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Smaller 4/4 violins or possibly 7/8

Instruments: What differences between 4/4 and "smaller" 4/4 and 7/8, besides sound? Any recommended makers?

From Julie C.
Posted May 29, 2006 at 05:41 AM

Greetings,

I am five foot and 1/2 inch with short fingers, short arms, and a short neck. I have been playing violin for 12 years, and five of those 12, I have been using a 4/4 violin. Recently, I was told that my playing could be less laborious if I switched to a 7/8 or a "smaller" 4/4 violin.

What are your thoughts on this? Mainly, I am concerned about sound production (because I can never seem to produce the sound I want out of my 4/4 violin). But I am also a bit apprehensive about finding a really good quality smaller 4/4 or 7/8 violin, because (I may be mistaken) I don't believe them to be quite as prevalent as regular 4/4 violins. Another issue is that I am really attached to my current 4/4 violin, and it will be extremely hard for me to part with it.

Music is my life profession, so I will need a moderately good violin. Do any of you know if great modern Italian makers (or great modern American makers), or ancient Italian makers who make great 4/4 instruments happen to make smaller 4/4s or 7/8s as well? Which maker can you recommend? I'm looking in the price range of perhaps $10k-$25k. I'm not sure yet, though.

From Christina Wilke
Posted on May 29, 2006 at 06:32 AM
I just did the opposite of what you are facing now- I went from a 7/8 size to a 4/4 size. I am just above 5 foot 1 with extremely small fingers, so it was a difficult transition. I had tried looking for good-quality 7/8 size or small 4/4 violins, but they are very hard to come by. However, that's not to say that they're not out there. You could try contacting any of the major dealers- Reuning and Sons, Weaver's/Potters, etc. and letting them know what you're looking for. Brobst violin shop often has 7/8 size instruments and I believe they have a Paul Bailly (circa 1890, I think) that is of that size. If you go to their website (brobstviolins.com), you can browse their online catalogue (which is rather fun to do regardless of whether you're looking for an instrument or not!)
Good luck!
From Marianne Devos
Posted on May 29, 2006 at 07:41 AM
Hi i was exactly in the position you are now a year ago. I was really struggling some basic getting round the instrument on lower strings and stuff, so my teacher said i should look towards maybe getting a 7/8, and i tried one he was selling, a beautiful italian composite violin. and it was so much easier to play, i could do nearly everything with 100% more ease, however the lack of power in the sound bothered, so i decided look towards full size violins again smaller ones. it took ages for me and many violins to find what i was looking for both in measurement, sound and sensitivity.

i finally found an old english violin by john johnson (1750) that's very slim but with a belly in order to keep sound.

it's solved so many problems.

you can also get the neck of your violin slimmed down (i'm getting that done this summer).

stay clear of strad and guaneri models as they tend to wide (for us) at the sides.

hope this helps

ps. really think carefully of the 7/8 thing because i know people who have turned down of orchestral jobs because they couldn't produce a big enough sound

From Marianne Devos
Posted on May 29, 2006 at 07:53 AM
also you can have a violin "made to measure", but it's always a risk and you never know how a new inst. will turn out and you've got train it well.

there are some amazing makers out there.

From Kevin Huang
Posted on May 29, 2006 at 12:59 PM
Marianne, I totally agree with you about the small rib thing especially as it pertains to those old English violins.

I love the sweetness of those violins. They don't always have that booming sound that a Strad/Guarneri pattern have, but they still carry just fine in concert. I've got two unnamed old violins like your old 1750 Johnson in addition to my main concert instrument that project beautifully in any acoustic situation.

Here's a question for the luthiers. Is there any difference between a 7/8 violin and a 4/4 violin in terms of stop length and string measurements?

From Maura Gerety
Posted on May 29, 2006 at 02:31 PM
I'm pretty short myself (5'2'') and with relatively small hands. Fortunately I found a violin on a Guarneri del Gesu pattern that is just the right size--not one of those monster Strads. :) I did get the neck slimmed down a bit though, and it was a big help.
Alternatively, if you have the monetary resources of course, you could potentially commission a 7/8 violin from a good maker. Good luck!
From Milly Leitner
Posted on May 29, 2006 at 06:23 PM
I am about to downsize to a 7/8 from a 4/4, as I am under 5ft tall and with small hands for my height. Have a look to see if you can find an instrument with a very thin neck instead, since that means you don't have to compromise sound, and also they're a lot more common than 7/8 size violins. If that's not suitable, apparently it is possible to get your current violin modified in many cases, to shorten the stop length - I don't know much about this though. Personally, I'm having to go right down to a 7/8 size, and I've been told that the main problem is a loss of projection and tone, and there are some shapes which make this a much greater problem than others. I find it difficult to determine whether a particular violin projects really well without hearing someone else play it too - possibly worth trying when you're shopping around. Good luck :)

Edit: there are some makers who have some great 7/8 models, such as Tomas Pilar in the Czech Rep. Might take longer to get it made, but at least then you are 100% certain that it will be the right shape and size.

