Drawing Distinctions: Violins and Viola da Gambas

These two analytical shots comparing one instrument each from the violin (on the left of each photo) and viola da gamba (on the right of each photo) families help reveal the design differences between these two important instrument types that historically coexisted side-by-side throughout the late Renaissance and much of the Baroque period.

Left photo. This frontal view reveals differences in: 1) the shape of the resonator (violin family instruments are more figure-eight shaped while gamba family members have sloping shoulders); the shape of the sound holes (‘f’ holes for the violin family, ‘c’ holes for gambas); the number of strings (violin family instruments have four, gamba family members six); and the presence of frets (violin family members do not have frets, gambas have seven frets).

Right photo. This profile view reveals differences in: the general depth of the resonator (violin family members have a shallower resonating chamber than do gambas); and the shape of the back of the resonator (violin type instruments have slightly vaulted backs, gamba backboards are flat with their upper section bent in toward the neck). It can also be seen in this view that the gamba frets are tied around the neck.

For more information on the instruments pictured above, click on their images below to be linked to their respective pages. 

Baroque viola (violin family)

treble viol (viola da gamba family)


(by Roger Vetter)