The donor body for the handicap-accessible viola arrived this week from a customer in Texas who came across an excellent student to first-step-up 16″ viola. Now we just need to raise money to finish the project!
How did we start this project?
- One of our customers bought a restorable condition violin body from us to be re-strung and spruced up as a donation item. He is a luthier in the Chicago area, and finds fixable violins that he can get back up to snuff without a huge investment, and then donates them to inner city students who otherwise would not have access to an instrument for music study.
- We were inspired a couple of years ago by a program in Western North Carolina that taught traditional mountain music on folk instruments in some of the public schools there. We’ve since lost track and don’t know if the program is still running (education budget cuts.) Again: putting real instruments into the hands of students who may not have access to them otherwise, and, teaching the musical history of their region.
- Moving forward with our educational and humanitarian mission (more on that later – it goes all the way back to the days of Julius Garfinckel) we are using a portion of all profits from sales in PurpleCarrotAntiques to a new program we are starting to help folks who are current cancer patients, cancer survivors, and their caregivers. The program offers free stuff, reduced price stuff, and invites readers to create or donate their own items with crafting ideas, picture ideas (Pinterest, etc.) and hopes to develop a community of folks who might not have the hours or knowledge to be a full-time caregiver, but can still help out. We are very excited!
This viola will be our test sled (if you’re in business, it’s called a proof of concept) that we can build a better than cheap $99 FSO (“fiddle-shaped object”) customized to the needs of the user, and keep the cost to the end user as small as possible. We are projecting an approximately $1,000 MSRP instrument after refitting, and hope to be able to get this to an end user (cancer patient, survivor, caregiver) for under $300, depending on the level of adjustments.
In future postings of our items for sale, we will show our usual offered price, plus the % of profits we want to donate to our projects, and a link to more information on the projects. It would be nice to be able to donate 100% of profits to these projects, but if we do that, there’s no money left to go buy more antiques for you to buy! We hope to keep our donations at a minimum of 10% of profit from the sale, because if you can’t “give a dime,” why bother?
Update on Our Progress So Far
Our friend found a 16″ Eastman Strings VA100 viola made in 2010 that is in absolutely pristine condition. We lucked out on this one! The Eastman VA80 (beginner) and VA100 (first-step-up) are found in the rental fleets of some of the better string shops: it’s a very good quality instrument for the price (it retails for under $1,000) and is shop-made by hand in China for Eastman Strings. This viola could easily take a player through high school and early college (a strings major might want a better model) and is a good amateur – hobbyist – semi-pro instrument. With a little work to find the right strings, it could also be strung (CGDA) to be used as a fiddle.
We do NOT recommend re-stringing a viola with violin strings. The sound won’t be as good and the higher tension of the instrument risks more string breaks. So unless you have a small fractional sized instrument – don’t do it!
Cost for the viola, bow, and case: $275. Our friend was very generous on the price. Here are pictures of the viola, as received:
The viola arrived with a set of Thomastik Infeld Spirocore strings which are servicable and a very good string for this viola! Spirocore is a wound steel string that tends to get a little bright and closer to a violin sound, while being very easy to bow.
The viola also came with an Eastman (FGK Holtz) fiberglass composite bow that still has plenty of hair on it, and has a very nice grip on the strings. This requires no restoration and will be packed as the second bow in the case. Since our goal is to be as lightweight and as easy to bow as possible, we will be upgrading to a slightly lighter weight wrapped carbon fiber bow.
Also in the case we found an unused cake of Eastman Strings rosin that had shipped with the kit from Eastman Strings. Either the original owner didn’t know it was there, or they used another brand. We tested it out and it’s actually a decent rosin. Much better than the el-cheapo stuff (but not as good as the one we’re going to add!)
The case for the VA100 was a complete surprise as it was significantly lighter than the case we have for the fund raiser viola. This new case protects the instrument and makes it significantly easier to carry, plus it has back pack straps on the back for carrying over the shoulder, or hooked to the handle of a wheel chair, and held safely away from the wheels.
The strings put on an instrument are always a mix of personal preference combined with what produces the best sound for the instrument. Not every violin produced in a shop on the same day – even by the same maker – will sound best with the same type strings. Most student instruments ship from the factory with pretty minimal “get it home and make sure it works” strings. Some companies bring in bodies and do all the set up here in the US, and some bring in the basic set up and modify as needed for their customers.
Our VA100 came to us with an exceptionally good set of strings on it. The mystery is that we don’t know how old they are, thus how played-out are they? These strings do not show much discoloration and they hold tune well enough so they could be acceptable. We may keep the strings for another instrument in the future after restoration.
