Large violins for tall people

August 31, 2013 at 06:47 PM · From Laurie’s “What size does my child need?” and an earlier Blog about larger violins for taller people, is there a point where the rigidly maintained 14 inch standard (nearly mandated violin body length) becomes uncomfortable?

From research done by the Catgut Acoustical Society it is now possible for makers to create great sounding violins in sizes with larger than 14 inch bodies.

Since the golden age of violin making, people have grown taller, some to the point of getting to be too tall to be comfortable with a 14” body violin. There are many who do not want to be relegated to a viola. Carleen Hutchins’ created the gen. I 16” mezzo and Gen. II 15” mezzo violins that would fit nicely into the 6/4 and 5/4 violin sizes. Bob Spear has settled on 14 3/8" for his current mezzos because the largest percentage of people are comfortable playing that size instrument.

It is a dilemma. A small number of customers are afraid to spend money for a hand made special size instrument with an unknown outcome. And manufacturers of high grade instruments unwilling to provide larger instruments because they would move very slowly from dealers inventories.

ABL (aka the Mezzofiddler)

Replies (30)

August 31, 2013 at 08:32 PM · How well do standard violin strings work on your oversized violin?

August 31, 2013 at 09:04 PM · Maybe that's what violas are for. I'm only 6' 1", but I'm actually more comfortable with a 3/4 (13") fiddle than with a 4/4. A lot of problems are caused by details of construction and setup rather than size per se. You must have huge hands.

August 31, 2013 at 09:12 PM · An alternative solution to the problem would be to place the violin further away from the player. Construct some sort of extension that could be mounted instead of the chin rest. It would need to include something to rest on the collar bone and a chin rest. That would allow long armed players to use standard size violins without the discomfort. You simply place the violin at the distance needed.

August 31, 2013 at 11:30 PM · Allan,

What exactly is your own of discomfort (or pain)?

Is it with left or right arm, hand, elbow or shoulder?

Great violinist, James Ehnes, Leonidas Kavakos and Susanna Yoko Henkel, to name a few, have long arms and fingers... and that does not stop them from performing.

I have seen violinists with long arms and the infamous "swan neck" bowing arm - bent (and low) elbow and bent their wrist when approaching the bridge with the frog.... who still produce great sound!

I have also seen violinists with long fingers using that in their advantage, although they have to develop a creative solution, such as placing the thumb quite high.

How much a difference would an inch make? It all depends where the discomfort is coming from. Also, with longer violin body comes longer vibrating sting length; in order to keep the same amount of tension, thin or extra thin strings are a must.

On a personal note; I am 185cm with longer than average arms, but not so long fingers. Recently I started studying viola and found that, although the fingers of my left arm have to be repositioned, the right arm feels way more natural and comfortable then on the violin.

September 1, 2013 at 01:33 PM · Seraphim:

I have already encountered a small problem with the G string on my 14 ?” instrument. When new, the peg end silk of the G string was even with the intersection of the nut an fingerboard. As the string stretched and the silk receded down the curve of the nut, the silk raised the string just enough that when plucked hard, the string would have an unwanted buzz and was sympathetic with some notes on the A string creating a strange sound. Therefore, I carefully cut back the silk and all was well.

All other strings have no problem on this instrument. Super Sensitive have a line of strings to support the mezzo violins and all octet instruments as well. Currently I use the d’Addario Kaplan non-whistling E and Warchal Karnoel for the others. I plan to experiment with a Karnoel viola G next time.


I wrote this because I found two blogs interesting and felt more discussion warranted. At 5’ 7” the 14” violin is comfortable. But I have an interest in the developments from the Catgut Acoustical Society therefore the mezzo. My basic Chinese mezzo is maturing into a very satisfying instrument.


September 2, 2013 at 11:36 PM · How big were Paganini's hands?

September 3, 2013 at 02:26 AM · Interesting... It's the tallness but also the hand size. I'm quite tall but with tiny hands (just as an example) and I can struggle on a normal 4/4 because of this.

But maybe, for people with very large hands, it could work find.

I imagine they'll soon have many custumers as we all know (I think) that larger instruments are usually more powerful in terms of projection. In an audition or very competitive places, it could be a huge asset, no?

