If I had a penny for every time someone has asked me “what’s the difference between a violin and a fiddle?” well, I’d have a lot of pennies, which wouldn’t be much good to me now that they’re somewhat obsolete…
I’m always happy to answer potential customer’s queries however and violins/fiddles generate more than a few. So I thought it might be helpful to put together this quick and easy FAQ to answer some of the most commonly asked questions. You asked, I’ve answered.
If you can’t find the answer to your question below, remember to get in touch. I’m always happy to talk musical instruments.
1. What is the Difference Between a Fiddle and a Violin?
The simple answer is, they are the same instrument. Fiddle and violin are two terms used to describe the smallest member of the string family. Which term you use depends on which style of music you are playing.
Most traditional Irish musicians will refer to their instrument as a fiddle for example, as do folk musicians from a number of other cultures. Bluegrass, country and sometimes jazz musicians also refer to their instruments as fiddles.
In classical music, it is strictly referred to as a violin. In fact, there’s no quicker way to annoy a classical violinist than referring to their violin as a fiddle.
There are huge stylistic differences in how the fiddle and violin are played however, and as a result, different musicians may prefer to have their instruments set up differently. Fiddle players may prefer a flatter bridge for example, to facilitate double stops and drones.
To learn more about these fascinating stylistic differences check out my blog post: What’s The Difference Between a Fiddle and a Violin?
2. Which is Easier to Learn: Violin or Fiddle?
I’m going to get into fierce trouble for this answer but Irish fiddle is, in my opinion, the easier of the two to learn.
Why? Classical violin teachers are sticklers for technique, and rightly so. They will drill correct posture, bow hold, finger placement, wrist tension and more into their students.
While many Irish fiddle players understand the importance of technique, there isn’t usually quite the same focus placed on it. The tunes, their history and the stylistic characteristics of the music itself are often prioritised instead.
After all, traditional Irish music is an aural folk tradition which was handed down from generation to generation by ear and most commonly played in the kitchens of small homes. In recent decades yes, it has migrated to the stages of theatres and concert halls, becoming more formalised – but it’s an artform with humble beginnings.
These days many traditional Irish musicians are classically trained and grounded in solid technique, but I still reckon you’ll pick up The Britches Full of Stitches faster than you might Telemann’s Bourrée.
3. Do Violins and Fiddles Sound the Same?
The instruments themselves (as both are violins) will sound the same to an extent, yes.
The style of music performed on each instrument however, and the playing style used, will affect the sound produced.
A good quality violin or fiddle should produce a rich, warm tone with plenty of resonance and volume. The strings should be balanced, meaning all the notes on each string should also achieve the same volume and quality.
The strings are one of the most important factors that will dictate the sound of your instrument. To learn more about the ins and outs of violin strings check out my handy blog post: Everything You Need To Know About Violin Strings
4. What Are Fiddles Made From?
Most fiddles or violins are built using the same type of tone wood. This includes spruce tops, and maple necks, backs and sides. The quality of wood however can vary greatly. This quality is usually reflected in the price of the instrument
Spruce is a strong, dense wood has been used by luthiers in the making of violins for hundred of years. It’s strong enough to meet the demands of the instrument while its density allows for excellent resonance
Maple Neck, Back and Sides: The back, sides and neck of the instrument are made from maple wood which is chosen for both its looks and tonal qualities.
Ebony Fingerboard: Ebony is the preferred wood for the fingerboard. The tailpiece can also be made of ebony, though this material will vary most often of all the violin components.
5. How Much do Fiddles Cost?
You don’t have to spend a fortune to get your hands on a good quality instrument. That being said, opting for the cheapest brand is rarely a good idea.
I’ve laid out a suggested price range below, which should give you a clearer idea of how much you should expect to spend at each level:
Beginner & Student Violin Price Guide: Under $750/€750
It’s possible to buy a good quality beginner violin for less than $750/€750.
Violins in this price range are recommended for young children or those who would like to learn how to play the violin but maybe aren’t entirely sure they will want to keep playing long term.
Intermediate Violin Price Guide: $750/€750 to $2,000/€2,000
If you know that the fiddle or violin is the instrument for you and you’re not afraid to make a long term commitment, you might consider investing in a higher quality level instrument right from the beginning.
Instruments at this level can vary greatly in price. The upper limit is really only defined by your own budget. Remember, just because a violin is expensive doesn’t mean it’s necessarily better than a cheaper model. It’s all about individual preference.
Advanced Violin Price Guide: $2,000/€2,000 to $10,000+/€10,000+
Violins in this price range are best suited to advanced players who know how to achieve a beautiful sound from their instrument. There’s nothing wrong with making a long term investment in your playing however.
Where to Buy a Fiddle
It’s always best practice to buy your fiddle from an experienced instrument maker or luthier.
If you’re based in Ireland then you can’t beat Crehans in Drumcondra or McNeela Instruments here in Baldoyle for a wide range of instruments suitable for all musicians, from beginners right through to professional level.
What Should I look For: Fiddles For Sale or Violins For Sale?
Not sure which is the right instrument for you? Why not take a look at the full range of McNeela String Instruments and see if something catches your eye. We have violins and fiddles for sale to suit every need, and perfect for playing any style of music. We also stock all the accessories you might need – violin bows, strings, rosin, cases, gig bags, books, CDs and more – perfect for classical or traditional Irish music students.
If you need a little more guidance, make sure to check out the McNeela Irish Music Blog which includes plenty of helpful violin buyers guides, packed full of expert advice and information, including:
Where to Buy Used Violins
You’ll find a number of secondhand violins and fiddles for sale via online platforms such as Ebay. For peace of mind however, and to ensure you’re buying a quality instrument that’s in good condition, I highly recommend buying in person from a reputable vendor.
Here at McNeela Instruments, in addition to our wide range of brand new instruments, we also frequently stock a number of carefully selected second hand and vintage violins. Keep an eye on our website or call in to the shop here in Baldoyle to get your hands on a bargain.
In the US the difference between a fiddle and a violin is the Mason-Dixon Line.
Another difference is about $100 a night.
Now you have it, Mark!