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How Much Should I Spend On A Viola?
Over the last 30 years we have gathered feedback from players and teachers to help categorise our violas according to the level of ability of the player.
While there is no right or wrong when it comes to buying a viola, for your convenience we have put each of our cellos into the categories of beginner, intermediate, advanced and professional in order to help you align the capabilities of your instrument with your goals. Which one is right for you? Read on to find out!
These violas are designed to get you started and are typically suitable for the first few years of playing. They are mostly made in China in a production line but are carefully selected and set up by our team in Sydney. We work very closely with our Chinese partners and regularly visit them to help with training and quality control.
In this range we focus on functionality and ease of playing. It is tough making a nice sound when you are just getting started, so our beginner violas are often designed to have a ‘forgiving’ sound. The sound is often described as smooth and warm. The aim is to make it easy to produce a ‘nice’ sound until you develop your technique and increase your confidence. We also focus on the set up and functionality of the viola.
All violas are set up by our in-house luthiers with an easy action to make it more comfortable for your left hand and they typically all come with fine tuners in the tailpiece to make it easier to tune. There’s no right or wrong when it comes to how long they will last however based on our experience you will start to outgrow a beginner viola once you reach around AMEB grade four.
Budget approximately $625-$1500
A Kreisler #120 Beginner Viola Outfit
One of our most popular beginner violas
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If you’ve been playing consistently and making progress for a few years you will likely be ready for an intermediate viola. Intermediate violas are typically made in China, mostly by hand in smaller workshops. All violas are shipped to Australia where we do the final set-up and assembly.
When you reach an intermediate level you typically require more dynamic variation and tone colours to express yourself musically. It isn’t possible to get a viola that does everything in this range however you start to be able to have a choice between violas that are ‘warmer’ and violas that are ‘brighter’.
We typically find that our customers naturally have a preference when they hear the difference. Some of our customers buy an intermediate viola as their first viola if they are after a more sophisticated sound than what is achievable with a beginner viola. We have found that our intermediate violas can comfortably perform well at an AMEB grade 4-7 standard. Around grade 7-8, we find many players start looking to upgrade to an advanced instrument.
Budget approximately $1500-$4000
A Stauffer 500S Viola
One of our most popular intermediate violas
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If you’ve been playing for many years and are looking to do AMEB grade 8 and above, then you’ll probably find what you’re looking for in our advanced range of violas. Violas in this range are made exclusively in Germany and France. We work with small workshops producing quality instruments to a high standard.
We also offer used and antique instruments, sometimes these could be over 100 years old! Our advanced range of violas offer a wider range of tonal colours and often project much better than our intermediate violas making them perfect for players moving into their diploma levels. In this range, makers can spend more time ‘tuning’ the top and back plates of the viola in order to create a desired sound outcome, which could be warmer, brighter or deeper depending on the maker.
In the advanced range, we start to see more experienced makers get involved in the design and making process. Many of our customers invest in an advanced viola in the later years of high school if the viola is a priority in the life of that student. Paired with a good bow, it is often purchased to last a lifetime unless the player goes on to play professionally or at a tertiary level.
Budget approximately $4,000-$10,000
A Hagen Weise Model 220 Viola
One of our most popular advanced violas
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There are many reasons why you might decide to buy a professional viola (sometimes called fine violas). The most common reason is that you have progressed above and beyond a diploma level. In the AMEB system these are the grade above 8th grade and include the Amusa and Lmusa diplomas.
We typically see players making an investment in a professional viola if they are playing at a high standard in the final years of high school with plans to play professionally or at a tertiary level after school. The technical demands on the viola at this level are quite high. The players need to clearly communicate themselves musically through their instrument and it is very difficult to do this on cheaper instruments.
You may also choose to look at a professional viola because you are after a specific type of sound, look or feel. Many amateur chamber musicians still invest in a professional viola in order to achieve the sound they are after.
Violas in our professional range are typically made by one maker at a time or by a small collective of makers. They may come from anywhere in the world but typically they come from Germany, France, Italy, USA and Australia and in many cases it is possible to have direct communication with the maker. There are also many options for antique instruments from many famous makers.
An A. E. Smith Viola (Australia)
Doug Glanville is the managing director of The Sydney String Centre. A cellist since the age of 4, he is passionate about music education and seeing his customers succeed with music.