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About that Viola thing...
Yeah, I know there is a section specifically for violas on this forum, now. But this goes here, since it is more about the effects of playing viola on playing violin.
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DanielB
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October 18, 2014 - 3:46 pm
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Ok, so back when there was the whole "go and post on Violaman.com" drive going on, I decided to try stringing my electric violin as a viola.  Not like I went out and bought a set of viola strings, mind you.  I just moved over the G,D and A strings of a violin set and added a C string that was actually an old guitar string.  (on guitar it was an A, I think)

I never did end up posting on Violaman.com that weekend, since it didn't sound very good, and I almost immediately ran into some problems. Gee, imagine that, huh?  LOL

I won't go into great detail on the issues I ran into, other than to say they were about what one would expect.  I had to tinker with string gauges to get any sort of reasonable balance, had to mess with how much silk thread to wrap the tail end of the strings with to adjust "ring" and so on.  Most or all of the problems could have probably been avoided by just buying a light gauge set of viola strings in the first place. 

But anyway, I did eventually get everything stable and reasonably balanced and my electric has been doing it's best impersonation of a viola for a few months now. 

One thing you figure out pretty quick, if you are still using your violin bow and rosin, is that you have to lean into it a bit more, especially on that low C string.  Since all the strings are proportionately a bit thicker, you actually have to use a bit more weight to your bow on all the strings than you are used to and maybe a bit more bow to get good sounds.  Using that instrument a fair bit when I practice/play, when I pick up my standard violin again, it seems easy to really make it sing out even on the low notes.  I'm thinking it builds a little extra strength in one's bowing and one picks up a little more "authoritay".

The other thing is the difference in range opens up some neat possibilities for some songs/pieces.  I had originally thought that I'd probably play a lot of songs that didn't make heavy use of the E string about the same.  Or that I'd probably just shift them over one string lower.  Which does work, but it ends up not really using that different range to it's best advantage.  Sometimes they sound really cool if you just drop them just a step or two and work up a new variation of the song/piece. 

Since I also often work up accompaniment with guitar or other instruments for those songs, doing them in a different key opens up some new voicing possibilities and etc.  Which is fun is that is your sort of fun.  I like that sort of thing, but I understand if some people would consider it just an extra pain in the buttocks.

It also ends up affecting violin in some cases, though.  Since I'll try a song in a lower key than usual on the viola-strung electric, and work up an accompaniment, and then play violin with that accompaniment.  Sometimes what I had previously been doing on that song with violin just doesn't work in that key so well, so I may look at voicing a passage in a higher register than I used to or etc and that leads sometimes to some pleasant discoveries.

Anyway... I know that other folks here play both violin and viola (including some who have restrung/retuned a violin into viola range).  So what have any of you noticed about how it affects your violin playing when you switch back to violin? 

"This young wine may have a lot of tannins now, but in 5 or 10 years it is going to be spectacular, despite the fact that right now it tastes like crude oil. You know this is how it is supposed to taste at this stage of development." ~ Itzhak Perlman

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Barry
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October 18, 2014 - 4:54 pm
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my 2 cents for what its worth and this may very well only apply to me. LeeAnn & I was playing together the other night(she inherited my FM concert fiddle) and I picked up the violin and, well, I couldnt stand it. It just felt so small,shrill and tinny sounding. It didnt come alive and vibrate through my body like the viola does.

Size was an issue for me, not so in your case restringing, my hands tend to fall into the proper intonation easier on the viola too. On violin I was always over shooting my A on the E.

Ive been making my own backing tracks on guitar,piano & keyboard and transposing hasnt been that difficult, but I will say, not all fiddle tunes work well on viola. And yes, I agree, its my kind of fun but maybe were the exception..LOL

Im currently using a fiddlerman carbon violin bow on my viola right now, and yes, it takes a little more pressure, but in some reading / studies on viola they say even with the viola bow you still got to give a wee more effort.

Would loved to hear what youve came up with. If you decide to buy an actual set of viola strings,steer clear of the low priced red label brand, theyre barely passable as a fiddle string and not worth a dam on Viola..was a waste of money. Im using Pro Arte's right now and they sound pretty good.

