Page 1 of 1

For Sale: medieval fiddle

Posted: Sat Jan 24, 2015 5:15 pm
by whirligyg
I am looking to sell a medieval fiddle, or vielle. The fiddle is ideal for a violinist as it is the same size as a violin, whilst still allowing a violinist to explore the fascinating sound world of medieval music. It is by Christoph Waidler and pictures of identical instruments can be found here:

This medieval fiddle is a replica of a depiction of a fiddle in a 15th century painting called "The Coronation of the Virgin" (see attached picture).

It has been enjoyed and used as part of reenactments/historical music playing.

It is in excellent condition and has been kept in this good order through visits to a local luthier.

Whilst it could be tuned to GDAE like an ordinary violin, you could also tune the strings rather more like they used to in the medieval period:
GCGD is the tuning I have tended to use (and what the current strings were bought to suit) but GDGD works well.
Players would have droned adjacent strings whilst playing melodies often - to give an effect rather like a hurdy gurdy.

The fiddle is fitted with gut strings - normal gut strings used on baroque violins would do if you wanted to string them GDAE.
The ones on the fiddle at the moment are easily obtained from the Early Music Shop or from Bridgwood and Nietzert in London, who are very kind and knowledgeable in their advice.
It also comes with a bow (a proper "bowed" shaped bow!) and a viola case has been specially modified to suit it.

Only selling because I personally play rebecs much more than the fiddle.

For more details and pictures, please do contact me.

Re: For Sale: medieval fiddle

Posted: Wed Jan 20, 2016 4:32 pm
by MissLaura
What makes a medieval fiddle different than a modern basic violin?

Re: For Sale: medieval fiddle

Posted: Wed Jan 20, 2016 11:54 pm
by Jack Campin
GDGD tuning is used for the modern violin in Arabic music.

If anybody wants a tutor on Arabic violin, I can pass it on; about 180 pages PDF in Arabic, but most of the content is in scores and diagrams so you don't need to understand the language to get most of it. I've been using it for an appropriately tuned mandolin, with pluck direction substituted for bowing - it's surprising how tricky even rather simple-looking exercises are.

(If anybody out there knows Arabic and would like to translate the headings, that would be nice).

Re: For Sale: medieval fiddle

Posted: Thu Jan 21, 2016 3:17 pm
by MissLaura
Is it just a downloadable copy? How can I get ahold of this? I am very interested as I only played western style violin. :)

Re: For Sale: medieval fiddle

Posted: Fri Jan 22, 2016 12:31 am
by Jack Campin
I got it from a download site that no longer exists, and I've no idea where they got it. I can email it to you, three files totalling about 15Mb.

Send me a PM or email with your email address.

Re: For Sale: medieval fiddle

Posted: Sun Aug 21, 2016 12:20 pm
by ThosGreen
Dear Whirlygig, is your medieval fiddle still for sale?

Re: For Sale: medieval fiddle

Posted: Thu Sep 01, 2016 3:26 pm
by whirligyg
In answer to your query regarding what makes a medieval fiddle different from a modern violin:

This particular medieval fiddle has a flat belly (top) and back and no soundpost which should have significant changes to the timbre of the instrument (and certainly the way in which the body of it vibrates) compared to a modern violin. In addition it doesn't have the C-bouts on either side which help with angled bowing on the top and bottom strings of a modern instrument. With some medieval (and 16th c) fiddles the body and sides would have been made out of one piece of wood, even. The shape of medieval fiddles can vary an awful lot (certainly much variation in depictions in art) - with some being rectangular, others oval, others "waisted" like this one. Some even had no fingerboard (you could "stop" the strings with your nail, like on some modern rebec-like folk instruments) or very short ones - definitely most are shorter than modern violins.

The bridge of a medieval fiddle tends to be a lot fatter, enabling you to bow three or more strings at the same time (lovely for droned accompaniments whilst you play - imagine a sound rather along the lines of a hurdy-gurdy and its close :) ) The neck certainly is a lot thicker than a modern violin (in some, 5-string fiddles, really much more so - which makes it harder for someone with small hands to get round the instrument - this may be why some people play the larger medieval fiddles (and sometimes all medieval fiddles or rebecs) vertically (like a cello or viol, but smaller!) and the angle of the fingerboard certainly less steep. What else? Well, the pegs usually fix into a flat peg box or peg board. There are numerous other small differences!

