Shaving down neck pros and cons?

April 26, 2021, 12:40 PM · 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.

Replies (10)

Edited: April 26, 2021, 11:04 PM · 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.

If it is standard get the luthier's opinion as to how this might change the tone/sound of the instrument.If you can try some other 15-1/2 inch violas to find a more comfortable neck you will know you are on the right track.

I have had the necks of 2 violins and one viola reduced. The last part of the job is to refinish the neck so it matches the rest of the instrument. I was charged $250 for one violin and $300 for the viola. I did one violin myself (I should probably get the pro to refinish it properly - but that is the violin my granddaughter commandeered from me 20 years ago).

In my case the luthier had noted the violin neck was a bit too thick (I had always known it was a bit thick, but I have big hands so it didn't bother me until I was in my 70s. I also knew that viola's neck was a bit thicker than my other one's.

April 26, 2021, 4:44 PM · 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.
Edited: April 26, 2021, 5:57 PM · 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.

Just my thoughts on it - we are each different.

Edited: April 26, 2021, 8:43 PM · Such a modification will not really reduce the stretch but may alleviate discomfort in the thumb and surrounding muscles.

I disagree with the idea that you will notice any change in tone—beyond any benefit of the improved playability.

April 26, 2021, 9:19 PM · 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.
April 27, 2021, 8:31 AM · 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.

IMO you should make sure that your violin neck has the proper shape and size that's been arrived at by a couple of centuries of trial and error, and nothing smaller. Shape is much more important than size, as a couple of posters above have implied.

Edited: April 27, 2021, 1:19 PM · I agree with Michael, that too scrunched-up a hand is a less facile hand.

Changing the size of the neck will have some affect on the sound. One may or may not notice the change.

April 27, 2021, 9:33 AM · 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.
April 27, 2021, 9:11 PM · 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.
I had had ‘trigger finger’ issues in the past when my finger technique was less than it is now and when I played a larger 16.5” viola.
I might suggest trying instruments to see how they feel and consider replacing your current instrument as I did.
My mother had arthritis, so I may be right behind you.
Bonne chance.

April 28, 2021, 10:59 AM · Ah, A.L, you mean the violin neck!...


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