There is no shame in playing twinkle, youre playing Mozart

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BillyG
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October 18, 2014 - 5:56 pm
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Ahhh - folks - see - yes I'm still lurking - here's my small 2 cents worth - I had a loan of a 5-string EV some (good) time back - I appreciate it is quite different from an acoustic body - but for the few days I had it - boy did it amp up nicely and sound good...  not only that - but at least it stayed in tune compared to the "devil instrument" I owned at the time.....

I've now got myself a fine acoustic, and a "cheap but effective" 4-string EV - as I progress what I really fancy doing is to go for a 5-string EV to get the range, and of course, add FX beyond the basic  (needs a lot of work on my part! LOL) 

I have no idea how the 5-string I borrowed was strung or with which strings - but probably as it was an EV, not quite so important - it sure sounded good ( the EV, not my early playing ) when driven up....  cool - anyways

@DanielB - good post - I MAY just mess with my original "unplayable" acoustic a.k.a "Hermano del Diablo" since it's not much good for anything and mess with dropping all strings by a 5th - I have a wide selection of guitar stings here, all sorts of gauges - you have piqued my interest....  and good info @Barry on string choice - if I get around to this I'll post results....  its all good stuff, and you never know till you try..

Bill

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DanielB
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October 18, 2014 - 7:26 pm
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@Barry:  My current "e-viola" is "solid body" type, so maybe that's why acoustic violin still sounds fine to me.  Now, the size may not have changed, but the thickness of the strings changes the intonation a bit, making it even a bit more "cramped" than violin.  Just a little. 

Still being a lot of fun though, and it's really nice having the two ranges of the different instruments to play around with.

I haven't done any recording with it yet, but I am hopeful of using that sound for some recordings for the upcoming holidays.

With strings, it is hard to tell.  I have never been sure that what sounds good on an acoustic instrument is what will sound good on a solid-body type electric.  A set of strings that sound good on a Fender Telecaster could sound awful on a Martin Dreadnought and vice versa, for example.  Just basic quality issues though, I have never heard anything good about red label, so I'd tend to steer clear of those anyway. LOL 

At present, it is strung with a guitar string with a silk wrap added for the C, and strings from assorted old violin sets.  I basically just kept swapping until I found a reasonable compromise for volume and tone across the 4.  But that was mostly just to see if it would work and if I liked the range. 

@BillyG: I've got parts collected up for a project of building an electric and I have to admit that I've been thinking hard about going to 5-string for that.  The lower range sounds better to my ears than the violin range does with most guitar FX and settings/gear.

On the other hand, is *another* dang string to worry about what we really need, when we have enough trouble with 4? LOL

If ol' "Hermano del Diablo" there is just collecting dust, might as well give it a try.  I wouldn't suggest anyone try it on an expensive or antique or heirloom instrument, but as I recall, "Hermano" is none of the above. LOL

I will tell ya that guitar strings have noticeably more "ring" to them than violin strings. Which can work ok, if you use all of one or the other.  If you mix and match, you might have to either unwrap the silk thread off the violin strings or wrap the guitar strings to keep the timbre more similar across the set.

"This young wine may have a lot of tannins now, but in 5 or 10 years it is going to be spectacular, despite the fact that right now it tastes like crude oil. You know this is how it is supposed to taste at this stage of development." ~ Itzhak Perlman

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BillyG
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November 6, 2014 - 11:49 am
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Aha - I have restrung old Hermano as a viola - shifted G D A up and added a viola 'C' I managed to get hold off (make unknown)

This is just me messing with the sound I get from it - I didn't really mean to actually play any recognizable piece but accidentally fell into something that kind of reminds me of Electric Dreams - no critique on that please !!!!  LOL

Just messing about with some scale, some double stops, messing on the top A for a bit - it initially "feels strange" and I can't really explain that - I don't really see why the original G D A stings "feel different" - it may be because they're shifted towards the soundpost?  I dunno.  It could also just be a "brain thing" and all psychological - I just do NOT expect to hear those notes with THAT fingering and the old gray matter is saying to itself "that's not normal" - I dunno...  but I do like the idea, if not totally convinced about the sound yet....  here you go - it's nothing special and it's a bit "bitty" - just messing around - this is the first time I've played it - as I say - it "feels" like a different instrument...  weird...  Oh I added reverb in Audacity - out of habit..

