Long-scale strings on smallish viola?

Edited: June 3, 2020, 5:00 AM · I've been thinking about trying Kaplan Amo strings on my viola, and it turns out I have a problem: anything other than long scale seems to be available only directly from D'Addario at much higher prices. My viola's VSL is 362 mm. The long-scale Kaplan Amo is designed for 380 mm VSL and I'm wondering whether this is too much of a difference.

I've already worked out actual string tensions on my viola by converting manufacturers' tension charts to my own 362 mm VSL. In pounds, all after conversion:

Kaplan Amo medium scale (limited availability)
A 17.8, D 11.6, G 11.8, C 11.8

Kaplan Amo long scale, medium gauge
A 16.8, D 11.6, G 11.8, C 11.8

Current set (Vision Solo + Larsen A)
A 17.3, D 12.4, G 12.1, C 11.8

So it looks like long scale should be OK as tension goes: compared to what I have now, it's the same C string tension with lower tension on the other three strings. This means the C string shouldn't buzz. (Nor should any of the others, they're all higher tension than Dominants which I've used in the past.)

But are there other reasons not to use the long-scale strings? Too much string length in the pegbox? Other concerns?

Replies (17)

June 3, 2020, 8:14 AM · Andrew, this reply probably won't be of much direct help but I noticed that the VSL of my 18th century violin is also 362mm (14.25" in old money). As far as I know it has never been strung as a viola, but the sound from the G is closer to that of the viola than most violins. The bout widths and rib depths are pro rata larger than that of the standard 14" violin, which may account for the deeper sound.

However, I have noticed that the string hole in the G peg is slightly larger than I would expect, so I wonder if at some time in the very distant past it has been strung as a viola. At that time it would have been with gut strings. The violin has very worn pegs (possibly original) and is currently at my luthier's for repegging. When I go to collect it I'll raise the matter of viola strings and see what he says.

Edited: June 3, 2020, 9:11 AM · My experience with guitars and ukes is that if you are forced to get long-scale strings for a short-scale instrument, then it's best if they are UHT. If they are not, then it's an experiment that may fail, and at some considerable cost if it's viola strings we're talking about. Are you not happy with any of the strings you've used in your long career?
June 3, 2020, 9:21 AM · I've had to deal with a similar issue when setting up a fractional violin as a viola for a young player.

If a string of length L develops a tension T when tuned to its designed frequency, then using it on an instrument of smaller VSL, call it Lv, but tuned to the same frequency will need a reduced tension, Tv:

Tv = T x (Lv/L)^2

So if the designed length, L, is 380mm, and the VSL of the instrument is 362, then the tuned string will see a reduced tension of

Tv = T x (362/380)x(362/380) ~= 0.91 x T

For example, a Kaplan long scale C, when strung on the small instrument, will only develop a tension of

0.91 x 11.8 = 10.7

That doesn't seem too bad, but my experience is that deviating too far from the designed tension can affect both the timbre and the playability of the string.

This might be a case of try it and see and hope for the best.

Sometimes you can use a longer, lower note string as a shorter, higher note string and get the string at its designed tension.

The relevant formula goes like this:

Let Fx and Lx be the tuned frequency and length as designed.

Let Fs and Ls be the tuned frequency and length you want.

If the following formula is satisfied, then the string will achieve its designed tension at the new tuning frequency and length, Fs and Ls.

(Fs/Fx)^2 x (Ls/Lx)^2 = 1

We know that the Kaplan long scale strings have Lx = 380.
We know that the instrument has a reduced VSL Ls = 362.
We know that the Kaplan D string is designed for frequency Fx = 294.
We want to try to use if for the A string, Fs = 440.

(440/294)x(440/294) x (362/380)x(362/380) = 2.03 <> 1

So that won't work.

There are sites that sell gut strings in a variety of lengths and diameters that make it easier to match the requirements of a non-standard length instrument, but you also pay a premium price for the convenience. I can give you the formulas for selecting the proper gauge but using them correctly can get complicated.

Edited: June 3, 2020, 10:12 AM · You can use Carmen's equations to figure out how much detuning of your present strings will give a result proportional to that expected with the Kaplan Amos. If the result is OK, you will probably be OK.

When I had trouble getting decent sound with C strings on one of my violas I tried detuning (lowering tension) about 2 years ago and since that improved the sound I went to my fiddle shop and asked for string recommendations. Fortunately for me, the salesman helping me was a violist and his recommendations have been spot on. After replacing my C string and tuning up he tried it and proclaimed " I could perform on this!"

I've been happy about it ever since.

June 3, 2020, 1:20 PM · You can use long scale strings and the instrument will be playable. The longer they get, the flabbier they’ll feel at standard pitch. If they take up too much room in the pegbox they can be cut down, although I generally try to avoid cutting strings down unless it’s necessary.
Edited: June 3, 2020, 2:03 PM · Carmen and Andrew: as I noted in the original post, I already used that equation to convert tensions before posting. The listed tension for the long scale C string is 13 lbs; all the tensions I listed are after conversion from the manufacturer's listed VSL to my viola's 362 mm.
June 3, 2020, 2:02 PM · Gordon: I've actually tried very few strings in the 19 years I've played viola. I've only ever used Dominant, Vision, and Vision Solo, plus the Larsen A.
Edited: June 4, 2020, 12:33 AM · Interpreting Andrew to mean "calculate what the difference will be in semitones for the same poundage, not pounds for the same note" then I like that advice. If you find it's only semitone, then there shouldn't be a problem. If it's more, then you can detune your strings by that much and see what effect that has.
June 4, 2020, 5:28 AM · If you live in the states check out southwest strings. They have the short scale Kaplan amo strings as well as the medium and long scales.


June 4, 2020, 5:54 PM · Thanks! I couldn't tell because the entire Southwest Strings website was down when I checked earlier.
June 5, 2020, 1:32 AM · It appears you've basically got a 3/4 viola, so no, long scale full size viola strings are not appropriate.
Edited: June 5, 2020, 2:37 AM · Lyndon, it is definitely not a "3/4 viola". Standard Thomastik-Infeld strings are designed for 370 mm VSL. D'Addario long scale is 380 mm and medium scale is 360 mm. I am quite shocked that you, as a dealer, would not have at least a general idea of this. (My viola is 15.75"/40cm with a relatively short VSL for its body length, but not that short.)

Having already converted the listed tensions to 362 mm VSL in the original post, the question I had was whether there were major concerns other than string tension. That was answered by some of the posts above, which show that long scale would almost certainly have been acceptable had it been the only option.

(As it is, I have ordered the medium scale Kaplan Amos from Southwest Strings, now that the website is back up.)

June 5, 2020, 2:10 AM · Someone earlier mistakedly thought the string length was the back length, sorry.
Edited: June 5, 2020, 2:38 AM · Oh, OK. Honest errors happen. My apologies for my less-than-civil immediate reaction, which I am removing from my earlier post.
June 5, 2020, 2:42 AM · no problem, maybe I wasn't reading carefully enough
June 5, 2020, 2:54 AM · Also, thanks, Rich -- I overlooked your post until after Christian mentioned Southwest Strings. Wasn't sure about cutting down strings because I remembered seeing someone cautioned against it before. Fortunately, it looks like I won't have to worry about using long scale strings at all.
Edited: June 5, 2020, 8:55 AM · I have been cutting the ends off strings for decades - especially when I remount a previously used string and the end is a bit frayed. I have never had a resulting problem, there are just too many forces stabilizing the winding before it gets past the nut to the vibrating region.

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