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octave viola strings


Al Cramer
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I have an abnormally wide 16.5" viola (Yitamusic) that I set up as an octave violin (G-D-A-E). It's not going to fill any concert halls but works great for recording. When I bought it a couple years ago, I strung it with Sensicore octave viola strings. The strings are kind of dead now and I want to re-string, but the Senscores are no longer available. I could buy octave violin strings, but this baby is a lot bigger than a violin & I doubt they'd work.

When the A string broke I replaced it with a Helicore 1/8 cello string, and the result was ok but kind of dull.

Does anyone have any ideas? Thanks!

 

 

 

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17 hours ago, l33tplaya said:

Doesn't D'Addario also make octave strings?

They make octave violin strings. As I understand it, they acquired Sensicore a couple of years ago (who made both), but seem to have discontinued the octave viola strings.

10 minutes ago, Derek Law said:

I recall looking into this a couple of months ago and did not find any solutions. I conclude that to play at that range I should learn the cello.

Derek, it would be lovely to play cello, but my wife has threatened to leave me if I clutter up the place with more (big) instruments.

I was kind of hoping somebody who has experience with the viola d' family of instruments (braccio, amore) might have some suggestions.

Thanks!

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Are you still thinking octave below violin? Or octave below viola? The dominant Viola d'amore A and D (5th and 6th) should work OK, unless your string length is unusual.. That gets you 1/2 way there. If you are lookin for octave below violin you might try the low A (7th) tuned down to a G and the F(#) down to E.

For the E you could also try a dominant 4121 D tuned up to E. These are the extra long, thin strings for tenor sized violas (not standard dominants). I pick these because they are even lighter than normal light dominants and should tune up better (I think). Or you could just try tuning up a light gauge 141

 

 

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2 hours ago, deans said:

Are you still thinking octave below violin? Or octave below viola? The dominant Viola d'amore A and D (5th and 6th) should work OK, unless your string length is unusual.. That gets you 1/2 way there. If you are lookin for octave below violin you might try the low A (7th) tuned down to a G and the F(#) down to E.

For the E you could also try a dominant 4121 D tuned up to E. These are the extra long, thin strings for tenor sized violas (not standard dominants). I pick these because they are even lighter than normal light dominants and should tune up better (I think). Or you could just try tuning up a light gauge 141

This is exactly the kind of advice I was hoping for. Re string length: the instrument is a pretty normal 16.5" viola, except unusually wide. I use it as an octave violin (not an octave viola). So if I understand correctly: Dominant vd'amore A and D should work; also their A(7th), which I can tune down a step to get my low G.

For the top E: could I just get a standard Dominant viola D string and tune it up a step? 

Many thanks for your suggestions! This stuff seems like it ought to be simple but it makes my head spin a bit.

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13 hours ago, Al Cramer said:

For the top E: could I just get a standard Dominant viola D string and tune it up a step? 

If you do go with 141s I would use light gauge, it will probably tune up with a little less tension. But I think a 4121 will work better, it was designed for long string length, so it might work better at a higher pitch and shorter string length. Heres a link showing the various dominants, they did a good job designing strings for different size violas, wish they did it with other lines. https://viola-strings.com/dominant.php

I was just tinkering with my viola d'amore. I take back the idea of tuning the low A down to G, it really flabbed out. The f(#) tuned down faired a bit better. This is with a vibrating string length of 14.5". If you have a longer string length it might be better. The other two should work-at least as well as you could expect for such an unideal situation.

 

 

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Just wanted to thank deans for his additional posting, and also Jackson for suggesting a useful strategy.

The octave-strings thing is a weird world. If anyone's interested, I got into it because of this youtube video:

She wanted to turn a viola into a cello.  I wanted an octave violin, so I got a viola & set of sensicore octave viola strings. I tossed the the low C and bought an "E octave-viola-string" that sensicore offered (I guess for 5-string violas?). Result was a very nice instrument for recording. The voice was small compared to a cello but still bigger than that of my fiddle. 

It's a pity nobody's making octave-viola strings anymore! Thanks again for the suggestions, I will soldier on and see where they lead me.

 

 

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On 9/19/2022 at 12:03 PM, JacksonMaberry said:

Al, do you still have the old set of octave viola strings on hand? If you can take micrometer measurements of the diameters and find a table on the net describing the materials/construction of the octave viola set, you may be able to cobble together a set of strings with similar diameters and properties.

I've made two octave violas and I found they sounded very nice but they were difficult to bow.

Various strings are made with different density core and winding materials so it's more appropriate to calculate their mass per unit length M  to compare them rather than their diameter. For example a steel wound string will have a larger diameter than a silver or tungsten wound string even though they have the same pitch.

