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Jacob

5-string viola e-string

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I have recently received a commission for a 5-string viola.

I do understand that there is a difference between a 5-string violin with a C-string, and a 5-string viola with an e-string. I've searched several forum archives on this matter (including Maestronet) and I fully agree that there can be no such thing as a 5-string violin/viola.

As a maker I think I understand that the difficulty in producing a 5-string violin is to get a satisfactory C-string, and that, conversely, in producing a 5-string viola the e-string will be the problem, in two different ways: to make the string work, but also to find an appropriate (any) e-string in the first place.

From a theoretical aspect I fully expect problems on the e-string of a 5-string viola - a setup which is optimal for a standard 4-string viola may very be compromised when an e-string is added, and the biggest problem I foresee is a "whistling" e. However, my understanding of physics is not advanced enough to answer the following questions:

Will the tension on a plain steel e with a specific gauge and a vibrating length of 325mm (approximate violin length) be the same as for the same string with the same gauge at the same pitch, with a vibrating length of 375mm (approximate vioa length)? From experience I know that a more acute angle of the strings over the bridge can contribute to the problem of a "whistling" e on violin. The angle of the strings over the bridge on this proposed 5-string viola will be considerably more acute than on a violin, which is the reason for my question about tension (which I believe contributes to the "rotation" phenomenon which produces whistling).

Another issue is the availability of e-strings in viola length. These are hard to find. Suggestions I've encountered include guitar strings and banjo wire. However, I've dealt directly with LENZNER Strings (Germany) in the past (they produce the "Goldbrokat" violin e which is generally available as "non-whistling" e) and they are happy to make strings to custom specifications - in fact, they have done so for me in the past with a minimum of fuss and in a most expeditious fashion. So, I can have strings made for me with a minimum of fuss (and if they work, I can easily have them made available in North America).

So, I would be very grateful for any comments on the e-string issue for 5-string violas, both as regards playability/response/tone, and commercial availability, from players, makers and dealers alike.

I've also posted this on The Fingerboard.

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quote:


Originally posted by:
Jacob
Will the tension on a plain steel e with a specific gauge and a vibrating length of 325mm (approximate violin length) be the same as for the same string with the same gauge at the same pitch, with a vibrating length of 375mm (approximate viola length)?

The tension will need to be higher to get the same pitch, if by 'tension' we mean the amount of force the string is both experiencing and exerting on its endpoints. (I've run into some quibbles lately about the meanings of these terms hitherto so innocently and consistently used in the lutherie world.)

There are formulas and string calculators on the web at some gut string suppliers which will tell you the amount of the increase in tension.

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Thanks Andres.

Part of my practical problem just got bigger...this is gonna be a stinker to solve.

I've been thinking about a slanted tailpiece - what say you?

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Well it's the bridge position that's really at issue right? The tailpiece is something of a freeforall by comparison. I wouldn't like to slant the bridge, although I believe there have been historical instruments set up that way? I would expect a significant impact on response. You could slant the nut, but then the player would hate you.

There are a lot of 5-string violas out there, is there a common solution to this issue? Might it not be easier to scale the instrument according to a decent e-string, then find a suitable c-string and design the body to help it sound good?

As you can see, aside from the theoretical aspect I haven't a clue about this.

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Are you going to slant the bridge as well? That's where the vibrating string length begins, right? A bridge would be hart to cut with a 50mm jog in it. :-)

Sorry Andres-- we crossed paths.

I have been told that 15" is about the right size if you want a five-stringer.

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Thanks for all the responses.

The tension will be determined by the length all the way to the tailpiece, I think...? But no, I'm not going to slant the bridge.

Chet, yes, it will probably be easier - in some ways - to go the 15" route. However, the crux is whether the player wants a 5-string violin or viola. If it is viola, I've got to try and make the 16" thing work with an e-string.

From what I can gather, the commercial or "trade" articles available leave a lot to be desired, on either (and sometimes both) sides of the tonal/pitch spectrum.

I have no idea how this thing is going to turn out. I'm shooting for a VIOLA with an e-string. I will let you know the outcome. Can't say I'm looking forward to the eventual tryout without a serious amount of trepidation.

I've chosen a Brescian design, with a Zanetto-type head - very long pegbox, single fluting over the head, rather narrow, violin-type (as opposed to cello-type) head. Lots of space for all those pegholes, and I'll be using violin pegs.

The bridge and fingerboard radius is 38mm. It's not as radical as it sounds, but it provides sufficient string clearance - about 2mm - with a string spacing of 11.6mm on the bridge.

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The same tension will exist over the whole length of the string, but the part between the nut and bridge has to be at a given tension to reach a certain pitch, so that length is the controlling factor simply because the goal pitch relates to it, rather than to the whole length of the string.

