The String Instruments
(It. viola di gamba): This popular family of instruments, which was made in four common sizes, evolved from the medieval fiddle by about 1500. It developed quite separately from the violin family, and fell from popularity during the 18th century. Viols differ physically from the violin family in that they have six (instead of four) gut strings, have gradually sloping shoulders and flat backs, and are fretted. Also, they are bowed with the palm forward, are tuned differently and are normally played without vibrato. They are help between the legs, hence the Italian name which translates as "viol of the leg."
A very early member of the violin family usually characterized by a simple gourd shape and a curved back, having 3 strings and a typically nasal tone.
Emerged as a distinct instrument in the 1500's, almost immediately reached the classical period of production, and has survived virtually unchanged to the present.
An instrument dating from medieval times, whose strings are put in motion by a rotating rosined wheel operated by a handle at the lower end of the body. Usually had drone strings which sounded continuously, in combination with a key-operated melody string.
(Ger. cister): A close relative of the quill-plucked medieval citole (c. 1200 - 1500), the cittern was developed in the late 15th century and remained popular until the 19th century. It has a thin sound box, a flat back and a fretted neck. Usually there are four pairs of wire strings (although the number varies) which are finger-plucked; the sound is brash and twangy. The pandora is a late form of the large cittern.
(Ger. laute): An Arab instrument (the ud), introduced into Europe in the late 13th century as a result of the Crusades, was the ancestor of the lute. Originally small (5 or 6 strings) and plectrum (quill) plucked, the lute reached its classical form by 1500 as a larger, finger-plucked instrument with up to 11 sets of strings. It was popular throughout the Renaissance, but declined in the 18th century. Very few original instruments have survived due to their extreme fragility.
Appears as early as the 13th century, and existed in a great variety of forms in the medieval through baroque times.
This was another of the many instruments introduced into Europe in the 12th century as a result of the Crusades. Essentially a harp attached to a sound box, the psaltery survives today as the zither. Medieval psalteries were made in many shapes, and were generally plucked with quills.
Virginal, or Spinet
These names were applied to a wide variety of small harpsichord-like instruments beginning around the 15th century. The strings are plucked (as opposed to piano strings, which are struck), producing a soft stacatto sound with very little dynamic range. The instruments were popular until about the mid-18th century.