Re: For Sale: medieval fiddle

Posted: Thu Sep 01, 2016 3:28 pm
by whirligyg
Thank you for your interest - this instrument has now been sold, using the help of the Early Music Shop.

Best wishes!

Happy to answer any other queries about this type of instrument, though, as I have studied it for an acoustics course and was specifically interested how it differed from a modern instrument :)

Re: For Sale: medieval fiddle

Posted: Thu Sep 01, 2016 3:43 pm
by ThosGreen
Thanks for replying. Pity it's been sold but never mind - I didn't really expect it to be still available after a year. However, I'd be interested to know your conclusions about the acoustics. I know they're quieter and more nasal than the modern instrument but I don't know any more than that. Is your work written up somewhere? I have some science background so I'd expect to be able to follow the outline of your discussion. Don't go to any special trouble though.

Thomas Green

Re: For Sale: medieval fiddle

Posted: Thu Jan 18, 2018 5:40 pm
by whirligyg
Hi! Sorry for the extreme delay in replying. Just incase you are still around, or if it is of interest to someone else:

Ive uploaded some files so you can hear the sound of the medieval fiddles and rebecs I have played (which have a variety of timbres - some you may think are nasal, others not so at all!)

The sound of this particular medieval fiddle wasn't, to me, nasal or quieter in any respect. If anything it was somewhat harsher than a modern violin and, being gut, the lower strings had a definite growly, gruff sound and a characteristic articulation to the start of a bow stroke. The upper strings were a lot sweeter (heading in the direction of the baroque violin or gut strung violin, but this particular instrument was never as sweet sounding even on those upper strings!) (this was a few years ago though - it may be my playing technique has changed over time)

I have tried a few instruments you could call medieval fiddles and they do vary in their timbres - but none of them have produced a nasal or a quiet sound. They are at least as big in the body as a modern violin. Some of them have the range (roughly) of a violin and viola put together (although you'd have a job whizzing up and down to high positions like modern instrument playing unless you're super good at playing without the modern chinrest and shoulder rest!) The wonderfully unusual sound (to our modern ears) of the lower strings is something that tends to be shared by all I have tried. Its something to be embraced! The higher strings on some instruments can be amazingly sweet. (it is hard to describe timbre!)

The main thing is that these instruments are often droned when we play them. Sometimes the bridge is quite or very flat, making it easy to bow adjacent string(s) (or impossible not to) - people have said that droning these instruments evokes the sound of a hurdy gurdy or Norwegian hardangerfiddle in some respects.

They are a very varied bunch! - they vary in size and shape, in stringing, in pitch, in the shape of their bridges and pegboxes etc. In other words, all the things that contribute to the very complex system that is a bowed stringed instrument. I am no great expert on the iconography of medieval bowed strings (see here: for a fascinating project) - however I do know that pictures of bowed strings show a great variety of shapes and types. And there is also debate about what is a medieval fiddle or a vielle (another word often used to mean the same thing) or a rebec - and even whether these terms (which are loaded) are useful for classification. They're all bowed strings though :)

The medieval bowed strings that I have played that have sounded nasal and quiet have been small, pear shaped, round backed instruments (to generalise) - often called rebecs. For example the effective string length (nut to bridge) of one I have played is 30cm (much less than a modern violin) and I suspect the nasal sound might have something to do with the smaller body cavity inside compared to a modern violin. Possibly this is related to why some violas sound "nasal" compared to cello or violin sound - the viola is too small for the pitch it plays at (it wouldn't be possible to play at the shoulder otherwise!)

These instruments we think dont tend to have soundposts - acoustically I believe this would make them behave rather more like if you could bow a guitar. The soundpost creates asymmetry in the way the top plate behaves. At least that was my conclusion a good few years ago!

I haven't yet put anything of these findings on line.

However, this article is a fascinating introduction to these instruments: ... he-vielle/