Help me choose a viola, Please!


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I am an advanced student entering high school, playing for 10 years, started at age 4. 

I am currently playing on a Johannes Kohr K5000 16" viola, and am (really) ready to upgrade!

I would like my next viola to get me through high school and college.

I have to decide between these two violas...

2012 Gunther Prager Armati 16" Retail $2500 paid $1400 with basic case and bow

According to my local luthier *This viola is very well set up, and he prefers this one.

2013 Pietro Germino Master 16 1/2" made for Quinlan & Fabish Retail $4150 paid $2000 with wooden suspension case, new strings and bow

According to local luthier *This viola, needs some tweaking with set up and alignment, but is still a very good instrument.

The Gunther Prager has a nice low register with good tone

The Pietro Germino seems to have cleaner notes in the higher register with more overall projection

Thoughts welcome please!

Pietro Germino.JPG

Pietro_Germino_Gunther_Prager.jpg

Prager.JPG

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Welcome to the forum, and congrats on reaching this milestone of selecting a new instrument! I regret that, short of hearing you play them, I can't tell you which would be better for your present needs. Between your teacher and your luthier, I am sure you will have excellent guidance in selecting your next fiddle. 

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Unless you are really tall, I suggest the smaller one. At your age, development of (particularly left hand) advanced technique and repertoire is vital, and will be more easily obtained on the smaller viola, all else being equal (although that is not a given...) Learn to get everything out of the smaller viola by experimenting carefully and methodically with the balance of bow contact point, speed, and weight, (and articulations, and artistically varied vibrato...) and your bow arm will be able to adapt to a bigger viola someday, if you choose to go that direction.

I speak from experience; I played a fat 17" viola from age 13-20, and a 17-3/8" da Salo-model for the next 25 years. Looking back, I wish I had had a more standard 16 to 16-3/8" viola during my training. FWIW I am 6' 2-1/2" tall.

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I am a devotee of violas about 16" even though I'm 6'2".  However I would get the one you love the most and feel the most comfortable playing.  How tall are you?  that would help a bit.  It is pretty hard to give advice at a distance.  What does your teacher think?  I agree with Martin generally about size and I think at 14 a 16 1/2" instrument would be pretty large for you..  I had a rather nice 16 5/8" viola in high school and college and i rather wish I had something smaller.  As a teacher i found myself playing violin a great deal and avoiding my viola.  I bought a 16" viola at auction and it made all the difference in the world.  It seems kind of odd that just 1/2" or so would make that much difference but it really can.  

Now go practice :-)

DLB

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I believe Pietro Germino is made by Eastman, and I’ve had very good experiences with my Eastman violins and my son’s celli.  Like mentioned above, however, comfortability of size is very important at your age as not to stifle your physical capabilities. 

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I think its impossible to make that decision on line without having the instruments in hand. Also impossible to make any decision about size. Although I believe with the above posts that being comfortable is good, many, many players are fine with 16.5" violas and larger. And with mid-priced student instruments you are looking at, I usually see a tonal advantage of 16.5 vs 16.

Can you get the "tweeking" done on the larger one before you decide? Once well adjusted it could blow the other one out of the water.

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I would also tend to agree with your luthier's advice; one reason is that the Gunther Prager has a nice low register, and that is harder to find on a viola than merit in the higher register. But the fact that this one is smaller is, of course, a far more important consideration.

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FWIW: I am 5'6" and have no trouble with my 16" Strad copy.

But then I  got a 15 3/4" Guadagnini copy and find it much more comfortable to play.

Dunno if it's the 1/4" size difference or some other factor.

 

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Presuming your teacher is a professional, you should let him/her decide which one is better for you. Often people your age will develop a lot within a matter of years, or months even, and some lesser characteristics you may not yet be sensitive to might start bothering you a lot in the near future. A good player can help you avoid such a thing happening. 

I conduct a small youth string orchestra, and the principle viola player was in a similar situation to yours. Two good violas to choose from, but one had a huge wolf on the open a string, and a bit unbalanced on the whole, so the teacher and I advised her to take the other instrument. Stubborn as she was, she chose the one with the wolf. Now, a year later, the wolf is worse, the viola even more unbalanced, and she has started to notice. It is impeding her development and she doesn't like having been stubborn... 

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Thank you all for you suggestions so far. I am very tall for my age, nearly  5'11. I am very comfortable with my 16" currently and have no difficulty with the 16.5" at all. 

I enjoy playing both instruments and they are both equally comfortable and playable, which is why I am having such a hard time deciding between the two.

I am wondering if the 16.5 is a better fit long term or if the 16" is equally good.

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7 hours ago, ClefLover said:

I believe Pietro Germino is made by Eastman, and I’ve had very good experiences with my Eastman violins and my son’s celli.  Like mentioned above, however, comfortability of size is very important at your age as not to stifle your physical capabilities. 

Yes, it is made by Eastman

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6 hours ago, Rue said:

FWIW: I am 5'6" and have no trouble with my 16" Strad copy.

But then I  got a 15 3/4" Guadagnini copy and find it much more comfortable to play.

Dunno if it's the 1/4" size difference or some other factor.

 

I think the Guad models are narrower than most violas of the same size.  Having a narrower upper bout makes a big difference in playing in higher positions.

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14 hours ago, Andrew Victor said:

What I see in the photo is that the smaller viola has a longer vibrating string length and approximately the same upper-bout width. So the overriding criterion would be the length of the OP's arms - not his age, height or leg length!!!\\

I have often thought that a more useful size measurement  of a viola should be the length from the nut to the end of the lower bout.  

A term for it might be "reach length" and it shows the farthest  the left hand has to be extended to hold the violin up.

 

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My father took both violas to the college he works at where fortunately for me both of my teachers were there this morning, and they are both violists as well!

He said that ... One played and the other listened.

On the Prager my teacher said it sounded nice but didn't like the way it was set up and the bridge was too high and made it a bit more difficult to play. She would recommend a new bridge to start. 

When playing the Eastman the teacher listening had a noticeable reaction - perked up, pointed and thumbed up instantly. The teacher playing said hands down this one sounded amazing. It didn't have the same lower tone but had more clear and right notes and a character or voice about it that I could definitely grow with. She recommended not changing a thing.

There is a concert tonight - so I will have an opportunity to go and play for them both tonight before the concert and make my final decision.

Thank you again for all of the shared wisdom and advice. It has really been helpful to me.

 

 

Edited by joiedeviola
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I would hardly ever favour a smaller viola for people who can handle a larger one. But I am only an amateur player and don't need to hold it 4-6h a day.

In this price range I would simply go for the one that you find sounds best. I tend to judge violas based on their C string sound quality. If the C is good the G usually follows. It is also important that it speaks on the A.

A bridge is lowered in a few minutes by a luthier. If you buy from a general music reseller this is of course more complicated. There are reasonably well agreed standards for string clearance over the finger board. The strings must not rattle on the finger board if you play forte.

Play some scales to see how well you can handle the upper positions. D major over 3 octaves should work otherwise it is too limiting.

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I played last night for both of my teachers. 

When listening everyone prefers the Eastman ... but when another one of my teachers was playing she preferred playing the Prager. Both agreed the set up was off on the Prager and that it would need a new bridge. More to do with the curve and height of the bridge.

Both also agreed that either one would be a great choice for me.

Decisions! Decisions!

 

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On 7/3/2018 at 10:25 AM, uguntde said:

I tend to judge violas based on their C string sound quality. I It is also important that it speaks on the A.

 

Unfortunately these are often mutually contradictory, certainly when it comes to "student" instruments!

Many people seem to judge violas by the sound of the C string, although they hardly ever use it ...

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