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.) I will make any of them in a five-string variant, and each achieves perfectly balanced sound and tone quality across all five strings.

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.