Rhiannon's Glossary of Violin Terms
Rhiannon's Glossary of Violin Terms
Over years of teaching violin and running a successful violin shop result in expansive knowledge I'm happy to share!
Note: For the sake of brevity, I use the word violin in place of violin, viola, cello and bass.
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1-piece or 2-piece back - I wrote a detailed article here, with photos, explaining the differences. Simply-put, a two-piece back the makers "bookmatch," fancy talk for glue two halves of wood together following the grain, to make one solid back piece or plate. A one-piece back is special as it came from one, large solid plate of maple and is more decadent and, thus, more expensive. Players are lead by unscrupulous sellers to think a one-piece is better because they cost more, but it simply means a bigger piece of wood was used.
Fun Fact: It's important to mention also that the front of the violin is 99.9% of the time made with two pieces of spruce, usually identical and from the same cut, and thus the seam is harder to see owing to the vertical grain.
Action - The correct spacing caused by the slightly raised height of the nut and bridge over the fingerboard is called "action." Too low action and the string will buzz; too high and the pitch will be inaccurate as your fingers press harder and bend the string. It gives a whole new meaning to getting a little action.
Antiquing/Antiqued - Unlike a solid, single colour of varnish, an antiqued instrument's varnish has multiple shades and wear in various places to make it appear like a vintage instrument. Antiqued violins show less wear and tear from daily use than those with a single, solid colour of varnish.
Caution: Countless new violins are being passed off as antiques due to this method and if I could smack the lying sellers upside the head, I most certainly would.
Helpful Hint: Use the navigation menu on the left side of catalog pages to narrow down Fiddleheads' instruments by the those that are antiqued and non-antiqued.
Ball (on fittings) - This is a small round decoration on the edge of a peg or end pin. Used for decoration, balls are most often made from wood, plastic (cruelty-free ivory) or metal. They are most commonly seen on heart-shaped pegs.
Ball-end or Loop-end string - The simple mechanism at the tailpiece end of the string. The ball is inserted through and catches inside the special narrow gaps in the tailpiece or is held in place by a fine tuner. Loop ends are held in place by a tiny hook on a Hill style fine tuner (usually only used on the E-string).
Pro Tip: It's been my experience that ball ends are superior (and these are what I sell) since they are more versatile and less likely to break owing to the extra material reinforcing them.
Bass bar - No, it's not a low budget jazz dive with a sole bass player thumping away on a dimly lit stage. Similar in functionality to the sound post, this longer wooden square section of wood is attached instead along the underside of the top plate (belly) beside the F-hole on the G-string (viola C-string) of the bridge. The bass bar is responsible for amplifying the lower frequencies of the instrument.
Caution: Taking a right-handed violin (one bowed with the right hand) and reversing the strings to convert it to a left-handed violin (one bowed with the left hand) results in a really awful-sounding violin because the highest "E" string is now resting over the bass bar, and the lowest "G" string is resting over the treble bar (sound post).
Bench instrument - This is a moniker tossed about by violin folks and usually indicates a higher-end violin. Unlike those made in workshops or, worse, factories with multiple makers, this is one made one at a time by a single maker, and are usually of a high caliber.
Birdseye Maple - Wood from a "sugar maple" with distinctive circular specks and spots and sometimes subtle wave figuring or flame. Tonal qualities may suffer in using this somewhat less-predictable material, so if you are dying to have a Birdseye fiddle, it's best to purchase one from a master maker who really knows their tonewoods and not a cheaper factory instrument.
Blanket - A small piece of layered cloth that rests on top of the instrument inside the case to protect it from loose items in the case and rosin rubbing off from the bow on to the instrument. The blanket is believed by many experts to provide extra insulation from temperature as well.
Pro Tip: Me, I sometimes pretend I'm tucking my fiddle into a cozy, warm bed when I place its blanket on top of it and closing the case! Nearly all Fiddleheads' cases come with a blanket included, so start concocting fantastical bedtime stories for your fiddle.
Body (or Soundbox) - Consisting of the top plate (or belly), the back plate and the ribs, this is the largest component of the violin. It's hourglass-shaped, similar to a "feminine" shaped human torso with bosom, waist and hips. The body, particularly the back plate, serves as a low-tech amplifying speaker for the violin's tone and is the most fragile part of the violin overall due to its hollow (but reinforced for strength where it matters) design.
Bout - The two widest parts of the violin where the body curves outward (convex) are identified as the upper (slightly narrower) and lower (wider) bouts. A shoulder rest spans the lower bout. The ribs, concave, are also considered bouts, with the lesser-known nickname the "C-bout."
Bow - The curved or "cambered" piece of hard but flexible wood with a ribbon of horse hair extended from tip to frog. Earliest bows had an outward curve (similar to the weapon bow of the middle ages), most baroque bows have very little curve, and the "modern" classical bow has a subtle inward curve.
Brazilwood - The lower grade of Pernambuco wood often utilized in student bows is commonly called Brazilwood. Technically-speaking, all Pernambuco is Brazilwood. It's just a way of discerning between the grades of wood, from student to professional. You will usually see the difference in the price tag! Some shops sell bows for upwards of a Brazillion dollars. ;)
Bridge - The bridge supports the strings and holds them over the body of the instrument under tension. It transmits the vibration of those strings to other components of the violin that amplify the vibrations into sound. Parts of the bridge include the arch, the heart (center gap), the kidneys (the side gaps), and the feet. Some traditional and old-time fiddlers took to sanding their arched bridges to be flatter, making playing on more than one string easier. But it also makes playing on one string at a time very difficult. I have all my violins setup in the original, "classical" style because it is the most versatile and easiest for bowing.
Helpful Hint: A violin bridge isn't something you can just buy and install yourself without experience and hours of detailed alterations. Each bridge needs to be "cut" and fitted to your unique instrument, from the feet that match the exact curvature of the belly, to the top which is cut to align with the fingerboard and allow enough action for the strings to fully vibrate while the fingers press them down comfortably. The overall bridge should also be thinned for a more slender profile. Too thick and the tone sounds "muddy."