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Fiddlerman
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November 6, 2014 - 12:59 pm
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Very nice and deep sound. :)

"The richest person is not the one who has the most,
but the one who needs the least."

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cdennyb
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November 6, 2014 - 7:46 pm
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It amazes me how a viola sounds so much like a cello on those low strings! Sounded awesome. I can hardly wait to hear more! thumbs-up

"If you practice with your hands you must practice all day. Practice with your mind and you can accomplish the same amount in minutes." Nathan Milstein

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BillyG
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November 7, 2014 - 3:56 am
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A Resurrection Story....

What is even more interesting is this - when strung normally, as a violin, Old Herman suffered from two things - they were tonal drift, and horrid hooting.

Well, he had been lying there gathering dust, and in advance of my plan to drop his voice ( ! ), I gave him a good overall inspection.  The original tailpiece looked like the tail-gut was actual gut.  Really.  And, although hard to say before I removed it, it just looked very "dry and brittle" - that's the only way I can describe it.   I improvised a belly-clamp to keep pressure on the SP, removed all strings and tailpiece.  When I flexed the tail-gut - it broke - and I mean like it "shattered".....  a bit like the crunchy "crackling" on roast-pork would do.... very interesting... (and no, I didn't chew it! )

A quote: The tail-gut secures the tailpiece a specific length from the bridge.  They are typically made from braided steel, nylon or kevlar.  Actual gut is rare and not used commonly by most modern luthiers.  

Well, he comes from China ( a SkyLark ).   He dates from the early 1980's when originally purchased (so I am led to understand - it came into my hands about 5 years ago) - but when it was originally fabricated - dunno - could have been years before that.  So I'm beginning to think that whatever material the tail-gut "gut" was made of, it was "susceptible", or had, over time, become susceptible, to temperature and / or humidity change.

Anyway - because I was going to convert him to a viola, I ordered an entire new tailpiece about 2 weeks back, and re-strung him back (as violin).   Guess what - the drifting has gone.  He stays in tune pretty well.  And yes - that was the problem - it would drift EITHER way - go sharp or flat so it certainly wasn't the string pegs slipping or whatever.....  

Well  THAT was a surprise.

He still "hooted horribly" at around B to C on the A string.   Much as I am quite a capable "technical" person - I just NEVER could be bothered (time wise) trying an SP adjustment - I could see me messing with it for like a full week or so - I'd rather spend my time on practice.  Wait for this -

I got hold of a viola C, moved G D A up, installed the C.   At the same "physical" position where the B (on A string) was (which now sounds the E on the D string) - there's no hoot ( as I would expect ).  But what's much more interesting is when I do play B on the actual top ( A ) string - yes - there is "some degree" of sound-box/body resonance - but nothing like as fierce as when strung as a violin.   Possibly this is due to it now being nearer to the SP.   

If I can justify the time, I may get round to messing with the SP, although, now strung as a viola, it is reasonably playable.  Following the initial post above, I played on it for a couple of hours last night, I'm getting used to the new sound.....  

Might even make my Xmas submission be Vln 1 plus a Vla part.... LOL - we'll see...

I seriously recommend not copying my mistakes.  

Please make your own, different mistakes, and help us all learn :-)

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DanielB
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November 7, 2014 - 5:49 pm
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About THE sweetest single thing I have found about playing viola strung/tuned, is that it is awesome for jamming easy blues in G.  If you want to kick back and chord while contemplating the next lick, the G, C and D "chords" (partials) are all open pairs.  Violin is particularly sweet like that for D, of course, but doesn't have that deeper midrange "throb" going for it.

I still don't think of the violin as screechy or anything though.. It is just a soprano range instrument.  Well, mezzo-soprano, in first position.  The viola is an alto range instrument.  All good in their own ways and in their time and place.

"This young wine may have a lot of tannins now, but in 5 or 10 years it is going to be spectacular, despite the fact that right now it tastes like crude oil. You know this is how it is supposed to taste at this stage of development." ~ Itzhak Perlman

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