16.5 Inch Vs 15.5 Inch Viola

November 7, 2012 at 07:41 PM · I was using a 16.5 rental viola from Shar Concert and got quite used to the sound although it was too big for me to handle properly. Fingerings were hard.

So my new Gliga Gama 15.5 came in and although I love it. It just doesn't seem to project like the 16.5 (even with old strings because I didn't like the Dominants the Gliga came with). The poor Shar Concert is pretty ugly but it has a nice sound (very warm).

Is this normal for 1 inch to make a differnce in warmth and projection? I guess it makes sense. Or should I suspect the Gliga and send it back (got 7 days to make up my mind). Makes me want to also buy the 16.5 for slower pieces where I have enough time to get my fingers where they need to be.

Replies (20)

November 7, 2012 at 07:58 PM · As a general rule, the smaller you go, the more you give up in terms of depth and projection. It's a little like the probability of getting a full-bodied concert sound out of a half or three-quarter size violin.

I don't even make anything smaller than a 16 inch, because I believe there are too many compromises involved.

November 7, 2012 at 08:05 PM · I agree with David...you just seem to lose too much of the sound quality that makes a viola 'magical' when you go smaller. I can manage a 16" (I'm average height). Maybe that's a better compromise than a 15.5"?

November 7, 2012 at 09:21 PM · Yea unfortunately my stubby fingers seem to work well on the 15.5. I think 15.5 is the correct size for me.

Oh well it still sounds great. Just like that big viola sound. Maybe Ill keep the 16.5 around. Although it gets painful after a while.

Thanks for the advise.

November 7, 2012 at 09:44 PM · I found even 1/2 inch makes a big difference. Maybe you could tolerate a 16?

November 7, 2012 at 09:58 PM · When I swapped my 16.25 for a 15.5, I bought a viola with an unusually wide lower bout, and paid quite a bit more for it. The smaller one has a dandy sound and is very responsive.

November 7, 2012 at 10:09 PM · I was just thinking that but I didn't know they made them.

A 16.5 bout with a 15.5 fingerboard would be Awesome.

November 7, 2012 at 10:32 PM · "Yea unfortunately my stubby fingers seem to work well on the 15.5. I think 15.5 is the correct size for me.

Oh well it still sounds great. Just like that big viola sound. Maybe Ill keep the 16.5 around. Although it gets painful after a while."


If it's a matter of hand size, more than arm reach, a 16 or 16.5 inch can be made with a shorter string length, along the lines of a 15.5 inch. This gives up less sound than reducing the size of the entire instrument.

November 7, 2012 at 10:51 PM · So we're talking custom made instruments right? I believe that's probably out of my price range. That's why the Gliga.

Maybe some day.

November 8, 2012 at 01:01 AM · There are smaller, less expensive violas with wider, lower bouts. Shar sells small-size, Tertis-model violas with wide lower bouts.

November 8, 2012 at 01:22 AM · There is much more variability in viola model size than in violin. That's why, if it's at all possible, you need to try various instruments. there are some easier-to-play 16" or even 16.25" violas, some hard to play 15.5" and some small violas with awesome sound and projection. You do need to keep an eye open and try things.

Every viola is a compromise, acoustically, and some compromises are more successful than others. But playing a viola that is too large means you WILL have trouble down the road. That I can promise you.

November 8, 2012 at 04:02 AM · don't settle, keep looking. There are smaller instruments out there with the big viola sound you want.

November 8, 2012 at 01:10 PM · Hmmm I'm really enjoying the fingering on the 15.5. Truth be told its still a stretch for me (injured 4th finger, moutain bike accident) so I just don't think a 16 will work. But as I have learned I can get a bigger bout viola hopefully.

Ok all- thanks for all the great tips!! I can see selecting a viola that you love is an adventure. I didn't realize there were so many options out there, thanks for pointing that out to me. I've noticed when playing the viola you have to feel it. I love to get lost in those beautiful low vibrations. When I pick up my Eastman violin I just cant seem to get the sound to come out like the viola does. Anyway online doesn't appear to be the way to do it. I should probably schedule a trip to a shop (closest one is about 4 hours away).

