recommendations for modern viola makers
I live in Georgia and was wondering if anyone knew of any makers in the southeastern united states who have made great violas and if anyone had some recommendations. i would be looking for the instrument I would be auditioning to college with so i have a bit of time for looking thanks for any help.
One thing you can do is check out all the Violin Maker's organizations and competitions you can find and get some names of those who have done well.
Go to Maestronet and look at Louis Manfios bench page because these are the prettiest ones overall by one maker that I have seen. There is also a few sound samples of them which I enjoy listening to.
Check out Robert J. Spear, Ithaca NY. Not southeastern, more mid-atlantic, but not too far afield. Traditional violas, as well as his ergonomic pattern.
Kelvin Scott in Knoxville TN has won many awards, makes beautiful violas that are reasonably priced, and he happens to be a genuinely nice guy. We have one of his cellos. Edit: once you have the viola make sure you shop for a nice bow.
Southeastern US? Check out Patrick Toole in Roanoke, Virginia. He has made some lovely instruments. I think he sells some of them at Davidson Violins (Davidson NC).
John Newton, Toronto https://www.johnnewtonviolins.com
Thank you so much for all the replies I will certainly do my research on every name listed and go to some competitions. As well as of course my local shops ( well really the one shop in my area I enjoy) and also Stan I will deffintley get in touch because Knoxville is only about 3 hours from my area so it’s not a bad drive. And I especially appreciate your disclaimer Rocky but actually I’ve been doing some research on John already but as he’s so far away haven’t really found it worth it to contact someone so far but maybe I’ll get around to it now when I begin reaching towards my very serious final phase of shopping.
Mark, as far as I know, he is willing to send you an instrument for a trial. Please note that, apart from high quality of his instruments, the exchange rate works very well in your favour.
Toole is not yet well known as a maker so I bet you will find his instruments quite competitive in price. Like possibly under 10k.
And there certainly isn't any guarantee that second tier modern viola makers are any better or as good as top grade 100 year old antiques which are in a similar price range, worth considering.
If one is prepared to spend $10,000 on an instrument, my guess is that there are a lot of options including some newly-minted instruments and antiques. A few years ago, though, I remember a thread on here about why shops tend to have very few (often zero) antique violas for sale. I remember offering the theory that there was a period a few decades ago when violinists were buying them so they could learn the clef and get more gigs. But I don't really know if that's true.
In the Midwest in Indianapolis, not south, but I love my Theodore Skreko viola! I've played several of Ted's violas over the years and they are all great instruments. He's won several tone awards for violas at VSA competitions and will ship and instrument to try if he has any in the shop.
I have a fabulous Bill Whedbee viola. He lives in Chicago. I've heard he's mostly making cellos lately, though, and he may be out of your price range. Most of the better shops throughout the country will mail you 2 (or more) violas to try -- modern or not. I would give that a try unless you absolutely love a particular maker. I ended up buying mine through Robertson in NM, all by mail.
Mark I'm assuming you have a rough idea about what modern makers ask for a commission. Carriage House and Robertson have violas listed in price ranges, as a start.
I hear you Lyndon and agree. The only challenge might be the ergonomics of viola - with a commissioned one, a player can ask for certain level of customization. With an old one it is take it or leave it.
Threads like his often turn into a hump-fest for instruments people chose themselves (even if they only tried three), or are interested in selling.
Here my two cents about choosing a good viola, as a viola maker and player.
And the above shows why it's good there are makers who "specialize in violas", to quote a really weird post further up.
Right on Mr. West.
I would like to quote an excellent article by Laurie Niles, the editor of this site, about the importance of having a good instrument as soon as possible.
"Get the best instrument you can" is good advice. We just have to remember that some folks can't easily afford a fine instrument AND weekly lessons. Here in the US, the 50 states are subdivided into counties. You can type the name of your county into Google along with the phrase "median family income" you will get back a number courtesy of the Federal Census. In my county, which includes a state university (i.e., lots of professionals), that number is $49,712. That's FAMILY income. These are families trying to send their kids to summer camp while saving desperately for college. For a family of 4, below $25,750 is the Federal definition of poverty.
"Get the best instrument you can" leaves a lot up to conjecture. Would this be the most expensive instrument you can afford? The best $5000 "bang-for-the-buck" instrument you discovered upon playing 500 of them (and one of these could be very good), or one which only cost 50 thousand dollars that beat everything you had tried, within your budget range of up to 5 million ?
Good point David!
I always wonder how do those ergonomic viola by David Rivinus sound.
Pablo Alfaro in Atlanta
I am too catherine!! And also I have played on one of pablo alfaros’s violas and it was very well made and sounded quite excellent
Neil, I seem to have ruffled a few feathers. I've deleted both responses - business can proceed as normal!
Fair enough, Martin. I gave mine the heave-ho as well.
May seem too obvious, but since no one has mentioned it, finding a viola that you will really love is extremely personal-- partly your playing style but then also your physical limitations, tonal preferences, and priorities. I found it helpful in my searching to try a number of instruments to get a sense of what I wanted but also to get a realistic sense of what is possible. I will also stick to trying to answer your question; presumably you have decided for a good reason not to consider modern makers outside the southeastern United States, or instruments available from violin shops, but if you are possibly reconsidering then that would expand your options quite a lot.
If you're coming to NC to meet Kurt Widenhouse, also consider stopping by John Montgomery's shop in Raleigh. Both he and the other luthier in his shop Brian Kelly have recently finished violas I believe.
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