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Just a crazy idea on one of the small points of set up for a five

string. Have you considered a closer string spacing, between the E

and A, and spacing the rest out progressively towards a viola

spacing, as you get to the lower, wider C string? Sort of like

this ;

-------------------

 1

 1  1  1

 -----------------------

Might feel better under the fingers.

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"The tension will exist over the whole length of the string, but the part between the nut and bridge has to be at a given tension to reach a certain pitch, so that length is the controlling factor simply because the goal pitch relates to it, rather than to the whole length of the string."

Andres, I'd like to discuss this some more.

Let's say the distance between the nut and bridge retains the same, but the afterlength is shorter - which makes the string shorter. Won't the tension required to get to a certain pitch be lower if the afterlength is shorter, even if the nut-to-bridge length remains the same?

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The tension of the string is determined by its density, linear density actually, the vibrating length of the string, and the frequency that it's tuned to. Back in the 40's there were guitars built with tailpieces that would make the total length of the treble and bass strings different. The idea was that they wanted to change the tension of the strings by changing the total length, well it doesn't work that way.

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Jacob - It may be useful to imagine an experiment with two weighted strings, one much longer than the other, both 'stopped' at the same length from the fastening point, and with duplicate weights at the free ends--you will get the same pitch from the stopped part of the string. If your intuition is getting in the way on that, just ask your intuition how much 'weight' the fastening points of each string are 'feeling' vs. what the weighted ends 'feel'. The same is true for every other point on the strings.

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Or, more simply; on a properly set-up guitar there is very little change in tension regrdless of where I stop the string-- but the vibrating string length changes at each fret. If you could magically change physics so that the tension did not change at ALL, it would help, but the pitch would simply change more precisely.

Ed Campbell told me that a 15" viola pattern could be used to make an acceptable 5-stringer. At the time I did not know why-- I have a better idea now, but I do recall that he said on the smaller instruments (violin size), the C-string suffered, and on the larger sizes, the E string failed. I have considered making a five string, but as yet have not. There seems to be a limited demand.

Chet

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1. Has anyone compared the D'Addario Helicore steel viola E string with the Sensicore perlon viola E string? These are the only commercially available viola E strings I fave ever found available, and even the Sensicore is far less readily available than the Helicore.

2. A simple clarification of the physics (not opinion) on string tension: It is only the vibrating length of the string that affects the tension of the string at a given pitch. However, the entire string from peg to tailpiece will be at the same tension unless there is a friction hangup at either the nut or bridge, which would be a serious flaw that would cause difficulty in tuning, and possible string breakage.

The tension varies directly with the square of the length -- that is, if the vibrating string length were twice as long, the tension would be 4 times as high The tension varies inversely with the square of the diameter of a plain string, thus if the string were half the diameter, it would be at 1/4 the tension.(these extreme examples are only to explain what I mean by directly or inversely with the square, not a practical situation.) Conveniently (at least for strings available by gauge as with guitar, mandolin and banjo) these effects cancel out so that by changing the diameter by the same proportion as the vibrating length you can arrive at the same tension. However, for orchestral (boved) instrument strings, the peg end has additional winding material to grip the peg. For this reason plain steel "guitar" (ball end) or "mandolin"/"banjo"  (loop end) strings require modifying the technique for locking the string to the peg to avoid slipping.

3. It is difficult to get a satisfactory C string response on a viola with smaller than 16" body (and comparable open string length.) The problem with an E string on a viola is mostly one of availability of suitable strings to match the tonal qualities of the lower strings. If the instrument is capable of responding in high positions on the A string, it should also respond to those same pitches on the E string.

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21 hours ago, JDl said:

1. Has anyone compared the D'Addario Helicore steel viola E string with the Sensicore perlon viola E string? These are the only commercially available viola E strings I fave ever found available, and even the Sensicore is far less readily available than the Helicore.

2. A simple clarification of the physics (not opinion) on string tension: It is only the vibrating length of the string that affects the tension of the string at a given pitch. However, the entire string from peg to tailpiece will be at the same tension unless there is a friction hangup at either the nut or bridge, which would be a serious flaw that would cause difficulty in tuning, and possible string breakage.

The tension varies directly with the square of the length -- that is, if the vibrating string length were twice as long, the tension would be 4 times as high The tension varies inversely with the square of the diameter of a plain string, thus if the string were half the diameter, it would be at 1/4 the tension.(these extreme examples are only to explain what I mean by directly or inversely with the square, not a practical situation.) Conveniently (at least for strings available by gauge as with guitar, mandolin and banjo) these effects cancel out so that by changing the diameter by the same proportion as the vibrating length you can arrive at the same tension. However, for orchestral (boved) instrument strings, the peg end has additional winding material to grip the peg. For this reason plain steel "guitar" (ball end) or "mandolin"/"banjo"  (loop end) strings require modifying the technique for locking the string to the peg to avoid slipping.

