Category Archives: Viols


Viola Da Gamba

Name: Viola Da Gamba.
Type: Chordophones > Lutes > Viols.
Hornbostel-Sachs No#: 321.322.71
Country: Many.
Region: Western Europe.

Description: The viola da gamba, viol / ˈvaɪəl / viola da gamba / [ˈvjɔːla da ˈɡamba] or informally gamba. It is a bowed instrument similar in profile to the cello or viol. It is played with a bow in while positioned in between the legs. Hence its name “Viol de gamba” literally ‘leg viol’]. While it is not a direct ancestor of the violin, there is some kinship between the two instrument families.

History: The viola da gamba first appeared in Spain in the mid to late 15th century and were most popular in the Renaissance and Baroque [1600-1750] periods. Early ancestors include the Arabic rebab and the medieval European vielle but later, more direct possible ancestors include the Venetian viole and the 15th and 16th century Spanish vihuela, a 6-course plucked instrument tuned like a lute and also like a present-day viol that looked like but was quite distinct from at that time the 4-course guitar an earlier chordophone.

There were then several important treatises concerning or devoted to the viol. The first was by Silvestro Ganassi dal Fontego; Regola Rubertina & Lettione Seconda [1542/3]. Diego Ortiz published Trattado de Glosas [Rome, 1553] an important book of music for the viol with both examples of ornamentation and pieces called Recercadas. In England, Christopher Simpson wrote the most important treatise, with the second edition being published in 1667 in parallel text [English and Latin].

This has divisions at the back that are very worthwhile repertoire. A little later, in England, Thomas Mace wrote Musick’s Monument, which deals more with the lute but has an important section on the viol. After this, the French treatises by Machy 1685, Rousseau 1687, Danoville 1687 and Etienne Loulie, 1700 show further developments in playing technique.

Descriptions and illustrations of viols are found in numerous early 16th-century musical treatises, including those authored by:

Sebastian Virdung: Musica getutsch, 1511
Hans Judenkunig: Ain schone kunstliche Vunderwaisung, 1523
Martin Agricola: Musica instrumentalis deutsch, 1528
Hans Gerle: Musica Teusch [or Teutsch], 1532
Both Agricola’s and Gerle’s works were published in various editions.

Vihuelists began playing their flat-edged instruments with a bow in the second half of the 15th century. Within two or three decades, this led to the evolution of an entirely new and dedicated bowed string instrument that retained many of the features of the original plucked vihuela: a flat back, sharp waist-cuts, frets, thin ribs and an identical tuning—hence its original name, vihuela de arco; arco is Spanish for “bow”. An influence in the playing posture has been credited to the example of Moorish rabab players. The viol is unrelated to the much older Hebrew stringed instrument called a nevel [literally, “skin”]. This ancient harp-like instrument was similar to the kinnor or nabla.

Stefano Pio argues that a re-examination of documents in the light of newly collected data indicates an origin different from the vihuela de arco from Aragon. According to Pio, the viola da gamba had its origins and evolved independently in Venice. Pio asserts that it is implausible that the vihuela de arco, which possibly arrived in Rome and Naples after 1483-1487. since Johannes Tinctoris does not mention it prior to this time.

The viola de gamba underwent such a rapid evolution by Italian instrument makers. circumstances specifically excluded by Lorenzo da Pavia nor Mantuan or Ferrarese, as evidenced by Isabella and Alfonso. Ian Woodfield, in his The Early History of the Viol, points to evidence that the viol does in fact start with the vihuela but that Italian makers of the instrument immediately began to apply their own highly developed instrument-making traditions to the early version of the instrument when it was introduced into Italy.

Initially the family of viole [“viols”] shared common characteristics but differed in the way they were played. The increase in the dimensions of the “viola” determined the birth of the viol and the definitive change in the manner the instrument was held, as musicians found it easier to play it vertically.

The first consort of viols formed by four players was documented at the end of the fifteenth century in the courts of Mantua and Ferrara, but was also present in popular Venetian music ambience, noted at the Scuola Grande di San Marco, 1499; Venetian culture remained independent of Spanish influence and consequently unfamiliar with the instruments of those lands, such as the bowed vihuela de arco.

Although bass viols superficially resemble cellos, viols are different in numerous respects from instruments of the violin family: the viol family has flat rather than curved backs, sloped rather than rounded shoulders, c holes rather than f holes, and five to seven rather than four strings; some of the many additional differences are tuning strategy (in fourths with a third in the middle—similar to a lute—rather than in fifths], the presence of frets, and underhand [“German”] rather than overhand [“French”] bow grip.

Family: All members of the viol family are played upright [unlike the violin or the viola, which is held under the chin]. All viol instruments are held between the legs like a modern cello, hence the Italian name viola da gamba [it. “viol for the leg”] was sometimes applied to the instruments of this family. This distinguishes the viol from the modern violin family, the viola da braccio [it. “viol for the arm”].