Bumper - Small rubberized discs or feet on the edge of an instrument case can be part of the construction to absorb shock and prevent damage to the case. I strongly recommend my customers purchase a case with bumpers to best protect their violin.
Button/Screw (bow) - The screw mechanism at the frog-end of the bow where it is held that tightens and loosens the hair is called the button. Listen up, this is really cool: this end of the bow stick has a carved slit that allows a nut attached to the frog to move side to side as the screw moves, which, in-turn (pun intended), pulls the hair taught or loosens it.
Fun Project: If you are feeling curious, unscrew your bow all the way and remove the screw to have a look-see. Just be sure to hold the frog and hair still so it doesn't twist and tangle inside itself.
Camber - The condition of being in the curved shape of an arch. Violin family bows all have a subtle vertical camber. It allows the bow to have a spring and to provide a range of control and expression. Baroque bows have a different camber than classical/modern bows.
Carbon fibre - A stiff, thin yet strong fiber of nearly pure carbon (the most plentiful element in the universe) that is replacing wood in modern bow making. It is created by applying heat to a variety of organic materials and compounds and results in a lightweight material perfect for air and space craft (yes, spaceships), as well as fishing poles and their far superior cousins, instrument bows.
Carbon weave - Carbon materials are formed into strands and woven into stiff but malleable fabrics which are literally draped over a form or object. The most flexible and workable of the weaves, the satin weave was originally developed for weaving silk centuries ago and is now applied to carbon-core bows to provide strength and dazzling aesthetics. Some bow makers use fancy words like "diamond" to describe this effect and charge a higher price. Because diamonds!
Helpful Hint: Check out these carbon weave bows, the upper student level Voxy Vogue and better balanced/silver-lined Voxy Panache. They are a far greater pleasure on which to spend your shekles than tiny overpriced and stockpiled rocks from De Beers.
Case - It's fairly obvious what a case is: it's a carrying container that holds and protects your instrument, especially during travel. I mention it in this glossary to explain the differences between case designs, namely hard and soft cases. Some instruments, such as guitars, basses, and celli may be carried in a "soft case," which is akin to a padded backpack and has no strong internal structure. These are not recommended for violins and rest assured that I do not sell them. I only sell hard or "hardshell" cases, which are made from fabric over rigid foam, carbon fibre, or cordura canvas over multi-layered plywood (strongest).
Helpful Hint: Violin cases most commonly come in a "shaped" or "arrow" design which is contoured around the violin with a wide end and a narrow end. They are also most commonly made in half-moon (rectangle with the top two corners rounded) and oblong (rectangular) designs. Oblong cases tend to have the most storage capacity and can definitely or perhaps accommodate a Bon Musica shoulder rest, but shaped and arrow cases are smaller and are more likely to be allowed as air travel carry-on baggage. Use the navigation menu on the left side of catalog pages to narrow down Fiddleheads' cases by shape/design.
Certificate - A document issued by the maker, workshop head or studio head that proves authenticity of the instrument with details like the year, location, a signature and other details. Some certificates have photos, measurements, a copy of the label and other special details about the varnish and overall construction. Instruments may hold a higher value when accompanied by their original certificate, but not all makers issue certificates.
Chatoyance - Chatoyance comes from the French “œil de chat,“ which literally translates to “cat's eye.” In the woodworking and violin world, chatoyant wood possesses the incredible optical effect where the flames in the wood appear to move.
Chinrest (or Chin Rest) - Invented by the clever violinist and composer Louis Spohr circa 1820, this is the contoured piece of wood or plastic that attaches to the bottom of a violin or viola. The rest provides a secure place for we violinists to rest our jaw and hold the instrument in place from the weight of our noggin, as well as protecting the varnish from sweat (gross but true). Used in combination with a shoulder rest, it makes shifting positions and vibrato easier to accomplish. There are many models/shapes of chin rests but I find the Guarneri model, which reaches over the tailpiece and has a wide cup, is the best and my violins come equipped automatically with this style of rest.
Commissioned instrument - One that is made by custom order with special requests including model (Stradivarius, Guarneri, etc.) and tone as well as varnish colour/sheen, fittings, and overall aesthetics. Unlike most shops that routinely order stock violins from a catalog, I commission all the instruments and bows in my shop to be made to my precise requirements and picky standards. I can also commission instruments from my master makers by request, but note these can take a while to complete (never rush a masterpiece) and are final sale investments.
Concertmaster - In early orchestras, the best violinist was the leader of the orchestra and used their bow to conduct. As music became more difficult and required more entry cues, dynamic input and phrasing, the bow was replaced by a baton and the Conductor became the leader of the group. Still the Concertmaster remained second in charge of the group. They are responsible for tuning the orchestra (either playing a tuning note for others to match, or directing the First Oboist to play the tuning note) and only sitting down when the tuning is accurate and complete. There are other perks to earning the distinguished role of Concertmaster: When a first violin solo is written, it is played by the Concertmaster and the Concertmaster is the last musician to enter the stage at the start of a performance before the concert. Another time-honoured tradition is that the Conductor shakes the Concertmaster's hand (and sometimes the other string sectionleaders' hands) at the end of a concert as a means of thanks and respect.
Fun Fact: I was the Concertmaster of my high school orchestra for three years in La Mesa (San Diego), California in the 90s. More recently I have served for several years as the Concertmaster of both community orchestras in my city, the Kamloops Brandenburg Orchestra (Baroque and Classical music in period costume) and the Thompson Valley Orchestra (performing pops/film scores & classics).
Cremonese - Instruments coming from the northern Italian city of Cremona are considered to be of Cremonese origin. The city, also the capital of the province of the same name, is famous for its early violin-making traditions from the 1600s and 1700s. Renowned luthiers including Antonio Stradivari, Giuseppe Guarneri and various members of the Amati family, among many other makers in that "Golden Era" of luthierie crafted their instruments in what came to be known as the Cremonese style.
