New violas - 17

January 19, 2016 at 03:54 PM · I'm currently searching for a viola, with a budget of up to £2000.

The largest instruments that I have tried so far were both 16.5", and having played these, I felt that I could comfortably cope with a larger instrument (I am tall, with proportionally long arms, and even larger hands).

I'm therefore interested in trying some 17" and 17.5" models to see what they feel and sound like. I'm keeping a watch on the local second-hand market in case any interesting instruments turn up, but these sizes seem to be relatively rare!

However, I'm open-minded about purchasing a new instrument, if the sound and quality is right, but have found that many of the Chinese instruments aren't produced in that kind of size (as an example the largest Jay Haide viola appear to be 16 7/8).

So - does anyone have any recommendations for new instruments within my price range that are available in those sizes?

Replies (25)

January 19, 2016 at 05:51 PM · Have you stopped to consider that there might be a reason why they don't make anything over 16 7/8?

Violas 17" and over are difficult to sell. Yes, they sound wonderful (at that size how could it not!).

It will cause you pain, and regardless of your size, playing it will eventually injure you, and you will find that it is difficult to re-sell.

Most shops have at least one large viola that they have taken in trade that they can't get rid of! Ask around. We usually keep them in the back room because there isn't a case in the shop that will fit them! We will most likely say something like, "I've got one, but I need to set it up." Translation: It's been gathering dust for a while and i need to put new strings on it and clean it up. A 1/10 cello case works fine...

Ask around. You can probably find something nice that is discounted because of the size.

January 19, 2016 at 06:39 PM · I didn't understand Duane's comment that the viola would cause pain regardless of the player's size. While I respect his experience regarding the relatively low demand for such instruments, maybe that's just because there aren't that many NBA players who take up the viola in their retirement...

January 19, 2016 at 07:16 PM · Yitamusic on EBay sells 17" and 17.5" violas all the time.

I have one of each and they sound great.

Or you can try violinslover.com they sell Romanian made Gliga violas in large sizes as well. 7 day free trial. They are based in CA, so returns would not be as expensive as shipping back to China (which I have also done, Yitamusic does have a money back as well, just not the shipping)

January 20, 2016 at 09:48 AM · [Removed - duplicate post]

January 20, 2016 at 09:48 AM · I hadn't at all thought about the difficulties of re-selling a very large instrument. That causes an interesting dilemma. As a relative beginner on the viola (I'm much more experienced on the violin), I'm hoping that an instrument in the price range I've quote would last me for a very long time, maybe a decade as I develop my skills, but I do feel confident at this point that viola is something that I would want to do for the rest of my life. Which presumably raises the possibility of wanting to upgrade at some point, maybe suggesting a compromise of a slightly smaller instrument. But maybe a 17 inch viola would sound so good that I didn't need to upgrade, or maybe I can get something discounted because of the size as Duane suggests.

I'm kind of open-minded about the impact of the size on my health, and will take Duane's advice into account. I'm not an NBA player, but I was a pretty serious rower in the past, with the necessary long arms and large hands (actually I sometimes wonder if rowing stretched my arms), so I do feel that there is possibility I can play a very large viola without causing injury, but I haven't tried one yet, so we will see.

From experience of playing a variety of instruments over the last few months, 16.25 inch was actually the smallest instrument where the size didn't feel restrictive in the higher positions (and I now understand that violin has very much been a struggle due to just not being the right shape for it).

I hadn't thought of Gliga, so thank you for that! I believe there is a distributor about 60 miles from me, so that would be well worth a trip! I have a lovely bow from yitamusic, but have so far been nervous about ordering instruments without playing them - maybe I should just do it ..

By the way, apologies for the slightly cryptic title to this post, I wrote a longer one, but the symbol for inches which appeared after the 17 seems to have confused the forum software.

January 20, 2016 at 05:45 PM · I would have to say that if you buy a $3000 viola now (which is approximately what I spent on my Ming-Jiang Zhu "AA" viola), and then you later upgrade to a $15000 viola, then my hunch would be that, at that point, you'd probably just be able to keep the cheaper viola to use as a backup instrument while you bide your time selling it. Another way to think about it is that if you play a $3000 viola for 5 years and sell it for $2000, then it's as though you rented it the whole time, for under $20 a month (whereas actual rentals that cost $20 are going to be VSOs). Nobody wants to waste money but it's possible to get kind of spastic about the idea that one might have to sell an instrument at a loss.

January 20, 2016 at 09:57 PM · Paul,

Having been in the trade long enough to see players go through a career, I've seen almost all of the violists start with large violas and continue to downsize through their career, unable to support the level of virtuosity required in this day and age,on really large violas. Even big people. When you have a player in their mid-20's talking about having to visit a Physical Therapist in order to continue playing it does make an impression.

Just because you "can" play a 17" viola doesn't mean that you should, especially in the long run.

January 20, 2016 at 10:52 PM · It certainly is good to be cautious, Duane. I won't argue that point.

However, can we also consider that there are also many violinists who also injure themselves, even though they play significantly smaller instruments?

Flute players get injured, harpists, you name it, you can get injured playing instruments of all sorts.

http://www.classicalmpr.org/story/2010/06/03/playing-less-hurt

Sure, the size of a viola can be a contributing factor.

Or not.

January 22, 2016 at 04:05 PM · Bigger is always better.

January 22, 2016 at 05:58 PM · I will agree...see if you can find a 17 or 17.5 inch model to try - just for size.

If it feels okay...risk ordering one from Yita. If you can't sell it down the road - it's not a huge financial 'loss'. Don't forget...the selling price of used lower-end instruments are the same as any used stuff...roughly 50% of the purchase price. If you can get more - consider yourself lucky!

