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MANFIO

String length for 39.6 cms. viola - small hands.

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I've been making violas following Renè Morel's ideas, that is a 375 mm string length, and a 15 cms. neck, for violas from 40.7 to 43 cms. I made some 39.6

that worked nice with that too.

But now I have a commission for a small violas from a small player, she is 1.59 tall, with small hands, Her current viola that she finds uncorfortable is

40.7 (16) with a 370 string length.

I am afraid of reducing the string length and having problems in sound... I think I could reduce the string length to 370 mm without problems, but I am afraid

of going under that. What is your experience with that?

PS. it is not a Brescian model, and I am not willing to make a Brescian model.

Thanks!

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We have a Vuillaume with a back length of 39.65cm and a vibrating string length of 35.8cm ... it sounds great.

For me the key is to use the right strings - slightly higher tension than you might otherwise choose, and something that's engineered for shorter scales.

But equally, if you have a customer who needs a small instrument, they have to accept that it won't have the same kind of timbre as a larger instrument.

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I regularly make violas with shorter string lengths. I think they sound fine, and they always find a home.
I don't think you have too much to worry about. That said, I've never heard a Rene Morel viola.

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I think Martin hit the nail on the head. Small violas can be great players but Its about timbre, and getting the right tension. I have a Vogtland viola just over 15" with a string length also about 358. I use it as a loaner, and the last person was an excellent violinist who wanted to double, I had to pry that instrument from her hands, just couldn't sell it to her.

IMO Morels magic number has more to do with the fact that off-the-shelf strings are designed to work best at around that length and its simply a comfortable size for average people.

Dominants come in different string length/tensions, they work as advertised. For my small viola I have 141.34. They also  have three different sizes above the average 141s, I've used them all on various large violas. Unfortunately if your player needs the latest in Evah's, or whatever hot new string comes out, good chance they wont work so hot.

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19 minutes ago, deans said:

Dominants come in different string length/tensions, they work as advertised. For my small viola I have 141.34. They also  have three different sizes above the average 141s, I've used them all on various large violas. Unfortunately if your player needs the latest in Evah's, or whatever hot new string comes out, good chance they wont work so hot.

Thanks Dean! I like Dominants too (with the exception of the string) but it is very rare to find a professional violist using them today.

 

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2 hours ago, martin swan said:

We have a Vuillaume with a back length of 39.65cm and a vibrating string length of 35.8cm ... it sounds great.

For me the key is to use the right strings - slightly higher tension than you might otherwise choose, and something that's engineered for shorter scales.

But equally, if you have a customer who needs a small instrument, they have to accept that it won't have the same kind of timbre as a larger instrument.

I'm also trying to find the right strings for a small viola. Would you mind sharing, as an example, what is on the Vuillaume, or which strings might be a good staring point for a small viola in your experience?

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Guido, when the string length is reduce, the tension of the string is reduced too, and thay can play havoc with the sound. That can, perhaps, be counterbalanced by strings with higher tension, but in this case the viola sound may lack warmth and the tone suffer. Other thing that can be studied is changing the angle of the strings over the bridge, to make it exert more pression, that can be done with neck angle, projection of the neck over the table, and lower saddle height.

Anyway, while making a viola, try to avoid the most commom problems that, in my opinion are: a dead C string, a too narrow dynamic range (you change your bowing and nothing happens in terms of volume and sound colour), slow response, lack of clarity (notes will mix in quick passages), wolves.

 

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1 hour ago, MANFIO said:

Thanks Dean! I like Dominants too (with the exception of the string) but it is very rare to find a professional violist using them today.

I had heard that Pinchas Zukerman and Paul Neubauer were using them, apparently with the Jargar Forte A string - but this was a couple years ago, so I am not sure if it this is still the case. They still seem to be pretty commonly used amongst professional violists in NYC; I've seen violists in both the NY Phil and Met orchestras using them. I had also heard that Misha Amory was using Dominants, but the last time I saw his viola (last year), I think it had Helicores on it (with a Larsen A).

I have a small viola (15 inches) and I like Prim strings on it. Helicore and Vision Solo have also worked quite well in the past.

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These days I find that Warchal Amber in the shorter length work a treat for small violas.

But there's also an Evah Parazzi set that is designed for shorter scales, and while I generally hate these strings on violins I think the higher tension benefits small violas.

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I make all my different size violas with the same 378mm string length.  Everything above the bridge is has the same shape and size.  I vary the viola's overall length by changing only the lower bout's length. 

This maintains the same string bowing characteristics for all the different size violas and I think this provides many good string choices.

The violas' lower bout/upper bout length ratios vary and some look a little strange but it should be remembered that these are violas.

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3 hours ago, martin swan said:

These days I find that Warchal Amber in the shorter length work a treat for small violas.

But there's also an Evah Parazzi set that is designed for shorter scales, and while I generally hate these strings on violins I think the higher tension benefits small violas.

I generally like Warchal strings but for viola have only tried the Karneols so far (on a 16" viola). I was reluctant with my small viola as the Warchal strings seem to come in what I would call 'long' and 'extra long', at least according to the sting length recommendation on their package! The shorter ones still seem to be geared towards a standard 16" viola.

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I have a couple of friends that I build instruments with.We have a very successful small viola model that uses a 140 neck and 210 mensur. Although I don't like Dominants, the short string length demands stark Dominants or a similar higher  tension string to keep the C string from feeling floppy. Normally I tend to stick with the 150 neck and 220-225 mensur, not changing the string length for violas 15.75"-16.25".

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Dear Maestronetters,

reading the topic gave me this thought: How come do the 5 string violins play with it's "short" stop lenght/mensur? I do know that the dimensions of these instruments are sort of restricting the dark viola like sound but to my logic it seems that the problem could be, at least partially, solved by making the body a bit wider and the ribs higher. 

Couldn't this be the way of stringing the small violas? Keeping the stop lenght shorter and using violin C string? 

Sorry if I mix things up I just share what comes to my mind!   

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29 minutes ago, Dominik Tomasek said:

like sound but to my logic it seems that the problem could be, at least partially, solved by making the body a bit wider and the ribs higher. 

I believe many who make their own usually do make the dimensions different.

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46 minutes ago, deans said:

I believe many who make their own usually do make the dimensions different.

A lot of good small violas have broader width and higher ribs, English and C19 Italian instruments particularly.

But this isn't by any means necessary - some of the best sounding small violas I have come across have been Homolkas (EA or FJ), which have been neither broad nor deep. 

The problem with small violas is the C string, and essential to the success of any small viola is a C string which doesn't flap around. When you get onto the G or above, the shorter body becomes pretty irrelevant - in fact smaller back lengths often give more focus and quicker response. "Dark" or "earthy" sound is not a consequence of back length, as can be demonstrated by the number of violins that sound "viola-like".

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A deep sounding C string is often cited as a beneficial characteristic of large violas. But I've found for my violas that the flexibility of the entire shell--top plate, back plate, and ribs is a major factor.  A small viola with thin plates and ribs can have a deep sound.

A small viola is easier to fit into an airplane's overhead compartment.

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