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Jim Bress

15 inch viola design

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Just finished a 15.5 (39.6 cms.) viola, named it "LA PICCINA", as i have mentioned above, it is not an elegant, but a fat lady. I will put more photos in the Maker's Gallery forum.

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Lol...I was just going to ask if the model was a bit, ample? :)

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3 hours ago, MANFIO said:

Just finished a 15.5 (39.6 cms.) viola, named it "LA PICCINA", as i have mentioned above, it is not an elegant, but a fat lady. I will put more photos in the Maker's Gallery forum.

66296733_10205923164074262_356952931949766359455_10205923172874482_5665343518789

It rhymes with this:

 

4E391EBB-7AFF-4F50-B7C0-F7336FC29057.jpeg

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On 7/4/2019 at 8:00 AM, Jim Bress said:

Hey Marty, I was hoping you'd poke your head in here.  I had too much brain activity last night and didn't sleep.  Around 4 am I came to the conclusion that a 15" viola probably has a low success rate and I shouldn't spend my limited time on an instrument less likely to work well.  ( ... * )

-Jim

* sorry, my elipses - gp

Mr Bress,

Very curious about the progress made on the design of the viola. This is an important area for would be violists and to those retiring away from longer heavier instruments.

Having dealt with trying to make smaller violas more viola-like, there are a few tricks that i have utilized, but only one that regularly works The first dilemma was deciding what model instrument to pursuit sonically. Duller sounds lets the kids off the hook while brighter is like the hell heard in the 3rd violins who were demoted from 2nd violins at the middle school string orchestras. One could risk dreaming a bit but there is a particular kindness about the Amati family instruments. For my generation the way Ms Kashkashian plays the 1617 Amati Bros viola ( long C-bouts ) was a working abstract. The fabulous Mr Trampler and Ms Fuchs, produced that Brescian sound, but that was an even further reality for a smaller viola.

I tried many brands of strings. Predictably, there were issues with middle gauge viola strings ( as stated earlier ) and chose to try stark/ thicker strings as well as different bridge and post set ups. The heavier string did sound "heavier" and felt less responsive than the mediums of the same brand. While changing tailpieces, having only a longer ebony model, a violin string ( Evah Pirazzis in this case ) covered the overall length with a metal Wittner-branded fine tuner. To my surprise, it was responsive, clear and let the c- string bounce a bit. Post adjustments help.

I do alternate between a Larsen style or Pirastro violin a- strings. C- string is normal, viola length. It's also a bit cheaper.

The Sean Peak models ( the smaller models have a wider lower bout ) have been an option for my students when available. Some instruments with taller ribs have been difficult for those with shorter necks. Played out older 4/4 violins have had second lives for many pre-teen beginning violists.

On the professional side, there are more players playing smaller instruments on stage. Two previous stand partners are playing 7/8th violins in semi-retirement, selling or trading in their 4/4s to makers. I noticed the change, but most other section players were oblivious. Shorter bows, too. An ex-principle violist has commissioned her two smaller instruments over the last ten years from the same maker and he gets top dollar from the trade-ins. As they get progressively expensive, i missed the chance to purchase the played-in, previously larger model. I am assuming this is something only violiists experience, but certainly monster cello and violin players with super heavy powerful bows  must switch to lighter bows several times. Who wants to get hurt when they play? 

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On July 3, 2019 at 3:34 PM, Three13 said:

You could lengthen the body by as much as 3/4 of an inch and graft the button from the cutoffs, if the idea didn't drive you nuts.

That looks like black willow which costs about $3/BF I would think grafting a button would be very much not worth it.

I also think that 15" is a bit tough but 15.5" or even 15.25" is possible. I liked what Duane88 said. I think I would try for a some what bottom heavy design and or put an extra large taper on the ribs to give a little extra air volume without making the upper bout hard to get around. There are some really nice  late 18th and early19th century Viennese small violas you should definitely look at. Also for what it's worth see if you can get access  or photos of the Solo Viola Otto Erdesch made for his wife Rivka Golani. Its basically a cut out which is a violin on the treble side and a viola on the other. Does not look grotesque however.

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You could also make a broad-shouldered "German" model:

 l81534back.thumb.jpg.86bbecb198a9ed344558f1a93889ff29.jpg

 

This one is just a hair over 38cm, yet sounds like a "proper" viola.

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22 hours ago, Felefar said:

You could also make a broad-shouldered "German" model:

Broad shoulder German models, what's not to like?  Oh right, violas.  Thanks for the pic. :)

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On 8/9/2019 at 6:00 AM, GoPractice said:

* sorry, my elipses - gp

Mr Bress,

Very curious about the progress made on the design of the viola. This is an important area for would be violists and to those retiring away from longer heavier instruments....

