Big fiddle, little bow


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I've decided to upsize my fiddle from the regular 13" to 18" (405mm stop) dropping an octave in the process. I tried quite a few expensive string combinations & now have cheap (Harley Benton) 4/4 cello set on. The viola bow I was using isn't up to the job of getting the thick bottom G string moving so I cable tied a weight onto the end of it which worked fine. Anyhow I decided to splash out & bought a cheap baroque style cello bow from Yita. It works way better nicer balance, improved tone & playability (Irish fiddle tunes). It's a good bit shorter than the viola bow & has narrower hair. I just thought I'd share.

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1 hour ago, Wood Butcher said:

You are using an 18" viola, strung with 4/4 cello strings, tuned an octave lower than a violin, and using a baroque cello bow to play Irish fiddle music? Did I read that right?

A shame that the pubs are shut at the moment:)

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I started playing tunes on a 1/2 size cello, it's 590mm stop is the same as my Tenor guitar all tuned GDAE. When I was proficient enough to take it into pub sessions here in Ireland it was immediately obvious that I couldn't hear it among accordions, banjos, & flutes. Others could but that's no good to me. Getting a smaller size under the chin is clearly audible when I play it. I tried different string combinations including 3/4 cello string set. The standard 4/4 cello I found to work well, so for its next change it will get a quality set of 4/4s. The shorter baroque cello  bow which isn't really a genuine baroque bow works a treat. 

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Hi Harley --

A couple of months ago I did what you're doing, except I bought a 16.5" "gamba-shaped" viola from yitamusic.  (gamba-shaped means the shoulders slope more, and lower bout is notably wider than most violas). For strings I'm using sensicore octave viola strings (the set is C, G, D, A, and sensicore also makes a "octave viola E string", so I bought the set + single E string and threw out the C). For bow I bought a carbon fiber cello bow from www.fiddlershop.com (from whom I also bought the strings).

I'm really pleased by the results. It gives a big rich sound, but plays very agile, so I can do all the roles and cuts that I do on the fiddle. Some random notes:

1. On violin I use a chin rest but no shoulder rest. On this instrument I wound up dispensing with the chin rest as well. I tuck it up under my chin & rest it against collar bone (same as violin) but angle it down more, so my left hand is lower than it would be for fiddle. Holding it this way, I can shift up & down as easily as I can on violin.

2. I found finger pressure to be important re tone on the D and G strings. If I don't press somewhat harder, the notes sound muffled. Bow placement on strings (where contact point is, relative to bridge) seems to be more finicky than it is on violin -- the lower strings want to be bowed a bit further away from the bridge.

3. It seems to want more bow, played lower down on the stick, I think because of the thicker strings. I'm glad I bought the cello bow -- don't think I could make this axe work with a viola bow.

4. My instrument really takes off in the higher positions. It has something to with string resonance... I find that if I play the B part of of various jigs & reels in third position, I get a really amazing tone. 

Best of luck and thanks so much for posting! Why don't you post something on youtube? (was thinking of doing that but chickened out. Maybe of you went first....)

 

 

 

 

 

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On 2/10/2021 at 3:48 PM, Harley marty said:

I started playing tunes on a 1/2 size cello, it's 590mm stop is the same as my Tenor guitar all tuned GDAE. When I was proficient enough to take it into pub sessions here in Ireland it was immediately obvious that I couldn't hear it among accordions, banjos, & flutes. Others could but that's no good to me. Getting a smaller size under the chin is clearly audible when I play it. I tried different string combinations including 3/4 cello string set. The standard 4/4 cello I found to work well, so for its next change it will get a quality set of 4/4s. The shorter baroque cello  bow which isn't really a genuine baroque bow works a treat. 

A pickup with a small battery powered earpiece might solve this problem. 

Don't get me wrong, I'm all for the experimentation. But the viola-cello is gonna be a tough one. 

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@Al Cramer thanks for that information.  I also have a yita 16.5 gamba shaped Viola. On that one I have removed the 'C' replaced it with the 'G' & so on & for the 'E' added a 10 gauge string from a Savarez gipsy guitar set. So it has regular fiddle tuning & isn't so cramped for my fingers. I really like how the bridge is a lot closer to the tailpiece, making the left arm reach more comfortable. The lower bout (10") on the gamba is the same as the 18". I might have to give the sensicores a try! I haven't figured out how to do the Utube thing yet, all in good time.