A player of the viol is commonly known as a gambist, violist / ˈvaɪəlɪst / or violist da gamba. “Violist” shares the spelling, but not the pronunciation, of the word commonly used since the mid-20th century to refer to a player of the viola. It can therefore cause confusion if used in print where context does not clearly indicate that a viol player is meant, though it is entirely unproblematic, and common, in speech.

Frets on the viol are usually made of gut, tied on the fingerboard around the instrument’s neck, to enable the performer to stop the strings more cleanly. Frets improve consistency of intonation and lend the stopped notes a tone that better matches the open strings.

Citations: Bibliography: Websites:


Name: Suka.
Type: Chordophones > Lutes >  Viols > Bowed.
Hornbostel-Sachs No#: 321.312.7
Country: Poland.
Region: Eastern Europe.

Description: The suka or ‘Suka Kocudzka’ is bowed musical instrument that is in a shape of the violin. However like the Bulgarian gadulka [although not related to it] it is played by resting the instrument vertically, while sitting on the knee. This was thought to be the “missing link” between the upside-down or “knee chordophone” instruments, and the modern violin. It died out, and was known only from drawings of a single specimen displayed at an exhibition in 1888.

Playing Techniques: The strings were stopped at the side with the fingernails; similar to the Gadulka.

Construction: Similar in appearance to the violin the suka is a bit more narrower in profile. A flat bridge and nut keep the strings taught for playing while the instrument is tuned. Seven tuning pegs are inserted at the top [peg box] of the instrument.

Citations: Bibliography: Websites: Polish Folk Instruments [Suka Page] ; Instrumenty z duszą”, odc. 11 – Suka biłgorajska / suka of Biłgoraj – Youtube [Video] ;


Name: Zlobcoki.
Type: Chordophones > Lyres > Viols > Bowed.
Hornbostel-Sachs No#: 321.312.7
Tuning: G D A E
Country: Carpathian area [Podhale], Poland.
Region: Eastern Europe.

Description: The Złóbcoki is a bowed fiddle smaller than the violin although played in the same manner. It is a musical instrument that has its origins in Podhale, Poland. The instrument existed till the end of the 19th century. The name Złóbcoki refers to the gouging of the instrument from one block of wood, others derive it from the cradle , or cradle.

Construction: The złóbcoki have a convex, oblong and narrow resonant body with a carved neck both the neck and body are carved from the same block. Differing from the violin in the highlander style from the Carpathian Mountains. They did not have a button holding the strings and lacking separate walls. At first the złóbcoki three strings, later a fourth one was added.

Citations: Bibliography: Websites: Polish Folk Instruments / Youtube Video [Złóbcoki Demonstration] ;


Name: Utogardon.
Type: Chordophones > Lutes > Viols.
Hornbostel-Sachs No#: 321.322.7
Tuning: Usually in D / d [an octave apart].
Country: Transylvania, Romania & Hungary.
Region: Eastern Europe.

Description: The ütőgardon or gardon, is a folk musical instrument played primarily in Transylvania. It is similar in appearance to a cello, but it is played percussively like a drum. Instead of being played with a bow, its strings are plucked and beaten with a stick.

The gardon was primarily played by the Székelys, a Hungarian ethnic group in Transylvania and the Csángós of the Gyimes region. It can have three or four strings. Playing with a stick instead of a bow provides a droning accompaniment.

Musically there are some similarities between the violin-gardon ensembles of Hungarians and some Roma in Transylvania and the zurna-davul widespread throughout the Balkans, Anatolia and the Near East. The gardon is regularly, though not exclusively played by a woman, the wife of the violinist.

Citations: Bibliography: Szendrei, Janka 2009 “Hungary”, Grove Music Online. Oxford University Press. Retrieved 18 Sep 2014. Kurti, Laszlo. “The Way of the Taltos: A Critical Reassessment of a Religious-Magical Specialist” [PDF]. Wilkinson, Iren Kertész 2009 – ‘Gypsy’ [Roma-Sinti-Traveller] music – Grove Music Online. Oxford University Press ; Websites:

Stroh Violin

Name: Stroh Violin.
Type: Chordophones > Lutes > Viols > Bowed.
Hornbostel-Sachs No#: 321.312.7
Tuning: G D A E
Inventor: John Matthias Augustus Stroh, 1899.
Patent No#: GB3393 [Great Britain].
Patent Date: 4th May, 1899
Country: England.
Region: Continental Europe.

Description: The Stroh violin or Stroviol is a type of stringed musical instrument that is mechanically amplified by a metal resonator and horn attached to its body. The name Stroviol refers to a violin, but other instruments have been modified with the amplification device, including the viola, cello, double bass, ukulele, mandolin and guitar. John Matthias Augustus Stroh, an electrical engineer in London, invented the instrument in 1899.

