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Thread: Questions about the Viola

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    Default Questions about the Viola

    Hi! I am a bass guitarist who loves classical music and I'm considering picking up viola so I can join my community orchestra. As a bassist, I am fine with being in the background and I love supporting other musician and there has been an ad for a viola player for the community orchestra for months. I expect to put in years before I can perform with an orchestra, but I would like to compose for orchestra some day and I feel its a fool's errand to try when I have never been part of one.

    However, I am a working class person and purchasing an expensive instrument right off the bat isn't a thing, but I heard the cheaper violas (Cecilio) without ebony fingerboards will suffer significant damage in less than a year or two. This is NOT an option. If I get a viola, it needs to be an instrument I can use for AT LEAST 5 years. I'm also vegan, so I will need to get a bow that isn't horse hair. I know the instrument itself has hide glue but I can't find an affordable alternative. Bottom line, cheap, playable, and durable are the three most important qualities I am looking for in a viola.

    Is fingerboard wear a serious problem? Can I bypass it with non-metal strings? Do you have recommendations for a viola that will last without breaking my bank? Is there a reliable place to buy used violas online? Do you have recommendations on affordable bows without horsehair?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Vivdonthalowend View Post
    Hi! I am a bass guitarist who loves classical music and I'm considering picking up viola so I can join my community orchestra. As a bassist, I am fine with being in the background and I love supporting other musician and there has been an ad for a viola player for the community orchestra for months. I expect to put in years before I can perform with an orchestra, but I would like to compose for orchestra some day and I feel its a fool's errand to try when I have never been part of one.

    However, I am a working class person and purchasing an expensive instrument right off the bat isn't a thing, but I heard the cheaper violas (Cecilio) without ebony fingerboards will suffer significant damage in less than a year or two. This is NOT an option. If I get a viola, it needs to be an instrument I can use for AT LEAST 5 years. I'm also vegan, so I will need to get a bow that isn't horse hair. I know the instrument itself has hide glue but I can't find an affordable alternative. Bottom line, cheap, playable, and durable are the three most important qualities I am looking for in a viola.

    Is fingerboard wear a serious problem? Can I bypass it with non-metal strings? Do you have recommendations for a viola that will last without breaking my bank? Is there a reliable place to buy used violas online? Do you have recommendations on affordable bows without horsehair?
    Perhaps it's more helpful if you mention you area, I mean, I can say I know a shop in Amsterdam but that's not likely helping you.....
    First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.
    "Mahatma Gandhi"

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    I'm located in Indiana in the United States but not anywhere with a thriving music scene.

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    There are many quite decent vintage violas from Europe or America on eBay; the trick is being able to sift through the Chinese garbage* and find them. I played a hunch about twelve years ago and bought an American luthier-made viola from San Antonio and have had people play it and offer to trade their $25,000+ instruments for it on the spot; I paid under $1,200.

    I have a number of vegan friends who play on ordinary horse hair bows; it's like wearing a wool sweater as a vegan, you don't kill the animal to obtain it. There are artificial alternatives, but I'm curious as to what your logic is about horse hair.

    *some of the Chinese makers are actually quite skilled. The major problem is that most of the wooden instruments that come out of China are made from wood that is thoroughly unsuitable for instrument making, so it warps, cracks, and generally becomes unstable after a few seasons.
    MusicBear88
    I'm a musician, and I'm a bear. You do the math.

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    My budget would be 500, 600 tops for the viola. My understanding is the hair is collected from slaughter horses, at least that's what my limited research has found. If you could link me somewhere where they don't harm the horses, that would be helpful.

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    For your price range you could try Shar music. You can look online.

    Not the best violas, but not bad and possibly a good place to start

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    Quote Originally Posted by Vivdonthalowend View Post
    I'm located in Indiana in the United States but not anywhere with a thriving music scene.
    Doesn't Indiana University have a pretty robust music program? You might call their string department and ask if they recommend any particular shop.

    Also, you might consider buying online:

    https://www.swstrings.com/catalog/instruments/viola

    My wife bought me a cello about ten years ago, for a pretty reasonable price, and it's served me well (like you, I wanted to play in my community orchestra).

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    You know that manufacturing bows with horse hair doesn't necessarily hurt the horse? I'm assuming it's from their tails and not manes. But they don't technically "need" hair. It's mostly to keep away flies, and most of the time doesn't help too much anyway. All of our horses have long tails (well...except for one...I went a bit too scissor happy when I was "trimming" it for him) and they don't do anything for flies in the summer. We have to make a natural repellent.
    But if it is from horses at the slaugterhouse, I understand your concern. I don't know why we need glue so badly that it costs lives.
    There are synthetic hairs on bows, but they're not great quality.
    A lot of people recommend beginners get a cheap, low quality instrument. I don't. In my opinion, it doesn't make sense for someone to buy an instrument that sounds terrible and that will only last them a few years. And to recommend that...I don't understand it.
    Try renting first for a few months or years, to see if you enjoy learning. Then make a purchase. Most renting prices are decent, and many companies offer rent-to-own options.
    The best thing to do, in my own opinion, is to consult an experienced teacher in your area. Tell them you'd like to learn but you're looking for a good quality instrument that will last you. Ask for string and rosin recommendations.
    None of us can tell you what the best instrument for YOU would be, in your area. Beside that, instruments within a brand are different. Nine chances out of ten, a teacher will go with you to a music store to try out instruments.
    Please note that I'm not a violist, but a violinist. So I don't know much about viola brands and their quality. But typically, stay away from Cecilio, Cremona, Yamaha, Mendini, Merano, etc. You might be able to pick up a decent Stentor. Primavera, I think, is supposed to be good quality while also being economical. D'Luca CA400VA is supposed to be of a higher quality, producing deep, mellow tones, for $590.44 USD. Which is a really good price, if the instruments are as good as they're cracked up to be. D Z Strad 400 is also supposed to be of high-quality, but the instrument costs $1,600 USD. Louis Carpini is another highly rated brand, but I don't know their prices. I'd go with the D'Luca. It'll probably last you years, while providing you with great tones.
    Note that you'll have to change your strings every year or so. Again, ask a teacher for their advice, but here are some recommended ones from a site: Thomastik Infield - Dominant, Thomastik Infield - Spirocore, Prelude, Jarjar, Helicore, Prim. The Prelude strings aren't great quality. Helicore and Prim are better beginner strings. The rest are intermediate, so they'll be a bit more pricey, but they'll last longer and sound better. Not that beginners should consider them (they're extremely expensive), but don't get gut strings. As the name indicates, they're made with sheep intestine.
    For rosin, read this: https://consordini.com/top-brands-of-viola-rosin/
    Many instruments come with a case, bow, and rosin. I wouldn't worry about rosin immediately, but it's good to know.
    For bows, most instruments come with a cheap wooden bow which don't last long. Mine lasted four years. You'll be fine for a while with the wooden, but try to get a carbon fibre bow. I don't know if they have synthetic hair or not. They last twenty or more years, can be played in the elements, and sound better than wooden bows. They're also more expensive. Some can be $200 CAD. Mine was $100 CAD because of a discount.
    As for reliable online options, it's generally not recommended, but people get instruments from Amazon all the time, and the reviews usually report that they arrived intact. In-store options are usually better, though.
    You'll probably find that you have better intonation because you play the bass, and your fingers will be stronger.
    You don't "have" to get lessons. But maybe your budget would allow for one once a month or so? You could try online lessons, as well, if it's more convenient or if you'd prefer it.
    Hope this helps.

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