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Post 1


Hello MMF,

it is me - matodemi, Martina from fb (Nick's and Sho's friend).

You were so kind to reply on fb ref. fiddle.. here is what I have been thinking about/my questions:

What kind of fiddle do you play?
I know sometimes plain violins are used. Sometimes with a different set of strings.
And there are 5-string-fiddles...

All very confusing.

I wouldn't want to play classical violin, but I would like to try to fiddle (I have been trying out a couple of instruments, and as much as I like them - none has raised a real passion in me so far).

I would love to read your advice, your experience etc.




Post 2

MMF - Keeper of Mustelids, with added P.M.A., is now in a relationship.

Hi there.

I'll help out where I can.

So, the difference between a violin or a fiddle?

A violin and a fiddle are technically the same instrument as far as the physical wooden instrument is concerned. There are some physical variations in the manufacture of violins, usually just in the type of wood, although the overall physical attributes can differ, with a shallow or deep keel, or bottom, and a more rounded top.

This can affect then sound, or tone of the instrument, as well as the volume.

So, in truth, as far as the physical instrument is concerned, there is no true difference.

So when, or how, does a violin become a fiddle? Or vice versa?

It is usually in the set-up. That is the bridge, the strings, and the tuning.

There is more detail below, but I'll deal with the bridge first. A violin has a standard shape, with the side supporting the G string being higher than the E string. The overall height is usually determined by the fingerboard height but the opposite heights generally vary by about 5mm.

However a fiddle bridge curve is often flatter, and lower than a violin bridge. This is to allow both double and triple stopping. That is playing two, or even three stings at the same time. This is particularly common in Appalachian, Cajun and Bluegrass music.

Next, the strings. These days these are nylon bound with steel wire or, more rarely, catgut bound with steel wire. However there are many qualities and grades. The cheaper strings tend to be coarser in sound, and 'louder' so ideal for fiddles,but not so good for violins in the orchestra. I tend towards Prim or Dominant, lower price range.

Lastly, the tuning. Conventional tuning is G-D-A-E on a four string, while a 5 string is C-G-D-A-E. This allows it to be payed like a viola-violin. I have both. However some styles of folk music, and some early classical music may mean stringing the instruments differently, depending on the tune.

Now for the detail, and feel free to ignore, or skip this bit. It is a bit boring and detailed. It may also not be written in 'good' English. My apologies.

The strings.

Originally these were made of 'catgut'. No cats were hurt in themanufacturing process, I can assure you. The etymology of the term is unknown, and whether cats were ever used in the dim and distant past is uncertain, but probably highly unlikely, especially as in most ancient cultures, cats were a revered creature.

In modern times, i.e. from the earliest times of classical music, probably the 16th Century, although Gnomon is probably a better person to ask, the strings were made of sheep's intestines. The intestine is cut into narrow strips, cleaned of all fat and mucus, then washed and soaked in an alkaline solution. The strips are then stretched, dried, and twisted into a long, tough cord or string. Depending on the width of the original strips would determine the note of the string. As this process is a little rough and inaccurate, the strings need to be tightened and tuned.

One end of the string has a simple knot tied in it. This is then fed through a hole, of which there are usually four, in the 'tail-piece' at the rounded end of the instrument. This is passed over the bridge, a curved piece of maple situated between the 'f' holes in the main body of the instrument. Then over the finger board that is usually made of ebony to the pegs at the scroll, or round end of the instrument. The strings are, in the vast majority of occasions, tuned to G-D-A-E from left to right, as looked at from the tail-piece end. Today the majority of strings are nylon wound around with fine steel thread, except for the E string, which is usually just a long piece of steel wire. Catgut strings are still used by some, usually for medieval or reproduction instruments, or can be found wrapped in steel. They usually provide a light, mellow sound, whereas steel strings can be louder and harsher.

So strings can change the sound, volume and tone of an instrument. What else?

The bridge.

