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As stated in my Topic Description. I have an Eastman Strings 100 viola outfit. It is 16 inches. I am finding that I am not all that pleased with the sound quality, itself, and that is is not as mellow as I would like. I did not want to spend too much for this one because I did not know how I would like viola.
It came with Dominant Strings. Recently, I put Obligato Strings on it, review is in another thread. The Obligatos helped. The D and A strings are not very satisfactory, for lack of a better word. So, I think that I need to get a better sounding viola. It really bothers me, even as a student. I pay close attention to sound and that is always on my mind when I am playing it, “This does not sound like viola to me. This is not mellow and soulful enough.” It is very distracting when I play. I know playing with sound post placement, etc can change sound but a viola at this level will still have that hollow emoty sound and the luthier is 1 1/2 hours away. Driving back and forth for adjustments is not going to happen. It does not sound the same at home as it does in the studio room.
I am going to make an appointment with the violin shop I go to when we don’t have to worry about cancelling for snow. If we get snow, they get a lot more and the shop is 1 1/2 hours away going towards the higher snow amounts. Not going to happen, one flake, and I am housebound. That said, I always do research being buying anything. I research for months sometimes. So, please help with info, realizing each viola is different in sound, even if they are the same brand and model. Just generalities is great. I will be testing them, also.
1. Right now I am using a 16” viola. I was thinking about adding 15” and 15 1/2” violas to the mix. I am not sure if maybe the 16” is requiring too much of an arm stretch, even though my arm length says a 16”. My left arm feels like it has to work too hard. This is the case even woth my new setup that is quite comfortable, otherwise.
It also feels like there is too much on my shoulder. When I am holding it, it feels like I am having too much in my left shoulder. At 64, I do not need to develop shoulder issues. My violin does not give me any discomfort since I found a nice setup. So, there is something about my viola causing this.
My left arm has to stretch to the fingerboard and it is a stretch. I am not used to stretching thag far, at least for long periods of time. I am not that flexible any longer. Even though the length is there saying 16” is good, the flexibility and sustained flexibility is not, especially when the wrist curved to finger the strings is added to the mix. Am I correct that a 15” or 15 1/2” would help with this?
2. So, assuming the 15” or 15 1/2” viola would be better, are 15” or 15 1/2” as nice sounding as a 16”, in general. Is it possible to get mellow, soulful sounding 15” or 15 1/2” violas? Would proper strings and bows accomplish this?
My thinking, which is probably very flawed, is that the smaller the instrument, the more violin sounding it will be. I am not looking for that. I would still like it to sound like a viola, but I don’t want to cause injury and I want to be more comfortable. Is it going to be a waste of time to check out the 15” and 15 1/2” violas?
3. There is only 1/2” difference between that and my 16”. I am not sure how much difference that would make in the long run. The 16” seemed pretty comfortable when I purchased it after giving it a 20 minutes test run at the shop. I don’t want to make that same mistake this time with a 15 1/2” one. Is there a big difference in handling a 16” and 15 1/2” viola?
4. I really love my Rudoulf Doetsch violin and noticed on the shop’s web page that they do have a 15 1/2” Rudoulf Doetsch Viola. They do not have a 16” or 15” Rudoulf Doetsch. I know that does not mean I would like the sound of their viola, but I do like the way Rudoulf looks, too and, mostly, how Rudoulf feels in my hands. I am thinking this would be a good starting point. Would the change from a 16” viola to a 15 1/2” viola make that much of a difference, or would looking at 15” be a better starting point?
Just an added tidbit, I do not need a lot of projection. I just play at home in my livingroom, or in the small studio where my lessons will be. I am not a performer and am doing this for my own satisfaction.
Thank you for any thoughts you have, again, realizing it is all relative to how they sound and feel when teying them. Just wondering about different experiences and thoughts.
After doing more research, I think I maybe should be using a 15 1/2” viola. See Question 1 in my original post in this thread.
I read that you should be able to reach your scroll with the left hand and be able to grab it nicely. I got out my viola this morning. I can reach the scroll and my fingers comfortably go halfway up the scroll. I have to stretch, tightly flexing, to actually “grab” the scroll. I think I should be using the 15 1/2 inch viola?