Anyway, good luck to this product :)

September 3, 2013 at 03:06 AM · What is the difference between these and say stringing up a 14 1/2" viola with the standard GDAE?

Lower ribs?

I would imagine that the tone you get out of a larger violin would be nice. Same as going up from a 3/4 to a 4/4, right? Much fuller.

But, it seems that people have been conditioned to hear the sound a 4/4 makes, haven't they? As mentioned above, if two equally skilled violinists played, one on a 4/4, one on a 5/4(?), the larger one would likely have a lot more *oomph*.

Please let us know what your experience has been with your mezzo. Seems like you are the Chuck Yeager test pilot here, tell us more! I'm quite intrigued (I'm 6'2").

September 3, 2013 at 09:49 AM · When I was a child, my father took the full size violin I had inherited from a former headmistress who had taught my mother, moved the sound post farther from the bridge and strung it up as a viola for me to learn on. It later reverted to being my violin. I fell off a stage with it, the tone-retaining, perhaps even tone-improving repair old man Nemes did on it only lasted 20 years (He had warned us not to move the sound post, we had forgotten about the warning, and the belly slowly sank), and it had to have a more extensive repair, including a new base bar, as a result of which the wonderful G-string tone I so much loved (It really came into its own in the slow movement of the Brahms D minor) was lost. But it still sounds fairly good.

However, the moral to be drawn for this discussion is not so much don't fall off stages as that the absolute physical distance between bridge and sound post may be more important than the distance relative to size.

September 3, 2013 at 10:43 AM · "From research done by the Catgut Acoustical Society it is now possible for makers to create great sounding violins in sizes with larger than 14 inch bodies."


These non-standard violins, as well as this complete family of non-standard instruments has been around for about 40 plus years now, and never really caught on with players.

September 3, 2013 at 01:49 PM · Anne,

"larger instruments are usually more powerful in terms of projection"

Projection and size are not related. If that were the case, viola and/or cello would project over the violins in a string quartet, orchestras would have 3-4 times more violins, etc...

What we sometimes forget is the history of violin making. There were numerous types of instruments in violin / viola family with more or less short life span. Current violin design is a result of evolution and constant dialogue between the makers and musicians - what did not work was abandoned, what did was in demand, produced again and survived to this day.

Stradivarius did experiment with long model, but moved away from it and designed his best violins. There are also Brescian makers, whose violins sound great, but those are not 15' long.

Violins are not shoes; there are so many parameters in design that affect the sound that it can not simply be expanded and expect to have the same sound properties.

I am not stating that anything longer than 14' can't sound good, but will it still be a violin or a completely new instrument?

September 3, 2013 at 02:03 PM · I wasn't going to get into this thread, but the day after it was originally posted there was an interesting item on Google news that in the last 200 years the average height of a man has increased by 4.3 inches. I would presume that a woman's height would have also increased proportionately. Of course, you only have to look around to see that there are still people of all sizes populating the world. From the requests I get for information about ergonomic violas, I must assume that there could very easily be a place for instruments of many sizes, and not just in the viola section, either.

One of the first things people do when they are not sure that they like something more or less new is to demonize it, and the first step in that process is the cast the newcomer(s) as "them."-- that is to say, something distinctly different than "us." I find no more force in that argument than I would find in an argument that all people should fall within a very restricted range of sizes. Codswallop, as Hagrid would say! :-)

September 3, 2013 at 02:08 PM · My Esteemed Friend David B.--

I note your comment that the New Family hasn't caught on. Since I value your opinion, would you care to offer your view as to why? Far from being argumentative, I think the question is important. It highlights a problem to which I have given much thought, and of course I have my own theories about it. However, they certainly aren't the only theories out there.

If anyone else would care to contribute their two cents' worth to this question, I would receive their thoughts and opinions gladly. So, let's see, knowing this bunch, and then multiplying their numbers by 2 (cents), I ought to be a rich man by the end of the week!

September 3, 2013 at 03:00 PM · I'm an ignorant newcomer, so take my thoughts with that in mind:

Why haven they caught on? Well, what has YOUR feedback been as the maker of these instruments?

Wouldn't a player in a local orchestra sound out of step with their fellow violin section if one were to play one if these mezzo models with everyone else on a 4/4?

