Five String Violas
The viola is usually thought of as a “larger violin that is tuned a fifth lower in pitch.” That is usually true, too. Very few luthiers will attempt a small viola. I make a good 14″ viola, but it is specifically built as a viola, not just a violin with a lower voice. As it happens, a five string fiddle, in reality, is actually a 14″ viola with a E-string added to the usual CGDA. So it has all the strings of a viola, (CGDA) and all the normal strings of a violin. The five-string violin or viola has CGDAE.
So why would I need it larger? Because the larger instruments, having a greater volume of resonating air, as well as larger expanses of oscillating tonewood , simply produce a bigger sound. And violists love that big, rich tone.
If that were the only consideration, everyone would play a viola. But not everyone is comfortable playing the larger instrument, and, not everyone appreciates the viola sound, which is not simply dependent upon size, but also upon the curvature of the arching. My task, then, is to produce an instrument that has the viola sound, if that is what is wanted, but not lose the upper registers of sound. And! It has to be done in the size the customer wants!
So: if the customer already knows what size viola he or she plays comfortably, and simply wants a five-string viola in that size, we can do business. 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.)