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
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