Steve Mason Luthiers
The Alferd Packer Memorial String Band

Questions and Answers

Price, Convert 4 string viola to 5 string

Q: I have a 17.5 inch four string viola what would you charge to convert to a 5 string with standard tuning with the addition of the high e string?

A: What is the scale length of your viola? Normally the scale length, the distance from the nut to the bridge, on a 17" viola is 15". If your viola is normally proportioned, your scale length would exceed 15". You can raise the pitch of a string by shortening it or by tightening it. The 15" rule states that you can not tune a 15" long string higher than a violin E. It will break. If you use a thicker string it will be stronger but it will take more tension to pull it up to pitch, and it will break. If you use a thinner string, it will take less tension to pull it up to pitch, but it will be weaker, and it will break. I learned this the hard way. One of the first conversions I did was a 17" viola. The E string broke so regularly that we finally gave up and put a low F string on the bottom instead of the E on top. Since 17.5" is a crazy huge viola, it might not, in fact, be normally proportioned. I have done 16" violas with no problem, but I prefer 15".

Steve Mason

3809 W 24th St
Lawrence, KS  66047

(785) 841-0277 or
(785) 331-6000



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