There’s a lot of demand at present for my smaller rental violas, which offer a true viola sound and response for younger players and adults alike. This one is already earmarked for a talented young player, for when she outgrows the 13 1/4 inch viola her family is renting from me at present.
I’ve started by preparing the back and the front. They are made from solid pieces of wood, in this instance some lovely, high quality Swiss spruce for the front and poplar for the back. Poplar is a good choice for the backs of smaller instruments as it’s slightly lower in density than maple, so takes less energy from the bow to set into vibration. This helps the response.
With the arching roughed out, I fit the purfing, an inlay of poplar sandwiched between two strips of pearwood dyed black. I cut a channel round the edges of the back and front, then glue the purfling in place.
Now I’m ready to finalise the arching. This has a big influence on the sound of the finished viola. I go for a medium-height arching, quite full to the edges, which helps the viola to have a good C string and overall richness of sound.
It’s time now to turn the back and front over and hollow them to the final thickness. This is different for each instrument depending on the shape of the arching and the individual qualities of each piece of wood. I work carefully, checking the weight, flexing and tapping until I’m satisfied. Both the spruce and the poplar feel and sound good and I’m able to get lovely resonant tap tones and a nice, light weight.
Having roughed the f-holes before I finished thicknessing the front, I’m now able to finish them.
The ribs are made from strips of maple planed to just over a millimetre thick. I bend them and glue them directly to the back, without using a mould.
Meanwhile, I’ve fitted the bass bar which strengthens the front and reinforces the lower register of the viola. And I’ve made a simple, lightweight head to complement the body.
With the linings fitted inside the ribs and my label glued in, I’m ready to ‘close the box’ and glue on the front.
After gluing the front to the ribs, I’ve fitted and shaped the neck, taking a lot of trouble to make a good smooth and flowing shape that will feel comfortable in the hand.
The viola is now finished ‘in the white’, ready for the several different processes that make up the varnish.
The viola is now finished. I take a lot of trouble with the setup to optimise the sound, and pay attention to string choice. I’m finding that Evah Pirazzi A, D, G and C (made for five string violins) work well. The sound is rich and powerful, with your eyes shut you certainly imagine a larger instrument.