The violin is the best-known instrument in the string family, and also the smallest. Though its origins are unclear, Andrea Amati is credited with the creation of the modern violin and the founding of the Cremona school of violin making, whose students include his grandson Nicolo, Antonio Stradivari, Bartolomeo Guarneri and Carlo Bergonzi.
Nicolo Amati (1596-1684), was the grandson of violin maker Andrea Amati, who is credited with creating the modern violin. Nicolo was the only member of his family to survive the famine and plague that devastated the Italian city of Cremona around the year 1630. Amati’s violins are known for being wider than other violins of the time, which led to the design being called the “Grand Amati,” and for their sweet tone. Their design, however, does not lend itself to the strength of tone and resonance common to violins made by later violin makers.
Bartolomeo Giuseppe Guarneri (1698-1744), was the grandson of Andrea Guarneri, who had been an apprentice to Nicolo Amati. Guarneri’s violins are similar in outline to Antonio Stradivari’s, with F-holes (the holes on either side of the fingerboard which allow the transmission of sound) that are slightly more elongated and wider than those of Stradivari's instruments. Guarneri made about 250 violins, of which approximately 135 survive. Only about 25 violins from his early period are still known.
Perhaps the best known violin maker in history, Antonio Stradivari (1644-1737), is reputed to have been an apprentice of Nicolo Amati, although Cremona census documents from the period do not list him as such. Stradivari began creating violins of his own in the 1660s. Stradivari violins, also known as “Strads,” are best-known for their powerful tone. Stradivari based his early violin designs on those of Nicolo Amati, but during the 1690s, he experimented with a “long pattern,” a design which has a longer and narrower body than his earlier instruments. By 1700, Stradivari had returned to a broader, shorter design. The “Soil,” a Stradivari violin from 1714, is currently in the possession of violinist Itzhak Perlman. Nearly 650 Stradivari instruments, including cellos, harps, lutes and guitars, have survived.
Born in 1716, Carlo Bergonzi was a pupil of Antonio Stradivari. Bergonzi’s early violins reflect his teacher's influence and instruction, but in later years, Bergonzi created his own design, which included sound holes that reside lower on the body of the violin than Stradivari’s. The scroll of a Bergonzi violin is flatter than that of his teacher’s. Bergonzi died in 1747, a mere ten years after Stradivari.