3. It is difficult to get a satisfactory C string response on a viola with smaller than 16" body (and comparable open string length.) The problem with an E string on a viola is mostly one of availability of suitable strings to match the tonal qualities of the lower strings. If the instrument is capable of responding in high positions on the A string, it should also respond to those same pitches on the E string.

1. Disliking the idea of a perlon e-string, i have not purchased one. I barely tolerate a Dominant perlon a-string for viola ( on most violas. ) To clarify, I do highly respect Thomastik as a company. This must be Thomastik's sincere effort with a market for those who find the Dominant a- string acceptable, if not likable. My hope was that Savarez would eventually market a string set, or at least a long e-string as they have ventured into interesting strings in the past. Because of this bias, a dead-end in my mind, I have not tried the Sensicore string. 

I also have a bias against the sound ( and feel, at times ) of Dominant e-strings, as their tonal target of the e-string is so... or, um just shy of... where a simple, inexpensive Goldbrokat e-string can work wonders for many violins ( as it can be sweeter and also responds quickly. ) But they fade rapidly. I replace weekly when performing on my older instruments using these e- strings. The Savarez e- strings have been good, if not a fantastic value. When performing modern Eastern European literature, the Alliance series e- strings have had more depth and sustained power than most Pirastro strings. I feel the crescendos and the subitos ( sudden changes in dynamics ) are better say against the piano in the Shotakovich Piano Quintet. Through my retailer, less expensive, than Pirastro. These qualities can be set up dependent, but then also last much longer than the Goldborkat, making it a good value regardless of the specifics of tone.      

Lenzner is an amazing company in that the current owner is willing to allow customers to experiment, The retail e- strings also come in several thicknesses and coatings and they are relatively inexpensive to try, experiment and hand to the next student. Since drawn steel is not as difficult to design as wound strings, most experiments result in pretty close approximations and easier to try and take off. With folk instrument strings, like guitar and banjo, the surface coatings or the inaccuracies in the actual diameters marketed by certain suppliers have caused problems in the past. It is said that D'Addario makes strings for many of the brands out there, but my experience has been that a bunch of guitar brands ( likely not D'Addario strings ) package less than ideal strings. Tarnish or oxidation is not so much an issue, but if the string is out of round, the windings are not tight or the coating is inconsistent ( pull the string through your fingers ) a better effort could be made.

Perhaps the quality is significantly better now, nearing 2020, as string prices keep increasing. I suggest to players that they visually inspect strings from time to time.

I have also experimented with thinner gut strings, but never up to the e-string pitches. I can live with this tonal characteristic, but it is far more viola than violin. More on this below.

2. I do not disagree with your first paragraph, but there are some instruments that make strings behave a little differently. Certainly, in the past, solid body guitars are presumed to be a good model for ideal string behaviour. But in the past 30 years vibrato systems, where a spring loaded tailpiece that allows for variation in pitch ( the Fender vibrato bar from the old surf-rock days, or the Gretch system that emmulates the pedal steel sound, or the current locking systems where both ends of the strings are mechanically bolted in place ) have required considerable care in set up to maximize "tone quality," as that is considerably subjective in that industry. There can be similar tonal losses in some acoustic bowed instruments but players tend to overcome them through minor adjustments in playing.

3. For the sake of argument, perhaps it is difficult to get a satisfactory response out of an e-string with greater than a 16" body. 

I have experimented with violin tunings or at least, higher relational tunings on viola. Starting with about 15" then 15 1/2" length  up to 16". It is a lot of fun and can surprise others with the sound or size. But the experience generates more questions than answers. Firstly, playing with a viola bow on a violin pitched instrument is strange. The viola bow can overwhelm the e-string so much that it is like blowing out birthday cake candles with a leaf blower. The viola bow might be adapted nicely for an e-string, but a violin bow might be better. This one very ( beautiful and ) heavy gold mount W. E. Hill violin bow ( Retford? ) that i played in the past might be the ultimate bow for this type of instrument. It did not work with any violin, though the owner desired a very high price. So whoever owns that 65.6g bow ( Perlman? ) can ask a premium for a 5-string viola bow. 

Getting a violin-like sound, as we imagine a violin to sound, has been difficult to attain. In the past, stark e-strings on some 14 1/4" violins have been used ( despite the tension ) and it feels as if a super-stark e- string is necessary despite what the brain thinks on a viola. What the ear hears and the brain thinks creates a problem.