The mass per unit length M can  calculate with:

 M= T/(4L^2 f^2)  where T is string tension, L is string length, and f is the tuning frequency.

The cello string length is about twice as long a viola's so with the same same pitch frequency and string tension your octave string has to be about four times heavier.  

Many string manufactures list their string tensions f for their different strings at their playing length L so their string mass per unit length can be calculated.  You can then calculate your viola's mass per unit length for each of the four strings and then search for four strings that have four times that mass per unit length.

I suggest using tungsten wound steel core strings such as D'Addario Helicore strings because they will have a small diameter which will make your bowing easier.  

 

 

 

 

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On 9/22/2022 at 10:31 AM, Marty Kasprzyk said:

....

 M= T/(4L^2 f^2)  where T is string tension, L is string length, and f is the tuning frequency.

....

I suggest using tungsten wound steel core strings such as D'Addario Helicore strings because they will have a small diameter which will make your bowing easier.  

 

 

 

 

This is great! I'm going to try 1/8 cello Helicore strings for my G,D,A; and get a normal Helicore  viola D string & tune it 1 step to get my E (again: I'm trying to turn this unusually wide 16.5 viola into an octave-violin).

 Marty, it was super kind of you to include that formula. Even a small cello is way bigger than a viola, and I was afraid that the viola couldn't handle the string tension. But I think your formula says T is proportional to L^2. On my viola vibrating string length is 14.25. 1/8 cello Helicore specs say they're for a vibrating strength length of 18.5.  So that means -- when I put them on the viola -- I will only have to bring them to .6 the tension required for the small cello.  Am pretty sure the Yita viola can handle that as it seems like a pretty solid build.

I will try this and report back in a couple of weeks. Thanks to everyone who gave advice.

 

 

 

 

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3 hours ago, OctaveViola said:

If anyone has any advice on how to continue stringing a 16.5" octave viola since Super Sensitive's strings have become unavailable I would be very grateful! They are essential to my musical practice and I'm down to my last set :unsure:

Hi OctaveViola --

I'm working on it! I was using sensicore octave viola strings to turn a 16.5" Yita gamba-shaped viola into an octave violin. Strings are dead now, so my first attempt to restring was to use Helicore 1/8 cello strings (for E I used a a Helicore  standard viola D tuned up 1 step, but you won't care about that if you're stringing your axe as an octave-viola).

Results were good. I don't think it's that much worse than the sensicores octave-viola strings.  So I suggest you try a set of 1/8 cello strings. 

There may be are other possibilities. In my case (again-- I'm trying to turn a viola into an octave violin) I'm going to try a 1/8 cello G string for my G and then use the first 3 strings from a normal viola string set (C-G-D) and tune them up 1 step to give me my (D-A-E). But that's not relevant to you, since you want true cello tuning).

If you try using 1/8 cello strings, it would be great if you posted your experiences! I would love to hear about what you discover. One thing I pretty sure of is that you won't implode your viola because of string tension.

 

 

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Addendum to last posting --

About those "other possibilities".  If the object is to turn a viola into an octave-viola, you could try this:

1. For C and G, use 1/8 cello strings.

2.  For D and A, use standard viola C and G strings, tuned up 1 step.

Jackson -- does this make sense to you? Please post if I'm wrong in what I just wrote.

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57 minutes ago, Al Cramer said:

Addendum to last posting --

About those "other possibilities".  If the object is to turn a viola into an octave-viola, you could try this:

1. For C and G, use 1/8 cello strings.

2.  For D and A, use standard viola C and G strings, tuned up 1 step.

Jackson -- does this make sense to you? Please post if I'm wrong in what I just wrote.

It could work. Without knowing more about the properties of the strings in question and the instruments, too, such as scale length of this new octave viola we're talking about. Changing string gauges this significantly brings setup issues surrounding the nut and bridge too, so it's turning into a real kettle of fish I'd be loathe to take on without a luth on hand. 

For violin/viola players interested in playing bass lines, consider a violoncello da spalla. It's historical pedigree is extremely suspect and the one article in support of it being historical does not pass a reasonable threshold of academic rigor. However, regardless it is a very interesting new invention and sounds really cool. As a plus, a number of string makers are designing and manufacturing sets for it. They certainly sound a lot deeper and richer than a viola with an octave set, and are not difficult to play for folks switching from vln/vla

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This string selection problem is not new.  I've attached an article describing how the cello development a few centuries ago was dependent upon playability ergonomics and new string technologies at that time.  Start reading at about page 15 if you're not a history nut.

From_Violone_to_Violoncello_A_question_o.pdf

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On 10/4/2022 at 8:57 PM, Marty Kasprzyk said:

This string selection problem is not new.  I've attached an article describing how the cello development a few centuries ago was dependent upon playability ergonomics and new string technologies at that time.  Start reading at about page 15 if you're not a history nut.

