Origin of Fractional Size Designations


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Who invented the system of categorizing violins (and cellos and double basses, but not violas) as 1/2 size, 1/4 size, and so on?

At first I thought it might be Shinichi Suzuki, but I found that in a 1909 Sears catalog, one model of violin was also available in 3/4 size, and another in 7/8 size as well as full size. Since then, I found dimensions for several such sizes in "L'Art du Luthier", a 1903 book.

This is a silly and basic question, but I haven't been able to find the answer through searching the Web.

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I've wondered about this too and I think the fractions relate to volume, not length.

For example, a 3/4 violin usually has a 13" length over back compared to 14" for a 4/4. That's about 92%. If height and width are also scaled similarly, .92 ^3 is just a little over .75.

Ignoring the complexities of the shape, it looks like a 3/4 violin has about 75% of the VOLUME of a full size.

The numbers diverge for the smaller sizes but the fractions still correspond more closely to volume than LOB. More complex shapes lose volume more quickly than cubes so that may account for the difference.

If anyone has a 3d digital model, dV/dLOB be evaluated more accurately. Or, maybe this is just a coincidence.

HH

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3 hours ago, H_Axel said:

I've wondered about this too and I think the fractions relate to volume, not length.

I did some calculations, and it seems like even volume isn't quite right. When I calculated how long a 1/2 violin would be, if the fractions did relate to volume, I got something very close to the length of a 1/4 violin. So I took the sixth root of the fractions, and that does seem to be a close fit to the scale of the corresponding instruments.

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From my knowledge I would suspect early Mittenwald dealers having done that some time between 1800 and 1850. In any case there were small violins made already in the 18th century. There are a few G.B.G instruments made around 1760. I guess with a little research some earlier ones can be found. The small DG violin is catalogized as dance master fiddle but from its dimensions it is a 1/4 size violin with a neck from another maker probably to make it playable for a kid.

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I remember that someone (Segerman?) once wrote on an online forum that he thought that the original “fractional” size violin was a smaller violin like a piccolo or a “quarta” which would have been tuned a fourth higher than a violin.  This would have become the “qaurter size”

Then the “1/2” and “3/4” sizes are equal divisions between that and a full-size, and the smaller ones (“1/8” and “1/16”) are continuations in the other direction of the same proportions.

I have no idea if this is right, and never bothered to do the math, but it’s the only explanation I ever remember hearing. 

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I have encountered information to the effect that the Violino Piccolo, tuned a fourth above the regular violin, was about the size of a 1/4 violin, and that it was called a Quartgeige in German. So the explanation you heard is certainly possible. Also, I encountered a paper with illustrations of 3/4 and 1/2 size violins made by early makers such as some of the Amatis, and it referred to the fractional sizes as coming from the violin trade. Thus, I am grateful for the suggestion that violin dealers in Mittenwald may have originated this, as that could well be the case.

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You also have the Cremona molds, some of which are labeled with letters that are thought to mean first, second, third, fourth.

This shouldn't have any direct relation to later naming schemes, but the past has a habit of echoing through time even as meaning and usage change.

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7 hours ago, Kevin Kelly said:

I remember that someone (Segerman?) once wrote on an online forum that he thought that the original “fractional” size violin was a smaller violin like a piccolo or a “quarta” which would have been tuned a fourth higher than a violin.  This would have become the “qaurter size”

Then the “1/2” and “3/4” sizes are equal divisions between that and a full-size, and the smaller ones (“1/8” and “1/16”) are continuations in the other direction of the same proportions.

I have no idea if this is right, and never bothered to do the math, but it’s the only explanation I ever remember hearing. 

Kevin's comments above certainly ring true to the old wives tales that I've heard too. It is CERTAINLY true that the small violins of brothers Amati, Strad and del Gesu are the basic size of what we call a quarter-sized violin. I certainly think it is the best explanation. 

In this regard, its worth pointing out too that there were many requirements for instruments of all sorts of smaller sizes before 1800 without defaulting to the assumption that they were child's instruments. Although there may be a huge amount of debate about what these were intended for, without necessarily providing satisfactory answers, I tend to think that the default of "child's violin" is inevitably a cop-out, though clearly some of them may have been exactly that. 