If a more covered sound from the e-string is desired, i believe a better 5-string viola is possible. It is much easier to attain a more uniform ( viola de gamba-esque tone ) by lowering the pitches. When the entire viola a whole step down, F to D pitches, the 4-string viola instrument behaves much better. 

As it is, we accept that the upper strings behave differently and players adapt. Violists may choose a Jargar or Larsen or Spirocore for the a-string. Cellists may use a  different pair for upper and lower strings.  Can we accept further variations in tone on a 5-string?

The fact that D'Addario sells an e- string is impressive. It would be valuable to know what size of instrument ( or string length ) was used to test the strings. Lacking that information, playing around is the only way i have to determine what might work for me or for students. There is a cost to all this experimentation and it can add up over time. At least with strings, they are re-usable.  

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Sometimes you take a chance on something.  So I went for it.... I purchase from Ebay a “5 string 16inch Viola Unfinished Ebony fittings Maple Spruce Hand Made No Paint” from "song-maker" for US $135.01 with shipping.    

The instrument was unfinished.  I took the fittings out and stained it yellow with yellow leather dye and then on top of the yellow light brown leather dye.   Then I even out the color to my liking using denatured alcohol (rub it to your liking).  Finally I did two coats of Minwax Lacquer Sanding Sealer applied with small paint brush.   Light sanding (400 grit) in between coats.  The last coat I water-down by applying lacquer retarder and paint thinner from Steward MacDonald and got a good decent shine.  Some of these techniques I copied from Jerry Rosa from Rosa String works mandolin builds.  The bright red that comes from the yellow/light brown is spectacular!

I left it there for now. But will add either a full lacquer coat from Steward Macdonald or Violin clear varnish (I get form Canada via https://atlanticviolinsupplies.com).

Then I hit the same problem described on this thread… how to get strings for it.  I used a standard viola set from Johnson Strings of the Viola 141 Mediums Synthetic Core (15-16” Viola set).  But now the big problem was how to get a viable E string for a 16" viola?    After days of breaking all types of strings.. I hit on an E string from Goltone from a set called FGS12EX Mando-Guitar Strings Custom Gauge.  The .008 string (double string) so I got 2 of them.   I used that string and my daughter who plays viola for the last 10yrs (including youth symphony in NYYS and college at Yale).  She was impressed with the amazing instrument and the wonderful range and balance of the sound!   Happy to share pictures, videos on the other hard will have to wait for her to come back from college.

So this experiment is an amazing success.    When you can think of something... make it happen!

Edited by Carlos.H.Sevillano

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The scale length for this 16" viola is 37cm or 14.5 Inches.     This 5 string viola has been a fun project and the results are better than we expected.  The key was finding that E string that could work on that scale length.  Regular 4/4 violin strings are not long enough and they break under the tension.   The .008 E string from Goltone from a set called FGS12EX Mando-Guitar Strings Custom Gauge was the key part that made this experiment work.  It is not wrapped in cloth so I did a guitar style wrap to get a good grip on the peg.  The E sounds every bit as good as a good Violin's E.  The normal Dominant Viola 141 Mediums Synthetic Core  complemented with that E make a really wonderful instrument.   It was an experiment that happens to have worked for us.

IMG_6806_small.jpg

Edited by Carlos.H.Sevillano

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12-string guitars have an octave G string.  It breaks a lot, but that's about the highest stress (not tension, which depends on diameter) string I'm familiar with that is commonly used.  If you assume a Martin 12-string scale length of 24.9", you can calculate (or, at least I can) that the octave G would have a scale length of 376 mm if used as a viola E string.

So, good music wire can take the stress (barely) of a long-ish scale viola E string... with the caveat that the drag over the nut and bridge of a viola is likely higher than on a guitar, and therefore even more likely to break.

On 10/1/2007 at 12:00 PM, Jacob said:

I do understand that there is a difference between a 5-string violin with a C-string, and a 5-string viola with an e-string. I've searched several forum archives on this matter (including Maestronet) and I fully agree that there can be no such thing as a 5-string violin/viola.

Although this is a 12-year-old post, I wonder how the breakpoint can be so clearly defined between what is a 5-string violin vs. a 5-string viola.  It seems to me like a very small viola and a very large violin could be the same thing.

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48 minutes ago, Don Noon said:

I wonder how the breakpoint can be so clearly defined between what is a 5-string violin vs. a 5-string viola

I don't know. But I might say that if the string length is such that 4/5 of the strings can be off-the-shelf violin strings then its a violin.

But I guess some very small ~14.5" violas can use mostly violin strings, so maybe that's not a good criteria

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