Caution: Capitalizing on the pristine reputation of Cremona producing the world's best violins hundreds of years ago, many living makers and sellers in Cremona are actually purchasing well-antiqued and distressed instruments from China then passing them off as their own and charging a premium. Be extremely careful if you wish to purchase what you hope is an authentic Cremonese violin from these sources.
Dampit - A type of simple humidifier that consists of a rubbery tube with a long sponge inside. It is wetted daily then inserted in the violin where it releases moisture slowly. Dampits are best used when the violin is kept in the case, otherwise they dry out too quickly. Recommended especially for older, more vulnerable instruments as new instruments are more resilient to dry air.
Distressing - A similar aging effect to antiquing, this is when the maker purposely adds small marks, dents and wear to the instrument to give it the appearance of age and use. Some people really don't like the idea, but to me it kind of takes away the guilt of when we inevitably put our first scratch or dent on the violin by accident. What a wacky job, beating up violins for a living! Seriously though, as in antiquing, there are many disreputable sellers selling new instruments for astronomical prices in the vintage market, so be careful if you choose to buy what you think is a very valuable and old instrument; it very well could be a new violin made to appear old.
Helpful Hint: Use the navigation menu on the left side of catalog pages to narrow down Fiddleheads' instruments by the amount of distressing. You can narrow down distressing by the options "none," "subtle," "moderate," "ample," and "significant."
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Ebony - A tropical hardwood that is anywhere from dark brown to black in appearance, ebony has been utilized in the construction of many instruments. (Ever heard the song "Ebony and Ivory?" Good, now it's stuck in your head too.) All my instruments' fingerboards are made from real, solid ebony. Many fittings are also made from a high-polished ebony and I never use plastic pegs or chinrests unless by customer request.
Helpful Hint: Use the navigation menu on the left side of catalog pages to narrow down Fiddleheads' instruments by those with ebony fittings.
Endpin or End Button - On violins and violas, this is the little wooden knob around which the tailwire loops to keep the strings under tension. The endpin fitting is usually made of the same wood as the other fittings on the instrument, with ebony being the most common material. Unlike the ribs, the space inside the violin at the endpin (and at the heel above) is reinforced with maple blocks for extra strength.
Fun Fact: Cello and bass endpins are an adjustable carbon or metal rod in the bottom of the instrument that telescopes from inside the instrument adjusts the playing height and on which it stands when played.
Eye - The decorative circle of usually inlaid metal and/or mother of pearl on both sides of the frog. This design is also often present on the fingerboard, the outside edges of pegs and sometimes on the endpin itself.
Fun Fact: A "French" eye has a thin metal circle band inlaid around a solid circular mother of pearl inlay.
F-holes - Also referred to as sound holes, these are a pair of mirror-image F-shaped openings in the center of the front plate. The bridge sits between them and lines up with the horizontal notches. Each model of violin (Stradivarius, Guarneri, etc.) has a slightly different aesthetic shape to their f-hole design, but this alone doesn't affect the sound. The f-hole inside edge is usually stained black.
Fun Fact: Like the scroll, the f-hole is a defining visual characteristic of violin family instruments.
Ferrule (bow) - This D-shaped metal ring holds and strengthens where the bow hairs reach the frog. It protects the ebony frog from splitting and the hairs from coming loose. A small spreader wedge sites between the flat end of the ferrule and the hairs keeps them in a wide ribbon shape rather than bunching like a rope. It also keeps the slide from moving
Fiddle - It's just another word used interchangeably with violin. It's the same thing. Generally-speaking, music played in the fiddling style, like traditional Irish, Old-time or bluegrass genres, is played on a fiddle, whereas classical music would be said to be played on a violin. Don't sweat the details. Consider "fiddle" a nickname, one even the renowned virtuoso Itzhak Perlman uses lovingly when referring to his priceless, authentic 1714 Stradivarius, 1743 Guarneri del Gesù and 1740 Bergonzi violins.
Fine Tuners - Unlike the pegs, which are typically utilized for large tuning adjustments, fine tuners or string adjusters are utilized for slight tuning changes. An afterthought in the violin timeline, the mechanism consists of a metal lever that is moved up and down by a thin metal screw with a large, flat-topped, grooved head for grip. Fine tuners are optional as most seasoned players learn how to tune their strings with just the pegs or other measures (see below). Usually only the thin steel E-string has a fine tuner on it due to the nature of tuning steel strings (more difficult with the pegs), though less experienced players who are afraid of breaking their string using the peg prefer to have fine tuners on all four strings. I include fine tuners for free with a violin purchase when requested and see them as training wheels for beginners: you can always take them off later.
My article about the difference between violins and fiddles (Spoiler alert: it's the same thing) mentions fine tuners.
Pro Tip: Tug on the string near the centermost point to lower the pitch (lengthen the string, loosen the tension), or press on the string just above the nut to raise the pitch (shorten the string, tighten the tension).
Fingerboard - Fingerboards are carved to a precise curve from side to side, and widen from the upper end downward. A very slight scoop is removed from top surface near the centermost point to allow for proper vibration, especially on the lower strings or when using gut or synthetic core strings. Ebony is usually the wood of choice because of its hardness, aesthetics and incredible resistance to wear and oil protects it from further wear.
Fittings - The word to describe the necessary components of the violin added during setup. Fittings include the pegs, tailpiece and endpin. Chinrests are also considered a fitting, though some purists insist on playing without a chin rest as it was invented later than the others and think it mutes their tone.
Flame - This is the level of figuring (kids call them "tiger stripes") in the wood, which are made from the rings in the tree as it grew over many years. More pronounced flame on a quality tonewood is highly prized, so of course it costs more.
Fractional (sizing) - Any violin, viola or cello smaller than the standard full or 4/4 size. Sizes range from 7/8, 3/4, 1/2, 1/4, 1/8, 1/10, 1/16 and 1/32. I provide all these sizes in student instruments except 1/10 and 1/32 since they are never requested and are pretty much redundant.