 

 

 

 

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15 hours ago, Andreas Preuss said:

From my knowledge I would suspect early Mittenwald dealers having done that some time between 1800 and 1850. In any case there were small violins made already in the 18th century. There are a few G.B.G instruments made around 1760. I guess with a little research some earlier ones can be found. The small DG violin is catalogized as dance master fiddle but from its dimensions it is a 1/4 size violin with a neck from another maker probably to make it playable for a kid.

Hi Andreas,

I presume you are referring to the Del Gesù 1740 ex Fountaine owned by Charles Beare which does not have the original neck and scroll (attributed to Lott c.1840). The Del Gesù 1735 ex Chardon, which is in in Japan at the Osaka College of Music, is completely original. It is described as a violino piccolo which has a different meaning than piccolo violino.

Violino piccolo = imples an undersize instrument likely tuned to a higher pitch (used to cover a different range of notes than a full size violin).

Piccolo violino = implies an undersize instrument with the same tuning as a full size violin (usually for use by children).

Pochette or dancing master's kit etc. =  refers to an instrument, easily portable (usually not as "loud" as a normal violin) used by the dance instructor for playing melodies and rhythms during lessons. Some dancemaster's kits have close to a normal violin vibrating string length but all are slender to slip easily into 17th century coat pockets. Others like the Stradivari of 1712 ex Fountaine due to how the varnish has worn the length of the back but without the characteristic chin mark on the belly are still believed to be dance master's kits (Charles Beare). These instruments were rested on the forearm rather than under the chin. Neither the Stradivari 1712 Fountaine or the DG 1740 Fountaine have wear in the chin area of the belly where one would expect to find it if played by a child (prior to the advent of the chinrest).

 

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4 hours ago, Bruce Carlson said:

Hi Andreas,

I presume you are referring to the Del Gesù 1740 ex Fountaine owned by Charles Beare which does not have the original neck and scroll (attributed to Lott c.1840). The Del Gesù 1735 ex Chardon, which is in in Japan at the Osaka College of Music, is completely original. It is described as a violino piccolo which has a different meaning than piccolo violino.

Violino piccolo = imples an undersize instrument likely tuned to a higher pitch (used to cover a different range of notes than a full size violin).

Piccolo violino = implies an undersize instrument with the same tuning as a full size violin (usually for use by children).

Pochette or dancing master's kit etc. =  refers to an instrument, easily portable (usually not as "loud" as a normal violin) used by the dance instructor for playing melodies and rhythms during lessons. Some dancemaster's kits have close to a normal violin vibrating string length but all are slender to slip easily into 17th century coat pockets. Others like the Stradivari of 1712 ex Fountaine due to how the varnish has worn the length of the back but without the characteristic chin mark on the belly are still believed to be dance master's kits (Charles Beare). These instruments were rested on the forearm rather than under the chin. Neither the Stradivari 1712 Fountaine or the DG 1740 Fountaine have wear in the chin area of the belly where one would expect to find it if played by a child (prior to the advent of the chinrest).

 

Hi Bruce,

thank you for the clarifications for the precise terminology. 

This is absolutely correct, I am referring to the ex Fontaine. 

( I used it as a model to make a 1/4 size violin for my daughter.)

I didn't know that there is another small instrument by Del Gesu in Osaka. 

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4 hours ago, Andreas Preuss said:

Hi Bruce,

thank you for the clarifications for the precise terminology. 

This is absolutely correct, I am referring to the ex Fontaine. 

( I used it as a model to make a 1/4 size violin for my daughter.)

I didn't know that there is another small instrument by Del Gesu in Osaka. 

To me it is the equivalent to the Messiah for Stradivari. Still unmodified original neck and fingerboard still nailed to the body, perfect label, tailpiece, lower saddle. Bridge is new. Likely even 3 of the four pegs could be original. All the varnish is there, even on the neck. It has had some minor worm damage but I believe that it should not be restored, it's too pure as is. Like the Messiah it should be left alone. On the view below of the back the color is not correct, is a little washed out. In real life it's more like the other shots, a rich red-orange.

Joshua Beyer made a fine copy of it.