Invention: On 4 May 1899, Stroh applied for a UK patent, GB9418 titled Improvements in Violins and other Stringed Instruments which was accepted on 24 March 1900. This described the use of a flat metal [other materials are also mentioned] diaphragm in the voice-box [reproducer] of a violin to mechanically amplify the sound.

Then on 16 February 1901 he applied for a second UK patent, GB3393 titled Improvements in the diaphragms of Phonographs, Musical Instruments and analogous Sound-producing, Recording and Transmitting Contrivances.

Which was accepted on 14 December 1901. This effectively extended the first concept to now use a conical resonator with corrugations at its edge, allowing a more ‘rigid’ diaphragm. His failure to register his inventions in the USA allowed John Dopyera and Geo Beauchamp to subsequently obtain US patents for the tricone and single cone designs used in National brand instruments.

Usage: In 1911 the stroh violin was an expensive instrument. It was offered by the London dealers Barnes & Mullins for nine guineas [£9.45, then equal to $37.80] or twelve guineas (£12.60 / $50.40) at a time when a reasonable factory violin could be had for two guineas.

It was listed as being especially suitable for use in small theatres and music-halls. In 1920s Buenos Aires, Julio de Caro, a renowned Tango orchestra director and violinist, used the Stroh violin in his live performances, and was called violín-corneta [cornet violin] by the locals.

Varieties: Luthiers created similar designs, such as Howson, which made brass-horned phono instruments including single-stringed phono fiddles and four-stringed phono ukuleles. The violinophone was made in Prague in the early 20th century.

This instrument has a diaphragm mounted vertically in a violin body under the bridge. The sound is carried through a tube to the horn which protrudes from the violin to a long horn which wraps around the shoulder.

A violin that amplifies its sound through a metal resonator and metal horns rather than a wooden sound box as on a standard violin. Willy Tiebel in Markneukirken Germany made Stroh violin copies in the 1920s. The Stroh violin is closely related to other horned violins using a mica sheet-resonating diaphragm, known as phonofiddles. In the present day, many types of horn-violin exist, especially in the Balkans.

Citations: Bibliography: “Stroh Violin”. History Wired. Smithsonian Institution. Archived from the original on May 18, 2016. Retrieved 20 December 2017 ; Sean Real, [19 December 2017]. “The Stroh Violin”. 99% Invisible. Retrieved 12 January 2018. Archived September 3, 2011, at the Wayback Machine [archive website] ;


Name: Hardingfele.
Type: Chordophones > Lutes > Viols > Bowed.
Hornbostel Sachs No#: 321.312.7
Country: Norway.
Region: Scandinavia & Northern Europe.

Description: A hardingfele [in Norwegian] or hardanger fiddle is a stringed instrument resembling a violin although having eight or nine strings in total.  The hardingfele is used originally to play traditional Norwegian music.

The earliest known example of the Hardingfele is from 1651 made by Ole Jonsen Jaastad in Hardanger, Norway. Originally the instrument had a rounder, narrower body Around the year 1850. The modern violin-like profile of this musical instrument is much the norm.

Playing Techniques: The technique of bowing a Hardingfele also differs from that used with a violin. It’s a smoother, bouncier style of bowing, with a lighter touch. The player usually bows on two of the upper strings at a time, and sometimes three. This is made easy by the relative flatness of the bridge, unlike the more curved bridge on a violin. The objective is to create a continuous sound of two [or more due to the sympathetic under-strings] pitches.

Hardingfele Tunings
Name Tuning
Standard G D A E
Troll Tuning A E A C#
Gorrolaus F D A E
Sympathetic Strings B D E F♯A

Usage: The Hardingfele is used mainly in the southwest part of Norway, whereas the ordinary violin called flatfele – ‘flat fiddle’ or vanlig fele – ‘common fiddle’ is found elsewhere. The Hardingfele is used for dancing, accompanied by rhythmic loud foot stomping. It was also traditional for the fiddler to lead the bridal procession to the church.

Construction: The instrument often is highly ornate, with a carved animal usually a dragon or the Lion of Norway or a carved woman’s head as part of the scroll at the top of the pegbox. Extensive mother of pearl inlay on the tailpiece and fingerboard. Black ink decorations called ‘rosing’ is also featured. Sometimes pieces of bone are used to decorate the pegs and the edges of the instrument.

Four of the playing strings are strung as seen on the violin run over the bridge. Where as the sympathetic strings run through drilled holes in middle of the bridge. The sympathetic strings run parallel to the playing strings.

Citations: Bibliography:


Name: Bambir.
Type: Chordophones > Lutes > Viols > Bowed.
Hornbostel-Sachs No#: 321.313.7
Tuning: C G D A
Country: Armenia.
Region: Caucasus.

