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Strings for a Viola sized Octave Violin

May 20th, 2010
contra, octave_violin, music  [html]
I currently have a large (16 1/2 inch) viola on loan from my dad. I have it tuned a fourth down from a normal viola, which makes it GDAE an octave down from a fiddle. So it's an octave violin. It sounds pretty good, even with the strings so slack, but its hard to keep it in tune. I played it sitting in at the MIT contra dance on may 18th, and it was a lot of fun, so I'm now thinking of getting strings intended for it.

Looking online, there appear to be a few companies making octave violin strings and at least one, supersensitive, making octave viola strings. Unfortunately, what I want are viola-length octave violin strings. Octave viola strings give you G, D, and A, but you need a viola length and weight low E string. The internet gives the impression that no one makes these. There's nothing on supersensitive's site about them, and a few posts on fiddleforum say to overstretch a normal viola D string:

fiddlejen 11/11/2008: I use octave viola strings GDA, along with a regular-viola-D string overstretched up to E, to turn it into an octave fiddle.
beeswing 1//1//2008 Super-Sensitive octave viola strings for the G, D, and A, some kind of regular viola D (green w/black barberpole tail, pink peg end silk) on a 15 1/2" body.
fiddlejen 11/11/2008: I then actually went further, and got an almost-full set of regular viola strings (C-G-D) to overstretch, and tried setting up the instrument with an octave-viola string only for the G. (That is - Octave G, plain C-stretchedto-D, plain G-stretchedto-A, plain D-stretchedto-E.) It worked, but there was a clear difference. I distinctly prefer the sound & response when I use the octave set for all three of the lower strings, and the overstretched regular string only for the highest, D-turned-E.
ChrisP 11/12/2008 [I understand the consensus to be] Violas can be tuned as a large-bodied baritone violin, i.e. playing G-D-A-E but one octave lower than violin, as follows :
  • G = Super-Sensitive Octave (!not Octava) Viola G
  • D = Super-Sensitive Octave (!not Octava) Viola D
  • A = Super-Sensitive Octave (!not Octava) Viola A
  • E = Pirastro Evah (or similar) plain Viola D tuned up to E
I decided to go this route and overstretch my D string. I ordered the octave viola strings yesterday. But then, how exciting, I got a call back from the supersensitive company saying they occasionally do runs of viola appropriate low E strings suitable for use with their octave viola strings. They wanted $20.54 (kind of pricey) and they gave me item number 2517. When I checked online, 2517 appears to be the number for their octave violin E strings. I was worried, but they told me that this string was appropriate for a 16 1/2 viola, that it was not the same as the octave violin strings, and that 2517 was just the closest thing to an item number they had for it. We'll see how it sounds when it comes; I'm excited.

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