From Laura Yeh
Posted on May 29, 2006 at 06:45 PM
Julie,
I agree with most of the posts here. I'm not quite 5 feet tall (I'm close enough I like to pretend that I am 5 feet tall though) and have very small hands for my height, particularly my pinky. I don't think it is worth the loss of tone and projection to go to a smaller violin. Us short people just have to work harder. Two things have helped me. One is that my violin has a rather narrow neck so it is much more comfortable to play than most violins for me. The other is that I have extremely flexible fingers. While you have to be very careful with things like fingered octaves and 10ths, they are possible without pain if you work on increasing your strength and flexibility and have an instrument with a narrow neck. Also, anything that involves a lot of stretching for you should be practiced in short efficient bursts to avoid injuries.
Many times I have found that I have to get creative to accomplish what I want because of my small hand size, but there's nothing wrong with that as long as you're moving in a healthy relaxed manner and as long as it doesn't get in your way. Experiement. Each person's technique is individual to some degree.
-Laura
From Richard Hellinger
Posted on May 29, 2006 at 07:10 PM
I dont really like the 7/8 violins, but i think for your size a 3/4 might be good. You should try an advanced 3/4, they have better sound quality then you might think, I believe comparable to a 4/4. But you would have to make sure it was an advanced one. I would suggest Johnson Stringed Instruments in Boston (you can also set up an appointment for extended playing!)
From Julie C.
Posted on May 29, 2006 at 07:57 PM
Hi, Richard,
Thanks for your suggestion, but I know for sure that I am too big for a 3/4 LOL ;)
From Marianne Devos
Posted on May 29, 2006 at 09:41 PM
it's so nice to hear that i'm not the only short person getting a raw deal playing, i'm not alone, yaye!
From Larry Samuels
Posted on May 29, 2006 at 09:53 PM
Julie,
David Van Zandt (http://www.vanzandtviolins.com/) makes what he calls a 'petite' Guarneri. Quoting from his "Gallery" page:

"This 'petite' model is inspired by the early-period violins of Joseph Guarneri, del Gesu. It is an exceptional model for musicians who demand the comfort of an instrument with incrementally shorter string length, a more rounded shoulder, a slim neck and diminutive edges without compromising tone quality or power."

Poking around his site, I found the measurements for one of the 'petite' instruments:
body length - 350mm
upper bout width - 165mm
c bout width - 111mm
lower bout width - 204mm

Contrast this to the dimensions of the Kreisler de Gesu, for instance:
Body Length: 355 mm.
Upper Bout: 168 mm.
Center Bout: 112 mm.
Lower Bout: 205 mm.

I've never played one of Mr Van Zandt's violins, though I'd like to, so I can't give you any feedback there. I think he makes *gorgeous* instruments, judging by the photos; I called him about a year ago to talk about his instruments and found him very pleasant to deal with. I have a hazy memory that Strings magazine may have done a short article on him in the last year or so.

I hope this helps!

Larry Samuels

From Julie C.
Posted on May 29, 2006 at 10:30 PM
Thanks for all the great and really helpful responses. However, I do have another question. Assuming I do not want to commission a new instrument, and want to find one, how do I go about doing that? I know I have to go visit violin shops, etc., but what on earth do I ask for? I know many violin shops organize their violins in terms of price range, so it will be a bit difficult for me to start off on the right foot; plus, I'm almost completely clueless...
From Marianne Devos
Posted on May 29, 2006 at 10:38 PM
i guess just litterally ask that you're looking for small full size violin. they'll know what they have and if they can help you.
From jordan santiago
Posted on May 30, 2006 at 07:19 AM
theres not a HUGE difference....... but theres definitely a difference.

I am 6'2" and play on a 7/8 size


I also hear them refered to as a "womans full size"

From Julie C.
Posted on May 30, 2006 at 07:26 AM
Jordan, I'm curious. Why aren't you playing on a 4/4 if you're so tall?
From Maura Gerety
Posted on May 30, 2006 at 05:23 PM
I'm curious too. Sometimes a regular 4/4 looks ridiculously tiny on a guy as tall as you, Jordan!! :)

I've heard the 7/8 called a "lady's violin".

