I have succumbed to the dark side and am considering purchasing a viola. As a small adult, the only size that works for me is a 14". In fact, three different teachers have told me I should really consider a 13" viola instead, but 14 is as small as I'm willing to go.
I will have to get a case for the instrument, but I'm not finding any that appeal to me for that size. Can a 14" viola fit in a full-size violin case, or will the ribs be too deep?
I put a large blob of blue-tack on the bridge, shut the lid very slowly, then see how much the blob is squashed. The bridge should never ever touch the lid. Ever.
Short answer, no, the ribs are too deep.
On a related note, one of the local violin shops here is notorious for putting viola strings on full-size violins and renting the resultant mongrel out to students as a fractional viola. Drives me crazy.
I've seen a lot of that kind of mongrel. Finding a 14" viola that isn't a pure waste of time is proving to be a huge obstacle.
I have a violin that sounds better as a viola than a violin. In fact, it sounds better than many of the cheap violas that you hear in school orchestras. Deeper rib is not the answer to making a small viola sound semi-decent.
Krista, I agree with Rocky. I'm 5'4" and found a 15" viola that didn't give me tendonitis after 20 minutes. That became my standard of measurement. If it just feels big but doesn't hurt, you'll probably get used to it. At least take one home and try it. Good luck!
Deeper ribs, wider bouts (all three), and higher-arched thinner plates, even softer-grained wood, can all help.
One can have a pleasant, warm tone, but lacking the power of a larger viola. 15" with a vibrating string length of a violin can work, but probably custom made or adapted.
Adrian, thanks for your suggestion. Something with the vibrating string length of a violin would probably work if the neck were sufficiently thin enough, but it may be out of the range I'm willing to spend for a side interest. Violin remains my primary focus. However, if anyone has suggestions for something of that nature under $2K, I would certainly entertain them.
What kind of viola sound are you looking for? At 14", your chance of finding a viola that has a tenor viola sound is virtually zero. If you can put up with a viola that sounds almost like a violin on the top three strings, then a restrung violin could (but not always) work. I have heard 14" violas (not restrung violins) that sound like tin cans. So if you already have a very nice violin, restring it as a viola and see if its sound is approximately what you can tolerate. Your quest then goes from there. BTW, can you play tenths and fingered octaves on the violin?
I can play tenths and fingered octaves on the violin, but mine is a fractional so that plays into the equation.
I would use violin G, D and A, to have sufficient tension, and a Spirocore C
Krista, go back to the viola discussions from this past Spring and look for my posting on buying a viola. You might find some ideas. I almost bought a used Eastman that my luthier would have shaved the neck on, but she refused to change the nut. (I'm not sure if that's the only way to shorten the string length, or not.) The J Haide violas in your price range are nice for the money. I never did get to try one smaller than 15.25" though.
Shortening the string length by 1cm can be done by
- cutting 5mm off the far end of the fingerboard and advancing the nut (without shortening the neck);
- moving the bridge and sound post forwardby 5mm.
Reversing the changes will need a new fingerboard.
For easy access to the low strings I set up to have a 45° tilt on the viola (vs 30° on the violin)
My issue is not so much on finger-reach, but in the length (or lack thereof) of my arm. It's why I play a fractional violin. On a 15 inch viola, with my arm straight, my fingers just reach the end of the scroll without wrapping around. In first position, there's very little bend in my arm, making playing anything on the C string a struggle.
...and so does
Another weird solution would be to create a special nut and thus shorten the strings, just like guitar players do with the Capo!
The shorter the string, the thicker it must be to compensate for shortness.
Yet another would be to have a rather short neck and keep string long enough by moving the bridge South (as seen on some Baroque paintings), but here we enter the fuzzy realm of non-standard instruments, difficult to sell. Also, playing in high positions would become challenging.
Whichever exotic combination you choose, it would make very challenging to switch back to a standardized violin.
Welcome to viola world, where comfort often clashes with sound quality!
I wonder why I didn't see the Sabatier at The Sound Post last time I was there though I did see a viola with a slimmer right side.
Mr Sabatier has been "my" luthier for the past 30 years in Paris.
The 3-cornered "melted" violas sound like violas, even the 13" or 14" ones. They sell well here in France, and I believe abroad too.
I have one of his 2-cornered ones, inspired by the Da Salo "lyra-viola" in the Ashmolean Museaum, Oxford. 15-3/4", with a string length of only 14". Warm and powerful tone across the whole range.
Adrian, I assume this is what you mean by 3 cornered viola:
now, how the heck do I look up the 2 cornered viola? I'm intrigued. Although I'm contempt with my violin, I'm fascinated by other string instruments.
Google: lyra viola, ashmolean; or quinton (viola with extra high E); or bernard sabatier luthier.
He doesn't seem to need to advertise.
When I find how to insert photos (at my age!) I'll show mine.
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October 3, 2015 at 08:08 PM · you already answered your question: the difference is not the length, but the depth of fractional viola.
The makers typically compensate the shortness of the viola's body with the hight of the ribs (and sometimes with the wider body), in their attempt to have at least some more air volume inside.
Apply a bit of chalk on the top of the bridge and carefully close the lid - open it and if there is transfer (traces of the chalk on the inner side of the lid), the case is too low.
Another potential source of damage are bow holders, if they touch the top of viola.
p.s. there are violas closer to 15 inch body, with smaller vibrating string length and still decent sound. Do not give up easily!