This is a piece of maple, shaped like a bridge, strangely. Hence it's name. It has two feet that are positioned so they are lined up with the lines in the middle of the f-holes. Each part of the bridge has a name, so the feet have two toes on each feet which help the bridge to form the bottom arch at the base. Above, on the inside is the ankle, and on the outside is the shin.
Immediately above the shins are protrusions known as ears. On either side, and just above the ears are two scroll cutouts, known as 'kidneys'.In the centre is a cut-out, roughly in the shape of a compressed, stylised heart, known as the 'heart-wing'. I can only assume these are to provide volume and reverberation of the sound. At the top is the bridge curve. This is higher at the G-string end, and lower at the E-string end. The bridge is chamfered and tapered becoming thinner at the top where the strings lie.

The feet are shaved, in a very shallow curved manner, to fit snuggly on the body of the violin. There should be the barest minimum of wood on the feet remaining. This cannot be hurried or fudged. The system I was taught was to use a piece of 220 grade sandpaper placed across the violin body, then gently rub the bridge from side to side, to reach a thin basic foot shape. Next, take a chinagraph pencil and rub between the lines of the f-holes. Now rub the bridge over this are. Look at the feet, and remove the pencil marks from the feet until both feet have an equal black smudge. The bridge now has the right shape. Next comes the stringing. There is no fixed positioning of the strings. as a general rule the G and E strings are positioned just above the 'ankle' of the feet, but edging towards the 'shin'. The A and D are then equidistant between the G and E.

The tuning.

As mentioned, the fiddle and violin are strung G-D-A-E under normal situations. However, like a guitar, the stringing can be changed, with each string being raised by a semi-tone, a tone, or even so two strings have the sae note. A string can usually only be raised by two tones, without stressing it too much, so if a higher range is needed then a different string is needed. The usual reason for this set-up is to allow double-stopping. This s where two strings are played at the same time. Each string can either be fingered or open, depending on the tune and style being played. However I understand sometimes the strings are set at unconventional tuning for music like Jewish Kletzmer or Russian traditional folk tunes.

The next part determines the possible difference between a violin and a fiddle.

So is there a difference? I believe it is down to what music is being played, how and where.

I have a violin that is mellow, with a high bridge, and ideal for playing with other instruments, indoors and either acoustically or amplified. It is strung with expensive Dominant strings.

My other instrument is my fiddle. The bridge is flatter from side to side, and means the strings are closer to the fingerboard. It is conventionally strung economy Dominant strings. The upper body is a different colour, being darker than my violin, and is much louder and raucous. It is ideal for playing solo or outdoors, cutting through background noise.

My 5 string is a Bridge Lyra 5 string. This is an electric violin strung with Prim strings. It cannot be played acoustically for others to hear, but is good for 'silent' practice. The bridge is a fixed piezo bridge, and not a conventional bridge and is connected to an amp by a 3/4 jack. There are two controls, one being volume, the other being tone.

I hope that helps.

If you think it is ok, maybe I could make it into an entry? Let me know.

smiley - cheers


smiley - musicalnote


Post 3


Wow thank you Neal for this detailed explanation.

(yes, pls do make it into an entry)

I will try to find a violin first and see if it "suits" me.. before I buy any.
though I would like the idea of a 5-string-fiddle...
I would like to play Irish or Scotish music (already liking the Irish whistle - not really exersing much at the moment though).

What would you recommend as a start? I never played a violin (a played accordeon and guitar in my youth, started on the Irish whistle and Bodhran - but not regularly because nothing as made me being passionate so far, and I know there is an instrument out there that waits to be discovered).

Thanks again

take care



Post 4

MMF - Keeper of Mustelids, with added P.M.A., is now in a relationship.

Martina, I've posted my post on line, under the title 'Should/could this be an entry'.
It is as I wrote it, so not polished, as unsure whether should be one, or two entries.
Your thoughts appreciated.


smiley - cheers


smiley - musicalnote


Post 5

Florida Sailor Back From Havana, Cuba

This is excellent, and deserves a place in the guide as a single Entry.

Just out of curiosity is there a bar chord tuning for a fiddle (like a steel or Hawaiian guitar)? My fingers do not work as well as they used to, but I would love to play with a fiddle.

Are 5 string violins ever used in orchestras?

F smiley - dolphin S


Post 6


oh yes, please do make it an entry...

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