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Mendy Smith

Viol......a shopping

January 25, 2006 at 5:56 AM

After 28 years of playing the viola that I've had since I was 12 or so, I'm *finally* struggling with the decision to buy a new instrument. Believe it or not, my 15" viola is not too small. It must have been huge for me when my parents got it for me all those years ago.

I've been toying, not too seriously, about getting a new instrument for about a year now after taking lessons up again after a 10 year break. It was only at the end of my lesson tonight after some discussion with my teacher that really got me thinking.

I got the "you are now playing beyond what your instrument can do for you" discussion. We talked a bit about what kind of set-up changes we could do on what I have now (found out the bridge is too thick and the tail piece is too long. Then we took a look again at the size - about right at 15", then we compared the length of our arms (she plays a 16"). Our arm lengths were the same, so she let me play her instrument a bit. WOW!!!! Ok, she payed over $14K for hers, but WOW!!!! I almost ran out the room with it, never to turn back.

So, I'm at a dilema - do I get work done on my existing instrument or "upgrade"?
Argh! I hate decisions like these. My current viola was bought by my parents for me in the late '70's and paid about $500 for it back then. It is an older early 1900's E. Martin Copy of a strad (aren't they all!?!) Good instrument with alot of memories. A new set-up just may bring it's voice out more. But then, with violas - bigger is better, and I can play a 16".

I could with a sound mind and no regrets pay about $5K for a new instrument, give or take. The only plans I have professionally with music is as a possible retirement job teaching or playing in a small town orchestra or quartet to finally do something I enjoy rather than doing something to bring in a paycheck. I love playing and do get frustrated with the sound. I was a bit elated to find out that a good portion of that was because I was out-playing my instrument (the tool not the user :) )

I really don't like spending money over the internet - a bit paranoid about it, but have a short list of places to visit and shop around. My teacher is happy to spend my money for me, so I have a partner in crime so to speak...

Ishfin - Berkley
Scott Coa Violins - Campbell
Heany Violins - Mountain View
David Morse Violins - Soquel
Kamimoto Strings - San Jose

Any of you lurking in the Bay Area - if you know additional places to check out, let me know.

From Pauline Lerner
Posted on January 25, 2006 at 7:48 AM
Mendy, please read or re-read Karin Lin's blog about shopping for a new bow. We all encouraged her to get a good one. Buy the best that you can afford. You're not being disloyal to your parents. You'll have two good violas instead of one. Your teacher sounds like a perfect support person. Go for it!
From Neil Cameron
Posted on January 25, 2006 at 4:00 PM
Seems like a good list to me.

One word of caution though. If you've been playing a 15" for so long be careful switching up to a 16". Make the change gradually as there is some chance of injury/soreness involved.

Besides the old "bigger is louder/deeper/better" isn't always true. Mind you I switched from a 16" rental to a 16.5" when I bought my viola. :)


From Karin Lin
Posted on January 25, 2006 at 6:47 PM
Just to be perfectly clear, I didn't spend what I could afford, but rather what I felt comfortable paying (which was more than my original budget). And I agree with Pauline, you don't have to get rid of your current instrument. It sounds like you're doing everything right, so good luck!

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