The 9 Best Violas

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This wiki has been updated 18 times since it was first published in October of 2016. The enchanting viola is slightly larger and lower in tone than its relative, the violin. For anyone interested in taking up this instrument, and those who are already accomplished musicians, we've included models ranging from the reasonably priced to the professionally handcrafted. You may be surprised at just how good some of these affordable options sound. When users buy our independently chosen editorial selections, we may earn commissions to help fund the Wiki. Skip to the best viola on Amazon.

9. Sky VA303

8. Stentor 1505

7. Cecilio CVA-400

6. Yamaha SVV-200

5. D'Luca Orchestral Series

4. NS Designs NXTa

3. Cecilio CVA-500

2. DZ Strad 101

1. Yamaha AVA5

Editor's Notes

March 18, 2019:

Beginner-level instruments are somewhat of a catch-22. It can be hard to justify a huge investment if someone's just starting out, but on the other hand, it can be tough to learn and stay motivated if someone's using poor-quality equipment. This effect is even amplified some on the viola, because it's such a difficult instrument for most people to play. And one thing you'll almost certainly hear from teachers or band/orchestra directors is to avoid no-name "viola-shaped objects" that simply masquerade as good instruments, but in reality, are probably not even worth the 50 dollars they cost. So it can be difficult to find a budget-oriented, starter instrument — but it is possible. Here we've outlined three brands -- Cecilio, Stentor, and Sky -- that focus on inexpensive equipment, and offer some great models int he $200 range. Cecilio's 400 is about as cheap as they get, while their 500 is probably worth it for those on anything but the tightest budget. Stentor is a comparable choice. The Sky is a good one for older people, as it's a little bolder-sounding than the other inexpensive ones, but it's also not available in the more kid-friendly sizes. Moving up the field, D'Luca and DZ offer fantastic choices for the truly dedicated beginner, while Yamaha has one that's ideal for the intermediate player ready to take a step up to the next level. Speaking of Yamaha, their SVV is an all-electric model, and while it's not completely silent without an amp, it's pretty close. This not only makes practicing in close quarters much more convenient, it can also change the game when you want to eliminate the acoustic sounds for a live performance if, for example, you're running your sounds through a pedal board or a DJ controller. In that same vein, the NS Designs viola we've highlighted here is actually one of the most advanced you'll find on the market; it even uses a specially designed, capacitor-driven circuit that acts as somewhat of a preamp and enables distortion-free connection to nearly any amp you can find. All in all, there's a good range of stringed instruments available here to satisfy all but the most particular professionals.

Strings Stick Together

The viola is a bowed and four-stringed musical instrument tuned in perfect fifths at the C, G, A, and D notes.

Learning to play a musical instrument is a beneficial and rewarding experience, from both psychological and creative perspectives. Regardless of the instrument chosen, building skill takes time, dedication, discipline, and desire on behalf of the player. For some, the violin is their go-to choice due to its acoustic range, emotional appeal, and rich history. For others, the elegance of the cello is their inspiration. One of the greatest advantages to music as an art form is the range of choice it offers to those who wish to partake in its magic, but who may prefer to try something special within a family of similar instruments. In such a circumstance, the viola is a great option to consider.

The viola is a bowed and four-stringed musical instrument tuned in perfect fifths at the C, G, A, and D notes. Its C is normally played a full octave below middle C and its tuning is precisely one-fifth below that of the violin, while being a full octave above the cello. The viola ranges in length between 15 and 18 inches, with the most common size being around 16.5 inches. It is larger than the violin and smaller than a cello, making it the "middle child" among this trio, but with a tone that's significantly deeper, lower, and richer than its other two siblings. But how does the viola support an orchestra? If we imagine the vocal equivalents of these three instruments, the violin would represent the soprano voice, making the cello the tenor and placing the viola at the alto range. Similar to altos in a choir setting, the viola carries the responsibility of filling in the harmonies for an orchestra, acting as an accompaniment. Its dark and rich timbre blends the string sections together, while giving body to the orchestra as a whole. I liken the relationship between the violin, viola, and cello to that of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, with the viola representing the peanut butter and jelly and the two hearty slices of bread represented by the violin and cello. But please don't eat a messy peanut butter and jelly sandwich while playing the viola (or any instrument for that matter).

