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Suggestions for finding a Viola as a second instrument?

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For a violinist who does not plan on ever playing viola permanently, where would you suggest finding a reasonably priced, but decent playing viola just to have on hand and to learn on?  No access to a local shop, so the purchase would have to be “sight, unseen” unless it was a trial from one of the larger online retailers. Say approx in the $2k to $3k range if you can get a decent playable one for that (knowing nothing about violas).  Presumably the value opportunities are better with older ones.

Any chance that a lower priced one from the Tarisio fine instruments auction would be decent? Only reason for thinking of non-traditional sales venues is that you would probably pay a premium at normal retail and odds of coming out ok on a resale would not be as high if it didn’t work out. But buyer would not want to risk having to put a lot of money in it for repair, so T2, eBay, some of the other auctions would likely be too risky. Not trying to cut too many corners, but this would be more or less for fun and experimenting, so it would not seem to be the same approach as buying a violin for everyday playing. 

Also, what size is “standard” for violas? ie. 14”/35.6cm is the sweet spot for violins, but what is it for violas?

Thanks.

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I suggest violin shops. Most have lines of German or Chinese instruments in that price range that play very nicely.

IMO the sweet spot for violas is around 16.25" all things considered. Being a bigger guy myself I usually am on something averaging around 17.

Don't fall for the idea that its easier to switch back and forth with a smaller viola, I see plenty of guys playing 16.5"+ instruments that switch back an forth easily. Not to say that a smaller instrument is a bad thing, you may prefer the timbre.

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I play both violin and viola, and my viola is a 16-3/8" which for me is the "sweet spot" in size. I usually find that with practicing a few scales on either instrument, I'm ready to dive in on practicing literature, then onto rehearsals and performances. 

I agree that the best way to find the right viola is by shopping personally. Give the shop an idea of your price range and ask to see what they have in the size you want. From there, play them until you find the one you like best for feel, playability and sound. If you can bring a friend who has an educated ear (another string player) it is always good to get the "across the room" perspective on the sound.

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My violas are both 16". If you arms are long enough to play that size it fits very well with your violin experience because the arm extension AND the finger separations for 3rd position are the same as 1st position on violin and the other positions follow those proportions.

I have not played other violas than mine - except over a decade ago I did play a Jay Haide at Ifshin Violins and thought it was a very good viola.

One of our local "ringers" has actually chosen a Jay-Haide violin and viola as his performance instruments.

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There isn't exactly a standard size for violas.  Anything between 16-16.5 inches is pretty normal.  I agree that 16 3/8" might be a sweet spot.

With violas as with violins, I'd say value isn't necessarily with older instruments, but you can find a large viola sometimes for cheaper.  They're harder to unload.  But unless you're quite tall, I'd stick in the 16"-16.5" range.  

If you're a littler person, you could look for something in the 15"-15.5" range, but it's much harder to find good-sounding instruments in that size range.

I find violas fall along a continuum from closed/nasal to open/boomy.  Somewhere in the middle is what you want.  The closed/nasal sound is easier to dislike.  So, more violas tend towards being boomy.  Beware of instruments that don't have enough core to their sound.

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I have found it is possible to change a viola's sound quite a lot by choosing just the right string combination. My two violas are totally different in sound and optimal string combinations - and bow choice.

Also I wonder why people equate arm length (and hand size) for playing string instruments with height. My tallest height was 6 feet and I have long arms (my elbows reach my waist when I was that height - now in my 85th year the reach my hips), my violin playing granddaughter finally made it to about 5'4" but when were doing her lessons we had a "game" where we would compare the lengths of our left arms, by sticking our finger tips into the other's armpits. By the time she reached that height we could touch each other's armpits. I know violinist almost 6-1/2 feet tall with smaller hands and shorter arm.

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11 minutes ago, Andrew Victor said:

I wonder why people equate arm length (and hand size) with height. 

... because it's strongly correlated?

Not many people are 5'5", but have the arms/hands of a 6'2" person.

I do not believe your story about the 6'6" person with shorter arms than a 5'4" person.  At the very least, that is anatomically extraordinary (according to my understanding).

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2 hours ago, Stephen Fine said:

Beware of instruments that don't have enough core to their sound.

This is good advice. When it comes to violas in particular we tend to be attracted to certain qualities that don't really serve us well. And many makers have learned to produce a "big" sound in smaller violas that, after a while, you come to realize is a paper tiger.

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