Fret - Like the metal bars that span a guitar's fingerboard, on a violin this similarly-shaped piece of wood spans the width of the tailpiece and terminates that end of the string (similar to the nut on the other end). Most frets are made from metal or a hard plastic and tend to match rings or other decorative components of the fittings.
Frog - The frog, also called the "heel" or "nut," is an ebony part of the bow that, when the screw tightens or loosens, moves to tighten or loosen the bow. It is placed between the grip and the screw, with the middle and ring fingers rest draping over it in a typical bow hold. Better quality bows are decorated with mother of pearl, German silver, silver, or even gold.
Pro Tip: I place removable frog (of the little green amphibian variety) stickers on my students' frogs so they remember the name. It also helps students lift the bow in a higher arc doing a retake or bow lift when they imagine the frog is leaping through the air.
Fully-lined (frog) - This term describes the amount of metal (nickel, silver) sheathing the thin, outside end of the bow's frog which protects it while also providing decoration. Fully-lined frogs are not usually present on cheaper bows. I don't regularly stock bows without a fully-lined frog with the exception of Baroque bows, which were designed prior to the invention of lined frogs.
German Silver - Also called "Nickel Silver," German Silver is an alloy formulation of copper alloy, nickel and zinc. It is also known as Paktong, Maillechort, Argentan, New Silver, Nickel Brass, Albata, Alpacca (really, I'm not making these up) and a variety of equally confusing trade names through the ages with which I won't bore you. The many names imply it made from real silver, but this alloy actually contains no elemental silver at all, unless it is silver-plated. We see it commonly in bow hardware and fittings.
Grades or Levels - The various tiers of quality in instruments. Fiddleheads sells workshop (handmade by a handful of makers) and bench (handmade by one maker) violins. Some shops sell factory level (mass produced and machine-made) instruments, but I do not. Fiddleheads is all about quality, attention to detail and multi-generational longevity.
Graduate - This is the art of carving wood off a plate (the top or back of the violin) very gradually and selectively as to thin it to the point of the best tone. Master-grade andbench violins see the most time put into tuning, or graduating the plates to perfection, which adds to the price tag and quality.
Caution: Some dubious makers cheat and carve so thin that the violin sounds fine to start, but then the tone gets too crispy and bright as the wood ages. Rest assured, all my violins are done right!
More Caution: I also warn you to not buy a used violin that has been taken apart and "re-graduated" as these thinned fiddles can be rife with issues down the line. Instead invest in an instrument that was carved right from the start.
Graphite - Dissimilar to pencil "lead," graphite is essentially carbon fibre for the common user. The main, yet subtle difference lies in the complex processes to create the materials. So when you see my customers' bow reviews mentioning the word "graphite", this is evidence of how interchangeable the term is.
Grip - The bow grip is where you, uh yeah, grip the bow.There are actually two parts to the grip: 1. a leather or leather-like pad closer to the frog where your thumb tip balances the bow, and, 2. a winding that allows traction for your fingers on top of the stick. The materials employed for the winding include metal wire, whalebone (thankfully no longer exploited in the making of modern bows), and plastic coloured to look like vintage whalebone in black and yellowish hues.
Guadagnini - Italian luthier Giovanni Battista Guadagnini and much of his family are usually cited as the third finest violinmakers in history, behind Stradivari and the Guarneri families respectively. Guadagnini models tend to be smaller than their counterparts.
I sell (and special order) Topa and Migiel master-grade instruments in the Guadagnini pattern as they are available.
Guarneri - Instruments made in this style come from a family of early master luthiers from Cremona, Italy in 1600s and 1700s. Guarneri, or the Latin Guarnerius, instruments tend to have a slightly wider lower bout than a Stradivarius and proponents of this model appreciate the slightly stronger or deeper lower end tones as a result.
Gut string - Not widely used by players in recent decades due to cost and tuning stability, gut strings were the first strings to be created for the violin. Some were simply dried and stretched sheep intestine (not cat gut as per the icky urban legend), and others evolved to have metal wound around the intestine material. Advancements in string making, lead for years by Thomastik in Austria with their revolutionary Dominant strings, have seen other perlon and nylon core strings take over the market. The sheep are grateful.
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Hair - Yup, the playable, ribbon-like surface of the bow is made from real horse hair, usually originating from the pony's tail. Don't worry, it grows back. Though some synthetic strands replace real hair in low quality student bows sold at other shops, they don't have the same feel or tone, and other vegan replacements are being developed.
Fun Fact: Tiny barbs or scales on the hair's surface (with the help of rosin) packed with rosin dust act like millions of fingers strumming the string to give a sustained tone.
Heel - Named for its nearly 90-degree angle and resemblance to a human heel/ankle, the word heel describes the reinforced part of the base of the violin's neck meeting at the body. I provide case interior measurements from the heel and scroll to the endpin for you and my other detail-oriented customers so you can be sure your instrument will fit snugly.
Fun Fact: "Heel" is another name of the mechanism on the bow more commonly called the "frog".
Humidifier - This is a simple, usually non-electronic device for keeping the air moist inside your case or instrument. Some humidifiers consist of a vial of water with minuscule holes and a filter that release water vapour, and others are a wetted foam sponge (see Dampit) that inserts in the F-hole.
Helpful Hint: Most of my customers will not need a humidifier as new instruments are far less susceptible to dryness as older violins and my studio is setup for ideal wood seasoning.
Hygrometer - A dial instrument, similar to a thermometer, that measures the relative humidity of the air. The ideal humidity range for violins and similar instruments is 40% to 60%.
Helpful Hint: My Fiddleheads Deluxe Cases come with a thermometer and a hygrometer.
Helpful Hint: Most cases' hygrometers are not of a scientific-grade for accuracy.
Label - A small piece of identifying paper glued inside the violin's body and visible through the f-hole opposite of the soundpost. It contains the name of the maker, the year the instrument was made and, sometimes, the serial number. The size of fractional violins is also indicated. Note many other shops sell instruments with the labels swapped out for higher levels or important serial numbers (in the case of 909 instruments) missing, so be careful what you purchase!
