THE position occupied by the Brescian makers in the history of violin making is one of great importance, as they are the earliest of which any record exists, and we have no reason for doubting that it was in Brescia that the first violin was made. Although most historians conceded to Gasparo da Sala, a maker of Brescia, the credit of having been the first man who made a violin, there is not wanting some slight evidence that there existed a violin maker of the name of Jean Kerlino, in Brescia, at a period significantly antecedent to the birth of Gasparo da Salo, namely, about the year 1493. We are not in possession at the present day of any particulars concerning him or his work – that he was a maker of viols of some celebrity we know , but if it was really to him that occurred first the idea of molding the back of a Viol we do not and probably will not know; but until we have some reliable confirmation of the justice of Kerlino's claims to the honor, we may safely leave to Gasparo the credit of the invention of the violin.
From times so remote that no trace of their history remains these have escaped, in numerous and most Varied forms, instruments of the Viol family, from which the violin and the other stringed instruments of the present day are directly descended. Whatever the stringed instruments which were in use among the Egyptians, Phnicians, Greeks, and Romans were played with a bow or with the hand or a plectrum is a question which has formed the theme of many discussions in the past, and into which, in an educational work like the present, it is no part of my purpose to enter.
The immediate precedents of the violin appear to have been the Cruth, which is the oldest of the viol family, and which did not resemble the violin in any way except that it was played with a bow; and the Rebec, which somewhat resembled the violin in shape, and is said to have been introduced into Spain by the Moors during the fifteenth century, or sometimes at the end of the fourteenth. This instrument was very rude and imperfect, and had only three strings, but was unduly the forerunner of the violin. The fourth string was probably added during the early part of the sixteenth century, but no record of the fact has descended to our time. Gasparo da Salo, as he is usually called, although his name has been proved beyond doubt, by modern researchers, to have been Gasparo di Bertolotti, began violin making about the year 1560; and died in Brescia in I6c9. His labels are always worded "Gasparo da Salo" (Gasparo from Salo, his native town) and for many years it was thought to be his name. His instruments are fairly well made, large in model, but some of the workmanship of this maker is far from artistic in finish his sound holes are very characteristic, and somewhat pointed in appearance.