Violin Aesthetics vs. Function

October 2, 2008 at 08:19 PM · A violin's form is so much more than a thing of beauty. My contention is that every element of the violin has a specific purpose... nothing is there for beauties sake, or aesthetics alone. The artisans that did all the early research and development were absolute genius'. One of the most obvious elements is the scroll. Copy the following address and paste it into your web browser and see if you don't find something familiar. http://oto2.wustl/cochlea/intro1.htm

Replies (27)

October 2, 2008 at 09:07 PM · The correct URL is

October 2, 2008 at 09:21 PM · Maybe it's obvious. But I don't follow you. What exactly is the functional purpose of the scroll? To function as an ear? It's true that the human ear is a spiral, but so what? Is it the same type of spiral?

There are lots of different spirals. Perhaps the scroll is an entirely aesthetic thing, one meant to impart a classical sense of balance. Had it been constructed in any but the 16th century--a time of discovery of the classical world--maybe it would have been some different shape. Let's just be glad it wasn't Victorian.....

It's entirely possible, by the way, that the violin is NOT the ideal shape. Just look at how very difficult it is to build a truly great instrument--they're far and few between and apparently it takes a great genius to do it. Let's be real: most violins just plain suck. Maybe a radical change of shape would make it much easier to make a consistently better violin.

October 3, 2008 at 02:21 AM · i think this is an interesting topic and hope some makers will chime in with some enlightening bits of wits. not sure about cochlear apparatus since 1600 anatomy/autopsy standard might not have been that refined yet. but here is pic of a seashell...

October 3, 2008 at 10:28 AM · Certainly gets me wondering about the anatomical inspiration for the end-button hole, and the sound they might have had in mind when first incorporating this feature. ;-)

October 3, 2008 at 01:52 PM · David, The end pin hole is the anal pore of the body. I thought everyone knew that's where all the uncontrolled urges of the instrument were expelled? ;-) Seriously, there is something to be learned by examining the function of the cochlea and how this form harnesses acoustical properties. It took me several hours to rediscover an article that triggered all of this for me.

I'd be interested in knowing if you ever built a violin with an alternative style scroll, and observed any differences in tone quality. Over the years, I have made 2 instruments with carved human heads, as did my Grandfather, none of which were "salable." They are pleasing to look at,but didn't sound as they should.

October 3, 2008 at 03:36 PM · I've noticed that before cutting the F-holes, the tone is lacking a certain sexy quality, but I suppose it's possible that I've failed to account for some other factors.

October 3, 2008 at 07:42 PM · Giovanni,

Seriously, I don't believe that the scroll has anything whatsoever to do with the cochlea, that the scroll was inspired by the cochlea, or has any dynamic acoustical properties at all. I think you're simply attempting to connect two superficially similar-looking things.


October 3, 2008 at 08:59 PM · Scott, Have you noticed some scrolls vibrate much more than others? Try it with a violin of known tone quality and one that is nowhere near as good. The right edge of the upper bout is another area vibrates more on a good sounding instrument than a poor one. Don't get me wrong guys, I am not trying to attach undue significance to the importance scroll, but that it does impact sound quality to some degree. This is an area interests ne to no end while not undervaluing any other element in the construction of a stringed instrument, except the electric variety.

October 3, 2008 at 09:39 PM · How does the spiral SHAPE of the cochlea contribute to processing sound? Wouldn't it work just as well if it was straight? Maybe it's just coiled up to save space. Think how tall we'd need to be if our intestines ran in a straight line? :-)

October 4, 2008 at 03:05 AM · I think I reached my fecal absorption horizon last night during the Debate. It certainly wasn't a straight pathway.

October 4, 2008 at 04:19 AM · "Think how tall we'd need to be if our intestines ran in a straight line? "

I think it's the most efficient way to grow via cell division and contain the maximum amount of space within the smallest overall space. The shape or the formula behind it is everywhere in nature. It's also related to the the golden mean and the fibonacci series, in some way that I forget. If you draw a rectangle with golden mean proportions, then draw a line through it to make another, and so on, and connect the center points, you get this shape. You can pick up so many drunk chicks by drawing this on a napkin it isn't funny.