@_AlexI did try rigging up a pickup, small headphone amplifier & headphones. That is a workable solution but cumbersome. When you're sitting in a crowded Irish pub session it's good to keep as simple as possible. A bonus for the smaller instrument is that it makes it easier to add a Tenor guitar or banjo, even sometimes soprano saxophone to the night out.

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6 hours ago, Harley marty said:

@Al Cramer thanks for that information.  I also have a yita 16.5 gamba shaped Viola. On that one I have removed the 'C' replaced it with the 'G' & so on & for the 'E' added a 10 gauge string from a Savarez gipsy guitar set. So it has regular fiddle tuning & isn't so cramped for my fingers. I really like how the bridge is a lot closer to the tailpiece, making the left arm reach more comfortable. The lower bout (10") on the gamba is the same as the 18". I might have to give the sensicores a try! I haven't figured out how to do the Utube thing yet, all in good time.

@_AlexI did try rigging up a pickup, small headphone amplifier & headphones. That is a workable solution but cumbersome. When you're sitting in a crowded Irish pub session it's good to keep as simple as possible. A bonus for the smaller instrument is that it makes it easier to add a Tenor guitar or banjo, even sometimes soprano saxophone to the night out.

What pubs do you play in? I'd love to check this out sometime when we are allowed to travel again. 

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Any sessions I can get to around Mullingar. The Chambers on a Thursday is safe bet. I'll probably be the one with the big fiddle & the Australian accent. I'm also looking at getting a 1/16 cello & trying it da-spalla (fancy word for over the shoulder) GDAE the stop length on one of those is only 5mm longer than what I'm playing but the rib height is a lot more & when you're in lower frequencies bigger is better! 

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Harley marty, we are thinking alike! If I had an extra 5 grand hanging around that needed spending, I'd definitely get in touch with Mr.  Badiarov. Alas I don't.

An idea I've been considering is: what if I took my octave-violin-tuned viola and tied some frets on it? Then I'd have a viola da braccio. I haven't done this yet because I dislike playing  fretted instruments for intonation reasons; also I'm not sure what to use for the fret material (nylon fishing looks good but you need a range of diameters). The idea is to improve the sound of the instrument. If you look at pictures of viola da braccio, they look very similar to the dimensions on the instruments we're working with.  If you ever try something like this, please let us know what happens.

Best of luck! 

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@Al Cramer while you're waiting to get the five grand together why not get yourself a 4 string student 1/16 cello. After all that's the size match to the modern string da-spalla. I see that the stentor 2, 1/16 has a 410mm stop length. That could be all the incentive you need to go for the real thing! The gut string da-spallas have a longer neck with a 460mm stop. I'm guessing that the difference is to do with string availability. I only want 4 strings anyway & Irish fiddle tunes dictate GDAE so that's the direction I'm inclined to go.

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That's an interesting idea. I notice you suggest a 1/16 cello as a good match to modern da-spalla. There's a luthier here in USA who says he does conversation of kid sized cellos to da-spalla, but he says you should start with a 1/8 cello. I confess I don't understand how fractional cello sizes work (I sort of  get that it seems to have more do with the volume of the soundbox (Dim**3) rather than the length of linear measurements (Dim*1)).  I haven't been able to find a site that gives the dimensions of fractional-sized  cellos down to 1/16: if you know of one, please post the URL.

Thanks!

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@Al Cramer it could be that your luthier is converting to gut string da-spallas with the longer stop length. If you put a set of regular cello strings onto one of those & tune it GDAE it will keep popping tail guts. I noticed on the  Thomann website they suggest that the stop or scale as they put it on the Stentor 1/16 at approximately 410mm. I bought a Bass from them that was listed as 31" but turned out to be 30", so don't take it as gospel but at least it's going to close to that. I suppose you could think of it as the 1/8 size sound box & short scale having less sound than a full CGDA  cello, & the 1/16 box & longer scale more than a voila (especially in GDAE). 

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