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Viola fitting question

I purchased a 15.5 viola last year from a reputable string shop in Cincinnati, OH. I am a beginner and made that clear when I purchased the instrument. I was back in the shop a couple of times trying to get different chin rests or shoulder rest hoping to make the "fit" more comfortable. Eventually I went to another string shop in Columbus where I was told (and shown) the sound post was leaning significantly. They replaced the sound post and put a different bridge on the instrument which they felt would help a beginner like me. Another new chin rest and another new shoulder rest.

I located a string shop here in the Dayton area near where I live. I was shopping for a new bow and needed to replace a string. The owner watched me play a few times and wondered out loud how I ended up with the instrument that I have. I relayed my purchase process. This new luthier believes a good deal of my problem is that the string length is too long for me. He said he can see me having to really stretch to make the notes.

So here's my question, can changes to the instrument be made to give it a shorter string length or is it time to realize I made a bad purchase and move on to another viola? If it matters, I am just under 5'2"

Just looking to get another opinion before I keep throwing money into this instrument. Thank you for your response

A: Finger placement is proportional to string length. Dividing the string length by the 12 root of 2 (approximately 1/18) gives the measurement from the nut to the finger placement for the first half step. The longer the string, the larger 1/18 of it will be. With children, we give them violins that are proportional to their size.  Smaller violins are easier for small people to play. But, there is an acoustical reason for the size of a full size violin. Smaller violins will not produce the length of wave that a full size violin will. When you are full grown, you need a full size violin.
        With violas the waters are somewhat muddied. While there is just one "full size" for violins, violas range from 15" to 17." With all other quality characteristics held constant, a larger viola will sound richer than a smaller one. You could drop down to a 15" and still be playing full size. And, a 15" that has been carved thinner would sound richer than a bigger, thicker viola. Generally the more carefully graduated (thinner, but not to the point of collapse) instruments cost more. There are two exceptions to the cost rule: when an instrument is graduated to a pattern, a consistent thickness from viola to viola, the density of the wood becomes the determinant. Sometimes the next piece of spruce on the top of the wood pile is the exact right density for the preset cutters and you get a factory made instrument with tremendous tone. And second, the Chinese made instruments. They are wildly inconsistent and their prices are set politically instead of economically. There are beautiful hand graduated violas for low prices and junk for high prices. The best Chinese luthiers are as good as anyone in the world and they work for a dollar an hour whereas European and American luthiers get $50. Unless you are rich, you will wind up with a Chinese or Romanian 15" viola, but shop carefully. Don't be shy. Go to the store and play the prospective violas, a lot. Then take a few on approval and play them a lot more.
        You, logically, could change the scale length by moving the bridge closer to the fingerboard, but don't. The violin family instruments have a brilliantly designed acoustical system. The bridge sits between the F holes. This part of the top plate is freed by the F holes to produce treble, while it is coupled by the bass bar to the whole top for bass production and to the back by the sound post to set the whole instrument to work. Not to mention that the fit of the bridge feet is critical and they might not fit in the new position. Don't mess with Amati, he knew what he was doing.
        The other factor is the action of your viola. The action is the playability of the viola as governed by the straightness of the fingerboard, the height of the nut and the height of the bridge. The strings should be as close to the fingerboard as they can be without buzzing, for your style. If this leaves the bridge too low for bow clearance and good tone, the neck must be reset to a higher angle. Have someone else bow your viola.  Watch the string travel from the side. The largest motion should almost touch the fingerboard. Notice that the largest motion is in the middle with a little hump as far from the nut as the bow is away from the bridge. Traditionally the fingerboard is scooped to match this "Helmholtz vibration", but in a blatant example of a little knowledge can be a bad thing, many viola fingerboards are extremely over scooped. This makes them much harder to play than need be. Over scooping trades hard action in first, second and third position (where you spend most of your time), for easier action in the higher positions (where you naturally have more leverage and don't need the help). The action can be set perfectly, or too low or too high.  It is tricky to set it perfectly.  If it is set too low, it buzzes, and a buzzing instrument is unacceptable to anyone. So most instruments are set too high. All instruments are too high when they come from the factory. A sensitive readjustment of your viola might do you a lot more good than shortening your stretch by 1/18 of 1/2". Remember that anything made of wood changes shape every time the weather changes. Even if your viola was once perfect it may need a tweak now. Or, you could switch to violin and avoid the viola jokes.

Steve Mason