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First Time Making A Viola - Advice


Stephan Osthorst

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Hi all,

long time reader, first time question askerer.

I am potentially about to start my first viola and would love some advice, It will be used in a professional chamber music setting pretty much right from it's unveiling so I am not looking to just 'throw something together for experience' for my first one but rather apply to it my skills from violin making, hopefully along with your insights and expertise.

I would mostly keep within my style of making rather than making a copy of something but if there are certain shapes and sizes you guys like that I could be basing my first one off then I am all ears (Amati springs to mind for example)

Any direction in terms of books, resources, starting points, your own experiences and do's and don't's  would be greatly appreciated,

I look forward to your replies

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The ‘Conte Vitale’ by Andrea Guarneri seems to be a pretty good ‘standard’ model. If you want to use your own style it might serve as model for the general dimensions.

There are no books on viola making as  far as I know.

My general guideline in making violas is keeping things light and not too thick which helps for a deeper sound. 
 

 

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I agree the Amati CV (the Danks and the Estense are nice models) I'm working on one based on the S+G book now. I know others here have made violas on this pattern as well. 

The Conte Vitale viola many seem to like is a very problematic model to begin with. Although from recordings it sounds wonderful! The Strad poster shows a an asymmetrical outline with one of the middle bouts being 5mm or so wider than the other - one needs to make choices to avoid setup issues. Also the arching is very scooped and quite thin in the recurve. The recurve may even dip below the purfling in some spots. 

There was a viola project at Oberlin a while back that looks really interesting that may be a good starting place. I wish there was more info on this project - it seems very well considered.

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I am also interested in this topic....is there anything that someone who has built a number of violins, but no violas needs to be aware of or are there any common pitfalls when making a viola?  Sounds like a silly question, but is there anything that isn't obvious other than basically "just make a bigger violin"?  I bought a nice set of viola wood at VSA and hoping to build it in the spring.

Thanks

 

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22 minutes ago, Matthew_Graesch said:

I am also interested in this topic....is there anything that someone who has built a number of violins, but no violas needs to be aware of or are there any common pitfalls when making a viola?  Sounds like a silly question, but is there anything that isn't obvious other than basically "just make a bigger violin"?  I bought a nice set of viola wood at VSA and hoping to build it in the spring.

Thanks

 

The biggest pitfall is considering it like a big violin, it's not.

For example, the top plate of the viola must be less stiff than that of the violin, which is why the thicknesses are practically the same. If the viola ends up too "violinistic" (i.e. too bright), it will not be a good viola. Of course, that's my personal opinion.

Another interesting aspect of the viola, many different opinions...;)

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15 hours ago, Davide Sora said:

For example, the top plate of the viola must be less stiff than that of the violin, which is why the thicknesses are practically the same. If the viola ends up too "violinistic" (i.e. too bright), it will not be a good viola. Of course, that's my personal opinion.

Very good info thank you, @Andreas Preuss said similar about keeping things light and not too thick, I am definitely aiming for a classic dark rich viola sound (whether I get there or not is a different story) but having the right people to at least start me down the right path is much appreciated!

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On 12/5/2023 at 8:39 AM, Urban Luthier said:

I agree the Amati CV (the Danks and the Estense are nice models) I'm working on one based on the S+G book now. I know others here have made violas on this pattern as well. 

The Conte Vitale viola many seem to like is a very problematic model to begin with. Although from recordings it sounds wonderful! The Strad poster shows a an asymmetrical outline with one of the middle bouts being 5mm or so wider than the other - one needs to make choices to avoid setup issues. Also the arching is very scooped and quite thin in the recurve. The recurve may even dip below the purfling in some spots. 

There was a viola project at Oberlin a while back that looks really interesting that may be a good starting place. I wish there was more info on this project - it seems very well considered.

The Obialto project at Oberlin was a great undertaking --26 makers made violas all with the same molds with freedom to pick their own wood, arch shape, thickness etc.

My impression were that the player and listener results were all over the map with no general agreement--different people like different things. 

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13 hours ago, Stephan Osthorst said:

…[“Viola Making, Step by Step”]…is on the list :)

I have not seen this book, but I suspect that it often references Strobel’s “Violin Making, Step by Step,” which I do have, and that it only gives specific instructions where Strobel’s viola making procedures differ from his violin making procedures.  And “Violin Making…” references Strobel’s “Useful Measurements for Violin Makers,” “Violin Maker’s Notebook” and “Art & Method of the Violin Maker,” saying in the introduction, “The information in them is a necessary supplement to this book.”  So you should be aware that you may also need to acquire four other Strobel books to make full use of “Viola Making…”

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