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violak

Small Violas

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I'm looking for a new viola. Unfortunately, I'm rather small so I need a small viola. I've found that older-smaller(15.5") violas, like the one I have now (c. 1907), don't have the volume or girth that a larger instrument might have. Does anyone recommend a maker that makes outstanding smaller violas that sound like those huge 17inchers?

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My viola is 14 1/4" and sounds better and larger than many I've heard that were 2 or 2 1/2" longer. I have never heard a large viola made by the woman who made mine but my guess is that the tone is as terrific as mine. Her violas cost less than the ones mentioned (although David Rivinus is a very nice man and makes a terrific instrument), there is no waiting list as of now, and they are as light as a feather. Her name is Helen Michetschlager, and she has spoken about doing 15" violas. If I weren't so happy with mine I'd probably want one. Her designs are very distinctive (mine is cornerless) but not unusual enough to attract attention to themselves. I cannot recommend her instruments too highly. By the way, her "small" instruments (like mine) have rated very high in anonymous sound comparisons. Give her work a look!

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Don't be hung up on the "length of the back" measurement. Equally important is the stop length which affects the amount of stretching your left hand/fingers will have to perform!

Also some instruments gain their volume through greater width (think of the out-of-favour(?) Tertis-model experiments). Some instruments, carefully designed can appear bigger in proportions but feel quite comfortable and manageable for the same reason, and others appearing smaller over all, but no more easily handled depending on the dimensions of the string length. Give it some considerations.

[This message has been edited by Omobono (edited 02-28-2001).]

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Innovative viola designs have been discussed a few times here on the FB -- try searching the archives to get the names of other makers whose work may interest you. But your price range is important -- some of these violas are rather expensive (more than $10K).

I'll second what Omobono has said about not letting back length be your only concern -- I have a 16 3/8" viola that feels very comfortable to me although I am primarily a violinist AND have relatively small hands. Other 16" violas feel much larger!

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I've become friends with a local violinmaker in Torrance California. His name is Tony Rizzo. He is of italian decent and has many violinmaker friends in Cremona. He stays there, I think, for at least a couple weeks every year, to work with his friends in their shops. He makes terrific instruments.

Recently, he made a small viola. I think it is the 15 1/4" one shown on his web site. When I played this viola, I was amazed at how the sound came so easily out of such a small viola.

His web site is www.arviolins.com

It tells about him, his instruments and the awards that he has won (including a certificate of merit for cello tone from a past VSA competition).

Best wishes in your search.

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Ed Maday made a very nice (un-antiqued and gorgeous) small viola for my wife. Price was not obscene at the time. He's on Long Island and puts ads in Strings.

Hiroshi Iizuka makes a funky one with a bit sliced out of the shoulder. Emmanuel Vardi used to use it in concert and it sounded nice. A violin teacher of mine was thinking about buying one, and I thought it played well.

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The Iizuka violas at least can be nice. I've only seen one, but the owner was kind enough to let me play on it, and it had a beautiful focus to the tone, which was very powerful and fairly smooth, though it was more robust than subtle. It was tonally fairly flexible, but not remarkable. The tone was even across strings, and all ranges were agreeable and easily achieved. The wave to the ribs was helpful in the high range, and the stretch was minimal in first position. I thought it was a quite good viola, though I've played comparable instruments in a similar price range that were of standard construction and no more difficult to play.

Altgeige.

[This message has been edited by altgeige (edited 03-01-2001).]

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My friend in Bremerton, Washington has a 15.5" viola that has a really big sound. I have some pictures of it, but I haven't scanned them yet. His instruments are superb.

george

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DelDuca, yes I have played many Tertis model violas and I think it is a very good design. Tertis violas have a huge sound and very deep c. Although a little ugly and also 16 3/4" is a little big for most people. I make a viola that I call Tertis inspired. It is 16 1/4" (my ideal size) but I rounded off the lower bout (I hate the Tertis flat bottom). I kept the wide c bout, which helps gives the deeper tone. It is my favorite viola as a player. I'm currently making two Andrea Guarneri violas (16 5/16") which is a little wider than most. The first one sounds very nice but different than my Tertis inspired. The second one I'm trying Douglas Fir for the top, as Otto Erdescz liked to use, we'll see, it's alot harder to work.

As to a smaller model viola I've made a copy of the Maggini contralto, although the body is 16 1/4" the neck length is almost as short as a violin. It is very easy to play, but still has a true viola sound.

I'm still searching for more models to try. Maybe a reduced Montagnana cello?

Ben

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DelDuca,

If you're referring to violas of the "Tertis Model", they were apparently popular a couple of decades ago but went out of favor because a) few of them delivered any advantage in sound compared to the usual outlines and :) they didn't fit in the usual viola cases.

I currently have a Scott Cao STA-900 viola at home on approval. It is 3/4" wider across the lower bouts than most Strad-outline violas and maybe 1/4" or so wider across the top bouts. So in a sense it is a cousin to the Tertis models of yesteryear. It fits in my case (barely) but not in any semi-French fitted cases. The sound is large and it is comfortable to play.

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Brent, the case issue is not a problem. Most case suppliers make cases that fit a Tertis model. They flop right into my 20 year old Weber. Ben.

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benji,

It just so happened that the no-name $169 case I have for my student instrument fits the Scott Cao. It's not a snug fit, exactly, but the 16" Cao's lower bout take up just about the whole width of the case.

So on your 16 1/4" Tertis-inspired viola, what is the string length?

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