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In the first of two articles looking at instrument set-up, Joseph Curtin examines the acoustic roles played by the tailpiece and fingerboard in affecting vibration, frequency and resonance
The evolution of the violin is often told in heroic terms: a sudden emergence in the early 1500s, an ascent to perfection at the hands of Stradivari and Guarneri ‘del Gesù’, then a rapid decline followed by centuries spent trying to recapture what was lost. A more reasoned view is that the structural and acoustical development of the violin continued and even accelerated throughout the 19th century, with radical changes to the neck, fingerboard, tailpiece, bass-bar and bridge. Granted, these were changes to the set-up rather than the violin proper, but it was just these changes (along with equally radical ones to the bow) that enabled the spectacular flowering of violin music that now forms the bulk of the standard repertoire. This article focuses on the tailpiece and fingerboard. While these are arguably of secondary importance to the sound of the violin, such is the nature of the instrument that studying even its most straightforward components can feel like taking the back off a watch to ponder the jewelled complexities within.
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