Category Archives: Instruments


A violin without a bow gives a very different sound! As important as the actual stringed instruments are, the bows are just as important.

In the most basic sense, a bow is a long piece of shaped wood with some type of material stretched from end to end to form a ribbon. In the case of bows used with classical musical instruments, generally the ‘stick’ is a formed piece of wood (pernambuco being the most sought after) that is carefully shaped and the ‘ribbon’ to join the ends is made from horsehair. Pernambuco is an endangered species and other woods and synthetic materials are being used more often now when making new bows. Some success is being had with carbon fibre bows.

A bow maker, known as an archetier, makes, repairs, and restores bows for instruments such as the violin, viola, or cello. Much time can be spent to get the correct shape (called the camber) of the stick. And up to 200 horse tail hairs can be used for a violin bow, more for larger instruments that normally have a wider ribbon.

As the bow is moved across the strings, it causes vibrations which the instrument puts out as a sound. The same instrument can give different sounds depending on the bow used. Thus the choice of bow is a very important and personal decision for each musician.

Do you play a stringed instrument with a bow? Do you have a bow story to share?


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Antonio Stradivari

Stradivarius is a well known name, especially in the world of classical music. Antonio Stradivari was most likely an apprentice of Nicolo Amati.  A little while back, I wrote about Nicolo’s grandfather, Andrea Amati.

Stradivari was born in 1644 and lived until December of 1737 – 93 years.  Over 70 of those years were spent crafting instruments.  His apprenticeship most likely started when he was between the ages of 12 and 14.  His oldest surviving violin dates back to 1666 when he was 22 years old.  At the age of 23, he married his first wife, Francesca Feraboschi.  They had 5 surviving children and were married for 31 years, until her death in 1698.  At the age of 55, he married for a second time.  He and Zambelli Costa had 5 children as well.  At the time of his death, two of his sons were working with him and his business passed on to Francesco, who only survived for another 6 years.

Like many good craftsmen, he honed his skills over time, experimented with changes to his instruments, and created a variety of final products that would stand the test of time.  While known by many for his violins, Stradivari also made lutes, guitars, and harps.  Estimates place the number of instruments he made between 1,000 and 1,100. 650 of those are still in existence today with at least 450 of them being violins.  He has given us a lasting legacy of excellence.

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Bartolomeo Cristofori

Three of our next four concerts will involve the piano in some form – Eve Egoyan in a solo piano concert; the Gryphon Trio; and baritone Phillip Addis accompanied by pianist Emily Hamper. It started me wondering – who invented this marvelous instrument?

Bartolomeo Cristofori is considered the inventor of the modern piano. Born in 1655 in Padua, he lived until 1731. In 1688, he was employed by Ferdinando de Medici, Grand Prince of Tuscany. Ferdinando was a lover of music and patron of the arts, played the harpsichord, and had an extensive instrument collection (84 at the time of his death in 1713). Cristofori became his keeper of the instruments and along with maintaining the growing collection, added to it with his own musical instrument inventions – a spinettone, an oval spinet, and a clavicytherium (an upright harpsichord). Around 1700, Cristofori built what he called an Arpicembalo. It could be played to produce sounds both soft (piano) and loud (forte) and eventually the name became the more familiar pianoforte. While the current piano has changed slightly since then with additional inventions from others, Cristofori’s arpicembalo contained all of the elements (hammers, strings, soundboard, etc.) that are found in modern day pianos, with only 4 octaves. Three of his original pianos from 1720 still exist today along with a spinettone, two oval spinets, and a few of his harpsichord. Several of these instruments are at the Museum of Musical Instruments of the University of Leipzig, Germany.

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A Luthier and the violin

String instruments are obviously an important part of chamber music. But where do the instruments come from? Who makes them?

As early as the 9th century in Europe, there was the lira – a small bowed instrument that was held upright to be played. Over time, two different classes of lira developed. The lira da gamba (viol for the leg) was held upright between the legs when played and the lira da braccio (viol for the arm) was held in the arms. This further developed into the family of the violin of today.

Luthier is the occupation of someone who makes lutes and string instruments. In the 16th century, Andrea Amati was a respected luthier making lutes and rebecs. He was born in 1505 and died in 1577, residing in Cremona, Italy. Many credit him with developing the violin in the form we know today. There is some debate about that as Brescia has earlier records for the formation of their school. We do know that the oldest surviving violin was made by Amati for Charles IX of France.

Whether or not he was the first one to create the violin as we know it, Amati’s great contributions to the development of the violin cannot be denied. Aside from the physical developments made to the instrument, he was also the father of Antonio and Hieronymus and the grandfather of Nicolo. Antonio and Hieronymus became respected instrument makers in their own right. Nicolo is the member of the family who rises above the rest for the quality of his instruments. He also took on apprentices – among them Antonio Stradivari and Andrea Guarneri.

All in all the Amati family started us off on an amazing journey with amazing instruments!

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