Shaving down neck pros and cons?
Hi I play a 15 1/2" viola, and arthritis and comfort is starting to bother me. I'm wondering about having a local luthier shave down the neck/fingerboard, not sure which, I'm imagining back and sides of neck, to ease the finger stretch. I'm not interested in changing to a new smaller instrument. Can I hear about possible problems with such an approach, and any good stories too? Thank you.
Such a change can affect the sound of your instrument. I would go to the luthier and have your viola neck "checked out" as to whether its dimensions are standard. If a viola's neck is dimensioned in proportion to a standard violin's it can be thicker than necessary. If that is the case there would be no question about having it adjusted.
I found that shaving the neck into more of a V cross section was a great move and really helped playability. FYI did not do it myself.
If the maker has carved the cross section of the neck in a circular shape it can put pressure on the side of the thumb and the base of the index finger. I visualize it more as correctly being an elliptical cross section than circular and a "V" might alter the experienced player's sensation a bit too much but it is in the right direcction.
Such a modification will not really reduce the stretch but may alleviate discomfort in the thumb and surrounding muscles.
I had this done to my violin...didn't affect the sound, but certainly improved my playing comfort substantially! The luthier that did this took careful measurements and did not go overboard in thinning it out, making sure the integrity of the structure was considered before removing any wood, preserving the shape, and ensuring the finishing matched the existing appearance.
Though players often first think that neck thickness is a problem, too small of a neck can make hand problems worse, and I don know of players who have made their hand problems worse by having necks mindlessly thinned. Open your hand and wiggle your fingers, then close them and wiggle them. Which is harder, stiffer? If large necks were a problem, cellists would be in trouble, but I believe they have fewer hand problems than violinists.
I agree with Michael, that too scrunched-up a hand is a less facile hand.
A luthier had recommended thinning the neck of my 15" viola and I assented. Unfortunately, it was too long ago to remember how or why (other than: a pro's eye noted it as important enough to mention) or what the before and after felt like. I don't play the viola too often and it still feels big because it's...not a violin.
Both my main violin and 15.5” viola have svelte necks and I feel that I can get around on them noticeably easier than my thicker necked backups (with my smallish 55-year old hands.) That said, my bass neck is pretty chunky and my agility and ability to play for long daily opera, show, or orchestral sessions comfortably without pain is comparable to the small instruments, something that I could not say until I had my position, bow, and string choices worked out.
Ah, A.L, you mean the