As a beginner, Im pretty sure my conservatory trained teacher would scratch their head if I showed up with a 14 1/2" violin. The resale value of these instruments would also seem to be marginal as it appears to be a rather narrow niche, isnt it?

I'm interested in the concept for sure. But I also have a viola for those times I want to "go big".

September 3, 2013 at 03:15 PM · the body of stringed instrument serves as the resonating cavity for the strings, a certain size is optimal for a given range of note frequencies. From past discussions about violas it was my understanding that the optimal size for the note range of the *viola* would result in a standard-pattern instrument that could not be held comfortably under the chin & this is how things like the Rivinius models & upright violas (viola with an endpin) came about. On the other hand, the size of the standard pattern *violin* & cello are optimized to their note-ranges. Ideally I'd think the size of the player shouldn't factor into it.

September 3, 2013 at 03:33 PM · Robert,

As to why the New Family of instruments hasn't caught on, there's the immediately obvious problem of bucking tradition in an area where tradition holds a lot of currency.

There's also the aesthetic question: how do they sound? I heard the Octet not too long ago, live, and trying to be open-minded about it, my overall impression was not good. Specifically:

1) Way to many big-bodied instruments. Human hearing isn't too precise down there, so having 3 bass-like things playing at once is like heavy truck traffic... ill-defined rumble.

2) Too many much high-pitched instruments. Using two instruments pitched above the normal violin is just plain harsh and irritating after a while. To me, the highest violin notes work just fine for dramatic passage peaks... but staying in that range makes me want to head for the door.

I must admit that I was intrigued somewhat by the sound of the "alto violin", or the equivalent of the 20" viola. It sounded different and interesting. That is the only instrument of the group that I though might have a future.

Bottom line: there is no particular reason that mathematically-derived instruments should please the hearing and get positive emotional response from humans. Interesting experiment, but I found little reason to switch over from the traditional instruments.

September 3, 2013 at 04:40 PM · I'm a monster at 6'5" 220 lbs and do just fine-a-roo with my petite full size violin...

September 3, 2013 at 08:37 PM · Rocky, you said "projection and size are not related. If that were the case, viola and/or cello would project over the violins in a string quartet, orchestras would have 3-4 times more violins, etc..."

Maybe but when I though of trying 3/4, my maker and violin teacher told me that it would sound nice but smaller and would not have the same projection as a 4/4.

What you said about a quartet is very interesting but could it be the same reason we hear a single picolo over many trumpets, sax, drums etc. It's maybe just because they have a different voice (rather than projection) and high pitch voices are very different from the base ones.

Anyway, I'm no physicist, I just tell what people told me (I may be wrong too :)


September 3, 2013 at 10:48 PM · Some of you guys seem to be working in a vacuum, I get oversize violins all the time, up to 14 1/2" with scales longer than 330mm, also really short scale instruments, even though the instrument is full size, the modern standard is just that; MODERN, people were experimenting more with size 100 or more years ago.

September 4, 2013 at 01:09 PM · Thanks for your input, Don Nelson.

If you have a minute or two free, try this (copy and paste the link) and let me know what you think. Listen and watch in the highest possible resolution; the clip is best heard with good speakers or headphones. Bear in mind the orchestra is a volunteer group of mixed abilities.

September 4, 2013 at 01:14 PM ·

>>Wouldn't a player in a local orchestra sound out of step with their fellow violin section if one were to play one if these mezzo models with everyone else on a 4/4?


Not at all, Seraphim-- My experience has been mostly the opposite. The fourth-generation instruments nicely complement the standard orchestra instruments. Except for the alto, which is obviously different visually, most of the other New Family Instruments add much more to the overall sound than any distractions they might offer.

If you'd like see and hear a clip, visit the link I posted in my response to Don. There are many others there as well, if you like what you hear.

Thanks for your comments.

September 4, 2013 at 03:42 PM · Robert,

In the larger orchestral setting of your link, if I didn't know beforehand, I wouldn't know it was anything other than standard instruments.

In a nutshell, my view is that the New Family is a solution to a problem that exists almost exclusively on paper, in the form of matching frequency range and body resonances. The listener doesn't care about the numbers, only what it sounds like.

