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Dec 2, 2022 - 8:28:40 PM
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359 posts since 6/3/2016

I'm going to try to keep this short and to the point. I looked at a number of different possibilities but chose one. I strung my viola with it and am really happy with the result. The goal is to get an octave AEAE  (A2 E3 A3 E4), one octave below a cross-tuned fiddle. This only makes sense playing with others as the normal cross tunings for viola are DADA or CGCG. To make it a little more real I'm attaching a photo of my viola, but nothing is unusual in the photo unless you zoom in to see the color of the windings in the pegbox.

The shorts story is that I chose long-scale, heavy tension Helicore C3 and G3 strings for the low strings, and then tune them down three half steps to A2 and E3. I chose long-scale, light tension Helicore G3 and D4 strings for the high strings, and then tune them up two half steps to A3 and E4. The tension of the two low strings is a little low, but it's quite playable and they sound good.

What's great about this is all the strings are readily available viola strings and they work with my existing pegs and tailpiece. I'm going to a jam tomorrow so that wlil be a good test. But I'm expecting it to go well as I am happy with the sound and have no major intonation issues with the longer vibrating string length of the viola.

Here is a short discussion of the string tension. See my recent post for the methodology. Here is a table of the nominal strings with nominal vibrating string length (VSL) and tension per D'Addario.

Nominal strings
Type Note Pitch (Hz) VSL (in) Tension (lbs)
Long Light D4 293.66 15 11.3
Long Light G3 196 15 11.9
Long Heavy G3 196 15 15
Long Heavy C3 130.81 15 14.6


Retuning those to get AEAE for the 14.5" VSL of my 16" viola yields

Octave AEAE tuning
Type Note Pitch (Hz) VSL (in) Tension (lbs)
Long Light E4 329.6 14.5 13.3
Long Light A3 220 14.5 14.0
Long Heavy E3 164.81 14.5 9.9
Long Heavy A2 110 14.5 9.6
      Total 46.9


I did look at other options like using fractional cello strings for the low strings and wound gut strings. I also looked at a shorter 14" VSL assuming a 15.5" body.

When I saw the tensions of 9.9 and 9.6 lbs (4.5 and 4.4 kg), I was skeptical, as that is pretty light for a modern string. However, that looks to be a very reasonable tension for gut viola strings, see

Anyway, I decided to give it a try and I'm glad I did. I still wish the tensions were, say, 10% heavier, but it's fine. I will say that I started with Predlude strings for the upper two strings because I had them. I was not happy with the result. The light tension Helicores sound a lot better!

Edited by - RinconMtnErnie on 12/02/2022 20:33:23

Dec 3, 2022 - 5:33:17 PM
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359 posts since 6/3/2016

I took it to the jam and it was a success. The tone was good. There was plenty of volume. Playability was good. There were two other fiddlers there who played it, one of whom is a professional. He played it very well. The other fiddler played it well, but commented on it being a lot of work. 

I only played it for a half dozen times. It was great for tunes that I already know. I played one tune that I didn't know, and that didn't go so well. I was trying to pick up the melody an octave below. Really I should play a continuo kind of thing in that situation, but I want able to switch gears today. 

All in all I'm still very pleased with the setup. I'm limited by my musicianship and not the instrument. 

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