Secondary Viola

October 1, 2017, 10:07 PM · I'm looking to pick up a minor in viola performance so I need to get a viola. The instrument doesn't have to be amazing and my budget isn't too big, I think $1,000 max for the instrument. The closest shop to me doesn't usually have the best selection of instruments so I'm thinking of going the online route. My question is how do you think a viola from Yitamusic on eBay stacks up against something like a Carlo Lamberti from Shar?
This is the viola from Shar I was thinking about getting:

Replies (25)

October 1, 2017, 11:19 PM · I have bought a couple of violas and violins from Yita and Old Violin House on eBay. I have no experience with Shar. The instruments I have are varying in quality and the quality doesn't really correlate with the price I payed. Most of the violas are a bit boomy and sharp sounding. The best of them was a Dvorak model with extra wide lower bout. That one is used by my son in his folk music group and works well in that context. It is not in the same class as my own contemporary viola from William Castle - far from it, but an ok students instrument. Buying from eBay is a lottery....
Edited: October 2, 2017, 12:51 AM · My previous best viola came from Yita and I was very pleased with it for a paltry £200. It was indeed a bit boomy but held its own played solo or in ensemble and served me well for 10 years. It was a 17" (currently strung a fourth down as a "viola profunda"!) but others I know have been happy with smaller models from the same source.
October 2, 2017, 1:54 AM · Hmm, just keep your eyes open for a nice old one imho. Cheap violas ar a bit harder to find than violins as they were not as often produced in Germany / Mirecourt, but there are few nice and cheap out there.
I have never played a cheaper new manufactured viola I liked, than again I am not driven to the viola anyways (although I did try a few beautiful violas that sounded just wonderful).
October 2, 2017, 3:13 AM · Jay Haide seem to be reliable. The Maggini model with its broader body has a deeper less nasal tone than the Strad model, but is more expensive.
October 2, 2017, 4:19 AM · Way out of his price range.
October 2, 2017, 4:53 AM · Does anyome have an opiniom on Gliga violas? I began looking at them and it seems like they may might fit the bill.
October 2, 2017, 6:03 AM · Of the places you mentioned, I would recommend Shar, if for no other reason than you can trade in the instrument you buy later for a higher quality one if you find yourself eventually unsatisfied with it and eventually have more money to spend. Your profile says that you are a violin performance major, so I am guessing you have a good enough ear/technique to be eventually frustrated by the limitations of a $1000 instrument, and Shar will allow you to apply most of what you spend now to an upgrade later when you may have more resources. You also have the advantage of owning a viola from a known shop (it is the rare pro string player who has never ordered at least strings/sheet music from Shar) and they are known to be reliable. You could also consider some of the other bigger shops that ship trials/rentals such as Johnson Strings and Robertson and Sons violins.
October 2, 2017, 7:23 AM · If this is part of your degree program and you're going to be studying solo works (not just messing around playing in community orchestras like me), then you're shooting yourself in the foot by getting a junk viola. At $1000 you're looking at a Chinese viola for sure, and you just have to play a bunch of them until you find one that accidentally sounds good and responds well. Don't forget you need a case and a bow. The Cadenza 305 CF bow is a really nice viola bow for the money (ca. $500). I've found that responsiveness is a big issue with low-end violas. Especially when you are accustomed to the responsiveness of a decent violin, playing something that responds slowly is going to frustrate you to no end. Not sure if weich strings would help, I rather doubt it.
October 2, 2017, 7:58 AM · Thanks for the advice everyone. Paul I’ve noticed the responsive issue with a few of my friends violas. I may just end up saving up for a while longer to try to get a Jay Haide because a friend recently got one and the response was very impressive. Thank you again everyone for your thoughts.
Edited: October 2, 2017, 11:34 AM · The Jay Haide viola I played at the Ifshin shop years ago was lovely, I must say, especially with the Morgan Anderson bow he handed me.

For some reason, some unheard of violin makers have made some really terrific (award winning) violas. The maker of one of my violas won an award for an earlier viola (he has finally made about 12 violas and over 80 violins - but in his 80s now may not make much more). The viola he made for me in 1996 (his No. 6) turned out to be the lesser of two he completed at the same time. The problem was with the sound of the lowest range of the C string and about a year later he advised me on a way to improve it by lowering the A0 resonance mode as described in a 1997 technical paper (Catgut Acoustical Society Journal Vol. 3, No. 4 (Series II), Pg. 52, November 1997 -"Tuning the A0 Mode Without Changing the Body or f-hold Size" by J.L. Miles)). In other respects this viola is quite glorious sounding (in my opinion), and apparently unlike so many amateur orchestra violas, it is heard!