I won't get serious about designing a small viola until I'm getting close to making it.  Probably the end of next year.  Right now I'm just gathering information.

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On 8/9/2019 at 7:04 AM, nathan slobodkin said:

That looks like black willow which costs about $3/BF I would think grafting a button would be very much not worth it.

I also think that 15" is a bit tough but 15.5" or even 15.25" is possible. I liked what Duane88 said. I think I would try for a some what bottom heavy design and or put an extra large taper on the ribs to give a little extra air volume without making the upper bout hard to get around. There are some really nice  late 18th and early19th century Viennese small violas you should definitely look at. Also for what it's worth see if you can get access  or photos of the Solo Viola Otto Erdesch made for his wife Rivka Golani. Its basically a cut out which is a violin on the treble side and a viola on the other. Does not look grotesque however.

Thanks for the input Nate.  It's nice when multiple makers have the same opinion.  :o  And it would be foolish of me not to pay attention.  Are there any particular Viennese makers that your thinking of?

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Don mentioned that he tries to keep a long string length and I very much agree.  

Short scale strings are often have lower tension than the longer ones.  Since the instrument's sound intensity is proportional to string tension a short string will inherently reduce the sound output.

"Go Practice" recommended using heavier tension (stark) which does indeed help increase the loudness of a short instrument but these strings also have increased mass which makes them less responsive during bowing.  I also suspect that this might make wolf notes more unmanageable.

So if you're designing a new short viola I would follow Don's advice of keeping the string length long.  I  shorten only the lower bout length when I make short violas such that the left hand/upper right bout feel and fingering doesn't change.  The classic neck/upper/lower bout proportions are all messed up but after all it is just a viola.

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51 minutes ago, Marty Kasprzyk said:

Don mentioned that he tries to keep a long string length and I very much agree.  

Short scale strings are often have lower tension than the longer ones.  Since the instrument's sound intensity is proportional to string tension a short string will inherently reduce the sound output.

"Go Practice" recommended using heavier tension (stark) which does indeed help increase the loudness of a short instrument but these strings also have increased mass which makes them less responsive during bowing.  I also suspect that this might make wolf notes more unmanageable.

So if you're designing a new short viola I would follow Don's advice of keeping the string length long.  I  shorten only the lower bout length when I make short violas such that the left hand/upper right bout feel and fingering doesn't change.  The classic neck/upper/lower bout proportions are all messed up but after all it is just a viola.

Attached is a photo of 15 and 16 inch violas which shows they have the same 378 mm string lengths and the same middle and upper bouts while the smaller one has a shorter lower bout.

Players do appreciate the shorter lengths.  The also very much like their lower weights.  The 15 inch viola has a total weight of 428g and the 16 inch one weighs 462g.  Both of them have built in shoulder rests.

The stress on the player's left shoulder muscles is proportional to the product of the instrument's weight times its length (torque) so reducing both the length and weight is helpful for reducing injuries.

No 28 & 33 violas.jpg

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On 7/3/2019 at 1:47 PM, duane88 said:

I have a successful 15.5 viola, but shorter is a difficult path. Widening the upper bouts makes it more difficult for the small individuals that we are making these for. If you widen the middle bouts too much you have to compensate with the neck set to keep the bow out of the wide c-bout. 

I treat a viola this small as a big violin. I'd probably avoid poplar. I like the warm sound, but on a small viola, it is difficult. You have to leave it thick because it is poplar, but you don't have the string tension to drive the thicker back.

Also, with short string length violas, I set them up with stark tension strings. The shorter string length needs extra tension, and starks feel like mediums on the shortened string length. My 15.5" viola has a 140/210 neck/mensur.

 

1 hour ago, Marty Kasprzyk said:

Don mentioned that he tries to keep a long string length and I very much agree.  

Short scale strings are often have lower tension than the longer ones.  Since the instrument's sound intensity is proportional to string tension a short string will inherently reduce the sound output.

"Go Practice" recommended using heavier tension (stark) which does indeed help increase the loudness of a short instrument but these strings also have increased mass which makes them less responsive during bowing.  I also suspect that this might make wolf notes more unmanageable.

So if you're designing a new short viola I would follow Don's advice of keeping the string length long.  I  shorten only the lower bout length when I make short violas such that the left hand/upper right bout feel and fingering doesn't change.  The classic neck/upper/lower bout proportions are all messed up but after all it is just a viola.

My intention was to keep the the vibrating string length as close to 375 mm as possible.  Your writing made me think (how dare you).  When designing a small viola specifically for smaller players I think I need to keep in mind the ouch factor (to borrow a term from Dwight Brown).  How much reduction in saddle to nut is a meaningful distance?  That was poorly worded.  If the saddle to nut distance is reduced by 12 mm or 25 mm, what height player might be able to play the viola comfortably compared to a 16" (410 mm ish) viola?

