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A while back I bought a violin with five strings, i.e. there in an extra low C on it. However, as the body of the violin is the same size as that of a normal violin, so whenever I play on the C-string with even moderate force, the note goes sour. If I play with low force, however, the note stays clean. I assume this is because the tension on the string is too low due to the shorter body of the instrument.

Spontaneously, I would guess using a thicker string would give the string the necessary tension to maintain the tone. So my question is, could this be a solution? If not, is there another way I could go about it?

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  • I think you will be thwarted :-( The interest and production of five string violins with the extra low C string grew up with amplification and electric violins. I think that without the extra body size the physics of producing the lower frequencies without external amplification is not on your side.
    – dumbledad
    Commented Jul 29, 2015 at 8:46
  • That's too bad. I guess my best option, apart from trying to sell it, is to repurpose it to only use four strings then. Thanks a lot! Commented Jul 29, 2015 at 9:05

4 Answers 4

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The string length of a viola is not all that much more than that of a violin (if it were "in scale", it would need to be 50% more than that of a violin). Naturally, you don't want a rededicated G string, but with a "proper" C string, there will not be all that much of a string thickness variation to work with.

The main problem is that a violin body is just too small for giving the C string a nice acoustic support. Nice-sounding violas tend to be at the bulkier end of the viola range.

You can probably let a luthier look over your instrument to make sure it is set up properly, with closed fittings, well-attached bass beam, properly fitted sound post and bridge. Any problems there will affect the way stuff gets picked off and transmitted.

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  • Okay, so the problem shouldn't be the string itself? I am pretty sure it already is a C string, but I'll double check when I get home. I might add that if I play with low force, the note is clean, but if I put moderate force into the stroke of the bow the note turns sour. Commented Jul 29, 2015 at 8:23
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Please tell me you didn't end up repurposing the instrument! I'm sad nobody on the thread previously mentioned buying a true violin C string. They do exist. I own a wonderful 5 string violin and have a Thomastik vision violin C. Not the cheapest, but sounds gorgeous! Daddario also makes Helicore violin C strings, which are used widely and less expensive. You can also buy short scale (13-14") viola strings that should work well. Please tell me you didn't give up on your instrument!

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  • I'll corroborate that. The Thomastik string for this purpose- it's called a 1/2 viola C string here- are really quite good. Commented Jun 21, 2016 at 11:15
  • Thank you, I will have a look at that! I actually still have it still, but I have been thiniing abot selling it. I'll have a look at your suggestions and see where I go from there! Thanks! Commented Jun 22, 2016 at 4:48
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There are C strings and there are C strings. I have set up small violins to be "violas" for children who were starting Suzuki viola at a very young age. Most C strings sounded the way you describe, but I was able to minimize this effect with a particular choice of string. It's been a while, so I'm not sure -- maybe it was a Dominant.

Also make sure you are using a string that is sold for a smaller instrument.

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  • Thanks for the answer! I am not going to settle for minimizing the effect though, so I've decided to just rebuild it to a normal 4-string violin. Commented Aug 3, 2015 at 12:09
  • What a shame. Why not try a different C string before you resort to that? I can give you two more ideas for strings besides the Dominant (shortened with utility scissors, if you can't buy a shorter string) -- Corelli Crystal in a small size (might need a special order) was recommended on a Suzuki site. Commented Aug 3, 2015 at 13:13
  • Well, I guess it couldn't hurt. It's less effort to change a string that it is to change the finger board and bridge I suppose. I'll give it a go and come back with results! Commented Aug 3, 2015 at 13:17
  • If you want to work with someone in person, find a luthier or violin/viola teacher in your area who has experience setting up a small viola for a young student. Commented Aug 3, 2015 at 13:22
  • I'll see if I can find one, although I don't think I have ever heard of anyone here in Sweden who started playing the viola before they could use a full sized one. Anyhow, I found these. Would you recommend I use strings which are made for an instrument the same size as my violin, or should I go lower? Commented Aug 3, 2015 at 13:34
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Helicore 4/4 Scale Medium Tension 5 String Violin Strings to the rescue, they're a bit thinner to make bowing the instrument easier.

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  • Thinner? I can't find an answer about their gauge easily, but D'Addario does list their tension; the C is 11.8, same as their viola C for "medium scale" (15"-16"), medium tension. To get the same out of a shorter scale, wouldn't it have to be thicker? Commented 2 days ago

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