The violin, viola, cello, and double bass are all highly evolved musical instruments, with each detail of their design refined through centuries of interaction between players, makers, dealers, and restorers. It is therefore tempting to conclude that the evolution of the violin family is complete.
On the other hand, the past fifty years has seen a vast increase in our understanding of how stringed instruments work. This inspires fresh thinking and raises new questions. Is it possible to build violins that are easier to play than traditional ones? Could they be more powerful and faster responding? Less prone to damage? What sets the limits – and can these limits be extended by means of alternative designs and materials? Is it possible to build an aesthetically satisfying violin that does not look like a traditional one?
Since the early 1990s, Joseph Curtin has been exploring the possibilities for innovation in violinmaking. The following pages show some of the ways in which he and a few colleagues are re-imagining the classical violin, viola, cello, and double bass.