Converting a violin to a viola

said: Jul 27, 2006
 1 posts

How do you change a violin to a viola. My son (3 1/2) wants to start playing the viola and I’d rather have him on a different instrument than his older brother. My teacher and I are trying to figure out how to convert a 1/10th size violin to a viola. What size strings would we need to get?

said: Jul 27, 2006
 89 posts

Violas rock!

Little violas are tricky, though. The smallest strings I’ve seen commercially are 12 inches, which clearly would be way too long for your little one. Perhaps your local luthier knows how to cut the string or something?

Depending how traditionally minded your teacher is, you might also look into Sabatier fractional violas. These are assymetrical instruments that people tell me get a big viola sound out of a little instrument.

said: Jul 28, 2006
 38 posts

If you’re determined to make a little tiny viola, there’s a few things you can do. The most practical is to take correctly sized violin strings, and move them all over a space- take the E off, move the A to the E spot, move the D to the A spot, move the G to the D spot. Then, since there’s no way you’ll find a C-string that’s small enough, or be able to get it to the proper tension to play, plus. a beginning young student won’t use the C string at all for the first year or so at least, you put the E in the G string spot as a plaec holder. That way, you have strings in the correct place for a viola, strings that can hold the correct tension. It won’t sound terrific, but it will be a start. Good luck- let me know if this doesn’t make sense.

said: Jul 28, 2006
 122 posts

I agree with Mama Musica, except I’d put a G string in the G spot rather than an E so the re-strung violin would have two G strings.

The little Sabatier violas sound great. They are worth the investment!

“When love is deep, much can be accomplished.”
-Shinichi Suzuki

said: Jul 29, 2006
 Violin, Piano
4 posts

I think a lot of little violas C strings don’t sound very good. you could always start him on a violin, and don’t use the E string


said: Jul 30, 2006
 122 posts

Sabatier viola C strings, even 1/16 sizes, actually make a sound unlike restring violins whose C strings sound like a rubber band.

“When love is deep, much can be accomplished.”
-Shinichi Suzuki

Rebekah said: Aug 2, 2006
Rebekah Hanson
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Suzuki Early Childhood Education, Viola
9 posts

One advantage to placing the E-string where the C-string would go is that the student won’t play both G-strings and not notice that he is hitting two strings because they create the same pitch. If the E-string is in place, there is no question as to when the student has bumped the wrong string.

Jennifer Visick said: Aug 2, 2006
Jennifer VisickForum Moderator
Suzuki Association Member
Viola, Suzuki in the Schools, Violin
997 posts

I’ve heard the argument that “if a little violin’s G string sounds like a rubber band [compared to a full-size violin], just think how bad the C string will be!”

— I’ve never tried it on a 1/10th, but I have had success re-stringing 1/2 and 3/4 size violins—in short, the main problem is not that the C string is lower tension than the G string, but that you LOSE the higher tension of the E string on the treble side of the bridge. This seems to cause ALL of the strings not to sound as well, since it affects the entire amount of tension on the top (belly) of the instrument, which affects the amount of tension on the sound post, which affects the efficiency of the sound waves being transmitted to the back, which affects the volume and tone quality of the sound waves emanating from the instrument as a whole. I did three things, two of which are geared towards counteracting the loss of E string tension and the loss of the whole instrument resonating, and one of which has to do with finding the right C string. These things are:

  1. I found the highest tension violin strings I knew of for that sized instrument, and used those for the top three strings.

  2. I googled “small viola C string” and “fractional sized viola c string” and found some discussions on other forums about it. The main consensus seemed to be that the 12 inch viola strings are only made in “student level” string qualities—which is to say, they are not very good sounding. — You can get a MUCH better C string sound on a little violin if you invest in one of the higher (’professional’) quality string brands and cut it down to size. When I cut strings down to size, I hold a string of the correct size for that instrument next to the full size C. Since you need the ball or loop end intact, you have to cut the peg end off: I painted nail polish over a couple millimeters of the C string where it needed to be cut and let it dry before cutting it (this prevents the string from unravleling at that end when it’s cut).