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1 hour ago, Jim Bress said:

 

My intention was to keep the the vibrating string length as close to 375 mm as possible.  Your writing made me think (how dare you).  When designing a small viola specifically for smaller players I think I need to keep in mind the ouch factor (to borrow a term from Dwight Brown).  How much reduction in saddle to nut is a meaningful distance?  That was poorly worded.  If the saddle to nut distance is reduced by 12 mm or 25 mm, what height player might be able to play the viola comfortably compared to a 16" (410 mm ish) viola?

I have seen small violas with long string lengths. It isn't just the total length, but smaller hands need smaller interval lenghts.

Small violas with long string lengths make no sense to me. For someone who needs a small viola, they probably also need a shorter string length to play things like, oh, say, octaves!

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13 minutes ago, duane88 said:

I have seen small violas with long string lengths. It isn't just the total length, but smaller hands need smaller interval lenghts.

Small violas with long string lengths make no sense to me. For someone who needs a small viola, they probably also need a shorter string length to play things like, oh, say, octaves!

Good point. Thanks!

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I think there are two different markets for smaller viola.  One market is for injured players who have been using large violas a long time and who now want an easier to hold instrument.  They are used to the fingering with long string lengths and don't want that to change. Nor do they want a decreased sound output.  

The second market is for smaller players whose fingering might benefit from using a short string length.

The  "saddle to nut" distance is a useful measurement of viola size.  But I've never seen any published data on other maker's violas.  I suppose you could generate this measurement by scaling photos.

The saddle to nut distance should correlate with the player's arm length which in turn is generally proportional to the player's height.

I suggest holding the viola by the neck above your head such that it hangs vertically downward from your straight extended arm and left hand such that its lower butt (I meant to say "bout") is right in your face.  The ideal viola size should place the saddle between your lips.

My larger viola (shown in the photo) is comfortable for me to hold and has a saddle to nut length of 57 cm and I'm 72 inches tall (sorry for the mixed length units).

The smaller viola has a saddle to nut length of 54cm.  If a simple proportion is used this would suggest that a player 68 inch tall would find this viola is also comfortable to hold.

Shorter players would benefit from even shorter saddle to nut lengths.  But violas this small require shorter string lengths than my usual  378mm length.  I've made real short violas with a nut to saddle length of 48.5cm ( violin size) which would be suitable for players about 60 inches tall.  Standard violin A, D, and G strings are used and  but short scale C strings are heavy, floppy and difficult to play well.

Sometimes it has been suggested that small violas be made with deeper ribs to increase the instrument's volume in order to get a low A0 frequency.  However deep ribs makes it difficult for the left hand to reach around the upper right bout for people with small hands.  Also the lower bout's increased height might be uncomfortable for players with short necks so increasing the rib height at the top and bottom ends of the viola is not helpful for player comfort.

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1 hour ago, Marty Kasprzyk said:

I think there are two different markets for smaller viola....

There may be a third market (the one I'm designing for):  a viola soloist that wants more response, power, projection, and clarity to be heard over an orchestra.  These qualities are not normally associated with the viola, and I think are attained more easily with a smaller size.  It might be objectionable in a quartet setting, where the violinists wouldn't want the sonic competition.

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4 hours ago, Marty Kasprzyk said:

Attached is a photo of 15 and 16 inch violas which shows they have the same 378 mm string lengths and the same middle and upper bouts while the smaller one has a shorter lower bout.

...   ...

No 28 & 33 violas.jpg

These violas are awesome! I want to play one.

Unless i misunderstood your reply, a 15" viola with Wittner style metal tuners added to the tailpiece can be played with 4/4 violin strings at higher tensions. The strings have a greater length on the 15" viola so are, infact, stretched tighter. Though i have not calculated the amount, the increased tensions are noticeable. The strings are also narrower than normal viola strings so the string height at the nut might be reduced for smaller hands with more gentle fingers.

Normal tension c- strings are recommended with the above string sets for the reasons Mr Kasprzyk offers.

From what i can tell, in most ensemble playing the middle string voicings ( 2nd vln, vla ) are weaker in volume and dynamic impact given the same number of instruments, like a quartet, double quartet, triple quartet... And though the viola might sound loud on stage, the actual lower frequencies closer to the fundamental of the pitch diffuse quickly in a larger room. As Mr Noon commented, the internal volume of the traditional instrument can not substantially reinforce the fundamental frequency played on the lowest string. The overtones on the low string produce timbres that are familiar to us.

