Fractional size viola can't play in tune?

July 18, 2019, 3:55 PM · In the past, I've always taught viola students who were using 14" or bigger violas. Or, they had started on fractional violins and only transitioned to viola after having gotten to the point of using a full size violin.

However, recently a student started with me who is using a genuine 1/2 size viola. It's not a 1/2 size violin with viola strings, it's actually a mini-viola. I didn't even know these existed.

Anyways, the C string just can't play in tune without compensating immensely, either through applying nearly zero pressure to the bow or by adjusting the fingers about a semi-tone. Neither of these solutions are acceptable to me. Is there anything I can do about this, or is this just the result of such a short vibrating-length C string? I believe the strings are synthetic core, so I can't blame steel-core for the issue.

Any ideas on how to remedy this issue?

Replies (9)

July 18, 2019, 3:59 PM · Oh, yes, fractional violas exist and should be used by young students from the start. They are proportioned differently from full-sized violins (ribs are deeper for one thing), and are designed for viola strings. A full-sized violin with viola strings is not an adequate substitute for a 3/4 viola, and it makes me very angry to see students who think they're renting a smaller viola when really they're renting a violin with the wrong strings on.

To answer your question, I don't know, but I agree that is not acceptable. Assuming it's a rental, I'd take it back to the store and insist on either an adjustment to fix the problem or a replacement instrument.

Edited: July 18, 2019, 4:11 PM · I know the problem: the bow deforms the low tension string. The string maybe shortened to sell for a fractional viola, but the gauge is rarely adapted.
Replace it with a "stark" version, or a steel cored string (but not too thick, which creates other intonation problems.)
Edited: July 18, 2019, 4:17 PM · This is not fair: even a full size viola can hardly play on tune! What do you expect from a fractional? Just a fraction of intonation!
July 18, 2019, 4:18 PM ·
July 18, 2019, 4:23 PM · Would a viola string such as D'addario's Prelude In XSmall or Helicore in Small gauge work for this?
It seems you need to have more tension to combat the bow pressure.
Do you know what strings are on there now?
Edited: July 18, 2019, 4:43 PM · The ONLY difference between a 13" viola and a 3/4 sized violin is the depth of the ribs. No other differences. No difference in proportions, no difference in graduations.

Regarding the C string: it is just the Physics of a low pitched string on a short string length. Synthetic small C strings are worst, and unfortunately the cheap, nasty steel C strings are what seem to work best.

July 18, 2019, 5:41 PM · Definitely need a higher tension string. When the tension is too low and the string is not stretchy enough longitudinally, the deformation in the string caused by the bow / fingers / vibrations pull the string tighter and cause it to raise its pitch.
Edited: July 18, 2019, 6:53 PM · Yes, using a higher tension string was my thought for a solution as well.

I think the strings are currently either dominants or Alphayue. Could be chinese imitations, though. But the mini-viola seems rather nice, so I'm assuming they're legit, and that this issue is just one that results from having such a low-pitched string with such a short length, leading to deformation problems due to low tension.

I'll have them order a red-label C string in the "12" size and see how it goes. They're only 7 bucks so it's a cheap experiment.

July 19, 2019, 5:25 AM · "The ONLY difference between a 13" viola and a 3/4 sized violin is the depth of the ribs. No other differences. No difference in proportions, no difference in graduations."

That may be true for some makers, but I know a luthier who uses some tricks other than higher ribs only to help enhance the lower frequencies on small (violin size) violas: Wider body, wider middle bout, f-holes further apart, slab cut back etc.

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