Need set-up measurements

September 1, 2019, 5:33 PM · I searched online and couldn't find an illustration of the string measurements for a 16 inch viola. Can someone please tell me the distance between the nut and the bridge, and between the bridge and the tailpiece? My viola has gone flat.

Replies (18)

September 1, 2019, 5:55 PM · If your instrument is flat, you turn the black pegs at the top.
September 1, 2019, 6:06 PM · I didn't mean flat as in tuning. It has lost its resonance, and seems to be absorbing the sound rather than projecting it.
Edited: September 1, 2019, 6:31 PM · The bridge feet should straddle the imaginary line that connects the inner notches of the f-holes. Then the flat tailpiece side of the bridge should be perpendicular to the joint line between the top and ribs, so the overall impression is that the bridge is tilting back towards the tailpiece. When you've done that, the string length is what it is.

Dull sound? How old are your strings? And what is the condition of the rosin on your bow hair? If it's not good you might be bearing down excessively to compensate, thereby killing the resonance.

September 1, 2019, 6:22 PM · And you assume it must be an issue of string length? That's the last thing anyone would think to check.

Replace your strings.

September 1, 2019, 6:56 PM · Thanks for your replies. The strings are over a year old, so I will replace them before doing anything else. I should have thought of that, but being new at this, I thought it might be something related to the set-up. I've had the viola for several years, but rarely played it.
September 2, 2019, 8:31 AM · One more question: is there a good alternative set of strings to Dominants, reasonably priced? Does anyone use Red Label? I am a beginner in the sense that I don't read music. I do better jamming with other acoustic
instruments (guitar, mandolin, occasional banjo, etc.) and need the strings to blend in with their sound.
Edited: September 2, 2019, 9:00 AM · Once the bridge is in place, measure the distance between nut and bridge. That is your vibrating string length. Due to lack of standards and different viola designs, it can range anywhere between 365, and 375mm (or longer). This will determine your choice of gauge; the shorter the string, the thicker it needs to be to achieve proper tension when tuned to 440Hz.
Other things to keep in mind are body stop:neck stop ratio. string clearance.... See the details here:

Oh, the last question: Cantiga! The best strings on the budget. If you do not like their A, replace it with your string of choice. I use Larsen A with C,G and D Cantiga.

September 2, 2019, 9:03 AM · Probably around 14.7 inch vibrating string length (~37.35 cm) for a 16" (corpus) viola.

Violas can be finicky wrt string matching. I have found Dominants to be generally OK, but it can be difficult to get a good C string sound on some violas. If that is the case a lower tension C string might be better.

In my opinion, for the combo you will be playing in the last thing you want from a viola is to "blend." You need it to stand out (if it can)!

September 2, 2019, 10:00 AM · Thank you Rocky. That is the information I need, and I'll check the measurements this morning and make whatever minor changes I need, and then add new strings. Did you mean Corelli Cantigas? I see other companies use the Cantiga reference too.

Victor, it's probably more of a personality issue. Until I gain a little more confidence, I'll have to consider myself lucky just to blend. The opposite is true with the violin.

Edited: September 2, 2019, 11:08 AM · Two things, if the string are as old as you said, changing them is the first step as others mentionned. Then if the instrument has mostly been sitting idle for a long time, play it for a while as it may/should open up. Then if you are still unhappy, have a qualified luthier adjust your sound post and/or reposition your bridge. You said it resonnated more before. Your setup has not changed so what makes you think there is now something wrong with it? If it worked as it were before, then it works, unless you moved either the bridge or the sound post. Has the instrument been kept in a well tempered space? The relationship between the instrument and soundpost fitting could have changed if the instrument was sitting in a dry environment for extended period of time for instance and you may need a new sound post cut, etc. If you move the bridge, you are also changing its relative position to the sound post, so in your effort to adjust your string length, you will most likely end up needing a new post as well.
September 2, 2019, 11:28 AM · Thanks, Roger. I think all of those things you mentioned might apply to this instrument, and in the end, I will trust it to a good luthier. For now, I am trying to see if it would suitable to use now and then in place of the violin, so going forward, I'd like to more or less see what I can do first in terms of improving the sound. I took the measurements this morning, and everything is within range, so before I do anything more, I will get the strings and see if the answer might be as simple as that.
September 2, 2019, 12:23 PM · Also check for open seems.
Edited: September 2, 2019, 1:45 PM · Viola strings? I use Obligatos. I like them. The instrument came with Dominants. My luthier (who makes violas) laughed. I had him put the Obligatos on for me after installing gear pegs.
Edited: September 2, 2019, 2:44 PM · Skip, you are welcome! Yes, Corelli Cantiga by Savarez. Their Medium = Hard, Medium Light = Medium. I have got Medium (930M) on a 360mm VSL. Remember, if your VSL is longer than about 370mm, go with Medium Light.
September 2, 2019, 4:31 PM · Rocky, actually, yes, 372mm, so thanks again. I will order Medium Lights.
September 3, 2019, 8:16 AM · Most of us around this time are suffering with high humidity, and wooden instruments also suffer by absorbing moisture which kills off the high frequency response. That could be a large part of what you're experiencing. Old strings will do that, too. Vibrating string length, not so much. Violas can vary in construction details, so rather than taking some external advice about where the bridge should be, I'd put the bridge where the instrument appears to have intended it to be, usually around the middle of the F-hole notches.

September 5, 2019, 6:37 AM · Thanks, Don. It's a student viola (Scott Cao 0-17), but I like the way it feels, and it sounds really nice with a bridge pick-up. When I don't amplify it, it's almost like playing a solid body electric guitar without plugging it in. The sound just seems muted and unable to project. It's not as bad as my analogy, but compared to a very resonant instrument, I almost always have to amplify it to enjoy playing it. New strings are on the way.
September 8, 2019, 10:10 AM · The Corelli strings made a difference. Everything is in place where it is intended to be as far as measurements and placement of the bridge is concerned, and there is a noticeable difference in resonance and sustain. For a student viola, it suits me fine, and I appreciate all of the advice.

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