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Electric octave viola


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Hi everyone,

Topics about octave violas have appeared on this forum in the past, such as Viola to Chin Cello and "Octave Violin" & "Octave Viola"; however what is now available on the market appears to have changed.

I have a Yamaha SVV-200K with a vibrating string length of 373 mm, which the Electric Violin Shop modified for me to be able to play on the Super Sensitive Sensicore Octave Viola strings and tuned exactly like a cello. Initially these strings were fine; however within months, they would repetively snap by themselves inside the case (either at the ball end or the peg end) unless I loosened them a few tones down during storage. I did subsequently have the octave viola examined by two different local luthiers here; the second who further smoothed out the grooves in case the strings were being pinched and resulting in breakage. Although Super Sensitive kindly sent me free replacements, they did snap and I currently have one full spare set and a spare C and D string.

I had a look for alternatives online. D'Addario only makes octave violin strings. From memory I found these 1/10 cello strings online, but quite frankly they are rubbish to play on and the vibrating string length is too long for my octave viola. These 1/16 cello strings were even longer than the 1/10 cello strings; hence I didn't even try them on. Any tiny adjustments either via the pegs or fine tuners results in an unusually large change in the pitch of the string. Without any viable options left, my octave viola was left sitting in the case unplayed for several years.

Recently having started practising regularly on my acoustic viola, I curiously decided to check out the current market situation for octave viola options. The Sensicore options have seemingly completely disappeared from Super Sensitive's product catalogue, which makes me wonder if they have been discontinued. Larsen recently released their Aurora line of cello strings, the smallest size which is 1/16 with a vibrating string length of 420 mm (this information was accidentally omitted from their information PDF; hence I had to ask them via e-mail what the vibrating string length was). Currently I have e-mailed Pirastro and Larsen to see if they can make custom extra small cello strings with a vibrating string length of 373 mm, but I have yet to hear from them. I figured it would be cheaper to get custom strings rather than a custom-made large electric viola with a vibrating string length of 420 mm. I can probably play a massive viola since I have long arms and fingers though, but I have not seen any viola in Australia thus far that is bigger than my acoustic viola. Or as my friend says, just buy a good, old fashioned cello and learn how to play it, hahaha!

Does anyone else here have any tips or ideas?

16 March 2021

Jargar has replied saying they were unable to help.

D'Addario replied saying that they have actually acquired Super Sensitive and there are currently discussions on which strings they will continue manufacturing.

I have yet to hear back from Larsen, Pirastro or Thomastik.

Edited by Okayadokari
Larsen's Aurora 1/16 cello strings have a VSL of 420 mm
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Have you considered strings for viola de gamba? Or gut strings--much easier to get semi-custom thickness/gauge at whatever length (just ask the maker about allowed tension/pitch or do the tensile strength calc yourself).

I've an alto violin/vertical viola (20" back, string length ~425mm) for which I'm lucky to have a stash of x-long vla strings, plus an oddball gamba string selection... Tuning the strings too much differently really messes with the tension and thus sound/playability but is kinda interesting.

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I suggest using tungsten wrapped steel core strings because these are heavy materials which allows a smaller string diameter to be made.  This in turn will make bowing easier to control.

For example SuperSensitive strings with Perlon cores over wrapped with chromium alloy are much larger in diameter than equivalent pitch D'Addario Helicore using a stranded steel core with tungsten/silver overwrap.

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I don't have anything in particular to update on other than Pirastro, Larsen and Thomastik did not respond to my e-mail asking if they do custom cello strings with a vibrating string length of 373 mm.

I came across a company called Aquila which makes a lot of custom Baroque gut strings; I have just e-mailed them to find out if they can assist with my odd request, but steel or synthetic core would be preferable as I am not an advanced player.

Did anyone else here have issues with the Super Sensitive Sensicore octave viola strings snapping?

26 March 2021

Larsen, Pirastro and Thomastik have replied saying they don't do custom strings. I am still waiting to hear back from Aquila.

I know even if I use a ZMT tailpiece, the playing length (373 mm) on my viola remains the same, but what implication would it have if I put Larsen's Aurora 1/16 cello strings on it, which are designed to have a vibrating string length of 420 mm?

31 March 2021

Aquila replied that they won't do non-gut custom strings. I guess I've run into a dead end with custom strings.

I was mucking around at two luthier shops recently and discovered that I can actually play a 1/10 cello in viola position; it also had a vibrating string length of 420 mm. Alternatively, how many people here played violin or viola and then later decided to buy and learn cello too?

Edited by Okayadokari
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