What are the various sizes of Violas?

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Yes, it is the body length, not counting the button. Some seem to be just an oversized violin, while others are stretched in every direction to increase air volume, I guess. There are some really odd-looking violas, due to that effort.

People sell everything from 13" violas up through 20" monsters. (I have heard of them but have never seen one--is that technically a tenor?)

I like a 16 1/2" viola, though 16" is considered about standard for a "full-size"-- but I think VSA competitions are running more and more to a 16-1/4" viola as a standard.

So I guess they run from "too small" to "too big", including all the "just right" sizes in between.

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It's not only a proportional body length increase. Some makers tend to broaden the upper bout maintaining a relative smaller lower bout. The reason is that a viola mainly 'gets' it sound from the upper bout. Making such a model will result in a deviating form with respect to a violin. The Tertis-model is also deviating from a 'normal' violin shape. Also the f-nicks are sometimes placed a litle bit higher to the north direction. This makes the string length shorter. The neck mensur is maximal 150 mm to allow easy playing.


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Some makers will just enlarge a violin up to a viola size. A lot of

times the width of the middle bout is widened. Most of the time the

proportion between the upper bout and the middle bout is changed,

to bring the bridge closer north. Ribs are generally deeper than a

scaled up fiddle would be.

Archings vary a lot. Violin style archings get a viola which carry

some violin characteristics. Violas generally have less scoop, the

arch rises sooner from the purfling.

Lots of variation for violas, which is frustrating for the first

time, tons of fun later on. Tons of variation on the violists, also

  and their opinion on the ideal viola.

I don't like to think of violas as a big violin. Or as a small

cello. They are their own animal. Strad posters are available of

some violas, that might be a good place to start.

Can't go too far wrong with starting with an Amati viola

pattern, Or a Maggini or Da Salo.

One thing I wouldn't scale up from a violin is the scroll, it ends

up a bit big and heavy.

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David, Oded,

Sorry for the delay in answering this question. I had to find the literature from where my statement came. Because I remembered that the upper bout is the main sound producing part of the viola. Fortunately after some search I did find the literature (in German):

"Geigenbau und Klangfrage"; Konrad Leonhardt, Part 2 Bratsche, page 63; Verlag das Instrument Frankfurt am Main, 1967.

One reads (translated): "the main comtribution of the mechanical vibrational movements takes place in the upper part of the resonating body, thus between neck and bridge. The lower bout is a less contributing part. This fact allows the maker to shorten the lower bout without having negative effects on sound".

And here Oded's remark is very valuable because a shorter lower bout facilitates playing the instrument! No long arms needed and the weight is less.

If a quote in German is wanted, just give me a sign and I'll give it.


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Hi Fritz,

Actually a larger upper bout gets in the way of playing upper positions. It also means the player holds up more weight further away from the body, making it heavier.

Does Kornrad Leonhardt explain how he came to his conclusion? Beause as it stands now, his is just one of many opinions. I would prefer to see some >evidence< Experimental results or some method I can use to verify this for myself.

Thanks Fritz,


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David says:

" [ I was a] Violinist, but lack of practice may have turned me

into a violist."

Oh David. David. David.

I was trying to stay out of this. But that was a glove being thrown

down to all of us violists in the world. Violas are

simply superior. And violists have to be better musicians, not

merely able to play a melody! But actually able to carefully and

elegantly harmonize and add to the whole. This requires subtlety

and a discerning ear.

Anyway, seriously, many of the best violas, in my humble opinion,

are not large violins. There are notable exceptions. But generally,

the models with wider bouts proportional to a violin sound better

by modern standards. I have one violin pattern that I use, and one

I rotate in on rare occasion. I have two cello patterns I use. But

I have 6 viola models in production, all of which I have made in

the last 18 months. And I have retired an additional 10 violas

patterns. My point is that the variety in viola shape is something

to be embraced and enjoyed and explored.

So listen to David about everything except the comparative skill of

the violinist compared to the violist.