From_Violone_to_Violoncello_A_question_o.pdf 303.81 kB · 3 downloads

Marty, that's really worth reading, thanks so much for posting. Am still digesting it.

I think I  buy the guy's idea that steel-wound strings were critical to the development of the cello in 17th century  Italy (had no idea that happened in Bologna -- I thought all the action was up in Brescia and then Cremona).  

I found a good solution to my problem (turn a wide viola into an octave violin): use a 1/8 cello G string for the G, then use regular viola strings (C,G,D) tuned up 1 step to get (D,A,E). It works really well in general but the cello G is not as rich as I would like. Bows well but sounds dull when plucked. I'm going to mess around with the magic formula you provided and experiment with some guitar strings & see what develops (am currently waiting delivery of a digital scale that will let me measure string density). When I've got results worth reporting, I'll post them. 

Thanks again for sharing your knowledge!

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20 hours ago, JacksonMaberry said:

Let's not forget Venice for the development of the Cello in this period. 

Totally agree! Always a bad idea to forget about la Serrinessima, as the Ottomans found out at Lepanto...

Apologies for boring everybody with math, but if you're interested in relationships between string-density, tension, and frequency: I think there's a bug in the formula provided by Jackson. It's the same as the one given in the fascinating pdf he cites above, but I think it's wrong. I got some data on string tensions for helicore viola strings, also some d'addario light guitar strings.  I used the formula to compute the string density (mass divided by length) for the guitar strings and got results that seemed off by 2 orders of magnitude.  So I poked around on the net and found this:

https://www.daddario.com/globalassets/pdfs/accessories/tension_chart_13934.pdf

Their version of the magic formula features a mysterious constant (386.4). If you use it, the string density results seem plausible. 

Anyway: I was trying to find out if I could put guitar strings on an octave-viola. So I wrote a python program to generate this table:

c2: (e2) 1.66  (a2) 1.90  (d3) 2.01  (g3) 2.02  (b3) 1.61  (e4) 1.61 
g2: (e2) 1.61  (a2) 1.85  (d3) 1.96  (g3) 1.97  (b3) 1.57  (e4) 1.57 
d3: (e2) 1.71  (a2) 1.96  (d3) 2.07  (g3) 2.08  (b3) 1.66  (e4) 1.66 
a3: (e2) 1.33  (a2) 1.53  (d3) 1.61  (g3) 1.62  (b3) 1.29  (e4) 1.29 

Each row describes a string of the octave-viola. Each entry in a given row corresponds to a guitar string (so first entry in c2 row corresponds to to e2 string of guitar). Each entry gives

(tension using this guitar string) / (desired value)

where desired value is string tension for a normal viola. So for first entry in first row, 1 would mean string tension is exactly what it ought to be. Instead it's 1.66 -- too much tension I think, not a good idea to these guitar strings on my axe.

But my guitar strings are light weight steel strings -- classical guitar players use strings with much less tension (like 50%). So I'm going to get some flat-wound classical guitar strings and see if I can use them for c2 and g2 on octave-viola.

(Note to Jackson: I hope you're not pissed at me re the magic formula.  Please note that much of what  I'm doing is based on stuff you posted - am close to solving my problem, and wouldn't have got so far without your help.)

 

 

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2 minutes ago, Al Cramer said:

Totally agree! Always a bad idea to forget about la Serrinessima, as the Ottomans found out at Lepanto...

Apologies for boring everybody with math, but if you're interested in relationships between string-density, tension, and frequency: I think there's a bug in the formula provided by Jackson. It's the same as the one given in the fascinating pdf he cites above, but I think it's wrong. I got some data on string tensions for helicore viola strings, also some d'addario light guitar strings.  I used the formula to compute the string density (mass divided by length) for the guitar strings and got results that seemed off by 2 orders of magnitude.  So I poked around on the net and found this:

https://www.daddario.com/globalassets/pdfs/accessories/tension_chart_13934.pdf

Their version of the magic formula features a mysterious constant (386.4). If you use it, the string density results seem plausible. 

Anyway: I was trying to find out if I could put guitar strings on an octave-viola. So I wrote a python program to generate this table:

c2: (e2) 1.66  (a2) 1.90  (d3) 2.01  (g3) 2.02  (b3) 1.61  (e4) 1.61 
g2: (e2) 1.61  (a2) 1.85  (d3) 1.96  (g3) 1.97  (b3) 1.57  (e4) 1.57 
d3: (e2) 1.71  (a2) 1.96  (d3) 2.07  (g3) 2.08  (b3) 1.66  (e4) 1.66 
a3: (e2) 1.33  (a2) 1.53  (d3) 1.61  (g3) 1.62  (b3) 1.29  (e4) 1.29 

Each row describes a string of the octave-viola. Each entry in a given row corresponds to a guitar string (so first entry in c2 row corresponds to to e2 string of guitar). Each entry gives

(tension using this guitar string) / (desired value)

where desired value is string tension for a normal viola. So for first entry in first row, 1 would mean string tension is exactly what it ought to be. Instead it's 1.66 -- too much tension I think, not a good idea to these guitar strings on my axe.