The viola, as I mentioned previously, might be the exception, where having a larger body and vertical playing arrangement have some practical and acoustic differences that some (well, at least me) might consider to be good. It's voice is pretty well lost in the recording, though.

September 4, 2013 at 05:09 PM · Anne,

About "projection"; please watch the interview with James Ehnes @ Homage DVD.

He mentioned something like, that a good projecting violin will be heard, even if played piano, equally well in the first and the last raw of the audience.

It is difficult to explain, but perhaps the well-projecting instrument has a lots of "consonants", or the saturation of certain number of overtones that accompany a solid fundamental frequency.


I listened the Holberg suite; if I am not mistaken, the sound got "averaged" - treble and bass is missing and all went toward the mid-range.

Some listeners will find this more pleasing to their ears, or just a bit refreshing from the usual.

Not my cup of tea.

I wonder if the whole "movement" toward the "4th generation" (what are the other 3 generations?) is more an attempt to be different, than to find a true ergonomic solution. It is way more challenging to be unique in interpretation and style, than by using special instruments.

By the way, the chairs are still standard, and so are the bows ;)

September 5, 2013 at 12:09 AM · Don and Rocky--

YouTube audio and video is heavily compressed with lossy coding at lower resolutions, plus the audio engineer who recorded the group and mixed the tracks afterward is very fond of analog tube compressors. I think Rocky noticed. :-) Perhaps the link I sent was not the best introduction.Try this one, recorded and mixed by a different engineer. Don, I don't think you'll have trouble hearing the altos this time!

September 5, 2013 at 02:01 AM · Robert,

I know you and others have invested a huge amount of time and effort on this project, but I can't honestly say it does anything for me. Even the alto violin, which I think is the only one with a significantly different voice, in the end it is just a different voice, neither better or worse than the traditional viola. Just different. I can't see any reason to switch over from the standard instruments, and plenty of reasons NOT to.

But getting back to the original thread...

A larger violin is sometimes preferred for a deeper voice, particularly in fiddle circles. Then there's 5-string violins, which can take the form of a 5-string violin or 5-string small viola, depending on what voice you want. Classical musicians are probably more inhibited about this kind of variation, though.

September 5, 2013 at 02:50 AM · ok... you made me pull out the old, dusty an heavy Serbo-Croatian edition of "La musique - les hommes, les instruments, les ouevres" by Librairie Larousse 1965, 1979, 1980.

In book one, on page 387 there are 14 different instruments, all members of the violin family, with various body sizes and number of strings:

1. pocket and little "French" violins (pochette?) 21cm

2. "violino piccolo" 26.5 cm

3. "violino piccolo" used in Bach's music size n/a

4. quinton 35 cm

5. sopran violin (also called "quinte") 35-36cm

6. counter-alto viola 40-41cm

7. tenor viola (also called "quinte") 48-53cm

8. violoncello piccolo 60cm

9. "viola pomposa" 50cm

10. violoncello 75cm

11. little bass-violin 80cm

12.bass violin 85 cm

13. Quint Bass 110cm

14. double bass 120-140cm

Help yourself!

September 5, 2013 at 05:39 AM · It would be great to have a larger violin not because to suit taller persons but also with the intention to make the soound deeper or like viola but still perfectly a violin.

September 5, 2013 at 08:55 PM · My 5th violin is like that. When I showed it and the four before it to a blind violinist, he liked the first four. When he played that one he said, "This one sounds like a viola." He did NOT like it.

September 6, 2013 at 02:03 PM · I am 6'3" and 230-ish. I have two violins and a remarkable Chinese 14.5" viola from Song (Tieling). The viola, even at just a half inch longer than the others, introduces a bit of pitchiness that I'm not used to - I really have to be on my toes to keep the notes on pitch. But I just love the deep rich sound it makes. I put Evah Pirazzi viola strings on thinking it needed high tension to make the wood really hum, but I'm probably going to replace them with Obligato's soon, as they are, well, viola strings and I'm a fiddler, and its tough to scratch a good reel on viola strings. Maybe I'm just clumsy. But no matter - I love my instrument.

September 25, 2013 at 03:59 PM · Dear Robert

Hagrid would probably use a larger size violin if it were available.

I find it strange that it is good thing for little kids to play little violins but that it is a bad thing for big people to play big violins.

Marty Us

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