We spoke with our luthier on the project at High Strung Violins in Durham, NC about the sound we wanted. The goal for this particular instrument is to build a transition from Cello to Viola (they are strung the same) and so we wanted a viola that could sound as close to a cello as possible, while at the same time be very easy to bow, with fairly quick response. (Violas have very thick strings – compared to a violin – and thus they don’t respond as quickly as a violin.) After talking about a few brands and types, we decided to string the viola with Thomastik Dominant strings.
These are a hybrid string with an imitation gut center, and steel wrapped. The sound is warmer and closer to the cello, yet we are making a small sacrifice on the action of the strings: they’re not quite as fast as the steel strings.
Projected cost for strings: approximately $100, plus any wolf tone eliminators that must be applied to the strings.
The main challenge in playing a violin/viola with post-cancer issues has to do with having the grip strength to turn the tuning pegs while holding the instrument, and do that without breaking a string. A standard peg turns at a ratio of 1:4, so that if you did a complete rotation of the peg, you’d wrap the string around the peg four times (and very likely break it.) This requires grip strength to push in on the peg and turn at the same time, and get a rough tune that can be finished with fine tuners on the other end. You see a couple of challenges there for someone who can (or wants to) play but has a weak grip.
We will be replacing the current pegs with Knilling Perfection Pegs, which are a mechanical geared replacement that looks exactly like the original pegs, and are set up to do a 1:1 ratio turn on the strings. Once the string is turned to the desired spot (with very fine tuning possible since you’re not turning the string as far per turn of the peg) the gearing inside the peg holds it in place and prevents slipping that would cause the string to loosen and require re-tuning. You can read up more about this – if interested – on the Knilling website.
Projected cost: Our estimate for this from High Strung Violins is approximately $150, which includes installation and putting on the new strings. We opted to leave the fine tuners on the viola. This is an operation that needs to be done by a luthier because the peg holes may need adjustment, and the pegs have to be cut down (shortened) to fit the peg box after they are fitted to the size of the holes.
It’s not as easy as re-stringing a violin.
The new tuners with their mechanical insides don’t add a lot of weight to the body, and using fine tuners is a habit most players get into, and using them won’t diminish the use of the planetary tuners. The tail piece is composite (not ebony) so that will not have to be switched out – we have a nice weight reduction there by not using the wood tail piece.
This is our cost challenge: think of the bow as the second instrument. Using a cheap bow on a good fiddle isn’t going to produce favorable results. In order to meet our cost guidelines, we need to investigate how to purchase our own bows at wholesale for violins and violas (a cello is too cost prohibitive to ship, so it would go too far beyond what we’d want the end user to have to pay.) Fortunately if we get stuck with too many bows, we can sell them to raise more money for our projects, but it will still require an investment to get bows in-house.
With testing, it’s possible to save by bringing in violin and viola bows in small wholesale lots, if the bow tests out and meets our standards of performance vs. weight vs. cost. If not: sell the bow and test another.
For the Eastman VA100 viola, we are testing a Chinese made Vio Music 16″ viola bow made with wrapped carbon fiber (think: the dash of a sports car.) It’s slightly lighter than the Eastman bow, and has just enough flex to make it easy to handle while at the same time digging into the strings hard, as a player needs to do on viola and cello.
Projected cost: $75. After testing bows, we hope to keep this portion of the project cost between $50 and $80, based on the needs of the end user.
The viola arrived with a small practice mute that hooks to the G and D strings. We replaced this with a large rubber practice mute that slides down over all the strings at the bridge. Unfortunately because of instrument size, we can’t use the same mutes for violin and viola, so there’s not much opportunity for bulk buying here.
Even though this one shipped to us with the unused Eastman rosin, the container was very small (a starter sample, really) and not the best shape for putting rosin on a bow, especially a new one. We will be using a better grade: JADE Dark Rosin for Violin, Viola, and Cello, which has a nice grip to it without being overly sticky, and is our preferred rosin for cello and viola.
Projected cost for accessories: $20
We hope to find good estate instruments in our travels to estates, sales, and auctions, and by donations from our friends who are cleaning out closets. When purchasing new instruments, for both violin and viola, we are looking at entry point and mid level instruments from Eastman Strings (China) and Gliga (Romania.)
If we find items that are not of a quality to re-build for our accessible instruments project, or which we don’t have a current need for, those will be sold with 100% of the sale (minus eBay and PayPal fees) going into the pot for our next instrument.
None of the money raised here goes to the operation of Purple Carrot Antiques, and any cash or in-kind donations are tagged specifically for this project.
If you are interested in working with us on this project, donating your instrument, or donating cash towards the remaining renovations on our viola, please email us for more details.
Eastman Strings – Building Guitars in China