But my guitar strings are light weight steel strings -- classical guitar players use strings with much less tension (like 50%). So I'm going to get some flat-wound classical guitar strings and see if I can use them for c2 and g2 on octave-viola.

(Note to Jackson: I hope you're not pissed at me re the magic formula.  Please note that much of what  I'm doing is based on stuff you posted - am close to solving my problem, and wouldn't have got so far without your help.)

 

 

Besides the mass per unit length issue there is also the importance of string damping.  Guitar strings are purposely made with very little damping in order to achieve a long sustain with the plucked strings.  Bowed strings are built with much more internal damping (their complex layered wrapping structure is one reason why they are more expensive) so that notes are quickly ended during rapid passages to make them more clearly heard.

So I don't think guitar strings, even though they might have the desired weight and tension would be the best choice for an octave viola.

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19 minutes ago, Al Cramer said:

Totally agree! Always a bad idea to forget about la Serrinessima, as the Ottomans found out at Lepanto...

Apologies for boring everybody with math, but if you're interested in relationships between string-density, tension, and frequency: I think there's a bug in the formula provided by Jackson. It's the same as the one given in the fascinating pdf he cites above, but I think it's wrong. I got some data on string tensions for helicore viola strings, also some d'addario light guitar strings.  I used the formula to compute the string density (mass divided by length) for the guitar strings and got results that seemed off by 2 orders of magnitude.  So I poked around on the net and found this:

https://www.daddario.com/globalassets/pdfs/accessories/tension_chart_13934.pdf

Their version of the magic formula features a mysterious constant (386.4). If you use it, the string density results seem plausible. 

Anyway: I was trying to find out if I could put guitar strings on an octave-viola. So I wrote a python program to generate this table:

c2: (e2) 1.66  (a2) 1.90  (d3) 2.01  (g3) 2.02  (b3) 1.61  (e4) 1.61 
g2: (e2) 1.61  (a2) 1.85  (d3) 1.96  (g3) 1.97  (b3) 1.57  (e4) 1.57 
d3: (e2) 1.71  (a2) 1.96  (d3) 2.07  (g3) 2.08  (b3) 1.66  (e4) 1.66 
a3: (e2) 1.33  (a2) 1.53  (d3) 1.61  (g3) 1.62  (b3) 1.29  (e4) 1.29 

Each row describes a string of the octave-viola. Each entry in a given row corresponds to a guitar string (so first entry in c2 row corresponds to to e2 string of guitar). Each entry gives

(tension using this guitar string) / (desired value)

where desired value is string tension for a normal viola. So for first entry in first row, 1 would mean string tension is exactly what it ought to be. Instead it's 1.66 -- too much tension I think, not a good idea to these guitar strings on my axe.

But my guitar strings are light weight steel strings -- classical guitar players use strings with much less tension (like 50%). So I'm going to get some flat-wound classical guitar strings and see if I can use them for c2 and g2 on octave-viola.

(Note to Jackson: I hope you're not pissed at me re the magic formula.  Please note that much of what  I'm doing is based on stuff you posted - am close to solving my problem, and wouldn't have got so far without your help.)

 

 

Good history ref! I don't think I did provide any formulas though, I don't cotton to math. Maybe you're thinking of Marty?

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7 minutes ago, Marty Kasprzyk said:

Besides the mass per unit length issue there is also the importance of string damping.  Guitar strings are purposely made with very little damping in order to achieve a long sustain with the plucked strings.  Bowed strings are built with much more internal damping (their complex layered wrapping structure is one reason why they are more expensive) so that notes are quickly ended during rapid passages to make them more clearly heard.

So I don't think guitar strings, even though they might have the desired weight and tension would be the best choice for an octave viola.

I forgot to mention that Fan Tao gave a VSA seminar talk (Nov.12, 2021) on string tension and damping which might help:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0hXjuQDTxis

Fan is the manager for string development at d'Addario and you might want to contact him directly for guidance.  You may  get a better response if you don't mention my name.

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Marty & Jackson --

I really want to apologize to you guys -- I seem to be conflating the 2 of you in my mind. I have great respect for both of you, and you've both posted to this thread. One of you provided the magic formula and then one of you posted a link to a pdf that cited the magic formula (which I think is wrong) and I guess I got confused about who posted what. So sorry!

 

 

 

 

 

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