October 4, 2008 at 04:50 AM · What incredible irony. When you're young you can measure your virility by attempting to turn a straight line into a curve. Now, unfortunately the reverse is true.

October 4, 2008 at 04:28 PM · "Scott, Have you noticed some scrolls vibrate much more than others?


October 6, 2008 at 09:32 AM · In my opinion, the shape of the scroll is just the easier way to make something nice. For optimum vibration of the string, you need a weight at the end... you could have it square or with a lion's head, but it would be ugly or time-consuming. My apprentice started with scrolls. He had never worked wood before. The first one looked like an old italian scroll (of a lesser maker!), the third one was perfect. Quite efficient...

October 6, 2008 at 01:24 PM · "For optimum vibration of the string, you need a weight at the end"

wonder why, and if so, how much weight?

October 6, 2008 at 05:09 PM · simply because if you have no weight, the vibration of the neck will absorb most of the string's vibration. As to how much weight... I guess nobody knows exactly... Or if anybody does, please let me know!

October 6, 2008 at 06:23 PM · do you measure your scroll (mass) to be close to an ideal weight of your own?

btw, still don't find your explanation so far really really that convincing:)

October 7, 2008 at 07:33 AM · Al, I'm not quite sure what part doesn't convince you... If it is the accoustical response, I can tell you I've experienced it. During my school years, a friend of mine made a double-bass with a very thin scroll, very elegant.well... when playing, you could actually SEE the scroll moving! And the accoustical result was way better after he put lead into it and the scroll stabilized... If it's my explanation of the scroll itself, it's just the opinion of a mediterranean craftman!:-)

October 7, 2008 at 01:11 PM · sebastien, interesting the weight, not necessarily the elegant design of the scroll, affected the sound.

mediterranean diet is much more healthy than burgers and hot dogs, so bring it on:)

October 7, 2008 at 02:57 PM · Keep going boys, we might get to the meat of the question when someone that has done dome experimentimg with different scroll designs comes forward. I have played with striagt ines, human head carving, even carved one with my dog' s head on top. (I gave it to Spanky on his 12th birthday). The traditional scroll is the only way to go. I would have liked to have been a fly on the wall when all of this stuff was being considered/debated in the formative years. Did anyone take the time to read the second reference I provided "Violin - Cochlea Acoustics" Type that into your web browser, it should beat the top of the search.

October 7, 2008 at 06:18 PM · the only one benefited from all this is perhaps spanky:)

i have already pointed out in an earlier post that in 1600 when they carved the scrolls the traditional way, those carvers had no idea what cochlea was let alone how it looked like because back then they had not learned to carve corpse with a fine scalpel yet. meanwhile, seashells and some plants have that spiral pattern which could be more readily available as inspiration from nature.

400 years later, looking back, among all things spiral, we single out the cochlea to match the traditional scroll and extrapolate the implication of their shared acoustic properties?

mr burgess, fess up, are the hair cells inside your violin scrolls the secret to your success? :)

October 7, 2008 at 06:56 PM · Shhhhhh.......

October 7, 2008 at 08:48 PM · "in idea what cochlea was let alone how it looked like because back then they had not learned to carve corpse with a fine scalpel yet"

Leonardo had perfected corpse carving by 1575, and it was on its way out.

October 7, 2008 at 10:15 PM · you beat me to it. I think he got into contact lenses after corpses. Might have helped to do the other way round though....

October 7, 2008 at 11:18 PM · It eventually turned into a science, like a lot of other pastimes.

October 8, 2008 at 01:26 AM · "Leonardo had perfected corpse carving by 1575, and it was on its way out."

Yes, but the precise function of the cochlea wasn't understood until much later.

(Although it seems to have been already generally understood by the late 1700s, as evidenced here:

October 8, 2008 at 02:08 AM · some artists (painters/sculptors, etc) try to develop a deeper understanding of human anatomy, with particular attention to the musculoskeletal system, through dissection, so that their art are anatomically correct.

does not mean they know their cochlea though:)

but wait,,, isn't there an urban legend that leonardo invented violin, so the cochlea link must makes sense, right, jim? :)

can someone pen a scary but child proof tale linking the bloody discovery of human inner ear and the first red violin scroll for halloween, please?

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