The Violin Scroll

October 23, 2020, 5:08 PM · Sander Markus's recent limerick included the wonderful lines,
"Who was the lout Who snuck in and rolled up the scroll?".

This got me wondering who invented the scroll, when, where, and why.

Is the scroll really necessary? As I see it (and of course I may be wrong), it is little more than a decorative appendage useful for marketing, and for displaying the carving skills of who made it, perhaps the luthier's apprentice. Absence of the scroll, a substantial lump of wood, would reduce the overall weight of the violin, which may have an effect on the tone; the violin would be easier to hold, which is an important consideration for beginners, more so if the "violin" happens to be a viola. Access to the pegbox, particularly in the A-peg region would be easier.

Replies (27)

October 23, 2020, 6:39 PM · Isn't it basically for hanging?!!
I've often wondered what difference it makes to the tone myself. Of course, it's easy to see - just record before and after you saw off the scroll!

I for one would like to see different scrolls (if they are called scrolls when they are not a scroll?)

October 23, 2020, 8:15 PM · I have noticed players tuning with the pegs and not grasping the scroll in the palm of their hand, I figured they must have those 'geared' pegs.
October 23, 2020, 9:44 PM · I small number of the people I have played music with have had "scrolls" that were instead carvings of people or trolls or even other things. I always found them to look gross and would not want such a violin.

I have always felt that a spiral scroll was a demonstration of the maker's artistic and wood working skills. There is just something about a perfect looking scroll!

Edited: October 24, 2020, 9:00 AM · We can experiment by adding lumps of Blu-Tak to the scroll to find how much the extra mass affect the tone. I imagine there will be little effect on the high-frequency "bloom" and projection but more on the "balance of power" at the low end.

One of my students had trade fiddle with varnish like tar mixed with sand, and a strange scroll, the centre of which was simply two concentric circles: easier for machine tooling! The tone was superb.

I had a viola d'amore with a blindfold woman's head for a scroll. A cellist acquaintance had a sculpture of his own head, glasses, beard and all: difficult to re-sell that 'cello!

October 24, 2020, 1:02 PM · I read somewhere that the scroll's purpose is to function as a counterweight to the part of the fingerboard that extends past the neck. Not being a luthier I have no idea if this is correct information or not.
October 24, 2020, 1:07 PM · It is an ornament. Visually, the scroll fits the violin soundbox forms.

For the expert, the scroll is very important. It tells a lot about the maker's lutherie "culture", style, design, tool technique.
Edited: October 24, 2020, 1:34 PM · I had an adult student a few years ago that didn't have a scroll on her violin. The end of her violin just tapered off into a point. Not only that, the F holes were carved to be about twice the size of normal ones. I was so disturbed by the sight of her violin, it took several lessons for me to get used to looking at it. I had taken for granted how beautiful violins are to look at, and when the basic form was changed, it bothered me.

I don't know how much the sound was affected by these changes because I didn't hear the violin before they were made. It did seem to have a lot more volume than the average violin, but that was probably because of the giant F holes.

October 24, 2020, 2:48 PM · Someone who has a spare VSO in their workshop could experiment by taking off the scroll, and possibly tapering what is left, as Rebecca describes in her post, to explore what effect the amputation would have on the sound.

In Bristol Music Club's 70-seat concert hall, which doubles as a rehearsal room for chamber groups, there is a picture on a wall of Joachim, the Club's first President, holding his violin. When I rehearse in that room that picture peers down at me. Even though it is behind me when I am playing, somehow I am still aware of its presence. I wonder if the effect would be enhanced if the scroll of my violin were to be carved into the likeness of Joachim's features looking down the length of the violin at me, Not that I have any intention of having such an extraordinary modification carried out, you understand - my violin is certainly not a VSO!

October 24, 2020, 3:38 PM · Trevor, that sounds like a great use for a VSO! But if the scroll is taken off, would that mean it would become an SO because the true violin shape had been lost? lol!

October 24, 2020, 3:39 PM ·
The purpose of the scroll is to give you something beautiful to look at during long periods of rests.
October 25, 2020, 10:09 AM · Trevor Jennings on 10/24: "Someone who has a spare VSO in their workshop could experiment by taking off the scroll..."

Been there, done that. Test results:

In addition, there is a major body vibration that involves the neck and scroll, which normally results in a nodal point (no movement) around 1st position on the neck. With the scroll removed, the node location will move toward the body and perhaps the player will feel the neck vibrate a bit more.

So there is some effects in playing, not just aesthetics.

