5-string violin/viola

October 28, 2007 at 07:23 PM · Has anyone tried any of the 5-string violin/violas that are out there? How is the C-string and E-string sound on these instruments? Are there any reputable makers? What would be the price range?

Replies (34)

October 28, 2007 at 07:59 PM · I haven't tried it myself, but I know of an instrument made by Friedrich Alber (Montpellier) made for the French violist Pierre Henri Xuereb. I heard this instrument used in a recital some time ago. It's called a "grand' viola" and is basically a viola with the E string added. There's a description on Pierre Henri Xuereb's website (in French) which says that the table is thicker to support the extra tension, and the string spacing is closer to that of a violin with bridge wider than that of a normal viola (48mm).

October 29, 2007 at 12:37 PM · Mr Alber currently has a 5 string viola for sale in his workshop in Montpellier. The body length is 41.5cm. The C string has a very interesting sound as the added E string, when acting as a sympatheic resonator, reinforces more of the upper partials. The E string is quite close to the sound of a violin E string. This model is sold for slightly more than the price of a regular viola. Mr Alber's instruments are used by professional musicians in French orchestras.

October 29, 2007 at 04:31 PM · Nigel, thank you for your input. I appreciate your feedback. I am always fascinated by the different innovations out there.

October 29, 2007 at 08:47 PM · Beware Chinese 5-strings on ebay. The two I have purchased were four string violas with a fifth peg hole drilled in the peg box and five notches in the nut and in the bridge. That means that the strings are too close together (by about 25%) and that the curvature of the bridge is not sufficient to allow proper angle differentiation between strings (meaning that if you barely lift or drop your elbow even the slightest bit, you are suddenly playing double stops instead of on only one string). A TRUE five-string (while their strings MAY be SLIGHTLY closer than a four-stringer) will have enough space that you can still play double stops such as F-nat with the 2nd finger on the D string and B-nat with the 3rd finger on the G string without having the 3rd finger block BOTH strings, dampening the F-nat.

October 29, 2007 at 09:16 PM · I have a 5-string viola made by Peter Michaels of Yonkers, NY.

It's not professional quality, but it is good enough to suit my purposes, for now.

It's string spacing, arch, and neck width are comfortable to play. It's a 16.5 size viola body with an E string added. I find that the E has more depth and less of a whiney tone compared to all of the violins I have played. The longer scale length gives the G string more tension and a smoother tone. The C string has about the same tension as a G on a 4/4 violin.

Violin was my first instrument, but playing the bass (both arco and pizz) seems to be my true calling. For those times when I play fiddle, I find the 5-string viola gives me a nice range without losing too much of the low-end availability.

October 29, 2007 at 10:45 PM · I made one years ago for Stephan Dudash. It's a small size, so doesn't have the C string depth when used acoustically that I like to make in a larger viola.

He currently plays "gypsy jazz" with the John Jorgenson Quintet, so it's mic'd, bringing back the C string punch.

An amazing group, if you ever get a chance to hear them, even if you are skeptical about liking this kind of music. (I was)

LINK TO JORGENSON QUINTET

And here's a Youtube:

CLICK

October 29, 2007 at 10:26 PM · Depends on which style you are looking for... Elec or acoustic?

October 29, 2007 at 10:53 PM · I thank everyone for their replies. In response to James' question, I was looking for info about acoustic instruments.

October 29, 2007 at 10:53 PM · Wood's "Viper" model electric fiddle comes with up to 7 strings, and optional frets!! Never tried one though. Here's the website:

http://www.woodviolins.com/

(finally it's cool to play the violin! lol thanks Mark)

October 30, 2007 at 09:29 AM · I play an acoustic 5-string made by Barry Dudley of Monroe GA. It is a wonderful instrument. He has a website www.barrydudley.com ...he is a great guy to work with too.

David Blackmon

October 30, 2007 at 04:04 PM · Darol Anger has begun a new web site devoted entirely to Five String Violins. The site includes an article reviewing the instruments of several luthiers currently creating 5-string violins, an article on playing a 5-string, links to makers and players, and a forum.

Also, Gary Bartig (my husband!) designs and sells a very affordable 5-string violin called the Dahlia 5. Check out the info at our website, G. Edward Lutherie.

October 30, 2007 at 06:48 PM · Harriet,

That Darol Anger site has links to the two luthiers I was going to recommend: Martin Brunkalla and Jonathan Cooper. I played on a Brunkalla 4 string fiddle for a few years and it did well. He usually comes to the Joe Val Bluegrass Festival in the Boston area in February.