Fun Fact: There are countless factory-made violins from before and after WWII bearing duplicated Stradivarius labels, which was first attributed as an homage to the maker but has since flooded the market with countless fakes and created much confusion and fraud.
Latches - Cases come with a variety of these closing mechanisms, with some flipping (flip latch) and others requiring a button or pin be pressed to one side to open (pin latch).
Pro Tip: Do yourself a favour and don't use the key on your case's locking latch. Players inevitably lose the key and call me in a panic and the most I can do, lacking any lock-picking skills, is commiserate; we've all been there.
Luthier - From the French word for "lute," a luthier is a craftsperson who builds and/or repairs stringed instruments, particularly those with a soundbox (body) and extended neck. The practice of making these instruments is called luthierie.
Mineral ground - A layer of mineral dust containing any combination of calcium lactate, alum, manganese sulphate, titanium dioxide, yellow iron oxide and mica applied below the varnish to give the instrument colour like the master instruments by Stradivari and Guarneri. It also seals the wood before the varnish is applied and enhances the overall tonal qualities.
Mother of Pearl - Sometimes confused with Abalone, this is a colourful, almost prismatic material obtained from the inside of shells of oysters, mussels, and (ironically) abalone. It can be found in shells of salt and freshwater species and is implemented as a decorative inlay on bows (slide and eye) as well as other fittings and sometimes (novelty) violins themselves.
Neck - The neck is a slender, long maple wood part between the scroll/peg box and body of the instrument, meeting at the heel. Violinists typically hold the violin at the neck and reach over the top of the neck and press the strings down at the fingerboard. Finer violins are made with flamed maple with figuring similar to the back.
Fun Fact: The neck is not varnished like the rest of the violin. Read my article on the subject.
Nut - This is the ebony piece at the start of the fingerboard and the end of the peg box. Fine graphite-filled notches carved into the nut establish string spacing across the neck and splaying out over the fingerboard, with corresponding notches further apart on the bridge. Vibrating string length is measured from the nut to the bridge. I consider the nut "0 finger" as it is responsible for stopping the "open string" before 1st, 2nd, 3rd or 4th fingers are placed.
Octagonal (stick) - Unlike a round bow stick which is, well, round, an octagonal stick has 8 edges and 8 corners through most of the length of the stick. The differences are aesthetic: there is no difference in how they play or feel in the hand.
Pegbox - This part of the violin houses the large tuning pegs that serve the function of tuning the violin. At the top of the peg box is the violin's signature "fiddlehead" scroll, which is visually similar to a "fiddlehead" fern or the seashell shape seen in Fibonacci number sequence illustrations.
Fun Fact: The inside of the pegbox is usually stained black and the side walls are called the "cheek."
Pegs - Formally called "tuning pegs," these (usually wood) fittings are found at the top of the violin and fit into holes in the peg box. Each peg's shaft has a tiny hole drilled into it where the string "peg end" or "winding end" is inserted. The peg is then grasped at the "head" like a key in a door lock and turned back and away from the violin to tighten the string, with the winding wrapped around the shaft. Most pegs come with the heads in a round or heart-shaped (more similar to the spade shape in a deck of cards) and they can be decorated with rings, eyes or other inlay.
Pro Tip: I tend to install strings so the end of the wrapped section is just about touching the "cheek" (inside of the peg box) so the peg is held in place better by friction.
Fun Fact: Peg "dope" or lubricant is applied to the peg shaft at contact points with the peg box to see it turn smoothly and protect the peg box from wearing down.
Perlon - The fancy-pants name for Nylon 6, this material has replaced the sheep gut core in wound strings. Thomastik Dominant strings are the most popular and widely-used perlon-core strings on the market and have been so since the 70s or 80s.
Helpful Hint: Use the navigation menu on the left side of catalog pages to narrow down Fiddleheads' strings by the materials used.
Pernambuco - From the Latin "paubrasilia echinata," this is a species of Amazonian timber tree and Brazil's national tree of Brazil. It is the choice material for wood bow sticks and, as such, is tragically under continued threat of extinction.
Fun Fact: My own Voxy Astute "carbonbuco" bow uses a carbon core with a Pernambuco exterior, which results in a very similar feel and an identical aesthetic while using a fraction of the Pernambuco material.
Plate - A violin has two plates, the top (or belly) and back, and these, with the ribs, make up the body of the violin. Also called "soundboards," these plates are typically made from graduated (carved, shaped) spruce for the top and maple for the back.
Fun Fact: The softer nature of spruce combined with the harder maple allows the violin to have vibrate properly and produce the best sound qualities possible.
Pro Tip: Most of the time when someone's bow is hard to tighten, the hairs are loose or it's just not performing right, it's because a plug has come loose.
Pocket - Most cases have compartments for accessory and music storage. Some interior pockets are deep and large enough for rosin and shoulder rests, whereas some exterior pockets cover a larger area but are very thin in order to accommodate sheet music and smaller books.
Helpful Hint: Not all cases have room inside for a BonMusica shoulder rest, so you may need a separate bag to carry it and your music. These cases I sell accommodate a Bon Musica, and these cases are likely but not guaranteed to accommodate one.
Positions - In the violin world this means the flexible placement of the left hand up and down the fingerboard. Beginners start in a root place of "first position," with their index or first finger just above the nut. Second position is played when the hand "shifts," or moves up the fingerboard, slightly to place first finger where second finger was in the first position. Third position, the first finger sits atop where third finger was, and so on.
Fun Fact: A skilled violinist will shift up and down the neck to play in a variety of positions for a three main reasons: reaching higher notes above the staff, avoiding string crossing or simplifying a tricky fingering, or for tonal purposes. The higher the position, the closer together the fingers become.
Fun fact: "Half position" is when the hand is even closer to the nut and the second finger rests where first usually would and is useful in keys with lots of sharps or when a standard fingering would be too tricky.
