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Small 'cello vs. large viola


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My mind is always curious about stuff that matters to virtually no one but me (ha!)

Question: why would, say, a small 1/4 'cello sound different than, say a large 21" vertical viola? Is it the string length, the scale length, the string gauge, the rib depth?

Maybe this is a question for the builders out there, but I started wondering what actually makes an instrument's tone different assuming the body length is equal.



San Francisco

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I don't think I entirely understand your question but I think that

you should note that there is an octave difference between a cello

(regardless of size) and a viola (regardless of size). Also a cello

in the fractional sizes never truly has the  "cello sound",

that requires the full length of string and the full size of body.

I hope this helps if it does not answer your question.


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Hi Joseph,

So, I guess to clarify. Given two instruments of the same body length, why don't they sound the same? Perhaps the answer is: the string gauges are different so as to be able to tune the "small cello or large viola" to the appropriate octave?

I guess it's a crazy question. I sort of have the mind of a physicist with the knowledge of an amateur musician!


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It is my understanding that an instrument sounds like....well "what it is" because of its particular and specific "overtones." Sound is nothing more than vibrations in the air. However the sound heard is a combination of the:

fundamental (frequency-->vibrations per second or hertz) that determines the pitch of the note and the

overtones which may be in perfect integer ratios (ex. 4th,5th, octave above) in which case they are called harmonics or non-perfect integer ratios--> inharmonic.

The combination of all the overtones extending from the fundamental upwards out of the range of human hearing, (the overtone series) heard simultaneously, creates what we hear as a trumpet or oboe or violin. It is also what would make one violin sound different from another. So while the octave tuning makes the cello and viola "sound" different due to the pitch...playing the identical pitch would still sound different.

I find this material a bit complicated and I am sure that there are others here who can explain it in different and perhaps more clear language. I hope this helps (it has helped me in forcing myself to write it down:-))


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