I also read there is a guarneri and maggini(?) style. I think I should look for the guarneri style. I belive that is the one with more length from bridge to the start of the neck. I will have to find that info sheet again when I decide tomchange out my viola. It will be while while I gather information. You would think I was thinking about buying a car! I always make lists and comparison charts for that. By the time I decide we get them didcounted because the next year’s model is out. 😁
I too read that criterion about the scroll for the size. The luthier actually verified that before I bought my viola n°2.
I just went to quickly check on my viola, and yes, I can grab the scroll comfortably, without being extra-stretched at the elbow (I can even curve my fingers all around it). So yes, I suppose you should go for a smaller one.
Actually, a bigger viola usually sounds better, darker and deeper.
That being said, there are brilliant 15" violas. I for one would probably choose a smaller viola for comfort over a bigger one for that extra deep sound.
There are different models as well. Models with wider bouts and sides.
Thanks for the input. The brighter or more brilliant sound is the drawback I am concerned about. The smaller one, even though not as dark, would still be deeper than a violin, right?
I am not sure when we will be able to set up an appointment with the shop. Snow storm is heading our way, so it might be a little while. I hate making appointments and then canceling. It is like returning items I buy and then don’t like, I don’t normally return things. Likewise, I just don’t make appointments in the Winter, if I can help it. So, it might be a while. Gives me time to investigate so I can let them know exactly what I am looking for so they will have them on the table, like I did for my violin. Played a bunch.
I was looking for a video that compares a 15”, 15 1/2” and 16” viola with the same kind of strings, same bow and same song. Slow parts and faster parts. Haven’t found one yet. The shop has a 15 1/5” Rudoulf Doetsch right now. Will be interested to try that one. It is a little over what I was thinking, but I think I would have to go that high for a quality non-hollow sound.
My granddaughters arw sure going to get a lot of instruments left for them!
I think the smaller size viola will be better. I just got out my viola a little while ago. It really is too much of a stretch for my left arm. I think that is also making it harder to bow because I noticed I actually changed the viola position a few times just to ease the stretch a little, then went back to the proper hold. Then, I moved my left hand closer, as if holding a slightly smaller viola, and it felt so much better.
So, maybe when I call them, I will only ask to try the 15 inch and 15 1/2 inch violas.
Oh, just thought of something, how hard is it to find strings for the smaller sized, 15 inch and 15 1/2 inch violas? Is it easier to find them for a guarneri or a maggini style viola?
Thanks. I am hoping for good weather in a couple weeks. Fingers crossed.
My viola is 41 cm, so that would be... converting... 16''.
A smaller viola should still have a "viola sound", or there's no point playing viola, right ? Best to try extensively.
I read (in a book by Paul Rolland about strings playing) that viola position can differ slightly from violin position, too. Like, you can hold it a bit more to the front and have the scroll dip a bit more towards the floor. Important point is being comfortable.
E.g. look at her :
(I want to play that someday, too. Beautiful.)
@wtw That was absolutely fantastic! That classical piece, I really like. It is not too busy where, to me, it is just noise.
That said, that was fascinating watching the violist, well, cellist too, since I have cellos. But, this is the viola thread and I was really interested in seeing a violist hold the viola while playing. I saw a video of a lady speaking about violas and I didn’t really notice how she held it. I will have to find it because it is interesting, and would also interest non-violists.
I am going to get my viola out again and try holding it differently, but I do think I have had it angled down like that, found it uncomfortable, and moved it up more like a violin, but I will pay attention this time.
I do wonder what size viola she is playing. I know my arms are shorter. My proportion of arm length to body is no where what she has. She looks so comfortable playing that viola. I am in awe and so disappointed I did not start this cello/violin/viola journey earlier. “If I could turn back time”.
I have so many questions and comments now, but it would be way too long.
Thank you, wtw, for sharing that video and providing the input.
If you do not mind, I am going to try to figure out how to link this so that those who are strictly violinist will see this video is here. I think they would like it, too. It is such a lovely piece, as well as informative for me. Cello and viola compliment each other so beautifully. Any idea how it could be done and which thread to put it in?
