Technical Information

Violin Setup

Standard Set of Measurements for Violin

 The Music Educators National Conference (MENC) have established a standard set of measurements for all violins.

The most important is the string length from the nut to the bridge. This dimension also controls where the notes are located along the fingerboard. By standardizing all 4/4 violins at 330 millimeters, a student can pick up any violin and find that the notes are in the same place as the last instrument they played. For a beginner attempting to master the difficult issue of intonation, that can be very important. After learning to play on instruments with the 330 mm dimension, even experienced players can have
difficulty adapting to a nonstandard instrument.

A lot of older instruments were made before the MENC standards, and a lot of cheap instruments made after them also do not conform, which can create problems for students trying to use them. Some of the really old instruments were made with a different length neck back before the A440 standard, but the majority of those that are still in regular use have probably had surgery to bring them up to the modern standard.

Yes, there are variations among fiddles, and among the preferences of those who play them. Some fiddles may deviate structurally so far from the standard measurements that there is no way to meet their optimum acoustic and structural setup needs and still be in reasonable agreement with the MENC standards. Usually some compromises are required. If it's a one-owner fiddle and that owner will never play any other fiddle than that one, it isn't a problem to ignore the standards and set the fiddle up precisely the way it wants. However, unless that fiddle and its owner are both utterly and absolutely monogamous with each other, the deviation from standard will probably cause some problems sooner or later.

Violas have standards as well, but they are a lot looser and less universally applied than with violins. Also, since there is a range of sizes for what are considered "full size" violas (anywhere from 15" to 17" is considered "full size" for all practical purposes), that alone results in some lessening of the value of standardization.

Henry Strobel's book "Useful Measurements for Violin Makers" has more discussion of this topic, and a thorough listing of the standard measurements.

Don Stackhouse @ DJ Aerotech

Lois Siegel's Home Page