October 26, 2020, 1:26 PM · Thank you, Don, that's just the sort of experimental feedback I was expecting. It confirms my instinctive thoughts that there would be an observable effect.
October 26, 2020, 3:30 PM · The end of the violin was inspired by a deceased nautilus that washed up on the shores of Italy after floating from tropical seas attached to a giant decaying kelp raft. The fisherman that found it took it to the local shell collector who happened also to be a violin maker (he made his violins from hardwood from shipwrecks that washed up from the seas).

This collector/luthier copied the nautilus shell shape onto the fingerboard tip for his next violin and dubbed it a 'dead sea-scroll' design. Other luthiers copied this elegant design but the 'dead sea' part of the name gradually faded from use leaving us with just the 'scroll'.

October 26, 2020, 4:12 PM · Seriously, what *is* the history of the scroll? I've seen historical instruments (lutes, and that sort of thing) with decorated ends. Who first came up with a scroll specifically? Was it Da Salo? Amati? Probably earlier than that? Sorry, too lazy to Google :-)
October 26, 2020, 5:31 PM · It would follow that the weight of the scroll COULD affect elements of sound. When I bought my violin, the neck was way too thin, so we put a shim in the neck to bring it up to spec, and the sound definitely changed (unfortunately, it took a little bit of a hit).
October 26, 2020, 7:19 PM · Ah... Google again,... interesting read:
October 26, 2020, 8:10 PM · Roger, nice!
Edited: October 27, 2020, 7:10 AM · I find it a bit boring that 99% of scrolls are identical more or less. Different designs don't have to be cherub heads or whatever but can even be variations on the scroll design.
I really like what Joseph Curtin is doing:

I see that the Morin Khuur (the great great grandaddy of bowed string instruments and possibly the first) has a horse's head for a scroll. I wonder how far this goes back and how much of an influence that design had?

Edited: October 27, 2020, 11:10 AM · Chistopher Payne wrote:

" I find it a bit boring that 99% of scrolls are identical more or less."

To a fiddle freak like me, nothing close to 99% of scrolls are the same. One might just as well claim that all bows, or stings are the same, "more or less".

October 27, 2020, 8:45 AM · Me too, David!
October 27, 2020, 8:48 AM · Maybe Don or David would like to enlighten us on whether the Italian architect Jacopo Barozzi da Vignola (1507-1573) had anything to do with the violin scroll, which first appeared on a violin when Vignola was around age 25 or so?
Edited: October 27, 2020, 9:30 AM · And what about those marvellous old Jacob Stainer violins with lion's head scrolls, angels, etc.? A friend of mine played on one, a very beautiful sounding instrument, with a splendid lion glaring fiercely over her delicate wrist, tongue lolling out. It looked just magnificent.
Edited: October 27, 2020, 12:13 PM · I had a schoolfriend whose violin had a bearded old man's head for a scroll. I've heard people sneer at that kind of thing, but I gather the violin was an antique of some value.
I suppose it was a bit like this (i.e. tasteful), but I haven't seen it since 1978: -

But it looks a bit fragile to me.

Edited: October 27, 2020, 4:53 PM · The Oct. 2020 issue of "the STRAD" magazine has a 3 page article "Organic scroll carving" by luthier Peter Bingen of Minneapolis on pages 66,67 & 69 in which he describes and illustrates his process for shaping and carving scrolls his "vision" for each instrument.

The scroll completed by the end of the articles appears to me as as good a "Fibonacci" spiral as I have seen on a scroll. It is clear from the article that Bingen copies scrolls of famous makers to suit specific instruments he makes.

October 29, 2020, 4:13 PM · The violin is part of a system. Not only is the weight a factor, but the location of that weight. Violins can be very sensitive to that. As with everything else, it may not matter on a particular violin, the difference may not be to your tastes; also 95% of the people who listen to you won't hear the difference and 30% of the players who play it will declare there's no change. And the change may well be in behavior more than actual sound.

Christian's story is why most radical changes to instruments happen between owners during restoration/repair for resale. One man's gain may well be another's loss, and it's easier to find a new owner who likes a violin for what it currently is than to convince an old owner that he's "wrong" about the change. :-)

October 29, 2020, 5:50 PM · I really doubt that omitting a scroll would make a violin easier to hold. Violins are so light to begin with. When I tune my violin I tend to clutch the scroll with my 4th finger and if it weren't there I think that would make things harder, not easier. As for the origin of the scroll, a previous teacher told me that it's based on the Fibonacci sequence and was probably designed by early instrument makers in Greece making instruments that predate violins. This makes sense to me, given the Greek affinity with mathematics and design.
October 29, 2020, 6:38 PM · There are many ways the Fibonacci sequence operator can be applied to creating a spiral. Yesterday I measured the spirals on one of the violins I purchased from a maker friend of mine. It seems he applied the Fibonacci operation every time the spiral line crossed a specific diameter. That looks just right to me!

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