JBiggs

Favorite small viola model?

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My first viola I made in 2001 was a Carleen Hutchins Alto and it had a body length of 20 in. (508mm) and weighed 990g without a chin rest or shoulder rest.  It sounded wonderfully deep and rich but only a very few could play it under the chin.

I found that viola players liked shorter and lighter weights much better so after many years of redesigns my last one was only 15 1/4in. (387mm) and weighed only 434g total with a chin rest and built-in shoulder rest. 

So my violas have been loosing on the average about 0.3 inch (7.6mm) and 35 g per year and after a several more decades they might completely disappear. 

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Thanks Ben Hebbert! Interesting... I imagined that just a central bent strip was used, with two solid spruce pieces glued to its sides, in the way some gambas (viols) were made. Thanks!

 

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14 hours ago, Mike Spencer said:

Great thread going here folks! But it's really made it confusing for a person getting ready to make their first viola. I was planning on using the Bros. Amati 1615 Stauffer as my model but know I'm second guessing that choice. Should I reconsider or go for a smaller model? Opinions please. Thx.

I don't think you should change your plans.  Make the Amati Bros.  and then make a smaller model after.  There is no better way to decide for yourself what role size plays in achieving a good viola tone.

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1 hour ago, MANFIO said:

Thanks Ben Hebbert! Interesting... I imagined that just a central bent strip was used, with two solid spruce pieces glued to its sides, in the way some gambas (viols) were made. Thanks!

 

Make sure and read the last article that Dwight posted.  That gives some very usefull info about bending tops.

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When considering viola size and which old models to use, I think one should perhaps stop to think how this developed over the last couple of hundred years.

 

Up until about the mid 18th. C., one comes across some large violas, 42cm LOB and above. Should one come across one of these that still boasts it's original neck, then one can hardly help but notice, that these necks were scarcely longer than violin necks (13,5cm for instance). I think this can only be understood when comparing with the viola literature. The viola back then seems to have been far more an instrument to fill out the middle of the harmony, in first position, and didn't get rewarded with any, or much (surely exceptions too every rule) virtuoso literature. At about this time, some “disruptive” individuals like Haydn, invented the string quartette, and all of a sudden, the viola players had to go home and do some practice! From this time on, naturally with rare exceptions, no violin makers made any “large” violas any more, presumably due to lack of demand. The “Large” viola only really came back in a big way in the 20th C. with the likes of Tertis, Hindemith and their generation. For this reason, if you go to an orchestra concert in the Musikverein, whichever guest orchestra they have, you can see well from the gallery that the %ige of “old violins, is invariably much larger than the %age of old violas, either that or that viola players seem to have small heads.

 

The south German/Austrian 18th C. makers, seemed to have 3 distinct viola sizes 38cm, 39,6cm, and 42cm+, so that one can give viola players a shock, by telling them across the room, exactly how long, to the mm, their viola is, should one be in a mischievous mood.

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Very much in line with Jacob's post, I also think we have come to a bit of a crisis in understanding what a viola is as it's repertoire has evolved. 

An intelligent conversation I have been having with viola players is about the understanding that the kind of instrument you need for the Walton, Bartok, and many of the standard audition pieces for professional orchestras is simply wrong for Everything from Mozart to Brahms - there are many sorts of beautiful instrument but rarely as multifunctioning as violins tend to be. The answer seems to me to be an acceptance that you should look for an instrument according to its strengths, and acknowledge its weaknesses, and look to owning two or more violas in order to specialise in whatever part of the repertory you are playing. Is think there is an enormous amount tonne said for this. 

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11 hours ago, Ben Hebbert said:

Very much in line with Jacob's post, I also think we have come to a bit of a crisis in understanding what a viola is as it's repertoire has evolved. 

An intelligent conversation I have been having with viola players is about the understanding that the kind of instrument you need for the Walton, Bartok, and many of the standard audition pieces for professional orchestras is simply wrong for Everything from Mozart to Brahms - there are many sorts of beautiful instrument but rarely as multifunctioning as violins tend to be. The answer seems to me to be an acceptance that you should look for an instrument according to its strengths, and acknowledge its weaknesses, and look to owning two or more violas in order to specialise in whatever part of the repertory you are playing. Is think there is an enormous amount tonne said for this. 

I think you are right about that Ben! One of my players, principal in Bremen, uses a 17-inch old Cremonese Cerutti for the orchestra and my 16-inch viola for solos and contemporary music.

By the way, lute players may have many many lutes.

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Thanks to everyone who posted, even the digressions were interesting!   I'm started on copies of the Conte Vitale and a Maggini, both will be 390mm.  Will post pictures soon!

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