pocket, and even a big knot on the back of an instrument".
    The reverence we give to the drying of the wood didn't exist in early time since with the dendrochronology we can date it to the exact year and we know that dated instruments were made with wood cut from tree only fifteen years before! It is very wise to practice a drying period for the wood but it certainly isn't an ancient wisdom.
Stradivarius, also from the school of Cremona made all sorts of instruments apart from the string quartet such as : harps, guitars, (sistrums)..
The string instrument makers of the 18th century made all sorts of instruments, unlike today when the makers have their own facilities to specialise. 

The instrumental way of playing

The musical practice of the baroque period was the privilege of the upper classes, the ones that can afford to take dance classes or to financially support a musician.
Beyond that way of passing their time, music was a way to express themes of the period such as; beauty, love, divine power…
The musician never added his own personality, but he simply transmitted the music to  his  fellow men of that inaccessible sentimentalist pursuit.
Several tutor books of the 18th century devote a chapter to the expression of a musician. They don't have much to say about the position of the body: one must imperatively carry one's head in a upright majestic position, the mouth and the eyes must be relaxed, without expression. I think of the lock-jawed smile that the accordion player keeps hold of while playing a long evening in a dance hall in spite of the weight of the instrument

Accessories for string quartet

One doesn't find many accessories in this period. Chin-rest and end-pins didn't exist yet because the playing position was not established.
On the ancient instrument that we've seen, pegs, tailpiece have been worn out, they've been changed many times over and there are no more original ones or else they are anonymous however, there is still a way for discovering them.
Museums haven't kept the best pieces like those very ornate collectors instruments, those covered with ivory and mother of pearl or those who have been ordered for shop windows and consequently rarely played. They remain therefore in better condition today. The most authentic accessories were also used on the old-fashioned instruments such as the baroque guitar, hurdy-gurdy, viola d'amore. This suggest that one can find supposedly original pegs and tailpiece on these instruments.


If the turning of ordinary early pegs is always rustic with no finish, one has to remember that sanding was a rare practice. Their look is a bit rough, but they had personality, resulting from the chiselling which showed the skill of the turner. The pegs head had flat sides with an overall rounded shape, leaving breathing space between the ring and the cone. The ends of the head often had two fine grooves at their widest part. Very often the head carries a button or a white pip in bone.


The baroque tailpiece is a very light trapezoidal small plank in wood (less than 10 grammes or 1/3 ounce- violin), of which the top is slightly rounded. The two outside strings E and G make an angle turning flatter than the two other ones on the bridge. On the modern violin, this curve is rounder, identical to the curve of the bridge. The turning is more regular just as the pressure of each string is on the bridge.
Before this precious wood was imported, a fine veneered white wood covered the tailpiece.


Chinrest is yet unknow.


End-pin with spike doesn't yet exist neither. On cellos, an end button is used.


19th century

Inventions and Productions

The period from the French revolution to the crisis of 1929, marks the beginning of the industrial area. The fall of the aristocracy benefited bourgeoisie and unbalanced the social and cultural scales: this was the debut of mass-culture and when the building of large concert halls and concert-going became the fashion.
The period of steel and coal celebrated the human network linking values such as work, family and homeland (patriarchal values). Unfortunately in vogue in France in the 40s. Individual slavery was abolished and at the same time colonisation and trading posts were set up in the third world.
    The instrumental craftsmanship became scientific and improvements were made in the standards of resonance and the projection of sound. The factories were making mass produced instruments and with the introduction of catalogues , their commercial circuits were enlarged even to other countries.
It's interesting that with all those mass values, the musicians interpretation grew more and more individual and "stars "evolved. This was also the century of "invention" and the surpassing of human capacities.
International exhibitions presented and rewarded the works of genius artists, inventors and industrial masters,i.e. the construction of the Eiffel Tower, the virtuosity of a Paganini.
    Among the numerous patents registered for the instrumental craftsmanship, i.e., certain of these patents have played a major role in forcing the players of these instruments to improve and change their technical approach: metallic accessories to stretch fingers,brackets to straighten the head of a young violin player …The medals for these accomplishments had also another side meaning that they set drastic social disciplines depicted in the Victorian period with its gloomy puritanism. What a decline for the human race…

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The violin accessories during the 19th century 


The flat peg henceforth in Ebony or Pear-tree wood dyed black, remains an ordinary model. In France, one often finds Rosewood pegs, much appreciated for their tuning quality.


Becoming thicker, to resist a greater tension of strings, but shrinking in width, possibly to economise on wood. It's much more convex, adopting the same bend as the bridge, reinforcing the power of the E and G string.
The tailgut string, attached to the button stapled " en cavalier " is progressively abandoned to the benefit of the modern lengthways system. This attachment is in hard metallic string or in gut fibre.


The birth of the chinrest: a caricature of 1833 shows this " famous mushroom that sprouts from the edge of violins " :
Initially it was very discreet : a simple ebony tongue. It seems obvious that this patch strap harnessed the violin sound, on the other hand, it reduces the wear of the violin top which is made of the tender spruce wood being damaged by the hair of the beard, or by the acidity of perspiration.

Cello Endpin

During the Baroque period, the tailpiece was attached to the instrument with an end-button, like a violin.
As well as the bass viol, the cello was held between Thighs, which had the effect to reduce the power of its sound. That was not important as its role, as a continuo, was to enrich harmonics, in the shadow of the treble highly melodics and unclouded instruments such as the violinor the oboe.
The 19th century gave the cello a new essential function, since it gained power, widened its range and finally got a musical litterature. At last, it found a real place.

It is remarkable that its use was nearly exclusively male, and not recommended to women for a reason which nowadays seems pointless. This reason is the playing posture, which didn't upset anybody a 100 years before when a woman was playing the gamba... It seems it was more to keep for men the new place of solist that the instrument enabled.

The arrival of this short post, mostly made of wood, enables a greater proximity between the chest and the instrument, and a better grip in the quick parts, and in the treble parts.

Evolution from the 16th to the 18th century

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