@wtw I just did my viola a little while ago. I played around with angles, position, etc. Some helped with the stretch tenseness, but the soreness was still there. It still feels a little too big. I was hoping that would not be the case. I think I need to at least go down to 15 1/2”, maybe 15. That little bit of 1/2” “slack” will be well worth it. I, again, fingered the viola as if the first position would be closer, a tiny bit of a smaller viola likeness, and that is so much better. The wrist is not as tensed up and my arm feels much more relaxed. Physically wise, I think it will be safer.
I kind of thought it might be a tad big when I got it. I did not know exactly how to hold it, so in I gave it a shot. I read so many bad things about smaller violas, that I wanted this size to work. No biggy now that I have more confidence in getting a nice song from a 15” or 15 1/2”. I should be able to finger and bow it better, so that should improve the sound, too.
I just hope that it won’t be difficult to get strings for a 15” or 15 1/2” viola. I have looked online and what I found was pretty limited.
Thank you, again for all your thoughts and information.
The wrist is not as tensed up and my arm feels much more relaxed. Physically wise, I think it will be safer.
Agreed (to clarify, I wasn't saying you should stick with 16'' instrument). It's worth it going towards smaller sized ones. Do the scroll test with a 15'' or 15''1/2 when you find one...
Good luck in your search for the right instrument, I'm sure it exists :). I know someone (adult) who switched to a 3/4 sized violin for the better (after years on 4/4, because "as an adult you must play on a 4/4 violin" that's what teachers or sellers told her), she's just not tall enough for the full size. You can't get a good sound if you're all tense - no matter how good the instrument. Plus, one can do without the pains 🙂
Keep us updated !
There are a lot of factors that go into viola sizing and technique. Arm length is one of them, but also consider hand size. If you have short fingers, you may be more comfortable with a smaller viola even if your arm can handle something larger. Also, violists with shorter arms or small hands may make other technical adjustments such as holding the left thumb opposite the 2nd finger (instead of 1st), or playing with a more rounded left wrist. Violists tend to hold their instruments more forward than violinists, as @wtw pointed out already.
Violas vary a lot more than violins, because the size and shape of the viola is a compromise to begin with. I understand that the Stradivari and Guarneri pattern violas are closer to the violin shape, while the Maggini and Tertis patterns are wider and taller, so as to have more volume for their length. As far as I can tell, the difference between Maggini and Tertis pattern violas is that Maggini violas get their extra height from a higher arching top plate, while Tertis violas get their extra height from taller ribs. (I play a 15.75" Tertis pattern viola.) Recent decades have seen more unusual variations too, e.g. the Iizuka pattern with a cutaway upper bout, and the asymmetric Rivinus pattern that places the whole body of the instrument at an angle.
Because of the variations in shape, it's really difficult to have a side-by-side comparison of different viola sizes. Generally, for the same shape, larger violas will have a darker, richer sound, but small violas with a dark sound can be found. What you find more often with small violas is that there is a compromise between projection and richness of tone. It seems to me that smaller violas can either project like larger violas, or have a dark sound like larger violas, but rarely both. Also, the choice of strings may differ. I've noticed in my orchestras that the people who play smaller violas tend to use brighter and more direct-sounding strings in order to get more sound out of their instruments (and I do as well), but it is at the expense of tone color.
I've noticed that younger violists tend to play the largest viola they can handle, while older violists (including pros) often downsize for comfort. There are plenty of excellent 15" and 15.5" violas on the market; they are both considered fairly standard sizes.
There really isn't any need to buy a different string length for a 15" viola; for almost all brands the same string is used on 15" and 16" violas. The most common string lengths are typically labeled as being for either 15-17 inches or 15-16.5 inches. You only have to get an under-length string if your viola is smaller than 15".
@AndrewH Thank you for all the information. Some of it I did read about, but much was not in the articles I read. I don’t need a lot of volume. Not a performer, just a livingroom player for my own satisfaction.
I was glad to receive the confirmation about strings from someone who uses a smaller than 16” viola. I read conflicting information regarding that. Thanks
I am hoping to be able to go to the violin shop this week. I emailed them about a date, time, the 15” and 15 1/2” sizes, and my price limit. Pretty sure I won’t have an issue with the date and time request, just have to watch the weather.