Projection - This is fancy violin-speak for the range of how the sound carries and overcomes other competing sounds. Unrelated to range as defined by how high or low a pitch is, or with simple overall volume, this version of "range" is more about the distance the sound can travel. More advanced players want a violin with strong projection, meaning the tone can carry, without degradation of tone, above an orchestra or band and to the opposite end of the performance space.
Purfling - Isn't that a fun word to say? Purrrr-fling!! This is a very fine decorative inlay, usually two thin parallel lines a millimeter or so apart, placed on the outer entire edge of the top and back plates of a violin. Between the pair of concentric lines is the spruce or maple showing through from the plate. Authentic purfling is usually made from very fine strips of ebony or another darkly-stained wood.
Fun Fact: Some novelty violins use mother of pearl or other materials but the tone of these instruments is almost always secondary to the aesthetics as such materials usually add bulk and limit vibrations.
Caution: Be careful, much of the cheap violin market has fake, painted-on stripes to mimic the appearance of purfling that later wears off! Countless buyers have fled to my shop after being deceived by incompetent or lying competitors. Rest assured, every single one of my instruments have real inlaid purfling.
Rain Fly - This is the flap of durable fabric that, similar to a tent fly, covers the zipper and protects the opening of the case from getting wet. All my Fiddleheads' brand of cases all have some manner of rain fly, with some having a partial-length rain fly just covering under the handle where the zippers meet, and others having a full-length rain fly covering the entire edge of the case.
Helpful Hint: Use the navigation menu on the left side of catalog pages to narrow down Fiddleheads' instruments by rain fly under "Water Resistance."
Range - This isn't how far the conductor throws the baton in frustration. Wikipedia explains it best: "In music, the range, or chromatic range, of a musical instrument is the distance from the lowest to the highest pitch it can play. For a singing voice, the equivalent is vocal range. The range of a musical part is the distance between its lowest and highest note." Being an instrument at the higher end of the musical spectrum, the violin's range starts at the G below middle C and goes up as high as your skills (or eardrums) can take you.
Fun Fact: Most student players' comfortable range extends to 3rd position, to the D above "super" C, shown in the treble clef above the two top ledger lines over the treble staff.
Rebush - Rebushing is a repair that involves filling worn-down, too large peg holes in a pegbox (or an endpin hole) with matching grained wood then varnishing the area and re-drilling the hole to fit a new set of pegs (or endpin). Don't worry, this is done on older instruments and you won't need to re-bush any of my new violins for a very long time!
Rehair - Spell check may not recognize this word, but it's a thing! Rehairing is the process of removing worn out bow hair and installing new hair on your bow. The little scales or barbs on the hair break off with use and even unused hair will begin to break down over time as it is an organic material. I rehair my bow once a year, or even more often when I am playing more concerts.
Caution: My shop's luthier charges $50-$60 to rehair a violin bow with quality Mongolian horse hair (the industry standard), so if your local shop asks you much more than that, they're just getting greedy.
Pro Tip: Don't leave your bow or open case on the grass or in long-term storage without an air-out every once in a while. Tiny grass fleas and microscopic dust mites can infest your case and get on your bow then literally eat the hairs! If this happens, leave your case in the freezer or outside in sub-zero temperatures or spray it with an insecticide and rehair your bow.
Ribs - The sides of the violin between the top and back plates that give the body its box shape. Most people consider the centermost section or C-bouts, which resemble a human waistline, to be the ribs. These pieces are made from very thin wood which is specially treated against template forms to give them this classic curved shape.
Ring (peg) - An ornate piece of plastic (cruelty-free ivory), metal or (out of practice anymore) real ivory that wraps around the shaft of the tuning peg just before the thicker section that is grasped to turn the peg. Some rings are carved into the peg itself. Ring colours usually match the fret on the tailpiece and/or the decorative balls on the ends of the peg.
Rosin - A required material for producing sound from the bow, rosin is made from collecting, melting and purifying tree sap into a hardened "cake." When rosin is rubbed, with pressure, against a ribbon of bow hair it packs as a sticky dust inside the many exterior barb-like scales, which act like millions of fingers resisting against the string and thus strumming the string constantly to produce a sustained tone.
Fun Fact: Rosin is usually made in two varieties - light and dark, which some players use for summer and winter respectively, though this is not necessary for student players. Pirastro's Gold Flecks (Goldflex) rosin formula has tiny sprinkles of gold in their product.
Fun Fact: Without rosin the bow will make no sound because the barbs aren't sticking to the string, but are rather just sliding over it.
Saddle - An piece of ebony wood similar to the nut, but at the opposite end of the violin. The tailwire stretches over the saddle, which protects the body, and around the endpin to hold the strings at tension.
Scroll - The violin's scroll (aptly nicknamed the "fiddlehead") is the ornately-carved top of the peg box, and overall top or "head" of the violin. It is almost shaped like a volute (a rolled-up spiral as seen on ancient columns like a paper scroll). The scroll serves no tonal purpose and is merely decorative, but what a decoration!
Fun Fact: Some novelty scrolls depict the face of a person or an animal like a monkey or lion.
Fun Fact: Some young fern species are called "fiddlehead" ferns owing to their shape just before they unfurl. You can see this shape in my adorable green logo. Fiddlehead ferns are edible and I have recipes here!
Caution: Please, for the sake of all that is good int his world, don't hang your violin off your music stand from the scroll. Just thinking of a violin's life perched precariously over oblivion (aka the floor) gives me an ulcer.
Setup - Setup is the specialized fine-tuning or tweaking of an instrument that ensures all the parts are aligned and fitting properly to allow for maximum performance. All my instruments see at least two hours of detailed adjustments and improvements then testing/playing by me personally after the instrument is crafted to my specifications.
Caution: Many shops and sites claim their instruments are setup well, but most places don't know how to properly setup a violin or skip important sets. I personally test each and every violin after it is setup and will continue to have my luthier work on it until it is just right.
