Octave violin tuning

December 18, 2018, 1:46 PM · Hello

I'm using a different viola tuning for traditionnal music, so I tune it like an octave violin (E4 A3 D3 G2).

I'm using standard viola strings for the moment, witch I undertune them to get the octave violin tuning (for exemple A4 to E4 etc...), but the strings become very low tension and it's may loose a lot of volume sound and projection...

I'm thinking to change these strings with Cello strings (set of ADG + E string). Do you think that it's a good solution?

I have a 16.5 viola.

Replies (14)

December 18, 2018, 2:54 PM · I've done the same to be able to play viol consort music with myself. For E4 A3 and D3 I use standard viola D, G and C (they seem to cope OK with the extra tension) and for G2 I bought a set of 1/4 size cello strings. I tried tham all but I think it was the C that gave the best result.
December 18, 2018, 4:05 PM · I already try to overtune viola strings, but D overtune to E will always broke after few weeks...
Edited: December 18, 2018, 5:05 PM · If you're willing to tune to octave viola pitch instead of violin, Sensicore string sets are readily available. Why not do that?

A 1/8 size cello has a string length of 490mm, nut to bridge. Compare that to 380mm for a 16 1/2" viola, and I'd have to doubt that any cello string would solve your problem.

Edited: December 19, 2018, 3:13 AM · I think the C2 string from a small cello worked fairly well tuned up to G2 on a viola (mine is 17") because of the trade-off between length, gauge and tension. For me it worked far better than tuning a viola C3 string down a fourth which felt like playing on a rubber band.

I can't explain why Amine's experience is different from mine. Using standard Dominants I had no breaks after leaving the three upper strings tuned a tone high for several months. It would certainly be a good idea for the manufacturer to state their tolerance limits. I'm sure they must be wider than +/- a tone or there'd be a lot of accidental breaks.

There's also the question about what to do for the scordatura in e.g. Biber. I've frequently tuned up my (second or third best) violin by as much as a minor third without accident, although I let the strings down again when I put it away.

December 19, 2018, 3:33 AM · @Mark: Viola Octave strings don't have E4 string in the set, only A3 D3 G2 C2, and they cost very much than my option...

@Steve: my problem wasn't the G2, but the E4, I used Dominant and Tonica D4 overtuned to E4, they broke after few weeks... and also the sound with overtuned string isn't really good, because the core will be dommaged...

December 19, 2018, 5:52 AM · I have a viola set up as octave violin. I use the top 3 strings from the Octave viola set for the lowest 3 strings and a long scale viola D tune up to E. I guess you could just get the G from the octave set and the use normal long scale C, G and D strings tuned up for the top 3. I think cello strings will not be a very good solution. Most likely they are too thin. I can't remember the measurements, but I have compared the viola octave strings to my wifes cello strings and the viola set was much fatter.
December 19, 2018, 7:05 AM · Originally I had the chin cello set for viola but have generally found for an acoustic instrument that the ultra low strings are less than satisfying - you need amplification for small scale low strings. I also had it set up going down to B flat at one time. So I moved the G to the place it would be on the violin and used a D string for the E. When strings broke I decided this was a bit expensive and used some viola strings I had. I kept the G from the octave set (even when that broke I managed to knot it so that i could keep using it) and tuned the C to D, G to A and D to E. If I were to replace my strings I would just buy a sensicore viola octave G and replace the others as above. I like it, I always felt that viola didn't really go low enough and that there is a big gap between the viola and cello. Reading becomes easy for a violinist if you just put an octave down sign on treble clef.
December 19, 2018, 10:36 AM · @Pontoppidan much fatter maybe because of core string? the octave viola strings are from perlon?
December 19, 2018, 11:26 AM · For a shorter scale you need a fatter string to sound lower, so a cello string may not work for the same note. A cello C string may work for a G string etc... The other problems of using cello strings is that they are too fat at the peg end. The strings designed for the purpose are thinner at the end. I haven't tried it but I would imagine that you need to drill the peg hole bigger.
Has anybody tried cello strings?
December 19, 2018, 11:35 AM · Yes - see above. The C string for a 1/4 size cello went through the hole OK. Of course you don't get much volume but it does work in certain contexts.
December 20, 2018, 1:04 PM · @Christopher: Yes you can overtune Cello C string to G, but the sound will be really poor and the string will be very difficult to play...
December 20, 2018, 1:21 PM · If you think about it, a cello C2 string produces G2 very satisfactorily when stopped 1/3 of the way along its length. So to take Mark's example, a C2 string for a 1/8 size cello (490 mm vibrating length) is actually slightly shorter than the ideal to produce G2 when played open on a viola (380 mm) while a 1/4 size cello string will be slightly longer than the ideal. Surely either one is worth a try!
December 20, 2018, 3:11 PM · I would calculate the tension of such a setup before attempting it in practice. The 1/8 and 1/4 size cellos I have seen are more solidly built than a viola. There is a risk that you apply to much pressure on the bridge and too much tension on the neck. Your viola may not like that....
December 20, 2018, 3:57 PM · I did set up my second viola with Octave strings and it sounded quite good - except for the C string. The small corpus of the viola would just not amplify those vibrations the way it did the higher strings.

Also - trying to sightread cello music on a viola just drove me nuts. Since I am also a cellist the different fingerings were just too confusing - what with also playing violin (treble clef), viola (alto and treble clef), and cello (bass, tenor, treble, and "Dvorak treble clef"). That's just a self-inflicted wound for me. I guess if I were a professional cellist who coached string quartets I would bite that bullet --- but NO!

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