When you go to buy the C string, you are looking for three things simultaneously—they are: A) a high tension, B) a relatively short string length (get the “short” or “15 inch viola” strings), C) a thin flexible string which does not require much more power to get moving—or much more strength to place fingers on—than a normal violin “G”. This means get a LIGHT GAGUE string. This last consideration is important enough that you want to get a light gague string even though it means that you’ll have a lower tension on the string than you would if you got a medium or heavy gague string.

The bottom line seems to be that two brands seem to work well for cutting C strings down to size, and they produce better C string sound on little instruments than any 12 inch C strings you can find: Corelli Crystal light gague (no 15 inch strings here, sorry), and D’Addario Helicore 15″ medium gague OR normal scale light gague (apparently Helicore strings don’t come in both “short” 15 inch size and “light” gague at the same time).

  1. I took the fine tuners off of the instruments, (all except for the fine tuner on the Helicore C string), and made sure the bridges were in the right places…. Why do this, do you ask? A friend pointed out to me that there is an optimal ratio between the length of the string behind the bridge to the length of the string in front of the bridge. The ratio is 6:1, which means that the instrument and the strings will resonate the best if the length of the unstopped string between the bridge and the tailpiece is 1/6th of the length of the string between the bridge and the nut where the strings pass over the fingerboard and into the pegbox. If you have the kind of fine tuners which attach to the string between the tailpiece and the bridge, you effectively make it impossible for this ratio to occur on small instruments, because you are shortening the length of the string behind the bridge. If you must have fine tuners, see if you can get a tailpiece with fine tuners built in—and make sure the tailgut (which attaches the tailpiece to the endpin or endbutton) is short enough to make the string distance between bridge and tailpiece long enough. (Please note that while moving the bridge seems like an easier solution, the bridge also has an “optimum” place—usually this optimum place is marked by the violinmaker who carefully aligns the inside ‘nicks’ of the f-holes up with the “right” place for the bridge to rest on each instrument).

The reason I kept the fine tuner on the Helicore C string is because Helicore strings have a core of rope steel instead of a core of perlon or gut. Steel core strings respond to the tiniest changes in tension with large changes in pitch, which makes it hard for even a full sized instrument with Helicore strings to be tuned solely with the pegs. Even if a child is not going to be playing on the C string, the whole instrument will resonate and RING better —facilitating better intonation on the higher strings—if the lower strings are in tune.

An expensive option to eliminate fine tuners is to get geared planetary pegs (like pegheds——which come on instruments sold by knilling under the name ‘perfection pegs’— ).

A less expensive option—if you can’t find a tailpiece with fine tuners already built in, or if such tailpieces aren’t very well made (which they often aren’t in the smallest sizes), is to try to fit “hill” style fine tuners into a small tailpiece. (Hill style fine tuners don’t shorten the string length as much as the other kinds do).

I hope this has made sense.

I have also experimented with a 1/4 size violin, where I thought to myself: if the primary problem is reduced tension, what would happen if I bought the highest tension high quality strings I know of—which happen to be Evah Pirazzis? I used full size violin Evah’s for the top three strings and an Evah C string; it didn’t sound any more like a rubber band than the same instrument strung as a violin with “proper” sized strings.

One more option I haven’t seen listed yet: there is something that’s been dubbed a “hole-in-the-heart” operation. You’d have to get your local violinmaker/luthier to do this for you. They probably won’t be willing to do it to higher quality instruments. It’s kind of irreversable. The idea is to bypass the belly of the instrument alltogether, by drilling a hole under the treble side of the bridge, and attaching the sound post directly to the treble foot of the bridge, thus allowing the sound waves to travel from string to bridge to soundpost to the back of the instrument, instead of from string —>Bridge—>Belly—>Back. In a blind tone quality test made famous by a certain article in the Strad magazine, little “cheap” factory made instruments which had this operation done to them scored far and away ahead of all the other little violas in the test. They did not test Sabatier violas, but they did test little violas which were considered ‘high quality’ (not factory made, nor cheap).

