This is an article about how I made my vertical viola. I first got
interested in a vertical viola when my hands were giving me a problem playing
the Viola. My string teacher mentioned something about a 20+ inch Viola that was
an alto violin and showed me a picture that got me interested enough to look
into the history of the vertical viola.
I went online to look up the history of the vertical viola. I found that
the vertical viola is also called an alto violin. During the 1960s an instrument
maker named Carlene Hodgins reasoned that a Viola played vertically could be
made larger. She came to the conclusion that a larger viola will produce better
sound. Based on these principles she designed a viola about two 1/2 inches
longer than the regular viola. This new viola was intended to be played
vertically like a cello. It also allowed cello players to play an instrument
that was tuned one octave higher that of the cello.
The fundamental acoustic principle underlying the alto violin is that the
main body resonance of the wood of the instrument should match the
second-highest string, and the main cavity resonance of the air the instrument
should match the third-highest string. On a viola these strings are D and G,
respectively. The standard viola is too small to achieve this matchup of string
frequency to resonance frequency.
After some investigation I found that if I want to play a vertical viola,
I would have two choices. I would either have to purchase a fully handcrafted,
very expensive instrument or I could go with the idea that a cello would be
designed roughly the same as a viola except played an octave lower. With this
reasoning I decide to find a small cello and overcome any adaptation problems.
I started with a 1/8 cello and found my viola strings too short. I needed
to find long enough strings to fit my new alto violin. I found a small company
located in Florida that makes strings for the violin octet. They were almost
long enough for my new project but I was missing about an inch. After consulting
with a violin company I found I could get long enough tailpiece hanger for the
The next problem I had was to realize that by changing the dynamics even a
little bit, my bridge needed to be reshaped for the new instrument. I talked
this over with my luthier and found that he was willing to make me a new bridge
for this project.
After stretching and moving things around, I was finally able to get
everything in alignment. I bowed my first scale on the new vertical viola. Using
the 1/8 cello version is quite a challenge because it just a little on the long
side for the alto violin string. I did find however that the tone was much
deeper and the quality of the viola was very rich and in perfect pitch.
My next attempt at the vertical Viola was to use a 1/10 cello and I found
that this was a more accommodating fit with the strings size and also with the
I sold my 1/8th cello vertical viola. I still play the 1/10 vertical
viola. I have the satisfaction of designing my vertical viola as well as the
enjoyment of playing all of my stringed instruments.