2nd violin - anyone play a larger instrument?

Edited: October 9, 2017, 8:41 PM · I’m looking to get a second violin for outdoor, pit, hot non air-conditioned venues, etc. I often play second and double on viola and am considering a larger than 14” instrument along the lines of an old german copy of a Maggini or Spears mezzo-violin ala Carleen Hutchins.
Anyone have any experience with these things?

Replies (27)

Edited: October 9, 2017, 9:27 PM · I have a possibly Italian violin appraised in the 50s as the work of mandolin/violin maker Raphael Calace, pictures and description on the instruments page of my website, it has a glorious sound but the back is almost 14 1/2" and the sounding length is close to 340mm instead of 330mm, It has a longer neck and longer stop length, to get the proper neck length/stop length ration you have to go with the longer sounding length, otherwise you would have to place the bridge substantially north of the f hole notches to get a 330mm scale, and still have a neck that was longer than normal, coupled with a shorter than normal stop length.

It is not the kind of super sturdy instrument you would want to use in abusive environments, though.

October 10, 2017, 1:58 PM · How’s it to go back and forth between 14” and 14.5”?
October 10, 2017, 2:08 PM · Shrink& stretch... stretch& shrink.
If both instrument are proportional, should not be a problem for a trained fiddler.
Edited: October 10, 2017, 2:31 PM · the scale is slightly longer, meaning slight adjustment in higher positions, just like switching from a 15 1/2" viola to a 16" one.
October 10, 2017, 7:29 PM · If you go back and forth between violin and viola then you've already solved this problem. My guess is you're not playing a lot of double stops in pit orchestras anyway. But ... why do you want this? It's very limiting in terms of the scope of your search for a second instrument. If you want a violin you can play in less-than-favorable conditions, I'd go for a decent Chinese violin, maybe a Jay Haide or a Ming-Jiang Zhu.
October 11, 2017, 9:11 AM · In a recent comparison of a $3000 Ming Jiang Zhu violin, I had a $1200 antique JTL French violin that sounded just as good or better. Haven't compared the Jay Haide.
Edited: October 11, 2017, 10:16 AM · Lyndon that doesn't surprise me too much. Chinese violins are marked up too much. You also probably put a lot of love into setting up that antique. My experience from owning a MJZ viola is that it needs some adjustments especially in the first couple of years of ownership. The advantage of the Chinese instruments is that they're subject to more commodity pricing, so your resale, while possibly predictably low, is at least predicable. Also they're available everywhere so you can get them in shops that offer trade-up. Do you offer trade-up in your shop?

The reason I bought MJZ is very simple -- a pro violinist that I know was traveling to a place where there were several violas to choose from, and he graciously agreed to select one for me at no charge. An amazingly stress-free viola-buying experience if ever there was one. As an instrument it could be more responsive but it has a nice rich, well-balanced sound. I paid $3500. I'm learning to understand how to bow differently on the viola which is helping the responsiveness a lot. I got a couple of lessons from Joey O'Donnell that were very insightful. But you might also say it's an instrument where you have to know how to coax the sound out of it, you know, sort of like a Strad or a del Gesu.

October 11, 2017, 10:32 AM · So on another thread you're giving advice about Stradivari violins, and yourself, you own a Ming Jiang Zhu viola???
October 11, 2017, 11:09 AM · A Ming Jiand Zhu is, when it comes to value, not significant less valuable than a Blanchard workhop violin compared to a Strad.

To the original question, I can understand the urge to look for a darker violin for the second violins, like a Maggini (or a copy of one). I would take the violin you prefer in general soundwise. Good violins from normal size also have nice bottom strings and people building them take care of that. Every major violin concerto has a lot of important g string stuff going on.
If the whole section of the second violinist would have different sounding violins, some pieces would sound very strange, others might benefit.
For me a vioin bought for this reason would feel like a poor mans viola.
About the chinese violins: I am yet to play something that really convinces me and I would agree that looking at some Mirecourt or better build Schönbach would be an option I myself would propably prefer. Soundwise a old Mittenwald might be exactly what you are looking for.

Edited: October 11, 2017, 12:56 PM · To return to the OP (!) I am accustomed to switching from violin to viola; with two sets of reflexes, but I am disturbed by the smaller differences betwen two violas. My 15.75" viola has a string length of 14" corresponding to a 15.5" viola, but typical of many 15" ones. So I have set up a 15" viola as a violin for my lessons. This gives me small hands like those of my young students, and disturbs my viola playing less. Three viola strings and an E near breaking point!

So, I would suggest a narrow-bodied 15" viola as a "mezzo" violin, and a wider 15" as a viola?

Edited: October 13, 2017, 11:52 PM · The French made a lot of oversize violins, Germans less so, and I don't think you'll find too many oversize Chinese violins.