Marilyn Wallin

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I am very new to all this, but this thread relates to something I read awhile ago and have been thinking about. This comming year I want to make a small viola with a deep sound. I know (or think I know) that this is a contradiction of sorts, but I want to proceed none-the-less. I haven't decided on a specific size yet, but the general parametors of small viola with a deep sound is my goal. What factors and solutions do I need to consider. Also, what historical examples are there of this type of instrument.


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Peter, we make a soloist model viola with a wide lower bout, small upper bout, and a shortened scale. The scale is about half an inch shorter than you would expect for the body size, and the tone is deeper than you would expect. This makes it quite a bit easier to play upper positions, and still get a good viola sound. It's a successful model, but Anton designed it pretty much from scratch. Tertis violas were designed with similar goals in mind.

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Oded, David,

I went through his article and although he did a lot of experiments concerning different body volumes he is also referring to an other author and investigator: Rödig " Geigenbau in neuer Sicht", (ISBN-10: 392011213X and ISBN-13: 978-3920112138 see also: Article Rödig)

Konrad's investigations about the corpus volume resulted in a best air volume of 3300 cc, neck mensur: 150 mm, String mensur: 378.5 mm, top blade mensur: 225 mm; mensur ratio 3:2 which is usual. However he did not reveal results (not investigated?) about the effects of different upperbout shapes. Maybe that is described in the work of Rödig? I don't posses that work so I can't give any conclusions.

Reading through Konrad's work I wrote down a remark to be alert for my next viola. That's why I remembered his statement!

No need to mention that the corpus volume is also affected by the rib height and arching where Konrad came to an optimum of 37 mm in combination with a corpus length of 405 mm (max top height: 19 mm and max bottom height 18 mm).

As earlier said in a post and what is also common knowledge: the viola Strad models do not show a remarkable sound and other models having a wider upper bout seem to sound better. It is said that that is the reason that Antonio did not built so many altos.

I built a viola (2005) after the Strad model as given in Sacconi's work, body length 405 mm but with the volume as mentioned by Konrad in mind. The result was an excellent sound for the upper three strings: no nasal A and remarkable deep sounds for the others! I'm very excited about this sound! It is a pleasure to play on it. The only thing I would like to improve is a still deeper C. Therefore I changed my existing mould into a wider center bout (total 8 mm) without changing the other variables to see the effects. My next viola is under construction with some delay due to my removal.


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I have a 16" pattern viola that is big enough to control the sound.

That size and larger give no restrictions to the maker to carve the

sound he/she wants, in my experience. I have a 15 7/8 that is hard

to handle, but can be very successful. But I feel a bit constrained

in the size. So, never having thought about it quite this way until

you asked, the line in the sand seems to be at 15 7/8.

From playing so many violas over the years, literally hundreds and

hundreds, I can attest to there being remarkably lousy

sounding 17" violas, although not as many of those as there are

lousy sounding 15 1/2" violas. I used to think making a good

sounding 17" viola was like shooting fish in a barrel. But I have

seen and heard bad violas in every size.

I think there is more room to get the sound right within

a larger pattern viola. The corollary is that there is more room to

get the playability wrong within a larger pattern viola.


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I would put modeling and setup as equally important as size. But

I'm guessing since instruments start with the pattern, which

begets the mold, which begets the ribs, which begets the plate

outline, you would have to necessarily determine a size first?

I would love to see a thread on viola archings start from here.

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Marilyn, with a plethora of competition viola tone awards, will be teaching at Oberlin this summer if you have questions which might most easily be answered by visual example, demonstration, or if you have more questions than she has time to answer on the forum.

Hey Marilyn, I could have been a violist........

if Mom hadn't made me practice so much!

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Originally posted by:

I'm just wondering - a lot has been said about "size". Where does setup (including string angle) come in, and where does modelling (arching, recurve, graduations) become as important, if not more so, than mere size?

Hi Jacob,

I think that's due to the subject where it's all about size of the different violas.

For me it's obvious that a different size and width of the bouts or even body length will require a different set up in terms of string angle arching etc. (all teh variables you mentioned).


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