So though viola is audible in the spectrum of a quartet, with basses on stage the impact of the viola warmth disappears at most dynamics below a forte. This is a balance problem also during legato fortissimo passages as the character of most violas is not heard, though pitches can be identified. Below forte, the viola ( and 2nd vln ) must play louder to compete with the upper and lower voice as most ears can parse out the top and bottom voices, but middle voicings blend a bit too well.

In quartet passages, the voicing of 1st violin and viola on the same pitches an octave apart can be amazing. Composers often save this for the start of the melodic expansion. Also the viola and cello on the same pitch or octave apart can also be very moving. When in unison, the cello can be more audible than the viola if played above forte and the situation made worse when the violist sits opposite the 1st violin.

Some students find the tensions a little tight and more difficult to play or blend. With composite or powerful pernambuco bows, a more relaxed hair tension reduces the sensitivity and immediacy of the sound. Andrea-style rosins also in smoothing out the sound as one can play a bit more into ( and stay on ) the strings. 

This is a long winded justification for the use of 4/4 violin strings. Having struggled for years with packaged viola strings, i discovered this compatibility in a pinch when visiting a middle school when the only viola student broke a string during the rehearsal. Certainly with exposed gut strings at period, ( lower ) pitches, violin lengths could easily be interchanged, though i have yet to experiment with solid core steel strings. Intuitively not a good fit.

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I've been working on a 5 string viola.  Planned it around Helicore violin strings. I was wondering about what people like about 5 strings, found a good old link on maestronet, and someone said, be sure that the 5 string fits in a violin case.  Well, I know it wouldn't fit in that, but I wondered about a viola case.  My 16" one fits, the 16.5" one doesn't.  This one is only 15" but it just barely fits in.  It's chunky.   It is very flat on the ends. 

 

20190813_150936.thumb.jpg.f0bba4823b9356bf1eafa5e7480e5c9b.jpg

I probably wouldn't use the design for a viola, but it is a 5 string.  We'll have to wait to see how it sounds.

I don't think that longer strings have much more string tension. Look at this link:

https://warchal.com/tension_chart_viola.html

The differences are far greater by switching A strings, than any differences in length, or type.

240 newtons is about 54 lbs.  The Helicore 5 string set in medium is 61.3 lbs.  Without the C it would be about 55 lbs. That's what I wrote down the other day, but I couldn't get to it today, D'addario's  site isn't that user friendly.  So a 5 sting is a different animal.  

Using Marty's nut to saddle measure, the big viola is 22 1/2" the other viola is 21 3/4" and the 5 string is only 20 1/4".  Sorry, I have mixed units too, my largest metric scale only goes to 18 inches.  (570, 550, 514 mm ) so the two are near to Marty's, but his have more of that off the wall feel!  

Just a little.  

They are very cool.

 

 

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Very exciting to see a 5- string viola. The bottom of the viola looks flatter relative to the width of the lower bouts. How wide would the lower block be?

I have played quite a few electro/ acoustic 5- string violins as boys inevitably want to try plugging in to an amp. They are playable but the electronics make it sound very nasal or with a fairly good preamp, nasal. Mostly Chinese? one required a major neck reset after about a year as the fingerboard almost rested on the arch. Solid primary colors, no extra charge.

The few 5- string violas I have played were conversions. One had the Caspari pegs removed and re-bushed. It was a late 20th-century German instrument ( very reddish ) and the conversion sounded much better than the original with red label strings. It was a forgotten instrument found. The owner loved it, though it was not perfect, and though the e-string was not as loud, the rest of the instrument was fine for outdoor weddings. She brought it ( just ) to play the 3rd violin part for the Pachelbel Canon. She was all smiles. Likely had to have played ten jobs to pay for the conversion but her kids thought she was cooler. i think.

The interesting one was a special order from China that was probably a 15 1/4" - 1/2"?  Truly well made based on what looked like a "strad" pattern with tall ribs and higher arching so it looked a little like a mini-cello from the side. The instrument was ordered with a larger model scroll and the pegbox was undrilled. Came with a bridge. This was the only conversion that had a wider neck and wider nut. Some planetary geared pegs were installed by the buyer in Southern California and the guy used a pirastro e- string and the windings came over the nut. Pretty good sound on both ends but could not manage to play octaves on upper strings in tune ( no fault of the instrument. ) The test was to play a violin concerto in a convincing matter but was not successful.  

Also a Gliga from Southern California. Played as it might as it was inexpensive. Smaller 15"?  Maybe a 4/4 violin as i can not find a link for a 5- string viola. Less expensive than the Caspari conversion and the c-string sounded pretty good for a 5- string violin....

e- string on the lower right peg, closest to nut on all the instruments? can not remember.

Look forward to seeing the instrument!

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