Sheen - Another word for "finish," this describes how shiny or reflective the varnish layer is. Typical terms include gloss (very shiny) and matte (not shiny). Gloss handles wear due to daily use better but also shows up more flaws to the varnished surface as more light reflects off it.
Pro Tip: Polish your violin with my Fiddleheads Polish every 6 months. Too often and the polish may build up and attract dust, much like over-conditioning your hair.
Helpful Hint: Remember to add a shoulder rest to your shopping cart as it's a staple item for most violinists and literally saved my neck following a childhood injury!
Slide (bow) - Made from, in the case of better quality bows, mother of pearl, the slide does what its name states: it slides in and out of place of a groove at the bottom of the frog to allow a luthier access to the hair end inside the bow.
Caution: Do yourself a favour, take my word for it and don't test this on your bow to see if I'm pulling your leg.
Soundpost (or Sound post) - Also called the treble bar, this wooden dowel inside the instrument under the bridge (Violin's E-string or Viola's A-string) is held in place between the top and back plates by friction. It provides important structural support as well, keeping the hollow body from collapsing due to the significant pressure from the strings. All my instruments' soundposts are cut and positioned in the best position for tone during my unmatched setup.
Fun Fact: The sound post is similar to the bass bar in that it transfers sound, in this case the higher tones in particular, from the bridge and front plate to the back plate which acts like an amplifying speaker.
Fun Fact: The French word for soul,âme, is sometimes utilized interchangeably with soundpost.
Spinner (bow) - Similar to how a propeller spins from a center point, this simple plastic device rotates from a horizontal (open) position to a vertical (closed) position to hold your bow in place inside a case. To release the bow from the case, rotate the spinner 90-degrees until it is parallel with the space inside the bow. Don't just yank the bow out; his can break the spinner and you will be sad.
Helpful Hint: Your bow hairs may catch inside the spinner (which is fairly common) so be patient and untangle them gently so you don't make your bow go prematurely bald.
Caution: Some cheaper cases don't use a spinner but instead utilize metal hooks (yikes, scratches!) or cloth with velcro (lame solution).
Stick (bow) - The main component of the bow, the stick does it all. Modern bow sticks are steamed to have a special concave curve which allows them to be used in a variety of techniques and wider range of volume than their predecessors. Sticks are made from wood or carbon materials and in a round or octagonal (8-sided) shape.
Stradivari - Widely regarded as the most famous violin maker of all time, Antonio Stradivari was an Cremonese master luthier who produced many early violins, cellos, guitars, violas and harps. These instruments are the most valuable in the world, and as such, there are countless fakes bearing forged reproductions of his label in circulation.
Fun Fact: His violin template is still employed to this day, which is called the "Stradivarius" or, more casually, "Strad" pattern or model. Most of my violins are made in the Strad pattern, particularly the student series, because it is the most requested model.
Strings - Sound vibrations from the violin and other "stringed" instruments originate from the string. Whether bowed or strummed, all strings stretched under tension vibrate in a wave pattern, which is amplified by the various components such as the bridge, soundpost, bass bar, and body. Thicker and thinner strings create lower and higher pitches, respectively.
Fun Fact: Violin strings were formerly made from stretched dried sheep intestines (called gut strings), but later evolved to options made from metal wire and metal wrapped around wire or nylon core. The finest strings on the market are those with a synthetic core and wound with fine metals like silver and gold.
Helpful Hint: Use the navigation menu on the left side of catalog pages to narrow down Fiddleheads' available strings and remember that we can upgrade and downgrade the strings on any instrument from Fiddleheads time of purchase.
String Tube - Gut core strings are best stored straight (not coiled) and so some higher-end cases come with a string tube. It's the long plastic mystery tube with caps that attaches to the inside top of your case just below the bows. I say mystery tube because of all the questions I get about cases, the most common one is regarding the purpose of the plastic tube.
Subway strap - A carrying strap that spans the width along one end of a case for support holding the it an upright, vertical position, with the other end resting on the ground protected by bumpers. The obvious name comes from the practice of holding cases on trains where there is little space to hold it horizontally by the usual handle.
Pro Tip: Symphony musicians often hold their cases in this manner as they stand outside the venue following the concert, debating loudly in which pub to drink and complain about the guest conductor. True story.
Helpful Hint: Use the navigation menu on the left side of catalog pages to narrow down cases to those with a subway strap
Suspension - Special padding in the case that supports the top and bottom of the violin's body so the back of the instrument is not touching the bottom of the case. This provides better protection than a case without suspension because it provides a buffer from outside impact.
Helpful Hint: Consider purchasing a case with suspension and, even better, plywood construction if you plan to do a lot of travel with it or have an instrument you couldn't easily replace due to damage.
Helpful Hint: Use the navigation menu on the left side of catalog pages to narrow down cases to those with suspension
Tailpiece - Completely unlike the important but icky plumbing part, the violin tailpiece is the part of the instrument to which the strings attach at the bottom after spanning the bridge. Most tailpieces are made from a hardwood, typically ebony, though the Wittner style tailpiece is popular in student violins.
Fun Fact: Nearly all Fiddleheads' instruments are setup with a Tulip-shaped (rounded) or English/Hill model (angular edge down the center) hardwood tailpiece.
Helpful Hint: Use the navigation menu on the left side of catalog pages to narrow down your violin choice by included tailpiece (which can also be swapped out on 4/4 size violins) -- Tulip-shaped with black fret - Tulip-shaped with antique white fret - English/Hill model with black fret - English/Hill model with antique white fret - Wittner-style model with built-in tuners
Fun Fact: If this baby snaps, your violin looks like it exploded! But don't worry, I don't use the old style animal flesh tailwires that needed to be tied and covered in wax, but instead the durable nylon versions with threading and tiny metal nuts. Phew!