5acee6e83742f_download(1).jpg.a7e9a72c9cf09464b2a5b14a57ecdb3b.jpgdownload.jpg.a559e0b7fa49704068e062e39a72b6b1.jpg5acee79c5c5e2_download(3).jpg.62f84b4d5cab89fa645ceca6d02c836e.jpg5acee7a097bd4_images(2).jpg.a567eb85eb31db057660e9fea87a0d3c.jpgimages.jpg.9c7fa7d36190e5f933ed5da754c1f301.jpg5acee79f52cf6_images(1).jpg.ea349e73a4c184b7e0fb274ed483b072.jpg5acee79aedb51_download(2).jpg.a456f1ba5092ae2da535461cdab7bd3a.jpg

 

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15 minutes ago, Bruce Carlson said:

To me it is the equivalent to the Messiah for Stradivari. Still unmodified original neck and fingerboard still nailed to the body, perfect label, tailpiece, lower saddle. Bridge is new. Likely even 3 of the four pegs could be original. All the varnish is there, even on the neck. It has had some minor worm damage but I believe that it should not be restored, it's too pure as is. Like the Messiah it should be left alone. On the view below of the back the color is not correct, is a little washed out. In real life it's more like the other shots, a rich red-orange.

Joshua Beyer made a fine copy of it.

5acee6e83742f_download(1).jpg.a7e9a72c9cf09464b2a5b14a57ecdb3b.jpgdownload.jpg.a559e0b7fa49704068e062e39a72b6b1.jpg5acee79c5c5e2_download(3).jpg.62f84b4d5cab89fa645ceca6d02c836e.jpg5acee7a097bd4_images(2).jpg.a567eb85eb31db057660e9fea87a0d3c.jpgimages.jpg.9c7fa7d36190e5f933ed5da754c1f301.jpg5acee79f52cf6_images(1).jpg.ea349e73a4c184b7e0fb274ed483b072.jpg5acee79aedb51_download(2).jpg.a456f1ba5092ae2da535461cdab7bd3a.jpg

 

Had I known I had mad a copy of that beauty for my daughter.... (Gorgeous)

Thanks for the photos, Bruce!

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On 4/12/2018 at 1:01 AM, Bruce Carlson said:

To me it is the equivalent to the Messiah for Stradivari. Still unmodified original neck and fingerboard still nailed to the body, perfect label, tailpiece, lower saddle. Bridge is new. Likely even 3 of the four pegs could be original. All the varnish is there, even on the neck. It has had some minor worm damage but I believe that it should not be restored, it's too pure as is. Like the Messiah it should be left alone. On the view below of the back the color is not correct, is a little washed out. In real life it's more like the other shots, a rich red-orange.

Joshua Beyer made a fine copy of it.

5acee6e83742f_download(1).jpg.a7e9a72c9cf09464b2a5b14a57ecdb3b.jpgdownload.jpg.a559e0b7fa49704068e062e39a72b6b1.jpg5acee79c5c5e2_download(3).jpg.62f84b4d5cab89fa645ceca6d02c836e.jpg5acee7a097bd4_images(2).jpg.a567eb85eb31db057660e9fea87a0d3c.jpgimages.jpg.9c7fa7d36190e5f933ed5da754c1f301.jpg5acee79f52cf6_images(1).jpg.ea349e73a4c184b7e0fb274ed483b072.jpg5acee79aedb51_download(2).jpg.a456f1ba5092ae2da535461cdab7bd3a.jpg

 

This is a beautiful instrument!

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On 4/11/2018 at 7:39 AM, DutchViolins said:

3/4 is .925 of 4/4 and 1/2 is .925 of 3/4. You may find the sequence for sizes 1/4 and 1/8!

Not .925, but .94387531268169...

And the reason for that was obvious once it dawned on me. When I saw the sixth root of sizes that included 1, 1/2, 1/4, I had thought of the equal-tempered musical scale, but I couldn't see a reason for the commonality.

If one is going to make smaller violins for young players, though, then one might also make smaller guitars for young players. And what would be more reasonable than to use the same set of sizes for both instruments?

And if the ratio between sizes is the same as that between semitone wavelengths - one can use a single jig to make the fretboards for the instruments of every size. Except, of course, 7/8.

EDIT: On further reflection, while I have found confirmation in the body dimensions of several small violins by Stradivarius that a sequence of sizes based on the equal tempered scale was used, as I've seen the figure of 92.5% elsewhere as well as in your post, and given that one doesn't see, for example, 3/8 violins, I now think that while I may be right, you are right too, and the ratio of 92.5% is used by many modern luthiers for fractional size violins, with the sizes 4/4, 3/4, 1/2 in the same successive ratios as 1/2, 1/4, 1/8 instead of 3/4 being intermediate as I had assumed from the beginning.

Edited by Quadibloc
Avoiding double post, new information
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