There are a few tips one should keep in mind when shopping for a new viola. Some of the most important features of a viola include the brand, cost, tone, age, and country of origin. In most cases shopping for well-known brand-name instruments is a safe bet. Additionally, good-quality violas tend to cost more, and in general, less expensive violas do not sound as good as high-quality string instruments, and their components tend to break down more rapidly.
The first thing to consider when choosing an instrument is that the size of the viola should fit the musician. Children, for instance, need smaller instruments, while teens and adults should use full-sized violas. A 4/4 — or full-size — viola is between 15 and 16 inches (about 38 to 40 cm) long, not including the neck length.
Smaller children can use violas that are between 11 and 14 inches (about 28 and 35.5 cm) long. The way to fit a new viola is to hold it like one is playing it, and then check to see that one can form all the chords and notes with ease. There also should be a slight bend to the elbow when holding it properly.
The quality of a viola is also very important and is directly related to its playability factor. A high-quality viola responds better and sounds better than an inexpensive model that is mass produced. Materials play a role as well. Each viola will sound a bit different regardless of the wood used to make it, but spruce tends to be a good choice for string instruments like the viola. Additionally, many high-quality models originate in Italy or are handmade.
Tone is a consideration when buying a viola as well. In general, tone is an individual preference, but at the very least, a new viola should sound loud, clear, and even. Other instruments should not easily drown out its sound — power is the most important tonal feature in a new viola.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder when it comes to violas. Although some people buy instruments based on looks, this is a less important component when deciding between two violas. The appearance of a viola does not generally influence its tone, so one should not opt for the most beautiful viola over the best-sounding one. Additionally, the type of wood used is much more important than the color of the stain or any other minor details.