There is a bit of math (one equation) in the paper, but what the fix boils down to is increasing the resistance of air flow through the f-holes and you can do this by lining most of the edges (as much as you can without worrying about the circular hole region) of the f-holes with about 3/8" width of "Scotch" Magic Tape. The maker might have been able to effect an equivalent correction with smaller f-hole area or larger air volume - BUT IT'S TOO LATE NOW!

I tried this fix as soon as he notified me and sent me a copy of the 2-page paper (which should be available on line, but the Stanford library seems to have messed up its on-line filing system and has posted No. 3 and No. 5 of that year's Journal but I could not find No. 4). Anyhow - it is easy to try this, as I have suggested, the only thing you cannot do with the tape in place is adjust the soundpost.

In the ~20 years I've had the tape in place on my viola I only removed once (I'm not sure why) - you want to place all the tape so that it is below the outer surface of the top, for appearance as well as to avoid hitting it with your bow.

Another thing I found that clarifies the sound of the lower C string was to use a lower tension C string. So far I've switched that to a Tomastik Peter Infeld weich string (not perfect, but better) - I've got two other brands of weich Cs in hand to try in the future.

Just for the heck of it I also tried the taped f-holes with cellos and violins - DON'T BOTHER WITH THAT, just as the paper advises, it's not the right fix.

October 2, 2017, 12:30 PM · Because violas come in several sizes, you will need to try out a bunch of differently-sized violas and see which fits you most comfortably and which is your tonal favourite. You can talk to some local musicians and ask them where are good local sources for violas. It is hard to find a advanced student/semiprofessional viola for under $1000.
October 2, 2017, 1:46 PM · Jeff where you located ? and do you think you can push your budget up to $1,500
October 2, 2017, 1:50 PM · I have German Mittenwald viola about 70 years old in good condition, fully set up for $900, I think its about 15 3/4"
October 2, 2017, 6:48 PM · Lyndon is that instrument nicely responsive? I'd be interested in it if I weren't so far away from your shop.
October 2, 2017, 7:03 PM · I’m located in central Lousiana and probably not. Student budget ya know.
October 2, 2017, 8:20 PM · Then, just try out a bunch and see what happens. Maybe you'll get lucky and find a really nice one for $1000.
October 3, 2017, 9:31 AM · Paul, its a good viola for its price, but I do have better.
October 3, 2017, 12:44 PM · Thank you everyone for the comments and help. I don’t think I’ll be getting a viola this semester because an opportunity to take a trip over the summer has opened up and the money will be going towards the down payment for that. I’ll keep everyone’s opinions in mind when I start viola shopping in earnest in the spring.
October 3, 2017, 3:08 PM · Stay away from Gliga imho- the one I had was heavy, nasally and thin sounding. I felt so guilty about selling it off to anyone else that I donated it to Goodwill. Chinese ebay instruments that I’ve purchased need quite a bit of set up just to be passable in bad acoustical settings- outdoor, etc.
October 3, 2017, 3:12 PM · My second viola is a 1966 Ernst Heinrich Roth student instrument with Caspari pegs that I got for $300 from a friend. It took quite a bit of work to get it to sound passable.
Edited: October 3, 2017, 3:57 PM · Properly set up, an EH Roth viola from 1966 is about a $3000 instrument in good condition, don't know what kind of problems you are having. Are you sure its EH Roth and not Scherl and Roth, which are low quality indeed.
October 3, 2017, 4:09 PM · A better EH Roth would not be as heavy as the one I have. It’s more entry level (yes, it does have the brand burned into the wood inside.) It sounds and plays well now that it’s set up properly. It’s nothing like the 1926 EH Roth that’s my main viola (pre wwii is sooo much nicer.)
October 3, 2017, 5:24 PM · The 20s ones are much better but they're also much more expensive.
October 4, 2017, 2:04 PM · Which is why I have the 1966 for when I’m outside or in a pit or a hot church with100% humidity or etc etc etc
October 8, 2017, 11:02 AM · It might be impossible to find a cheap, small viola, with a good C-string sound, which is what the audition committees want to hear. The cheapest way to get a good viola sound is to get the largest one you can handle, air is free. I bought a student-grade fat 16 " Viola from Shar a long time ago, that fooled people for a long time. It preferred the Helicore strings, with the low-tension guage C-string. Getting older now, the warranty on my moving parts expired, I replaced it with a 15 1/2 " Viola. I also play Violin, so to play in tune on both, I want the Viola to feel like a different instrument, not like a large Violin. At the same time buy a case to fit. For a bow, my best viola bow is a cheap, heavy, violin bow. jq

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