The violin is a bowed stringed instrument that evolved from various earlier instruments, such as the vielle, rebec, and lira da braccio, in the Renaissance period. The violin is one of the most widely known and distributed musical instruments in the world, and has a distinctive tone and structure.
The earliest violin makers were from northern Italy, where Andrea Amati and Gasparo di Bertolotti (also known as Gasparo da Salò) are credited with creating the first violins in the mid-16th century. They established the basic proportions and features of the violin, such as the f-shaped sound holes, the four strings tuned in fifths, and the unfretted fingerboard. The oldest surviving violin was made by Andrea Amati around 1565.
The violin underwent several modifications over time to adapt to its changing musical functions and demands. In the Baroque period, the violin coexisted with the viol family, which had more strings, a fretted fingerboard, and a thicker body. The violin was used mainly for solo and ensemble music, while the viol was favored for consort and vocal accompaniment. Some of the most influential composers for the violin in this period were Antonio Vivaldi, Johann Sebastian Bach, and Arcangelo Corelli.
In the Classical period, the violin became more prominent as an orchestral and chamber music instrument, and also as a vehicle for virtuosic display. The violin design was refined by makers such as Antonio Stradivari and Giuseppe Guarneri, who made violins with a flatter and shallower body, a longer and angled neck, and a higher bridge. These changes improved the projection, clarity, and agility of the violin sound. Some of the most famous violinists and composers in this period were Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Ludwig van Beethoven, and Niccolò Paganini.
In the Romantic period, the violin reached its peak of popularity and expressive potential, as it was used to convey a wide range of emotions and musical styles. The violin repertoire expanded to include concertos, sonatas, symphonies, operas, and ballets by composers such as Johannes Brahms, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Felix Mendelssohn, and Richard Wagner. The violin technique also developed to include new bow strokes, fingerings, harmonics, vibrato, and other effects. Some of the most celebrated violinists and composers in this period were Joseph Joachim, Henri Vieuxtemps, Pablo de Sarasate, and Fritz Kreisler.
In the 20th century and beyond, the violin continued to evolve and diversify, as it was influenced by various musical genres and cultures. The violin was used for jazz, folk, rock, pop, electronic, avant-garde, and world music by musicians such as Stéphane Grappelli, Jascha Heifetz, Yehudi Menuhin, David Oistrakh, Ravi Shankar, Nigel Kennedy, Vanessa-Mae, and Lindsey Stirling. The violin design was also experimented with by makers such as Jean-Baptiste Vuillaume, who made violins with metal or synthetic materials; John Matthias Augustus Stroh, who invented a horned violin with a mechanical amplifier; and Ned Steinberger, who created an electric violin without a body or scroll.