Sorry this is so long….. If this is too much to wade through, or if it hasn’t made sense, well…

…you could just get a Sabatier!

said: Sep 7, 2006
 1 posts

Where do you find the Sabatier violas? I need a 1/16 size.

said: Sep 7, 2006
 122 posts

Go to and contact them. They are the only distributor I know currently that gets the violas from France and carries them. I believe this is a canadian company and the prices are in Canadian dollars.

“When love is deep, much can be accomplished.”
-Shinichi Suzuki

Debbie said: Sep 7, 2006
Debbie MiViolin
138 posts

Another option for finding really nice sounding small violas is to contact Stein violins in Elmhurst, IL. They do not have a website, but Ken Stein sets up fractional size violas in such a way that they have a very nice sound.

Jennifer Visick said: Jun 28, 2011
Jennifer VisickForum Moderator
Suzuki Association Member
Viola, Suzuki in the Schools, Violin
997 posts

I was just reminded of the beare-tertis model small violas, which look interesting (though I haven’t tried or heard one):

Geralyn Theobald said: Aug 3, 2011
 Violin, Viola
Tallahassee, FL
4 posts

Those C strings that sound like rubber bands don’t seem to inspire my orchestra violists at all. Unless one can locate a great quality, SMALL viola, small children who want to play the viola are doomed to the loose rubber-band sounding C string. Far better, IMO, to start and stay w/ violin until the student is big enough to play a real, live viola. The sound of the C is glorious and children deserve nothing less ;-)


A table, a chair, a bowl of fruit and a violin;
what else does a man need to be happy?
Albert Einstein

said: Aug 4, 2011
 145 posts

I have violin student aged 7 who wants to change to viola. I presume I re string a violin for her… What size violin, do I restring her 1/2 size violin or put her on a larger size violin (3/4) and restring that ?

Ruth Brons said: Aug 4, 2011
Ruth Brons
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
Livingston, NJ
148 posts

Despite having taught violin for over thirty years, I am a passionate violist through and through—sang alto in choirs, started on the viola, master’s degree in viola performance, decades of professional viola playing. But I have learned to raise a few questions when a 7 year old asks to play viola, switch to the viola, or experiment with the viola.

The first question is why the desire to switch?
Is it the sound?
Some young students just love the viola sound—which a restrung typical fractional student violin may not deliver. Is the instrument up to feeding the inspiration?

Is this student more of an individualist?
Some students just do not want to run with the pack of violins and be a bit unique.
But the power of peer motivation provided by group classes should never be under-estimated, even for those students who mostly like to work by themselves.
Is there some sort of viola group experience available to this student, or can this student handle participating as possible on the periphery of a violin group class?

Unless there is a very strong positive answer to at least one or more of these questions, I tend to encourage students to maybe save switching to, or adding, or experimenting with the viola until middle or high school, when there are competitive advantages and/or ensemble viola parts that are not just third violin parts. Or perhaps considering the viola for a summer or semester break from violin. Typically it just takes a lesson or three for an intermediate or advanced middle school or high school violinist to “switch”, and by waiting a few years they have likely benefited from the peer support of violin groups, and will likely enjoy a more rewarding sounding actual viola.

That being said, I have had some special young violists as students over the years, and have enjoyed working with them very much.

As to your question on size: even though the larger instruments will tend to sound better, I think you’ll find progress will be better for a 7 year old if you keep the instrument to be about the same size you would like to see the child using if it were a violin.

Best Wishes,

Danette Schuh said: Aug 5, 2011
Danette Schuh
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Suzuki Early Childhood Education, Viola
Sugar Land, TX
8 posts

I have had good luck with the “hole in the heart” violas. Available in small fractional violin sizes from a violin shop in Bellingham, Washington.

Allegro Strings
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When they get to a 1/2 size (same as 1/2 size violin), then we look for a good 12″ viola. Not easy to find, but my local shop (Amati Violin Shop in Houston, Texas 713-666-6461) recently had some wonderful sounding 12″ violas and they are good about working with me to find special instruments.

I always use the same process for sizing violas as I would for violin. I don’t want to risk injury (tendonitis, carpal tunnel, etc.) to the student.

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