I don't quite understand the importance placed on the resale value of 'low value' items to begin with. If you buy it...and 'play' with it - you get entertainment value. If you use it for years - you get your money's worth out of it. If you upgrade at some point, it's always nice to have a back-up around (that doesn't tie up a lot of money). If you can actually recoup some money at some point by selling it - bonus.

You might even want to donate it to a strings program that can use it - also a bonus.

January 25, 2016 at 03:12 PM · Just be careful about the stop length, that is, the length between the bridge and nut. A large 17+ CAN be playable with a small vibrating string length, but it's still exponentially more work to hold the instrument up the further away from your shoulder you get. The difference between instruments themselves will be much greater because of wood choice and individual differences in instruments than a half inch of length, so think about trying all the 16 - 16 7/8 violas you can find! Also keep in mind that an extra millimeter of rib height adds much more "vibrating" air save than a mm of length. A "thick" 16 could potentially create lots more vibration than a thin 17.

January 25, 2016 at 03:12 PM · Just be careful about the stop length, that is, the length between the bridge and nut. A large 17+ CAN be playable with a small vibrating string length, but it's still exponentially more work to hold the instrument up the further away from your shoulder you get. The difference between instruments themselves will be much greater because of wood choice and individual differences in the makers work than a half inch of length, so think about trying all the 16 - 16 7/8 violas you can find! Also keep in mind that an extra millimeter of rib height adds much more "vibrating" air save than a mm of length. A "thick" 16 could potentially create lots more vibration than a thin 17.

January 26, 2016 at 03:36 PM · Thanks for all the advice in this post - I will keep trying a range of larger instruments and see where it takes me. Next up will be a 16 3/4 Jay Haide - a shop about 60 miles from me has some of these in stock.

January 26, 2016 at 11:09 PM · I wonder how many injuries are belief-based.

Are playing injuries higher with trombones than with piccolos? Anyone know?

I've had average-sized people who have done most of their professional careers on 17" violas, without any problems.

January 28, 2016 at 02:58 PM · At 6:54 you can see how injuries can even occur in the bass section.

April 3, 2017 at 11:55 PM · Hi,

I have a 17 1/4 inches viola for sale (438 mm). French of 1901, by Antoine & Nicolas Masson.

I played it professionaly for 25 years. I now do only conducting.

This instrument is of a high quality professional level, hence the price. It is true that large violas are powerful and have great sound qualities and possibilities.

I never had any injuries and i am not a giant nor do I have tremendous arms.

IT ALL DEPENDS OF 2 THINGS: your technique and your physical form.

Nevertheless, do not hesitate to contact me.

Vlap

April 4, 2017 at 12:18 AM · Even shorties can play bigger instrumwnts sometimes! :)

Despite being 5'4", I have limber arms and very flexible hands, so my fingers are most comfortable on a 16" viola (shorter arms).

But, I could cope with up to 17" for the sound quality ( as long as the viola is not too heavy).

April 4, 2017 at 12:53 AM · Hello owners of 17" viola, I would like to ask one question.

I have a Chinese made 17", the problem is it's not easy to find strings that won't sit on high tension on the viola. I know some of the manufacturers do longer version, but how do you normally purchase them? Do you just use the usual pack of strings that may not be designed for 17", or how do you order the long version of strings?

April 4, 2017 at 12:53 AM · Hello owners of 17" viola, I would like to ask one question.

I have a Chinese made 17", the problem is it's not easy to find strings that won't sit on high tension on the viola. I know some of the manufacturers do longer version, but how do you normally purchase them? Do you just use the usual pack of strings that may not be designed for 17", or how do you order the long version of strings?

April 4, 2017 at 12:53 AM · Hello owners of 17" viola, I would like to ask one question.

I have a Chinese made 17", the problem is it's not easy to find strings that won't sit on high tension on the viola. I know some of the manufacturers do longer version, but how do you normally purchase them? Do you just use the usual pack of strings that may not be designed for 17", or how do you order the long version of strings?

April 4, 2017 at 12:54 AM · sorry for the duplicated posts, I don't know what's going on...

April 4, 2017 at 05:05 AM · Have you been practicing Philip Glass?

My wife once had a generously-sized Erdesz viola. While it sounded great, it became too much to handle so she finally sold it to an orchestra colleague and then bought a nice model from Ed Maday in NYC.

It is unconventionally short, but has lots of volume created by tall ribs and a very pregnant-looking back, if that is possible. While even violinists find it easy to play, it also sounds very much like a good viola.

April 4, 2017 at 02:30 PM · Kenny: Warchal makes excellent viola strings that are sized for large violas (VSL-390mm). The Ambers and the Brilliants are both excellent sets.

http://warchal.com/viola_strings.html

April 4, 2017 at 09:00 PM · My teacher, Winifred Copperwheat was small, with fairly small hands, and she played a Richardson. She held her left thumb horizontal, as per Dounis, and taught that way too.

It may be because of her small hands that she used to tell me that the Walton was the most difficult viola concerto of the lot (That second page demands what, for a small-handed viola player, are serious leaps).

April 5, 2017 at 02:20 PM · For a similar tension, a longer vibrating string length needs thinner strings. We need to know if the extra long strings on offer are thinner, or just longer, in which case we can choose the "soft" version.

On the other hand, the extra wood may need more tension to set it in motion?

I have two 15 3/4" violas, one "Strad" model with a mezzo quality, and the other inspired by Gasparo's "Lyra Viola" with a plummy contralto sound. A long body will give that more "baritone" texture.

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