14 inch viola vs 4/4 violin

September 6, 2022, 11:22 AM · Hi,

I would like to understand why luthiers dont use 14 inch viola body as 4/4 violin ? do 14 inch viola body dont support violin tuning ? do 14 inch viola body product poor sound with violin tuning ? thank's

Replies (15)

September 6, 2022, 12:09 PM · The overall design of the 4/4 violin was more or less perfected several hundred years ago and it has not needed to change much since. The main difference between a 4/4 violin and a 14" viola is that 14" violas are thicker with taller ribs, and other internals may be a little different as well. Some may also be built with bigger lower bouts. A 14" viola is considered a fractional viola so it is a compromise size. Yes, you can technically string a 14" viola as a violin, but it'll probably have a deeper, darker sound than a typical violin.
September 6, 2022, 3:58 PM · I have a 14" viola that came to me strung as a violin. It has a nice warm sound. I am told that players of gypsy music sometimes prefer a 14" viola strung as a violin. Instruments are generally sized according to the desired sound. Violins are generally needed to produce very high notes and this requires a smaller sound cavity.
September 6, 2022, 5:48 PM · @Ann Morrill: I would be very grateful if you could post an audio sample.
September 6, 2022, 7:36 PM · @Ann - this is fascinating but not surprising given how different the two instruments sound generally.
September 9, 2022, 2:54 PM · Amine, my violin seems to fit the bill in some respects, including:
14-1/4" back
taller ribs
bigger bouts
a nice deep tone on the G
very high notes (higher than the 2nd octave on the E) can be difficult to access and play

The violin is a family heirloom from sometime in the latter half of the 18th century, and is probably a German copy of a Strad. With the right setup and decent strings (e.g. Warchal Amber) the tone is reasonably powerful and projective, and there are no wolf notes or other unwanted resonances. I find it ideal for my orchestral playing.

As far as I know it has always been played as a violin.

September 9, 2022, 3:46 PM · My viola is no longer strung as a violin. I switched it back when I got a real violin and I was tired of the constant repairs the high tension strings necessitated.
September 13, 2022, 7:53 AM · My violin (Nicolas Morlot ca 1820) is like Trevor's, and would make a decent 14+" viola. I think my luthier was glad to get rid of it.
But I am a violist..
September 13, 2022, 10:07 AM · I neglected to mention that sometimes you can tell a 14" viola right off because it has a Romberg fingerboard. Mine does but I see most new ones don't. Mine was made in the 1950's.
September 13, 2022, 1:47 PM · A 14” viola typically has taller ribs to increase the air volume and favor the bass registers a little more. Strung as a violin it will sound tubby.
September 13, 2022, 2:03 PM · That is absolutely false. Strung as a violin it sounds more mellow and fuller.
Edited: September 13, 2022, 2:37 PM · Ann,

Are you basing that opinion on your experience with your own instrument or a wide selection of them? I can say I’ve certainly come across more than one 14” viola that sounded tubby when strung with violin strings. Not all 14” violins and violas are the same, and there are violas that can make good violins and violins that can make good violas. When you’re dealing with violas, things are never absolute!

September 14, 2022, 10:50 AM · As a violist teaching violin, I strung my 15.75" narrow-bodied JTL viola as a violin, with three viola strings, and a thin violin E near breaking point. A real powerful (but not tubby) "mezzo violin"!

This was partly to avoid changing string length when playing my usual viola, but mainly to show my slender-handed young ladies how to manage their newly-acquired 4/4 violins.

September 14, 2022, 10:58 PM · Tubby or not tubby? That is the question.
September 18, 2022, 2:15 AM · We had a spare full-size violin (our house is a graveyard for unwanted instruments) and a viola-hating child who needed a viola. So, after reading this thread, I decided to convert the violin into a viola.

We'll see how it goes. At least it saved us from having to buy a viola when I know she really doesn't want one.

September 19, 2022, 3:40 PM · The positioning of the sound post has something to do with it, too. When converting the full size violin I inherited into my childhood viola, Dad moved the sound post back. When I grew out of my 3/4 size violin, Dad restored the sound post to its original postion, but it took some time for the violin to regain the brightness it had had before (This is nothing to do with the damage the violin later suffered).

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