A viola's anatomy consists of several parts, including a scroll, peg box and tuning pegs, neck, a fingerboard, bass bar, strings, a bridge, sound post, F-holes, fine tuners, top and back, purfling, a tailpiece, saddle, tail gut, end button, and finally a chin rest. Many of these components play an important role in assuring the instrument's overall acoustic performance. The viola's pegs and strings usually get the majority of a player's attention (along with the bow), as each peg is used to adjust the tension of one of the instrument's four strings wrapped around it. Tightening the tension of a string results in a higher pitch, whereas loosening the tension lowers the pitch.

A variety of woods may be used in the instrument's construction, the most common of which are ebony, maple, and spruce. Naturally-aged and straight-grained spruce is ideal for use at the top of the instrument near the scroll, as this is the main location from which much of the viola's sound will resonate. Spruce also offers the durability necessary to support the attention needed by the strings when they're constantly being adjusted. Maple is used to enhance the viola's structural integrity, particularly along its neck and sides. Ebony is leveraged for the pegs, tailpiece, and fingerboard to prevent the instrument from feeling too top heavy. Exotic woods, such as rosewood and boxwood, may also be used for the pegs, chin rest, and tailpiece as a means of enhancing the instrument's beauty and sound characteristics.

Maintaining Acoustic Balance

In addition to being a long-term investment, choosing an instrument is also an extremely personal experience. The viola is no exception, given that its sound must resonate with both the player and the audience to evoke emotion. In order to make this happen, both an instrument's acoustics and construction materials should be among your primary considerations. You must be aware that a viola's sound is relatively mellow and rich with a darker timbre than either of its stringed siblings.

String length is another important factor to keep in mind. Regardless of who's playing the instrument, there should be a coherence in sound quality between all four strings. Short strings are typically more comfortable for a young child to play, whereas long strings will provide greater power and tone consistency as a person's skill level grows.

Finally, ensuring the right type of bow is an extremely important consideration, as it makes the instrument's rich sound possible. The viola's bow should be strong, flexible, well-balanced, and easy to hold.

A Brief History Of The Viola

While there is no definitive date for the birth of the viola, common belief is that the instrument was developed from the ancient bow and string violin instruments found in early 16th century Italy. Famous luthiers, including Andrea Amati and Antonio Stradivari, were pivotal in establishing the basic proportions of the violin, viola, and cello between the 16th and mid-17th centuries.

The first viola sonatas were developed in 1770 by organist and violist William Flackton. Additional inspiration came from famous classical composers like Franz Joseph Haydn, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and Ludwig van Beethoven, treating the instrument as more than just a "filler" for symphonies.

Both Lionel Tertis and William Primrose helped carry the instrument's popularity into modern times, allowing it to remain an integral part of most major orchestras.

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Christopher Thomas
Last updated on March 19, 2019 by Christopher Thomas

Building PCs, remodeling, and cooking since he was young, quasi-renowned trumpeter Christopher Thomas traveled the USA performing at and organizing shows from an early age. His work experiences led him to open a catering company, eventually becoming a sous chef in several fine LA restaurants. He enjoys all sorts of barely necessary gadgets, specialty computing, cutting-edge video games, and modern social policy. He has given talks on debunking pseudoscience, the Dunning-Kruger effect, culinary technique, and traveling. After two decades of product and market research, Chris has a keen sense of what people want to know and how to explain it clearly. He delights in parsing complex subjects for anyone who will listen -- because teaching is the best way to ensure that you understand things yourself.

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