16 1/4 in.
16 1/4 in / 41.3 cm
String length: 37.0 cm
The first viola made in my Marlborough workshop was this 16 ¼ inch model for Ross Cohen,
violist – Hallé Orchestra, BBC National Orchestra of Wales, Absolute Zero Viola Quartet.
The following is a review which Ross has kindly written about the viola he commissioned:
The 16 ¼ inch is a true middle sized instrument, popular with many players as it offers a good balance of size and timbre.
Any musician using just one instrument for over thirty years would, one would reasonably suppose, be very happy with his instrument. And I certainly was. Indeed, on those occasions when other colleagues had allowed me to try their instruments, I confess to a certain smugness that, more often than not, I preferred my 19th century mongrel to their pedigree models. Of course, it is a very subjective point of view, but it has to be - all musicians have a close bond with their instruments; more than just a bread-and-butter provider, to a professional, instruments are like family.
I have been asked many times by other colleagues, amateurs, students, what to look for when purchasing an instrument. As well as all the other variable factors; tone quality, evenness of sound, resonance, projection, wolf notes, setup, price, investment, in the case of the viola, of course, it is particularly important to get the correct sized model. I found myself advising not to be hasty, try it out, get others to play it, go for an old instrument! And when I’ve seen colleagues trying out a brand new instrument, I’ve heard phrases like ‘It sounds very new’, ‘It needs to be played-in’, ‘It should mellow over the years’. I sort of knew what they were saying, but, you know, I’ve played on some very historic instruments, many have been wonderful, but others, well, they just sounded ‘new’ so to speak.
The truth is there are no absolutes. We all decide what it is that we like in the beguiling viola sound: clarity of tone or mellow richness, both of those or anything in between. The beauty of the viola is that it can be whatever you want it to be: there is no standard size and there is no standard sound.
One fateful day last year, I happened to have a couple of idle hours to spare so I went into the viola room in Cardiff Violins where there must have been at least forty violas on display. I started playing my way through them. Each time I found a model I liked, I put it aside. Then, if I found another I preferred, I would put the previous one away, and so on. I didn’t try them all, some were so brightly coloured or ‘toffee apple’ glossy that I knew I couldn’t look at them without wearing sunglasses. Others looked lovely but just didn’t cut the mustard in the sound department. Eventually, there was just one instrument remaining: it looked, felt and sounded amazing – but, alas, it was just too small for me. However, I then looked the label, saw David’s signature staring back at me, and realized that I had been playing on a new instrument!
I have long decided that if I try to spend with my head to guide me I’ll either dither for so long that I’ll get piped-at-the-post, never come to any conclusions at all or, if seeking advice from others, get as many differing opinions as the number of people I’m prepared to survey. Hence, without a thought or any reasoning behind my actions I picked up the phone and spoke to David in person.
He came to my house with a viola (in my size) that he’d just completed for another customer. It really was a great instrument. Without any hesitation, and ignoring all the advice I’d ever given to anyone in the past, I declared that I’d like him to make me a viola. A couple of weeks later he showed me a selection of wood, and I spent a highly informative hour learning about the merits and tonal qualities of various pieces of timber. I made my choice.
The viola that David created was (is) everything-and-more that I’d hoped it would be: the tone is full, even, powerful, and effortless. And it looks gorgeous too. I’ve never been gladder that I ignored my own advice!
Ross Cohen, violist – Hallé Orchestra, BBC National Orchestra of Wales, Absolute Zero Viola Quartet.
Photos this page: Ross Cohen
Ross in my workshop with his viola at an early stage of construction.