Which viola is best?
If you’re looking for a string instrument that has a brighter sound than a cello but is more resonant than a violin, look no further than the viola. This overlooked instrument produces rich, clear tones that fill out the middle section of an orchestra.
Because the viola is somewhat uncommon, it can be difficult to find accurate product information. For a high-quality viola that stands out from the crowd, the D’Luca Orchestral Series Handmade Viola is a top pick.
What to know before you buy a viola
Parts of a viola
The viola is made of several different parts. If you’re new to this instrument, here are the main things to look for in this instrument.
- Scroll – This is the curled top of the viola. You’ll also find the tuning pegs close to the scroll.
- Tuning pegs – Use the tuning pegs to tune the strings of your viola. Most viola strings are tuned at C/G/D/A, from lowest to highest.
- Neck – The neck is the long part of the instrument that holds the tension of the viola strings. This is also where you’ll find the fingerboard.
- Body – This is the part of the instrument that amplifies the sound and creates the recognizable viola resonance. You can also find the F holes and bridge on the body.
- Chinrest – You can typically find the chin rest on the lower part of the instrument’s body. Just as the name suggests, this is where the musician can rest their chin for more comfortable playing.
Finding the right size viola
When selecting a viola, the most important step is finding the right size for you. If you’re purchasing an instrument for a growing child, be careful not to choose a larger viola, thinking they will grow into it. Instead, grab a tape measure to figure out your size.
First, have the musician fully extend their arm with the palm facing up. Then, measure the distance from the end of the shoulder to the middle of the palm. Note the distance in inches.
Following this measurement method, an arm that’s 18-20 inches will fit a 12-inch viola. An arm that’s 20-22 inches would use a 13-inch viola, and so on. Keep in mind that most violas are 16-inch instruments. Ideally, each musician would have an arm measurement of around 27-28 inches.
However, this method is more of a guideline and not as much of a firm rule. Some musicians don’t mind an instrument that’s slightly too large or too small.
Once you have the viola in the proper playing position, make sure the fingers of your left hand wrap around the scroll of the instrument comfortably. This will indicate that you’ve found the proper size.
Most violas are crafted from woods like spruce or maple because they’re naturally strong, dense and lightweight. High-quality wood will produce a rich and warm sound, while cheaper materials may produce a bright tone similar to a violin.
What to look for in a quality viola
As with any other musical instrument, verify the brand before making an online purchase. A lesser-known manufacturer might sell a cheaper viola, but you could pay the price in other ways when you find yourself with a low-quality instrument. Look for respected stringed instrument brands like Yamaha or D’Luca.
Some instruments come with accessories like protective cases, music stands and extra strings. You can also find these instruments bundled with rosin, a type of resin that lubricates the bow and provides the friction necessary for sound.
If you want the option to practice your viola day or night without bothering the neighbors, consider an acoustic-electric viola. Also sold as silent violas, these instruments have a built-in preamp and a headphone jack for quiet playing. You can also plug these violas into an amplifier during live performances.
How much you can expect to spend on a viola
The cost of a viola varies dramatically depending on the quality of the materials and the brand. You can expect to spend around $200-$800 for a solid instrument, while handcrafted violas can regularly exceed $1,000.
Can I use a violin bow on my viola?
A. Violin bows are typically much lighter than viola bows, but you can use them in a pinch. They also are helpful during long practice sessions so that you don’t fatigue as quickly. That said, use a viola bow whenever possible.
How often should I apply rosin to my viola bow?
A. Most experienced musicians recommend applying rosin every four to six hours of playing, which is usually about twice a week.
What’s the best viola to buy?
What you need to know: This handmade instrument has a beautiful maple body and comes with a free case.
What you’ll love: Handcrafted from maple, spruce and ebony, this high-quality viola is suitable for orchestras and live performances. The instrument also comes with a padded case, adjustable shoulder rest and free tuner.
What you should consider: The viola is expensive, and some users found a few parts arrived damaged.
Where to buy: Sold by Amazon
Top viola for the money
What you need to know: This ebony 16-inch viola is affordable and comes with loads of accessories.
What you’ll love: A great pick for a beginner viola player, this budget-friendly instrument comes with a free chromatic tuner, a protective case, a high-quality bow and a rosin cake. The manufacturer also offers a one-year warranty for defects.
What you should consider: Some users had to replace the bow after only a few months of use.
Where to buy: Sold by Amazon
Viola worth checking out
What you need to know: This is a versatile instrument for any skill level, and it produces a rich balanced tone at a relatively affordable price point.
What you’ll love: It comes set up and ready to play straight out of the box. The manufacturer also offers a year warranty for defective products, and the purchase comes with a free bow, rosin cake and a carrying case with straps.
What you should consider: This instrument doesn’t include a shoulder rest. Also, some users had issues with customer service.
Where to buy: Sold by Amazon
Sign up here to receive the BestReviews weekly newsletter for useful advice on new products and noteworthy deals.
Patrick Farmer writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.
Copyright 2021 BestReviews, a Nexstar company. All rights reserved.