Description: The bambir [in Armenian: Բամբիռ bambir] is a cello that was invented in the early 1950s and named after the ancient Armenian instrument.

Construction: Similar in appearance to a Western cello to which this design is based off. The instrument is slightly smaller in size. The body is allowed out from a single piece of wood. The sound holes of the bambir are 7 cm in length and 2.5 cm in width. Has several added sound hole about 5 mm in diameter.

A thin animal membrane is stretched underneath the belly gives the bambir its distinctive timbre and a clean tone. The tone is closest to a muted cello although related in sound to the Persian Kamenche. The length o the body is 45 cm and the with varies from 29 cm at the base, 13 cm in the middle and 24 cm at the top.

Citations: Bibliography: Stanley Sadie – New Grove Dictionary of Music, Robert At’Ayan Balum, Page, 118 ;


Name: Mazanki.
Type: Chordophones > Lutes > Viols.
Hornbostel-Sachs No#: 321.312.7
Tuning: F C G
Country: Poland.
Region: Eastern Europe.

Description: It is a small string instrument, in which you play in the shoulder position. The restoration of mazanki is largely due to the State Music School of the first century. Stanisław Moniuszko in Zbąszyń and Tomasz Śliwa are also credited in the revival of this instrument.

History: The name of mazanki appeared in the article by E. Kierski: “Customs, superstitions and rites of the people in some neighborhoods of W. Poznański” of 1861. It is derived from mazania, i.e. rubbing with strings on strings. In the 19th century the mazanki were the instruments that formed a band with bagpipes.

Largely supplanted by violins; ie. factory violins, whose neck was tied to raise the outfit and adapt it to play with bagpipes The instrument has survived the longest in the goat’s region and its neighbourhood, where it was played along with a bagpipe at wedding ceremonies to the wedding feast. Since the First World War, the mizanki is used more as a training instrument for those learning the violin.

Construction: Ewa Dahlig-Turek distinguishes four features characteristic for mazurka building: 1. Small size; 2. A box carved from one piece of wood with the neck; 3. Stands, which one leg passes through the top plate, rests on the bottom of the box and serves as a soul; 4. Three strings.

Citations: Bibliography: Ewa Dahlig: Folk violin instruments in Poland . Warsaw: Instytut Sztuki PAN, 2001, p. 91. ISBN 83-85938-54-0 ; Marian Sobieski: Mazanki, serby, violin [In:] Polish folk music and its problems . Krakow: Polskie Wydawnictwo Muzyczne, 1973 ; Maria Żurowska, Zbigniew J. Przerembski: Polish Folk Instruments – mazanki . [access 2017-02-03] ; Ewa Dahlig: Folk violin instruments in Poland . Warsaw: Instytut Sztuki PAN, 2001, p. 90. ISBN 83-85938-54-0. Dahlig E. People’s violin instruments in Poland, Warsaw, 2001 ; Sobiescy J. and M. Polish folk music and its problems, Cracow, 1973 ; Websites: Polish Folk Musical Instruments / Mazanki ;  Youtube Video [przadka mazanki] ;


Name: Kontra.
Type: Chordophones > Lutes > Viols.
Hornbostel Sachs No#: 321.312.7
Tunings: G D A
Country: Hungary & Romania.
Region: Eastern Europe.

Description: A kontra is a Hungarian [in Hungarian: háromhúros brácsa, ‘three-stringed viola’], Czech, Polish, Romanian, Slovak and Romani instrument common in Transylvania. The kontra has a defined role within dance band music. Its range lies between that of the fiddle or Vioara cu goarnă on the high-end and the double bass on the low-end.

Playing Technique: Due to the flattened bridge, a kontra is not as capable of playing melody lines as a viola. Rather, the standard method of play is to play double stops and three-note chords and let the fiddle play melody lines.

Construction: The kontra is constructed much like the classical viola, with two major differences. First, there are only three strings instead of four. Second, the bridge is flattened, allowing a musician to play all three strings at once.



Name: Husla.
Type: Chordophones > Lutes > Viols > Bowed.
Hornbostel-Sachs No#: 321.312.7
Tuning: D A E
Country: Germany, Poland.
Region: Europe.

Description: A husla is a bowed instrument resembling a medical fiddle. It is played by the Wends or Sorbian peoples of Eastern Germany and neighbouring Slavic countries. Unlike the violin the back of the husla is flat. Due to the rise in popularity of the violin in the early 20th century.

The Husla became almost extinct. The husla has a new chance in life in large part to the Jan Kusik and the clockmaker J. Menci [Menzel]. Since the 1950s the instrument was given a new chance on ice. As a result of the revival of interest in the folk culture in Eastern Europe.

Citations: Bibliography: