Long scale violins?

August 18, 2018, 1:24 PM · (unnecessary introductory text)

Do violins with longer-than-standard vibrating lengths exist (that aren't firewood)?

Replies (20)

Edited: August 18, 2018, 1:33 PM · Yes, they are called violas.

In all seriousness, you can't change the scale length too much because strings are designed for a fairly small range of scale lengths.

August 18, 2018, 1:46 PM · Yes, I'm aware. Any existing long-scale violins are probably quite old, since nobody in their right mind would make one today.
August 18, 2018, 1:52 PM · Yes, they do exist; I've seen a few slightly longer than normal that are sometimes nice for really tall players with long arms, big hands, long fingers.

However, what I would suggest is checking out luthier Robert Spear's Mezzo violin, part of the New Violin Family instruments originally proposed by Carleen Hutchins, and currently performed on by several ensembles that present the unique instruments in chamber ensembles. The Mezzo Violin has a vibrating string length of 338mm (where a "normal" full size violin has a vibrating string length around 328mm or so). It has an amazing voice, lots of depth and color with the kind of resonance you would expect from a viola; however it doesn't sacrifice the quality of the top end. It's easy to play because the instrument has thinner ribs even though the internal volume is larger than that of a regular violin. I demoed a Mezzo for awhile when I was looking into pursuing a grant to obtain a full set of the New Violin Family instruments as a chamber ensemble project for my school, and while that did not ultimately come into being, it's still something I am hoping to put together in the future.

My school did have the Hutchins Consort visit to present a concert program, and it was absolutely fantastic. The kind of blend and balance the eight different instruments present together is really awesome.

Edited: August 18, 2018, 4:15 PM · My 18c violin, a 5th generation family heirloom, has a vibrating length of 333mm and a back length of 14-1/4", the depth and bouts being proportionally that much larger. It's not a copy of a long-pattern Strad, and can be described as a normal violin writ slightly larger. I and my luthier are disbelieving of the label (of course!) of possible German origin, although another luthier suggested French.

It was professionally fitted with a new bridge last year. It has good resonance, as you'd expect. The E is clear-toned up into the 3rd octave and in particular the G purrs like a big cat.

Edited: August 18, 2018, 4:05 PM · I believe Ms Hutchins first wanted a 16" Mezzo (with violin tuning) but settled for a mere 15"! Robert Spear's Mezzo is a little smaller: he also prefers to scale up (and down) from a narrower Strad model rather than Ms Hutchins' wide Gasparo design.

I have strung my "spare" 15-3/4 inch narrow bodied J.T.L. viola as a violin, for two very practical reasons:
- to avoid disturbed intonation and bowing as I switch from violin lessons to orchestral viola;
- to show my young lady students how to manage their full-size violins with their slender hands.

But I also like the tone! My "real" violin (Nicolas Morlot, Mirecourt ca. 1820) seems to be just like Trevor's, and if I blow across an f-hole it gives me a C-natural, like a 14" viola.. Very much a violist's violin!

Edited: August 18, 2018, 5:02 PM · Adrian, mine also resonates with a C-nat. My standard size Jay Haide produces a D, as you'd expect.

I made a recording of the open G on my "large" violin once and looked at the frequency plot. There was a small peak at 196Hz (that's the open G), a frequency which is lacking on almost all standard size violins. I'm told the listener's brain apparently compensates for that lack by imagining the note on behalf of the listener.

And with reference to the OP's initial post, I would mention that my Mother's violin teacher in 1920 offered to buy that old violin for £100 (a substantial sum in those days) - expensive firewood! My grandparents declined the offer on her behalf.

Edited: August 18, 2018, 8:12 PM · I have got a long pattern violin and am very happy with the sound. It is all a matter of preference, but I think that they are perfect for Baroque music. From my experience, when set up properly (thin gauge )they beat most of comparable standard size violins hands down when it comes to depth and colour of G and D strings.
August 18, 2018, 8:12 PM · I always understood that Maggini violins and copies were bigger than normal. But, I am not sure their dimensions qualify them as long pattern violins.
Edited: August 18, 2018, 8:23 PM · While I don’t know why the OP is looking for long scale instruments, I find it interesting that player size does not map to chosen instrument. My violin is a few mm smaller than average, but I am quite tall with long arms and fingers.
Edited: August 18, 2018, 8:32 PM · ...whereas I have the shortest fingers of any adult I know, and I primarily play viola.
Edited: August 18, 2018, 9:24 PM · I wonder if we need to open our minds up to new sounds. The viola isn’t “optimally” proportioned for its pitch range, comes in so many shapes and sizes, and is a staple in classical music. I wonder why we perceive it as so much more acceptable to mess around with size in the viola pitch range, rather than stick an end pin in them, and make them the “right” size. Why couldn’t we have some wonky sounding “misproportioned” violins?
August 19, 2018, 9:57 AM · String length is only one aspect of violin or viola design, so I wouldn't assume that simply having a longer (or shorter scale length) will magically produce a deeper or more pleasing tone. The violin is a system, and such things as arching (in all dimensions), wood choice, graduation, overall pattern, f-hole shape, and other factors must work together.

You can ask "what if, all other things being equal.."

The problem is, they seldom are.

August 19, 2018, 11:39 AM · Lieschen, these theoretically "optimal" violas HAVE been produced. Several times. But have you ever tried a Ritter viola??! I'm often fighting my rather ordinary 42 cm viola with 37,5 VSL, especially on the C in first position. Only way I eventually could play a Ritter would be chello-style, balancing the instrument upright in my lap.
August 19, 2018, 12:24 PM · Hi,

Long pattern Stradivari are quite a bit longer than average, and as a result have a longer vibrating string length. As mentioned, Brescian instruments such as those by Maggini and Gaspar da Salo are also often longer as well.


August 19, 2018, 7:11 PM · With reference to my previous post but one I should have added that the vibrating length of my 14" Jay Haide is 328mm, as set up fairly recently when I had a new bridge installed by my luthier. The difference in vibrating lengths (328, 333) between my two violins does not, I find, affect my intonation when swapping between them, which I frequently do in practice sessions.
August 21, 2018, 9:57 AM · They certainly exist, though unusual. My primary playing instrument is a modern instrument along Long Pattern Strad lines, with a 14 1/4" back and a vibrating string length that I believe is slightly longer than normal (don't have the measurement). I've also played another instrument of unknown origin (likely German) that had a longer back length, between 14 and 14.25, and I have handled one instrument (not set up) that had an even longer back length, close to 14.5.

I am 5'11", and can go back and forth between my Long Pattern and another instrument I regularly play which is a modern copy of the David (Guarneri), a few mm under 14", without difficulty, although there are some pieces which markedly "prefer" one or the other - especially long stretches and some jumps, for which the shorter stop length turns out to make a perceptible difference, so I know there _is _ a difference in stop length.

Generally I find that when playing long-back instruments, you want to think about the instrument body position a bit differently, thinking of the "home" position of your left hand as being around 4th-5th position (as Ricci discusses in his left hand technique book), which with the long back instruments means your hand almost rests on the upper bout of the instrument, and for high shifts (above 5th position), you stretch up and over the instrument body while keeping your thumb anchored on the base of the neck. (You'd do that anyway, but it feels a bit different with a long instrument.)

Also, if you want to find an affordable long-pattern instrument, I believe the Germans made lots of them in the 19th century, particularly some pretty massive Maggini patterns, which are reputed to make a wonderful tone but be unpopular to play due to their large size - so if you click with one, you might be able to get a decent deal.

August 22, 2018, 9:54 AM · That's a bit different, as the entire violin is upsized. A long-pattern Strad has a narrower width than his Golden Period instruments, especially the top bouts, so I don't think the resonating body is significantly larger (?). The narrow width may actually be what I like, as much as the longer back. Long-back instruments may tend towards a darker or sweeter sound anecdotally.
August 22, 2018, 3:35 PM · Francis, a friend of mine has a copy of a long-pattern Strad, and it fits your description exactly. My long-scale is a standard violin that is about 1.7% larger linearly, which implies about 5% larger by volume.

To avoid confusion, I suggest that the long-pattern Strads be called just that - "long-pattern", and the rest "long-scale" or "long back".

August 27, 2018, 9:37 AM · Makes sense, instruments shaped on the lines of most of what Strad made in the 1690s are generally called "Long Patterns" and there is some possibility that Strad himself used this term (the abbreviation on the old may mean Stretto Lungo). This is probably qualitatively different than simply upscaled instruments, though both would share the longer vibrating string length (unless they were intentionally set up to compensate for this).

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