Chin rest and shoulder rest history

December 20, 2013 at 06:37 AM · Hello,

My name is Emma and I am a doctoral student in Violin Performance. I am planning on writing my dissertation on choosing the optimal type of chin rest and shoulder rest to suit the individual player's body. Does anybody know a good source for the history of chin rests and shoulder rests? I am interested in details like when the centered chin rest, or the fractional-size shoulder rests, became available on the market. I looked in many books and searched many websites, but could not find the answer.

Thank you so much,

Emma

Replies (24)

December 20, 2013 at 12:48 PM · Hi Emmanuela,

The answer to your question is that there is no comprehensive history at this point. What is known, is that Louis Spohr designed the first chinrest. There is no record of the invention of the shoulder rest, though someone once suggested to me that the violinist Kolisch who was a quartet leader and wounded in WWI may have designed the first shoulder rest. The Art of Violin Playing by Carl Flesch mentions something suggesting shoulder rests in its revised edition from circa 1930's. On the website of Kun, there is a history of their rest which is the first major one to have lasted on the market (http://kunrest.com/about.html).

Peter Mach also relates the history of the Mach One shoulder rest on its site (peter mach.com). I am sure there are others as well.

I don't know who runs KUN now (Mrs. Kun was in charge after Joseph Kun's passing, but I don't know if she still does), but perhaps a suggestion would be to contact them and see if you can interview them about this topic. Having been in the business for almost four decades, they might be well-placed to have information for you.

Cheers and best of luck with your research!

December 20, 2013 at 01:48 PM · Dear Emmanuela,

A resource you might find helpful are old wholesale violin catalogues such William Lewis, Wurlitzer, Gemunder, etc. Many of these illustrate a variety of chin rests on instruments for sale and some may list chin rests that violin shops could purchase.

Back in the 1970's Roy Ehrhardt photocopied many of these catalogs in his three volume Violin Identification & Price Guide. Many violin shops have the Ehrhardt books for violin identification and valuation purposes. You might also contacting Bein and Fushi (based in Chicago) or Fred Oster (Philadelphia) to see if they have any 19th and early 20th century violin catalogues that might be of use.

Best of luck with your research.

December 20, 2013 at 02:39 PM · I wonder if the Dutch group that did such wonderful work on developing ways to help musicians in this area--Violinist in Balance--might have done work on the history of the -rests. Now the group is part of Artist in Balance, but they might have what you can use.

December 20, 2013 at 06:03 PM · The Violinist in Balance web site is a great resource for fitting both chin and shoulder rests. Their project gathered lots of empirical data.

For historical info, I'd recommend looking in archives of The Strad. There may be articles or ads. You might also see if you can track down Sears & Roebuck catalogs. These sources would not give you info on early history, but may give a good feel for developmental history.

It might be fun to check patent records for strange ideas that didn't work, too!

December 20, 2013 at 08:33 PM · Some personal anecdotal information (not documented history) ...

As a schoolboy playing cello in my school orchestra in England in 1952/3 I was surprised, as was everyone else, to see one or two violinists turn up at rehearsal with strange contraptions that they attached to the backs of their violins. The boys told us they were "shoulder rests" to stop the violin from sliding off their shoulders (!). The conductor, who was the school's head of music, didn't think much of the idea and was quick to say so. However, a year later, all the violinists and violists in the school orchestra were using them. I gathered that some influential teachers in the area were pushing the idea, and of course their pupils dutifully obliged. Some well-known soloists who had started using SRs might have helped things along a bit - but, to be fair, perhaps there were contractual reasons in one or two cases.

Very much later in life I came to the violin and naturally started using a shoulder rest, as every one else did. However, after some six months of experimenting (and no longer an impressionable schoolboy) I found it just did not work for me so I stopped using it. My teacher saw I was much happier playing without one, so didn't force the issue.

I was told recently by a retired professional violinist that when Neville Marriner (as he then was) founded the Academy of St Martin in the Fields, one of his first requirements was he did not want any of his players using shoulder rests.

December 21, 2013 at 09:05 PM · Thanks a lot to all of you! Your responses

are really useful!

December 25, 2013 at 10:46 PM · The first chin rests were in fact centrally mounted... there's some good info in here http://www.amazon.co.uk/Technique-Performance-Eighteenth-Nineteenth-Monographs/dp/0521397448 only about a page specifically on chin rests though, but still useful.

December 26, 2013 at 09:17 AM · Hello Emma,

There was already a thesis work done around the chinrest by Lothaire MABRU.La mentonnière et le coussin, 1994 Centre Lapios pour la mission du patrimoine ethnologique; France.

You could contact me through the Bois d'Harmonie Web site

January 27, 2014 at 05:09 AM · I have never seen a formal study or history on this topic. I will say that the shoulder rests I remember for sale in 1958, when I started playing were the Menuhin, the Kolitsch, and the Resonans (which was the same basic design as the Kun). I am guessing that all were patented in the 1940s or 50s. You could do a patent search on these. There are patented pads that go back a century, I think. Somewhere I have a hard, red rubber pad that was patented in 1904 or thereabouts. Of course, people have probably been sticking folded pieces of cloth, or cushions, under their fiddles for centuries.

The chin rests available in 1959 were more or less what you can get now. I have an LP album purchased in 1960 with Oistrakh on the cover, using a Guarneri style boxwood rest. My teacher had a Hill Strad chinrest. If you go back to iconography of players in the 1920s, you see a lesser range that in the 50s and 60s, so you can infer that there was a lot of innovation in the 1930s, 40s and 50s. www.cozio.com has a lot of old literature online; you may find old dealer catalogues that will be informative.

