The viola is one of the most unique instruments in the orchestra. It sits between the ranges of the more well-known string instruments and merges the rich sound of the cello with the clear tone of the violin. Because the lower range requires a larger size, violas are sized in inches rather than fractional sizes, ranging from 12" all the way to 17". This makes using a rental viola a good choice so that the student can continue to have the necessary size as they grow. But even more important is the growth of their musical voice and ears. As the student progresses the viola itself will begin the teach them intrinsic details about what a viola is meant to do. Ode to Joy, a common first song, doesn't require the type of viola that a solo concerto will require of a student and the viola. Because of this student violas also come in varied degrees of quality. A beginner needs a viola that is easy to play with a clear tone (these qualities don't exist in $149 viola look-alikes). The more sophisticated sound of higher quality violas is for the more advanced player. To assist you with making an informed choice, and if a rental is not of interest (they are typically beginner level), we've developed some categories to help you, but first we recommend considering what you are actually paying for.
The Explorer series allows the student to develop the basic skills of playing on a well made, basic level viola. These violas typically have sturdy varnish, steel core strings and a wood bow. Lacking complexity in the tone, the Explorer level viola will need to be upgraded once the student has several years under their belt. These violas are typically available in the smallest sizes as well.
The Apprentice has passed the threshold and has started to become more serious about their journey as a violist. Violas at this level will have substantially more complexity to the tone with higher quality strings and better bows. Students will find that they enjoy playing even more with the increase in sound quality. These instruments can serve well for those on a budget for many years if necessary.
Starting at this level students will find their teachers may have more specific expectations for the bow the student is using and so these violas are sold instrument only and can be supplemented with bows and cases as preferred. The wood quality increases substantially with the Protégé level and in fact many students will never need another viola after this one unless they decide to become a professional musician. Beautiful tone and high quality strings round these out and allow the student to explore advanced music and be competitive in auditions. Suggested outfit options are included on our web site to assist those who may not be close enough to visit us.
Violas in this price range may not all be new; while there are frequently old and antique violas available in lower price ranges, typically a good German viola from the early 20th century will find its way into this group along with the new violas. Since the construction of violas has not changed much in 300 years these heirloom violas can be a great choice and compete well with new ones. These old violas are the workshop instruments for the student trade 100 years ago and with the aged wood can be remarkable as well as in high demand. All violas in this range will be for the serious player or collector and will have the highest quality strings and strong, beautiful tone colors. Bows are once again a choice to be matched to the violin and the player.
Students with a high level of skill may look in this price range for a powerful, full voiced instrument. Typically these are old European violas or the very best most modern workshops are producing. Students aiming to place in the top tiers of regional and state events or youth orchestras will find a good match with these excellent violas.
Aptly named, violas in this range are sometimes chosen by students preparing to head to college or conservatory and plan to play as adults or even major in music. Most violas in this range are exceptional workshop instruments; the very best of the apprentices' work from 50-75 years ago or more. High quality wood, aged and played frequently and made under the watchful eye of the master luthier (violin maker), these will typically be of European origin and as old as 200+ years. Far from being fragile antiques (they are fragile!) these violas are workhorses for the active violist and have often had certain parts replaced or updated. These violas prove that a well made viola will last for a long time. These violas hold their value and even appreciate in value in some circumstances.
Every professional hopes to own a viola made by one maker from start to finish. The skill and quality of work from many modern and historic luthiers cannot be overstated. Painstaking effort and care are taken and rare is the luthier building anything less than the very best viola they know how to make. These violas are true investments and typically appreciate in value over time. Purchasing at this level represents an experienced professional violist or collector. We have sold violas by many modern makers including Kurt Widenhouse, John Sipe, Daniel Foster and Anton Krutz. If you are interested in commissioning a viola made by a modern luthier please contact us for more information.
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