Cooper is more expensive but has a lot of fans and might be worth the drive up to Maine to see.

Clayton

October 30, 2007 at 07:03 PM · I play a Jonathan Cooper 'Signature' violin and I love it !

A guess for one of his 5strings = $11,000

Go to his site and e-mail him for the cost.

October 31, 2007 at 04:31 AM · I am impressed with the feedback I got. Thanks to everyone. Just another question: those of you who are players or know of players, did you find a smooth transition between the conventional instrument v. the 5 string instrument?

April 17, 2011 at 10:34 AM ·

I have played a five string for about 5-6 years now but i don't remember having any particular difficulty with the change. my only warning is that in about a year or so you won't be able to imagine not playing a five string. i still play viola (four string) but i don't have a 4 string fiddle at all. they feel so claustrophobic when your used to the C.

i'm looking at getting a new 5 string and Jon cooper has been recommended any one else i should look at? thanks above for actually answering the price question it's so hard to find!

April 17, 2011 at 04:35 PM ·

Would not a 5-string viola generally be a better proposition than a 5-string violin, then? I would guess so because the viola is designed to produce low frequencies that the violin inherently cannot manage very well – the fundamental frequencies of notes below C on the G-string of the violin are comparatively weak.

April 17, 2011 at 08:10 PM ·

Trevor,

With an acoustic instrument, both are trade-offs.  Violas don't give as much life to the e string, which then effects all 5 strings.  It still sounds like, well, like a viola.  (insert your favorite joke here.)

Some 5-string violins are being made with slightly modified body sizes, and a corresponding f-hole dimension to alter the Heimholtz resonance.  Barry Dudley makes what I consider to be one of the best, though I come from a mostly non-classical point of view, so....

The best 5 sting, in some ways, is an electric, since the body dimension are much less influential.

 

C string on a violin?   They are a little flubby, you hae to be careful how you play them.  So far the best I have found is the Vision violin C.  It's massively better than the Helicore violin-C that came with my instrument, though I am still searching.   Problem is, those are the only 2 C's purpose-made for violin.  The other choices are all 1/2 & 3/4 gauge viola C's.  High on my "to try" list is Spirocore.   

April 18, 2011 at 08:42 AM ·

allan is right. though now there are makers like jon cooper who are making "violas" that actually have a string length of a fiddle. but they a a slightly longer and broader body. this must ave been deemed the the least compromising compromise :P

April 19, 2011 at 03:09 PM ·

Ben, that's an interesting comment. My orchestral violin, which is certainly early 19th century and possibly late 18th century, has bouts that are slightly wider than normal, slightly deeper ribs, and a slightly longer body (all of which means it's a close fit in its case), but the playing length is standard. The Eudoxa G string gives a very satisfactory deeper sound than most others I've heard in my orchestra. There's an image of that violin on my profile, but you can't glean much from the lo-res photo.

April 20, 2011 at 12:23 PM ·

http://www.jcooperviolinmaker.com/instrument_gallery/details.asp?InstrumentID=9

this is a link to jon coopers page on fivestrings. he uses a particular traditional viola model which when reproduced smaller than usual gives a string length of a violin.

is this anything like yours? it's also a model used for violins but is applicable because it has the bridge places unusually high.

April 20, 2011 at 05:09 PM ·

Ben, it's difficult to compare from the image on your link, but here are some dimensions of my old violin:
Length 360mm
Upper bout 167mm
Lower bout 210mm
Waist 113mm
Ribs 40mm
Nut–F-hole notches (at bridge) 330mm

And for comparison here are the corresponding figures for my Jay Haide (which are identical to those of the "Empress Catherine" Strad of 1708, apparently):
Length 356mm
Upper bout 165mm
Lower bout 205mm
Waist 109mm
Ribs 38mm
Nut–F-hole notches (at bridge) 327mm

April 20, 2011 at 08:38 PM ·

Cooper's 5-string are 15,000 and there's a 3 year wait. Silikowski's (played by Brittany Haas and Casey Driessen) comparable in sound, price and wait time. I play a John Sullivan 5-string - there are only 2 in existence and they are both wonderful, but sadly Sullivan passed away from esophageal cancer (partially caused by his long years as a luthier) 4 years ago.

Darol Anger has been talking about this guy Barry Dudley lately who makes very nice 5-strings for around 6,000 - really reasonable.

