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Viola measurements


Levin
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Levin, 
The 'best size' is that which the violist wants to buy, 16.25'' is a good middling size, 17.5'' is ok if you're tall. 
15.25'' is easy to play but hard to make one that sounds good. 
Make whatever size you want, but if I were going to make my first viola I'd rather make it for 
someone who wanted a viola....since selling the damned things is harder than making em. 
 

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Violas are not as fixed in dimension as violin and offer a lot of set up options. Personally I am really bored to death of  interpretations of the Andrea Guarneri  Conte Vitale and the whole idea of 'ideal dimensions' around 16 inches....Look at your player. ask what they want and build something that fits them...

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Player preference is clearly important in viola size.  I've an adult student happily playing a 390 mm but my own Michael Darnton (409 mm) and my Sarah Beaton (415 mm) suit me very well.  On the other hand I've a friend who has spent 30 years of professional playing on a quite small instrument and another who plays one well over 17 inches (a beautiful 17th century instrument formerly owned by Joseph Joachim--he's sitting beside me in my avatar).

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Probably anything from15.5" to 17" is within the realm of " normal"  My teacher played a huge 18.75' Instrument, but he is 6'6"  or so.  I find a 16" or so instrument to be about ideal, but everybody is different.  There are some lovely instruments on the National Music Museums web site.  Mantagazza, Andrea Amati, and Nicola Bergonzi among others.  They also have at least 4 uncut tenor or large violas that are very rare and could be scaled down.  I love the Andrea Amati even though it has been cut down somewhere in the past.  I am hoping to get a chance to see it this summer. Of late I have been playing on one of Chris Jacoby's Bergonzi models and a very big Gasparo Model by Mike Jones as well as my Whedbee, it's been a viola year here!

 

 

 

DLB

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Probably anything from15.5" to 17" is within the realm of " normal"  My teacher played a huge 18.75' Instrument, but he is 6'6"  or so.  I find a 16" or so instrument to be about ideal, but everybody is different.  There are some lovely instruments on the National Music Museums web site.  Mantagazza, Andrea Amati, and Nicola Bergonzi among others.  They also have at least 4 uncut tenor or large violas that are very rare and could be scaled down.  I love the Andrea Amati even though it has been cut down somewhere in the past.  I am hoping to get a chance to see it this summer. Of late I have been playing on one of Chris Jacoby's Bergonzi models and a very big Gasparo Model by Mike Jones as well as my Whedbee, it's been a viola year here!

 

 

 

DLB

Dwight, considering your bad case of violamania I'm surprised you have got one of the gang here to fix you up a Stainer tenor copy. Maybe one day I'll be able to!

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... I'd rather make it for someone who wanted a viola....since selling the damned things is harder than making em. 

 

That has been the opposite of my experience.  I've made 2 (16", and 15 3/8"), both sold instantly to dealers.  I've never had that happen with violins.

 

I have been told that 16" or slightly under is the easiest to sell.  So my current project is 400mm, or about 15 3/4".  I also like the challenge of getting maximum sound from the smaller size.

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I have a sense that for a number of violists, anything under 40cm just isn't a viola, in the same way that many violinists won't even consider trying a violin over 36cm. I think many of us have run into very good sounding "small" violas, though, and I thought I'd mention a very nice 18thc. Piacenza viola (Lorenzini, according to label and certificate) a friend of mine used to own, that had interesting proportions: from the lower corners on up, it looked like a large viola, but was "squashed" in the lower bouts, giving it an overall length of only 38cm, but a string length well over 36. It worked very well, and was very comfortable to play. I'm currently playing something with similar proportions and it does make switching from violin easier.

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I have a sense that for a number of violists, anything under 40cm just isn't a viola, in the same way that many violinists won't even consider trying a violin over 36cm. 

Yes, this is true, and it's an opinion (or prejudice) which probably radiates out from the land of Berlioz and becomes less strong the further you travel from Paris ...

It's also an opinion which is changing. Viola size has always been a thing of the time - a few high-profile young players are using smaller instruments now, and older players are much more aware of the dangers of tendonitis/RSI etc. The very existence of so many violas under 40cm makes you realize that things were different in the past. Look at Guadagnini for example.

It is far from straightforward to make a viola under 40cm that has depth of sound in that classic "viola" way, but many makers achieve it. Conversely, it's far from straightforward to make a viola of any size that has a combination of solistic response on all strings and musicality in the high register.

In a way, I think soloists and amateur players are more able to be open-minded than orchestral players. Certainly in the great orchestras of the UK, going into work with less than 16" would cause more blushes than going into work naked.

Nowadays I think the safe bet is 16" or around 40.5-41cm, though the mainstream orchestral preference is for something closer to 42cm.

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There is a very good article dealing with "The Problem of Viola Size" in the VSA Journal Vol. V, No. 4.  The research seemed very good (at the time) and anyone making a viola would find it interesting reading.

This took me into the library for my Journal copy.  Interesting article for many reasons, one of which was not that it details THE ANSWER.  I would be interested in knowing, however, whether anyone is aware of more recent theories, perhaps updates to those offered in the article.  

 

Which raises another interesting thought -- probably for another thread or the folks running the VSA -- no doubt there is a group of articles appearing in the Journal over the years the  theories/findings of which could be updated for the benefit of the trade.  Some of our contemporaries could be commissioned to take on such updating -- one article per author -- at the usual rate of remuneration (pro bono).

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In the US, in-demand sizes are different regionally and it's really faddish. Ask around. Player comfort is more important than viola size anyway, so probably pay attention to the bout dimensions and stop length and stuff like that no matter what you decide on. Just one opinion, that 16 isn't any magic number.

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Hi,

I want to build a viola and I ask you all an advice: in your opinion today what is the size most in demand by musicians?

 

thank you

 

Levin

 

Hi Levin,

 

I'm speaking here from my little bit of experience. I imported a Chinese viola from eBay (one of the good dealers), 15.5 inches to sell locally, hopefully to some conservatory student. I adjusted a new Aubert bridge, replaced the strings by a new set of Dominants, and applied some Hill compound to the pegs, which were mildly stiff.

 

Even though the projection is excellent, you can smell the tonewood and the instrument is good looking, I have trouble selling it for two reasons. First of all, the market here (Chile) is very small, so it's not easy to find potential customers. Even so, I've talked to a few violists, and even though none of them are tall, they say they would prefer a 16.5 or 17 inch viola. Why? Because the access to good instruments here is difficult, so their teachers tend to correlate "projection" with "size", in which case "larger is better". Some of them wouldn't even try the instrument. One girl who studies at the conservatory tried it and liked it, and is now asking me for time to get the money, though she already warned me that "my teacher might not like it because it's small".

 

What I'm just trying to say is what others have already said: look to your target audience, ask them what they prefer. 16 inches sounds like a magic number because it's sort of in the middle of the range, but maybe you can get a customer beforehand and agree on a size before you start making the instrument.

 

Cheers, and good luck!

Alejandro

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My teacher played a huge 18.75' Instrument, but he is 6'6"  or so. 

DLB

Wow! Talk of 17.5 and even 18.75 makes my skin creep. You might be 6'6" tall but the physiology of your hands and fingers are more critical.

And that is still a considerable amount of weight to support and remain dexterous.

size-matters.jpg

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