Small Viola Set-up

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Setting Up the 14-inch Viola

What is “Set-up?”

Set-up can include a fairly wide range of things not related to the actual building of the instrument:

  • Dressing the fingerboard
  • Adjusting the string-height at the nut
  • Fitting the bridge
  • Fitting and adjusting the sound-post
  • Fitting (or lubricating) new tuning pegs
  • Installing strings, tailpiece and chinrest
  • Final adjustments for sound and playability
    • Height of strings above the end of the fingerboard
    • Balance of tone across the strings (adjusted at the soundpost)

Usually the instrument already has the fingerboard and saddle when “set-up” begins.

This Instrument

In this particular case, I had already installed, but not dressed the fingerboard, so I still had to:

  • Dress the fingerboard,
  • Install and finish the tuning pegs,
  • Drill the holes in the tuning pegs for the strings,
  • Fit and install the nut
  • Cut the slots in the nut, to receive the strings,
  • Drill and ream the hole for the end button, and fit the end button
  • Fit the soundpost, to a preliminary position,
  • Fit the bridge and adjust it for height,
  • Install the tailpiece, strings and chinrest.
  • Perform any “final touches”, to repair small varnish flaws, etc.

I have been swamped with other responsibilities, so, this time, I made no effort to record the process as it was being done. If anyone is interested, one can search the archived articles on this site, to see photo-essays of set-ups. Here is the completed instrument, from various views:

Completed saddle, end-button and tailpiece

Completed saddle, end-button and tailpiece: notice the curved ends on the saddle.


Completed 14-inch viola front side

Completed 14-inch viola front side: sitka spruce.


Completed 14-inch viola side view

Completed 14-inch viola side view. The instrument was slightly tilted away, making the body look large.


Completed 14-inch viola back.

Completed 14-inch viola back. That big-leaf maple is pretty stuff. This was donated by Terry Howell.


Completed neck;

Completed neck; If you check back a few posts, you can see how different the neck looks before and after polishing and sealing.


Completed treble-side scroll.

Completed treble-side scroll. This big-leaf maple, for the scroll and neck, was cut in my wife’s parents’ yard, some time ago.


Completed Bass-side scroll.

Completed Bass-side scroll.


Completed bridge, from the tailpiece side

Completed bridge, from the tailpiece side. Those are Helicore strings, and a Josef Teller bridge.


Bridge viewed from the fingerboard side.

Bridge viewed from the fingerboard side.


Bridge and sound-holes viewed from the front of the instrument.

Bridge and sound-holes viewed from the front of the instrument.


So! That is the 14-inch Viola! I will add a chinrest in the morning, but I wanted to get these pictures posted.

So far the sound is good. It is a little unfocused on the C string, but I usually expect some of that at first. I adjusted the soundpost to enhance the C-string, and tomorrow I hope it will have improved. I could tell it was opening up within 20 minutes of hard bowing, so I expect it will be a good viola. I would prefer orchestral strings, I think, but it is difficult to find a C-string for a 14″ viola.

This will make a very good viola for some player with small hands.

Thanks for looking.

(Edit: Here is the finished instrument WITH the chinrest. And, as I hoped, it sounds even better this morning. :-))

Completed 14-inch viola with chinrest.

Completed 14-inch viola with chinrest.


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2 Responses to “Small Viola Set-up”
  1. 10.24.2016

    That’s good stuff Chet, I was thinking about you and your woodwork a few days ago and there you are today… take care miss you all… C. Hadfield

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