Actually Marc, I think a Blanchard workshop Mirecourt violin is well over twice the price of a Ming Jiang Zhu workshop violin and well out of its league in sound quality as well.

While I wouldn't compare my Blanchard workshop to a Strad, I would be interested in comparing it to modern violins in the $15,000 -20,000 range, I think it might hold its own. Any way mine is sold, or more correctly traded for 4 more affordable violins,

Edited: October 11, 2017, 2:53 PM · I play a larger fiddle. And I have a standard sized one. It's really hard to switch back and forth. More difficult than when I play viola or a student's 3/4 size.

I'm okay with switching back and forth with easier music, but Bach or Ysaye- forget it. I can only play the larger one (I'm used to it)

Edited to add: my larger violin is older and does not like temperature changes or cross tuning. At all.

October 11, 2017, 3:31 PM · Adrian - you might want to try a steel guitar string for that E on your viola. They are available in thinner gauges than violin E's
October 11, 2017, 4:00 PM · Can you define violin larger than 14"? Ususally all violins are that size, so you'd be looking at a viola now.
Edited: October 11, 2017, 5:03 PM · I had a five string viola with a top e, d'addario makes a viola e string long enough for a 16"viola. I got mine from Howard Core, not everyone stocks them.
October 11, 2017, 5:01 PM · 14 1/4' violins are common, 14 1/2" violins not common but sometimes.
Edited: October 11, 2017, 5:32 PM · Maggini was one of the earliest makers. He had two primary models.One was the roughly 14” size adopted by many, the other was about 1cm longer in both body and string length. Carleen Hutchins was a leader in 20th century physics research into violin design. She determined that the optimal resonance for gdae tuning is slightly longer with a plate length near 14.5” and is made by several luthiers as a mezzo violin. Many fiddlers (not my style) like the greater volume and fuller sound of the copies of Maggini instruments made in France and Germany in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, some longer, and others of traditional length. Some of the early larger Brescian instruments, both violins and violas, were cut down by later luthiers to standard size. an example of this practice is Arnold Steinhardt’s violin (ex-Guarneri Quartet) Stradivarius also made longer instruments in the 14.5” range that are darker sounding.
Edited: October 11, 2017, 5:35 PM · As to violin and viola, I switch daily and have even learned to compensate for strings that go out of tune-a practice demonstrated and advocated by Heifetz (which I have no illusions of being in the same universe of ability, much less ballpark.) That said, I highly value the experience of members of this forum and appreciate your feedback. My main concerns were the small difference issues as noted by Adrian Heath, which I too have noticed in going between violas, especially in tuning double stops and chords. Also, the playing characteristics and sound in the upper register.
October 11, 2017, 5:41 PM · My 14 1/2" "Raphael Calace" violin for what its worth has a three turn scroll, as do many Maggini copies, but no originals, I have been told. It has standard single purfling, though. You can judge for yourself if it looks like some kind of Maggini model from the pictures on my website.
October 12, 2017, 2:12 AM · Lydon of course the Blanchard is (I just assume of course as I did not play either of the violins) at least one league above the MJZ, but compared to Strat (financially) they fall pretty much so close to each other it does not matter anymore.
I actually dont like these gdae calculations, they seem to not consider players in high positions. In orchestra you need them a lot as security sometimes beats the soundcolour for amateurs and therefore you may want to stay at some high positions and go down to the lower strings instead of changing to the lower positions.
Thats what is also quite problematic with those German dark Magginis. The are usually not even across the strings if you leave 3rd psotion.
October 12, 2017, 2:31 AM · Hi

I am a Product Design at the University of Derby doing a research on challenges violinist's experience in order to design a product to help. I would appreciate it if you took a few minutes to fill in this questionnaire This is the link to the questionnaire

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October 12, 2017, 3:08 AM · This is very spammy! Just create a topic for it instead of randomly posting it everywhere!
I will not attend it for this exact reason.
October 12, 2017, 11:44 AM · Marc,thanks for the comment about the German Magginis above 3rd. Exactly the type of experienced info I am looking for. So, Lyndon, sounds like yours is ok up there?
October 12, 2017, 11:47 AM · Haven't had any complaints from performers.
October 12, 2017, 3:14 PM · I have played a maggini for 30 years and don't have whatever problem Marc is describing. As far as the top strings being a bit thin, I had my luthier do a sound post adjustment and did some string experiments and found a good fit. That's not to say that all instruments are the same though.
October 13, 2017, 8:37 PM · Sounds like an easy adjustment. Julie, what’s your string length?
October 13, 2017, 11:45 PM · Maybe it is a matter of what to compare it to and also of course specific violins are always specific.


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