April 20, 2011 at 08:41 PM ·

Also - strings - For cheap, D'addario makes a 5-string set. For Spirocore (awesome!) get a 14 inch viola C for a 5-string violin - that sounds the best. Luthiers are really figuring it out now, too and I have played many 5-strings that sounds like a good viola on the C and a great violin on the G and above.

April 20, 2011 at 09:53 PM ·

 I have a couple of Barry Dudley's 5-strings and they are both excellent. I was actually the impetus for Barry to start making 5-string violins. I have his 1st 5-string and his 10th one. He is well over 40 instruments the last time I talked with him. 

April 20, 2011 at 09:59 PM ·

David,

My friend Zeb Bowles just showed me pictures of the one he is having built. He is pretty excited. My curiousity is piqued. As devoted as I am to my 5-string, it would be lovely to have another with a different timbre,if I could afford it.

April 20, 2011 at 10:17 PM ·

 I let Zeb borrow my Dudley 5-string a while back......I think that is what got him hooked. I really like the Spirocore viola C as well. They last much longer and sound better to me.

April 20, 2011 at 11:33 PM ·

 David,

 

Which Spiracore are you referring to (scale length & thickness) and compared to what?

 

Re Barry Dudley. Note that I also mentioned him, above.  I think he's the go-to guy right now.  He also experiments with different woods.  He made one in walnut that was really impressive.  Rich & throaty.

April 20, 2011 at 11:46 PM ·

 I have been using the Spirocore 14.5 in. Mittel. That  is how it is listed on Thomastiks web site. I have heard of getting the Spirocore for 1/2 size viola too but I have not been able to find one. I have not had any problems with the std. Spirocore so far and I have been using them for 3-4 years now.

April 21, 2011 at 01:36 PM ·

Hi again,

I contacted Jon cooper about a 5string but sadly i have gradually begun to realise the implication of a very necessary trip to his workshop to try the instrument out (several thousand miles away) and the enormous import tax that i would have to manage as well. sadly, living in England that doesn't seem like a goer.

However, I have instead asked a local luthier to make me one. He is a Viol maker and restorer and currently produces world class instruments for many authentic baroque/renaissance music players around the world. I have also been offered the opportunity to watch and help him make the instrument. this is much more than i had hoped for! if anybody would be very interested, I may be able to post a kind of blog about the progress of this instrument - maybe on my myspace? of course with his permission and depending on how he feels detail and specific measurements may be limited.

let me know

Ben

also thanks trevor for your most detailed reply - much appreciated

April 22, 2011 at 09:01 PM ·

THere is a fellow in belgium making viola pomposa right now - they are beautiful and strange:

http://www.janvanlandeghem.be/5stringViolin.html

April 23, 2011 at 12:51 AM ·

 Ben, I think you're making a huge mistake having someone build you a 5 string who has never done so before.  

You'd better at least have "right of refusal."

April 23, 2011 at 03:37 PM ·

I just bought a 5 string from Bradley Higgins, he lives in Hartford, NY near Lake George. He really knows his craft well. He has many endorsements from well know players such as Natalie MacMaster, Jo Nardolillo, Erin Leahy, Donnell Leahy, Daire Bracken, Sara Milonovich, Kimberly Doerfel and even Vassar Clements had one. Brad Higgins uses many woods for his instruments and he builds 4 or 5 strings in either traditional shapes or Chanot styles.He builds his own pickups into the bridge for plugging in if desired, His prices are very reasonable ( $3000.-$5000.) and you don't have to wait 3 years. I ordered mine on January 3rd and picked it up on April 14th. Less than 4 months. I have an extremely fine grained Cedar top and Sapele sides and back. It is beautifully bound with Maple, I have the Bradivarius ll model with a deeper arched back  the sound is awesome plugged or unplugged. His website has all info and many photos www.bradivarius.com  If anyone lives near my area in South Jersey they can try mine. I play at Albert Music Hall in Waretown www.alberthall.org  every Saturday night. Just stop by and I'd be glad to show it off. It is really awesome.

April 24, 2011 at 07:16 PM ·

Allan while i would certainly agree with you normally - in this case i can't. this man is a luthier genious who makes the most increadible instruments for a living and sells his instruments all over the world. also he is a complete perfectionist and i have every confidence that if is not happy with the 5 string he will just make another one.

thanks for your concern though :)

March 12, 2013 at 02:53 PM · Ben, you must have your new instrument by now. How did it turn out? Any chance of posting photos?

Cheers Carlo

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