This is one of the most frequently asked questions, and it is of crucial importance especially for young violin students.
The violin is one of the most user-friendly musical instruments because it comes with varying sizes to suit the age of the player:
1/16 - Suitable for young children ages 3 to 5, with an arm length of 14 to 15 3/8 inches.
1/10 - Also for young musicians ages 3 to 5, with an arm length of 15 3/8 to 17 inches.
1/8 - Again, for young violin enthusiasts ages 3 to 5, with an arm length of 17.1 to 17.5 inches.
1/4 - This violin is suitable for children ages 4 to 7, with an arm length of 17.6 to 20 inches.
1/2 - For children ages 6 to 10, with an arm length of 20 to 22 inches.
3/4 - Children ages 9 to 11, with an arm length of 22 to 23.5 inches.
4/4 or Full Size Violin - For violinists ages 9 and above, with an arm length of 23.5 inches and up. This is the size for adults.
Please note that these recommendations are only general guidelines. The best way to determine the right size is to visit a violin dealer and "try on" different instruments for the best fit.
There are many violin makers from all across the world who create violins for specific name brands. Generally, there are two types of violins:
Acoustic or Non-Electric Violin - This is the traditional violin that is more suitable for beginners. The violin is a bowed string instrument that has the highest tune and is the smallest among the violin family of instruments. It is also called the fiddle when used to play traditional or folk music.
Electric Violin - As the name implies, electric violins use an electronic signal output and are suited for more advanced players. The sound of an electric violin is sharper than that of its acoustic counterpart.
Violins may also be classified by period or era:
Baroque Violin - The violin of this period had a shallower angle and neck, there was not much thought given to chin and shoulder rests and the strings were strung in gut with equal tension.
Classical Violin - The violin of this period had a thinner neck and smaller heels than that of the Baroque period.
Modern Violin - The neck of the modern violin is more sharply angled, the wood used is thinner and smaller and the strings are tuned higher.
Violins may also be classified by the country from which it originated such as China, Korea, Hungary, Germany and Italy. People who make violins are called luthiers. Less expensive violins often come from China, while the most expensive, the Stradivarius, named after Antonio Stradivari, comes from Italy.
(See Espie Estrella, http://musiced.about.com/od/beginnersguide/a/vsizes.htm; slightly revised)