Five String Violas

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Five String Violas

“Just a bigger Fiddle?”

People usually think of the viola as just “a larger violin that is tuned a fifth lower in pitch,” and, that concept is usually pretty close to being true, too! Very few luthiers will attempt a small viola. I make a good 14″ viola, but, it is specifically built as a viola.

Do not think of a viola as just “a violin with a lower voice.” A luthier has to build the “viola voice” into the instrument. Primarily, I shape the arching differently for a viola, as well as increasing the rib height and other specifics. I started out by building standard, four-string violas.  Sometimes I have made a smaller or larger viola, or perhaps carved an unusual scroll, but they were still “traditional four-string violas.” I did not make five-string violas until much later.

I can demonstrate that, usually, a “five-string fiddle” actually is a 14″ viola, with an E-string added to the usual CGDA. This instrument provides all the normal strings of a viola, (CGDA) and all the normal strings of a violin. The five-string violin or the 5-string viola provides the full C, G, D, A, E palette. (To those asking “But, why the fifth string?” read more Here.)

Why Larger?

So why would I need it larger? Because the larger instruments simply produce a bigger sound. They provide greater volume of resonating air as well as boasting larger expanses of oscillating tonewood. And violists love that big, rich tone.

Everyone would play a large viola, if that big viola sound were really the only consideration. But not everyone plays such a large instrument with comfort. In addition, not everyone really appreciates the “viola sound.” So, I have to produce an instrument that has the viola sound, if that is what is wanted. But, I also must not lose the upper registers of sound.

And, I have to do it all in the size the customer wants! The photo below shows a 15″ 5-string viola with truly superior sound.

Front view of an Oliver five-string 15
Front view of an Oliver five-string 15″ Viola.


Back view of an Oliver 15
Back view

My ideal customer already knows what size viola he or she plays comfortably. They simply are looking for a five-string viola in that size.  I have made violas in every size from 14″ (my smallest) to 16-1/2″ (my largest so far:)

I’d love to make a bigger viola, but customers who can play such a “chin-cello” are few and far between. On a commission basis, I will make any of them in a five-string variant, and each will achieve perfectly balanced sound and tone quality across all five strings. But, because some sizes and “non-standard” shapes are very unlikely to sell to most players, I can only build them as a commissioned instrument.

Please feel free to call me, and we can discuss any idea you want to pursue.

Five String Violas for Sale:

See my “Chronology” page for what is currently available. Call for prices.