From Maura Gerety
Posted on May 30, 2006 at 05:24 PM
whoops, double post...
From Eunice Nahon
Posted on February 27, 2007 at 10:29 PM
I have a similar problem. I have small hands and a unproportunately short pinky. My pinky always made it difficult for me to do octaves, tenths, and even scales without moving my thumb to accomodate it.

Following advice from several Violinist.com members, I decided to look up Howard Needham, a luthier in the Washington DC area. His violins are $17,000 now, but he will increase to $20,000 by this summer. I decided to commision a slightly-smaller-than-full-size violin from him. I'll let you know if the size sacrifices sound at all.

If you're interested, his contact information is listed in the violin shop/directory. I think you'll find that he's quite pleasant to work with.

Good luck!

From Ray Randall
Posted on February 27, 2007 at 10:51 PM
In the late 1960's I almost bought the Soames Strad for, sniff sniff, $25,000. It was maybe nine thenths size. Just a tiny bit smaller than normal. No need to ask about the sound.
From Maia Jasper
Posted on February 28, 2007 at 12:42 AM
My violin is a "lady's violin," meaning... 15/16ths, according to the luthier. I loooooove it. My hands and build are "small/average," not tiny. However, this violin works great for me. It sounds lovely -- my teachers have referred to it as "Mini Strad." When I let my similarly built girlfriends try it, they flip out. It's a Lavazza (Antonio Maria). He's not "known" for making those kinds of violins.

What seems to suit me best is the slim neck. Someone's previous post to that end sounds like a great place to start.

They're out there... keep looking!

From David Tseng
Posted on February 28, 2007 at 04:32 AM
I am working on a small size violin and it will be ready at the end of April. PM me if you are interested.
From David Tseng
Posted on February 28, 2007 at 04:34 AM
You can also shorten the string length by moving the fingerboard nut and thin the neck a little. If you can play fingered octaves, the violin size is OK for you.
From Raymond Paul
Posted on February 28, 2007 at 05:21 AM
A lot of people have heard abou the Needham that is here. It is a strad copy that is a bit big, like most of the strad forms. But he also makes a del Gesu model that is one of the smaller del Gesus, much smaller than the STrad (351 cm., I believe). The sound on this instrument is suppose to be like the sound on the bigger strad Needham that is here now. It is a huge, beautiful, complex sound, according to many who have played it. I asked how it compares to the one out here that everyone is blown away by, and I was told that it is very comparable.

After having played so many makers we believe that Needham and Burgess make the best moderns out there. Then again, there are a few that we still want to try. And there were a lot of other great makers, Croen comes to mind, as does Dilworth.

Another maker who makes a great smaller del Gesu is Kelvin Scott....it plays itself, it is so easy to play.

Hope it helps.

From Sue Bechler
Posted on February 28, 2007 at 01:49 PM
Hi,All, As I heard it, many of the instruments that are 7/8's or "small" full-sizes were made in the latter 1800's to early 1900's, when many more women took up the violin compared to earlier times. Many women were much smaller than today's typical height, so builders started sizing some instruments differently. It seems that it is a real search to find a great-sounding one. I notice that some violins feel distinctly lighter than others. W/o weighing them, I'm sure some are just plain lighter, but I also sometimes feel that something I'm trying has the weight distributed differently, a little heavier than typical close to the bottom and lighter out by the neck attachment. A fiddle that feels balanced this way feels light in the hand and arm to me, so might suit you well. Sue
From Ray Chen
Posted on February 28, 2007 at 04:11 PM
Julie,

I've played at least one smallish 4/4: I found it uncomfortable to play and I'm average height with small hands so it probably would have worked for you.

I think you need to work with a knowledgeable violin shop who would know what violins they have are based on smaller models.

But frankly, while those violins are out there I suspect they are also rather rare.

Your better bet might be to work with a violin maker who enjoys working on wide range of models.

One maker that I suspect would enjoy working on this kind of commission that I'd recommend would be Kelvin Scott. His violins are very responsive and sound great.

And I've never played a Needham or Van Zandt but from what I've read, I doubt you'll go wrong working with either of them either.

- Ray

From Ted Kruzich
Posted on February 28, 2007 at 05:17 PM
My 100 year old full size Guarneri Model violin has a beautiful, clear and mellow tone and I play it in mostly chamber music settings. However when I play in crowded noisy places, I use my 7/8 size Nicole Darche violin built in 1920.

The 7/8 Darche sounds strident to the ear, but my wife tells me that is carries better and looses its edge in large spaces. The 7/8 violin also has more power and seems to cut through any kind of background noise. It is also much easier to play and does not tire me out.

It seems that each violin must be judged on its own merits and a smaller size does not necessarily mean less volume or carrying power.

Ted Kruzich


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