January 30, 2014 at 04:59 AM · After God created the violin, he saw that it was awkward to play by creatures who evolved to walk erect and who had necks. So He put the violin to sleep, took a bit of wood from a rib, and fashioned a chin rest to be a companion to the violin. Not long afterward, the shoulder rest appeared. He said to the chin rest, attach me to your violin and you will unlock the secret of playability. The chin rest acquiesced. Then the violin saw that it had a shoulder rest, and it was ashamed. The Lord banished the violin to live its days in a velour lined box eating the dust of pine rosin and producing beautiful sound only with great difficulty.

January 30, 2014 at 08:29 PM · Menuhin is such an interesting player...flawless left hand...so incredible...and I've seen him play with no shoulder rest as well as with a shoulder rest.

January 31, 2014 at 04:09 AM · My personal shoulder rest history: Wolf Forte Primo, Kun, Bon Musica, Kun, Mach One, Kun, home made wedge

January 31, 2014 at 08:12 PM · I imagine the start of shoulder rests will be hard to find. You might be interested in looking into some research into how to hold the violin, for example: http://www.baroque-violin.info/vhold2.html

You can imagine that even if people played without "manufactured" aids like shoulder rests, that they either used some folded cloth to make it comfortable, or the clothing of the time was so padded at the shoulder/neck area that it provided enough comfort. Good luck! I'd be interested to know what you find out!

February 1, 2014 at 06:30 AM · Thank you all for your answers! Yes, I agree there is a limitation in the word "history" and for my paper it is difficult for me to decide on a date after which we don't talk about historical sources, but of current sources.

February 11, 2014 at 04:45 PM · This is a contemporary source but perhaps you could find the source of this blogs information. I used google translate for my own perusal of the webpage since it is in Spanish. This is a link to frotalacuerda (Blog de Cultura, Historia, Luthería y Pedagogía del Violín)

Do wonder about the interpretation of the laces in the portrait of Vivaldi.

I found this page looking for information on Enrico Onofri and his method of securing his violin. Here are two videos so you can see Onofri and his scarf.

This is a link to Vivaldi - Violin Concerto in D major, RV 208 - Il Giardino Armonico

This is a link to Vivaldi Concerto in d 'per Pisendel' by Il Giardino Armonico

May 26, 2014 at 04:30 AM · Hi everybody, just wanted to let you know that I am done with my paper, I defended successfully, and I graduated. Thanks a lot for your comments and help!

May 24, 2015 at 03:03 AM · The patent for the Kolitsch was submitted in 1935 and approved in 1936. Here is the link:

http://www.freepatentsonline.com/2064925.html

May 24, 2015 at 04:36 PM · History of the shoulder rest:

First came the chinrest

Then came the shoulder rest

Then came the Eternal SR Debate!

May 24, 2015 at 05:17 PM · There needs to be an armrest.

May 24, 2015 at 06:48 PM · I need a headrest!

And now the rest is history ...

May 24, 2015 at 07:37 PM · Old Louis Spohr evidently has a lot to answer for, not the least inadvertently setting up a flourishing ancillary industry in the violin world.

I wonder though if the untold story may be something like:

as a teacher he may have had some pupils who were slow in learning to hold the instrument, so he hit on the idea of helping them by providing a device for gripping the instrument by the chin, thereby inventing the chin "rest". If a well-known teacher did this then it wouldn't have taken long for others to copy and develop the idea.

Btw, I no longer use a chin rest, and haven't used a shoulder rest for years, so perhaps I've reduced the shares value of said ancillary industry by a miniscule amount :)

May 25, 2015 at 04:53 PM · Dear Emanuela

Can you link us to your paper? Or short of that can you give us your bibliography?

May 26, 2015 at 11:33 AM · This is Emanuela's doctoral thesis:

http://www.researchgate.net/publication/262525174_Supporting_Your_Instrument_in_a_Body-friendly_Manner_A_Comparative_Approach

To access it, click on View on the right-hand side of the opening screen, and then on Download when the text of the thesis appears. You do not have to become a member of ResearchGate.

May 26, 2015 at 05:00 PM · I have started reading Emma's thesis. It is absorbing reading and has the hall-marks of being an important and enlightening contribution to the literature.

Thank you, Emma!

This discussion has been archived and is no longer accepting responses.

Facebook Twitter YouTube Instagram Email

Violinist.com is made possible by...

Shar Music
Shar Music

Yamaha Silent Violin
Yamaha Silent Violin

Pirastro Strings
Pirastro Strings

Find a Summer Music Program
Find a Summer Music Program

Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases
Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases

Violinist.com Business Directory
Violinist.com Business Directory

Violinist.com Guide to Online Learning
Violinist.com Guide to Online Learning

Dominant Pro Strings

Antonio Strad Violin

Bay Fine Strings Violin Shop

Bobelock Cases

Fiddlerman.com

Fiddlershop

Los Angeles Violin Shop

Nazareth Gevorkian Violins

Violin-Strings.com

Metzler Violin Shop

Leatherwood Bespoke Rosin

Warchal

Barenreiter

Johnson String Instrument and Carriage House Violins

Potter Violins

String Masters

Bein & Company

Annapolis Bows & Violins

Laurie's Books

Discover the best of Violinist.com in these collections of editor Laurie Niles' exclusive interviews.

Violinist.com Interviews Volume 1
Violinist.com Interviews Volume 1, with introduction by Hilary Hahn

Violinist.com Interviews Volume 2
Violinist.com Interviews Volume 2, with introduction by Rachel Barton Pine

Subscribe