The viol, or viola da gamba, is any one of a family of bowed, fretted and stringed instruments with hollow wooden bodies and pegboxes where the tension on the strings can be increased or decreased to adjust the pitch of each of the strings. Frets on the viol are usually made of gut, tied on the fingerboard around the instrument’s neck, to enable the performer to stop the strings more cleanly. Frets improve consistency of intonation and lend the stopped notes a tone which better matches the open strings.
Although bass viols superficially resemble cellos, viols are different in numerous respects from instruments of the violin family: the viol family has flat rather than curved backs, sloped rather than rounded shoulders, c holes rather than f holes, and five to seven rather than four strings; some of the many additional differences are tuning strategy (in fourths with a third in the middle—similar to a lute—rather than in fifths), the presence of frets, and underhand (“German”) rather than overhand (“French”) bow grip.
All members of the viol family are played upright (unlike the violin, which is held under the chin). All viol instruments are held between the legs like a modern cello, hence the Italian name viola da gamba (it. “viol for the leg”) was sometimes applied to the instruments of this family. This distinguishes the viol from the modern violin family, the viola da braccio (it. “viol for the arm”).
- Viol. Wikipedia, retrieved 10 September 2017.