Tension or Gauge (string) - Unlike the tension of showing up to a rehearsal without having practiced in advance. Tension and gauge are two terms to indicate the thickness or diameter of the round string. Violin family (bowed) strings are characterized by their "tension, with the word "gauge" describes the same trait in fretted instruments like guitar, mandolin, etc. "Heavy" strings are thicker and have more material, and are thus tuned to pitch at a higher tension than medium or light tension strings. Higher tension strings typically produce a wider range of overtones and a "meatier" tone. That said, the heavier the string's tension, the slower the response time to vibration and the more strength/pressure is needed by the fingertip to depress the string to the fingerboard. If the tension is too light the pitch can be affected by pressure from the bow.
Pro Tip: The ideal mix and sweet spot for most string players balancing response, pressure and quality of tone is a medium tension string, which we see installed on all our instruments by default.
Helpful Hint: Use the navigation menu on the left side of catalog pages to narrow down your string choices by a range of variables. (Note we currently only stock medium gauge strings)
Tip (bow) - This is the part of the student's bow designed to poke violin teachers in the eye. Joking aside, the tip (also called the "point") is the end of the bow where the hair directly meets the stick and furthest from where it is held (at the frog). A small white plastic (formerly ivory) veneer protects the flat edge. Note that standard "classical" bows (invented by Tourte) have a different tip than those of the "swan head" shape of older Baroque bows.
Pro Tip: Play at the tip for a quieter sound or near the tip for a nice tremolo (trembling effect often applied to scary scenes in movie soundtracks).
Fun Fact: Many fiddlers play at the tip as it takes less wrist control, but does make rapid string crossing tiring on the bow arm.
Tone - Ahh, tone! This is the quality of sound and it's "colour," being a rich spectrum of harmonics and vibrations. Producing a quality tone is pretty much the goal of every string player and is made easier by using the best possible instrument and bow you can afford without selling vital organs to pay for it.
Valance - The seal of a case, where the top and bottom pieces of the "shell" line up as it shuts, much like how a clam shell closes tight at the outer edges. Most foam cases have a zippered valance, whereas plywood and fiberglass cases sometimes use latches and a hard-edged valance.
Varnish - Similar to what you see on furniture, but with tonal qualities in mind beyond aesthetics, varnish is tree resin or sap dissolved in an oil or other chemical that, when applied to tonewood in liquid state, dries to form a clear, shiny and hard protective surface. Most violins are made with either an oil or spirit varnish and though violinists have nearly dogmatic opinions on which is better, but in my more neutral and educated opinion, what matters most is how the violin sounds.
Fun Fact: Some varnish has colour added to it, and some is clear and applied over a mineral ground.
Helpful Hint: Use the navigation menu on the left side of instrument catalog pages to narrow down your varnish choices by primary/base colours [Chocolate Mahogany (Rich Brown) - Ruby Auburn (Russet Brown) - Poppy Red (Intense Crimson) - Golden Ochre (Sunny Yellow) - Cinnamon Brown (Rusty Orange)] and highlight/secondary colours [Strawberry Ginger (Rosey Orange) - Rusty Copper (Vivid Burnt Orange) - Honey Amber (Orange Yellow) - Tawny Caramel (Brown Orange)]
Veneer - A thin sheet of a material, in the case of violins or bows it is wood, that is placed on the exterior of an object to give the appearance of solid wood.
Helpful Hint: Unlike many shops all my instruments are made from solid wood, no veneers, with the exception of my Voxy Astute bow which is made with a carbon core and a beautiful Pernambuco veneered exterior.
Fun fact: George Washington had Pernambuco veneers on his teeth before he upgraded to solid wood dentures. Got you! I'm joking!
Viola - A bowed stringed instrument that, very much like the violin, is held under the chin while played and is nearly indistinguishable from the violin. Unlike the violin, the viola is longer, wider and thicker overall than a violin and is tuned a perfect fifth lower than the violin, with the open strings of a low C, G, D (a whole tone above middle C) and A (a minor third below high C). The viola bow has a slightly heavier stick and a wider frog with a rounded heel. Because viola music is notated using the nearly outmoded alto clef (middle C is in the center line of the staff) and tends to play the middle harmonies in many compositions rather than the coveted melody as played by first violins, the viola is the butt of many music jokes.
Pro Tip: Learn to read alto clef and play viola, as I did, and opportunities open up for you since viola players are more rare in most music circles. Have a curious peek at my gorgeous violas for sale here
Violin - The most widely-known bowed string instrument and, in this author's very biased opinion, the most versatile and magnificent instrument in the world. It is the smallest of the string family instruments (followed by viola, cello and bass). The violin is balanced between the left chin and left hand and bowed with the right hand (with the exception of left-handed violins, which are bowed with the left hand and which we also sell). The four strings are tuned in perfect fifths to the pitches of G (below middle C), D, A and E (above high C). Music for violin is written in the treble clef for violin solo to a range of ensembles and encompasses a wide range of genres: Baroque, Classical, Fiddle (Bluegrass, Old Time, Eastern European, Celtic), swing/jazz, rock and pop and many more applications. In an orchestral setting the violin is usually the most highlighted instrument and the second in charge leader behind the conductor is the Concertmaster (leader of the First Violins section).
Wittner-style tailpiece - Named after the original company to produce this style tailpiece, this model has fine tuners permanently attached. Unlike a wooden tailpiece with fine tuners added and extending slightly past the tailpiece, the Wittner style tuners are sunk into the tailpiece itself.
Helpful Hint: Most Wittner-style tailpieces are made from a composite material from an OEM source, which are considerably cheaper than the name brand.
Zipper - Come on, you know what a zipper is! While I have your attention though, the zippers on lower-end cases tend to wear out with prolonged use, but my Fiddleheads Deluxe Cases have heavy duty zippers that will stand up longer-term use and abuse.
Pro Tip: When choosing a case consider if you want to use it short-term or for many years. A strong, quality case will save your instrument from a drop or impact at some point; I speak from much experience as a player and a teacher!
Helpful Hint: Use the navigation menu on the left side of case catalog pages to narrow down your zipper choices of Basic, Mid-grade, and Heavy-duty.