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Why the neck slant?
Why not a higher fingerboard or lower bridge?
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drabbit
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August 29, 2013 - 12:33 am
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Hi everyone,

I've seen various references about this and have tried googling a bunch but have not really come up with a good answer so asking this here.

I was just wondering if anyone had any idea about why the violin was designed with an angled neck (fingerboard slants down from bridge area to nut) and especially if there were any published references regarding this design choice. It seems like other possible solutions to keeping the strings within reasonable spacing of the fingerboard and maintaining a reasonable neck size would be to have a lower bridge or a higher fingerboard. Both of these methods would allow a level neck to be done, which I would imagine would be easier to make (perhaps a poor assumption?).

The rationales that I've been able to come up with are:

1. A lower fingerboard height lowers the stress on the wood around the heel of the neck, so this might need to be maintained for structural integrity over time

2. A high bridge allows the violin to have a slightly wider waist and still be playable (due to bowing angles and not hitting the sides of the violin), which might be good both for tone and projection (larger soundbox)

 

These reasons seem like they could explain the design choice, but I haven't seen anyone say anything to that effect, nor offer a comprehensive rationale/references for the angled neck. The only thing I've really seen are that it \"improves playability\" and \"if you measure the string heights, it will be evident why the neck must be angled\".

 

Anyways, it might be a bit of a silly question, but I've been thinking on it a while and wondered what everyone else might have to say.

Thanks in advance for any illumination you can share!

 

PS, I do know that many older instruments used an angled fingerboard to achieve a similar effect to an angled neck, rather than lower the bridge, so the angle is seems to be a long standing design element of violins.

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DanielB
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August 29, 2013 - 2:39 am
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The main reason, as I understand it, is for the sound.

Earlier Baroque period violins had a less extreme neck angle and a lower bridge.  But as the violin became popular as a featured instrument for larger orchestras and bigger halls it needed more volume/power.

The higher bridge and more extreme neck angle of the modern violin allow for a greater percentage of the energy from the vibrating/bowed string to reach the top.   Without going too much into the physics and math involved, we can say that the more acute the angle made by the string where it passes over the bridge, the more power will be transmitted down the bridge to the main amplifying surface of the sound box and the less that will be directed towards the ends of the string, which are not the main parts of the instrument designed to acoustically amplify sound.

So primarily it was an evolution/adaptation to allow the instrument to have greater power/volume.

But it also affects the timbre of the instrument by enhancing the frequencies in the 4khz to 6khz range which gave the newer design more brightness.

Increasing both the dynamic range (volume) and the timbral spectrum (the ability to make a given pitch sound brighter or darker) allowed the violin to effectively compete with a horn or flute in the orchestra in terms of power and presence.  But it also is what gives the violin such a versatile voice, once one learns how to control it. 

That wide range of sound is both what makes the violin sound so interestingly like the human voice in the hands of an expert player, and what makes it so easy to sound frighteningly awful when you first start out.  LOL

So while your reasons are good ones, so far as I know the change was actually done purely for enhancing the sound.

If you listen to a Baroque period violin, with the less acute angle you may note it is mellower and the sounds of the notes is somewhat less distinct.  If you got back another stage in the evolution to the vielle, which was even flatter where the strings pass over the bridge and also usually lacked the soundpost you may note that it is even quieter, and less of a "stand out" quality on the sound.

Hopefully this helps a bit with what you were wondering about, drabbit.

"This young wine may have a lot of tannins now, but in 5 or 10 years it is going to be spectacular, despite the fact that right now it tastes like crude oil. You know this is how it is supposed to taste at this stage of development." ~ Itzhak Perlman

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drabbit
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August 29, 2013 - 8:22 am
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Thanks for your explanation DanielB! It really helped. I do have some background in (non-acoustic) physics/engineering so I can see how the string angle would result in a greater normal force to the top plate of the violin. Your explanation also accounts for the necessity to have a slanted neck rather than a higher fingerboard :)

Do you know of any good resources about why a higher bridge would improve the brightness of the sound or is this more of an empirical finding?

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Ginnysg
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August 29, 2013 - 8:26 am
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Thanks Daniel.  This is not a question I've ever thought about, but I learned a lot from your answer.  You are always such a wealth of information!

“Music expresses that which cannot be put into words and that which cannot remain silent” 

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Kevin M.
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August 29, 2013 - 10:22 am
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I was all set to answer this and talk about the Baroque instruments. You said it all.

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DanielB
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August 29, 2013 - 12:43 pm
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I am not entirely sure why the higher bridge or more acute angle where the strings pass over the strings does that, drabbit.  I've seen it mentioned as a general principle and also was told it when I asked why the changes were made from the baroque violin to develop the modern design. 

I haven't been studying the design and functions of the violin long, only maybe a year, since I've been playing violin about a year and a half.  Perhaps one of the more experienced folks will know that one. 

However, the different points of the evolution are fun to listen to..

.. I picked those particular examples since we can see the instruments actually are different, and not just the style of playing.  All quite likable, and I would say played well in all cases.  But the sound is rather different.

 

"This young wine may have a lot of tannins now, but in 5 or 10 years it is going to be spectacular, despite the fact that right now it tastes like crude oil. You know this is how it is supposed to taste at this stage of development." ~ Itzhak Perlman

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drabbit
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August 29, 2013 - 11:56 pm
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Thanks again for your answers DanielB! They are much appreciated and the video clips were fun to watch.

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pky
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August 31, 2013 - 11:12 am
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Yes, violin is little but every part of it was a great design and there are reasons behind the designs; like C bouts, they are not just to add to the beauty of a violin. Without C bouts, especially the one on E string side, it would be very difficult to play E string without brushing your bow hair on violin body, the other c bout could be just to make the body symmetrical and add to the beauty of violin.

I wonder how long did it take for Amati to finally come out with the design.

 

@DanielB, does the angle of the neck have anything to do with the playability?

 

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