I should probably go write a beginners guide after I'm done with this.

November 8, 2012 at 05:04 PM · "If it's a matter of hand size, more than arm reach, a 16 or 16.5 inch can be made with a shorter string length, along the lines of a 15.5 inch. This gives up less sound than reducing the size of the entire instrument.".

Mr. Burgess,

what is involved in reducing the string length?

November 8, 2012 at 05:41 PM · Kit, there are many ways, but one of the most accepted is to design the viola around a shorter-than-standard neck. This could also involve thicknessing the instrument differently so it functions well with the bridge set closer to the scroll. A different location for the bridge will be needed if one wants to maintain the "standard" ratio between neck length, and total string length.

There are also quicker and dirtier ways, like just moving the bridge toward the upper nut, or cutting some off the small end of the fingerboard so the upper nut can move closer to the bridge, or combinations of those two. Sometimes those types of methods can work out pretty well too, at least for some instruments and some players.

November 8, 2012 at 08:18 PM · One compromise that works surprisingly well: Ed Maday made a small Brescian-influenced viola for my wife that has very high ribs and a relatively monstrous arch in the back. It's noticeably less than 16" long (I forget exactly how much) but with all that air volume it does sound surprisingly like a viola.

November 8, 2012 at 09:59 PM · Gliga violins tend to come with crap setups. I played on a Gliga violin for five years, and even did my conservatory auditions on one - but it wasn't even halfway playable until I had a good bridge and post put on it.

November 9, 2012 at 12:58 AM · Any viola is basically an attempt to make up for body size deficiencies, compared to a violin or cello, and their pitch ranges.

We grow accustomed to these deficiencies, and a sound standard for violas comes out of that.

If we could start with a clean slate, what should a viola sound like? A solo cello played on the top two strings? A violin played on the bottom string? Other options? Or are we doing OK with the wide variability we have already?

November 9, 2012 at 02:24 AM · Mike:

On your adventure, you should open the Singing Woods Violin web site and read about Bob Spear's work on violas. Possibly out of your budget, but I think that knowledge is your quest. Bob has developed a line of ergonomic violas and in addition to his hand made instruments is making available Chinese ergonomic violas made to his design and specifications.

My instrument is a mezzo violin made to Bob's design and specification and, for the price, I consider it an excellent instrument. Without that consideration it is still very good.


November 9, 2012 at 06:08 PM · Thanks Allan

I will check out that website.

I've heard of the Mezzos but never saw one first hand.

If I wouldn't have made that A/B comparison with the 16.5 I'd be happily playing the 15.5 and not knowing the difference. Buttttttt I do love searching and learning.


November 10, 2012 at 06:40 PM · Ok final update.

I was really planning on sending the 15.5 Gliga back. After seeing posts that the Gligas are not set up well I fit new soundpost and carved a new bridge. I am amazed at the difference. Sound volume is still not as great as the 16.5 but what I have now is the warmest sweetest sounding viola in a size that I actually enjoy playing. No pain and I love the sound. So I'm keeping it. Thanks all!!!!!

This discussion has been archived and is no longer accepting responses.

Facebook Twitter YouTube Instagram Email

Violinist.com is made possible by...

Shar Music
Shar Music

Pirastro Strings
Pirastro Strings

JR Judd Violins
JR Judd Violins

Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases
Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases

2023 Authenticate LA: Los Angeles Violin Shop
2023 Authenticate LA

Violinist.com Shopping Guide
Violinist.com Shopping Guide


Metzler Violin Shop

Southwest Strings

Bobelock Cases

Johnson String Instrument/Carriage House Violins

Jargar Strings

Bay Fine Strings Violin Shop



Los Angeles Violin Shop


String Masters

Nazareth Gevorkian Violins

Laurie's Books

Discover the best of Violinist.com in these collections of editor Laurie Niles' exclusive interviews.

Violinist.com Interviews Volume 1
Violinist.com Interviews Volume 1, with introduction by Hilary Hahn

Violinist.com Interviews Volume 2
Violinist.com Interviews Volume 2, with introduction by Rachel Barton Pine