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People often ask questions about what exactly a Viola da Gamba is.  In short Viola da Gamba and the Violin/cello came out of the same musical tradition, but each evolved in different styles.  A notable difference is that all members of the viol family are held with the legs (hence "da Gamba").  As you look closer you might realize that, in general, viol's have 6 strings and the violin family has 4, and that on the neck are tied 7 gut frets very similar to the ones on a lute.  

Makers like John Rose were making viols around the same time as Andrea Amati, Richard Meares was making viols in London at the same time as Francesco Ruggeri was making in Cremona.  The only difference is that the gamba's fell out of favor in the early-mid 18th century (right around the same time as Stradivari's golden period) for many reasons.  Some reasons relate to it's association with the aristocracy and others to changing notions of sound and where music was played.  As music came out of the chamber and into the concert halls more sound was needed to fill the space, and the stronger arching and high tension strings of the violin family achieved that.  

I will be adding more information as time permits, but in the mean time visit: