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What Factors Affect the Price of a Viola?

Wanda Marie Thibodeaux
Wanda Marie Thibodeaux

Similar to any instrument, multiple factors influence the price of a viola. These factors include quantity, wood type, weight and size, construction method, overall quality and the appearance of the instrument. One of the primary factors influencing the price of a viola is the number of violas made. Instrument makers must fashion and put together the majority of the pieces of a viola by hand, so even master craftsmen are limited in terms of the numbers of violas they can make. The quality of a viola is never guaranteed because imperfections in the wood and other factors can impact its sound, weight and feel, but if a master craftsmen has good-quality instruments overall and a subsequently high reputation, demand for his services may increase and he can charge more for the instruments he makes. Craftsmen may charge more if the buyer wants a viola made in a rush.

The next big factor that comes into play with the price of a viola is the wood from which it is made. Usually violas are made from relatively common woods such as maple and spruce, but craftsmen can use virtually any wood based on the sound they want, as the density of the wood influences resonance and the brightness or darkness of the instrument's tone. The more exotic the wood is, the more it usually costs to use, although using an exotic wood is not a guarantee the viola will be a good one.

The viola is slightly larger than -- and is tuned at a lower pitch than -- the violin.
The viola is slightly larger than -- and is tuned at a lower pitch than -- the violin.

The wood selected and the exact method of construction influences the weight of a viola. Size influences weight as well, with craftsmen still experimenting with proportions. All three factors influence the way the instrument resonates and how balanced the tone is, with larger instruments generally producing better results and having more favorable projection. This is important considering that violas are mid-register instruments whose sound tends to get lost in the overall texture of an ensemble. Players usually pay more for well-balanced violas that lean on the louder side for this reason.

The overall quality of the instrument also impacts the price of a viola, and this is connected to the age of the instrument. If a craftsman has done a good job and all goes well, the viola will have all the desired qualities such as good response, absence of wolf tones or buzzing, and projection, which are worth more to players. Older instruments sometimes look horrible because of small dings, scratches or wear of varnish, but because wood tends to settle over time and continued use, the sound of an older viola often is better. This means that older violas sometimes are worth more than new ones.

The last factor influencing the price of a viola is the aesthetic appeal of an instrument. The sound and response of the instrument is much more important than how the viola looks, but players still are attracted to instruments that look beautiful. Instruments that have unusual detailing, wood grain or color often sell for more because dealers are able to portray the detailing as taking more time to create or being uneasy to replicate, even if it isn't entirely true.

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    • The viola is slightly larger than -- and is tuned at a lower pitch than -- the violin.
      By: milkovasa
      The viola is slightly larger than -- and is tuned at a lower pitch than -- the violin.