Monthly musings about the music, culture and history behind the tunes we play.
Violins and fiddles and their bowed ancestors have been around since the early middle ages. The earliest version may have been the Rebab, and the earliest version that approximates the modern instrument is the "Polnische Geige", an early violin found in Poland.
There were many versions between the early ones and the "classic" shape built by Stradivarius, Guarneri, Amati and other 18th century luthiers. That shape, developed in the famous Italian town of Cremona, became the standard for the next 200-plus years until the 20th century, when people started experimenting with different ways of amplifying the instrument's sound.
In the early 20th century John Stroh added a horn to the violin body, giving it more volume, but also changing its tone. In later decades as people electrified guitars they also experimented with electrifying the violin. Between the middle of the 20th century and today there's been an explosion in the variety of shapes and electronics built into them. The simplest is a pickup, which converts the mechanical energy of the acoustic instrument to magnetic signals which then are electronically amplified or modified. Later experiments have produced slimmed down instruments that are essentially bowed synthesizers, giving modern luthiers the opportunity to create fiddles in a variety of simple, elegant or outrageous shapes.
The varieties of instruments have also given fiddlers (and violinists) lots of options for creating many types of sounds leading to new and interesting styles and musical innovation.
Alas, we're stuck in the 18th and 19th centuries, so we'll stay content with just amplifying our fiddles. Maybe with a little reverb. And some distortion. Hey, how about a looper?