New Violin Family Instruments


Learn more about the benefits of commissioning a New Family instrument. If you are on a budget, Chinese-made octet violins, for which I am the sole US importer, might be a great alternative. Drop the tab on the instrument that interests you, and see what we have to offer. While we specialize in beautiful, hand-crafted imports, we are also able to build instruments to order for the advanced student and discerning professional player.

If you are looking for more information about the Violin Octet, the New Violin Family Orchestra, upcoming musical events, and video clips featuring New Family Instruments, visit the Octavivo web page.


  • Hand-Made
  • Soprano
  • Mezzo
  • Alto
  • Tenor
  • Baritone
  • Basses

. . . Hand Made to Order . . .

 

I make all instruments of the New Violin Family (including basses) as well as conventional violins, violas, and cello (but not conventional contrabasses).

In the photo (right) is a tenor violin I made in 2007. It is on classical Cremonese proportions worked out for an intrument of this size. To the left of the instrument is my first tenor violin, and behind the tenors is a partially obscured baritone.

Please refer to the conventional violins page for ordering information related to commissioned instruments. Information on ordering New Family instruments is in the next column, right.

 

 

 

 

 

 



 

I'm very pleased to announce the arrival of low-cost Chinese-made soprano violins. The advent of these sopranos marks the first time that these instruments have been available anywhere for sale in quantity. As you will read in various other places on this site, the new family sopranos are remarkable instruments with many desirable characteristics.

The imported octet violins listed under the tabs on this page are made on my models and built to my specifications. The typical soprano receives anywhere from 5 to 10 hours of additional work. It is set up with a well-fitted and tonally adjusted soundpost and quality bridge. The fingerboard is dressed and receives a hand-rubbed oil finish. I pay particular attention to setup since this is of great importance to the player. The fingerboard edges will be beveled and the nut smoothed and rounded so there are no sharp edges. The instrument is fitted either with a good-quality wooden tailpiece or a lightweight metal Chinese model that is the correct size and has adjusters on all four strings.

The quality of wood in these sopranos has so far been quite nice, as you can see from the accompanying photos. The varnishing on the factory models is well done and presents an attractive appearance. Workmanship varies from piece to piece, but all in all it is very good. I put Supersensitive strings on most of the instruments, but you can swap in any string you like later. There will be new and greatly improved strings for the soprano coming from Supersensitive soon.

While the soprano violin is just slightly smaller than a 3/4 violin, it's not a child's violin. The pegbox, neck, string spacing at the nut and bridge are set up for adult hands. The soprano, which is tuned C-G-D-A (low to high) provides an amazing experience for violinists constrained to play the extremely high parts often called for in modern music. The latest version of the soprano sounds and plays like a big violin with the advantage of a very clear and extended range on the high A (880 Hz) string.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I'm very pleased to offer low-cost Chinese-made mezzo violins for sale. The workmanship and acoustical performance of the latest mezzos continues to improve, and we have managed to either hold our prices at their present levels or, in some cases, reduce them and pass the savings along to you. All the imported octet violins listed on this page are made on my models and built to my specification. They have a body length of 368 mm and a vibrating string length of 338 mm (a standard violin is 328).

The typical instrument receives anywhere from 5 to 10 hours worth of additional work. Our mezzos are set up with a well-fitted and tonally adjusted soundpost and either an Aubert a Mirecourt or Despiau bridge. The fingerboard is dressed and receives a hand-rubbed oil finish. I pay particular attention to setup since this is of great importance to the player. The fingerboard edges will be beveled and the nut smoothed and rounded so there are no sharp edges. The instrument is fitted either with a good-quality wooden tailpiece with a fine-tuner for the E or a lightweight Wittner model with adjusters on all four strings.

The quality of wood in these violins has so far been quite nice, and the varnishing is well done and presents an attractive appearance. Workmanship varies from piece to piece, but all in all it is very good and surprisngly consistent. I put Dominant strings with a Jargar A on most of the mezzos, but you can swap in any violin string you like later.

When the violin is ready for sale, it looks and sounds much beyond the usual factory instruments in this class. I believe that these mezzos represent an excellent value for the money.

Perhaps Your Next Violin Should Be A Mezzo?

Looking for a violin with a big, phat sound on the G and D strings? This is the instrument for you. For the section player in a large ensemble, the rich tone of a mezzo also enhances the normally bright sound of conventional violins in the highest positions as well as the lowest. The greater power of the mezzo is well-balanced and available throughout its range. If you are a chamber player on second violin, the tonal difference means that you will not have to work as hard to be heard. Since the mezzo tone sits distinctly between the violin and viola, definition in parts occurs naturally.

While mezzos have power on demand, they can easily be included in standard chamber ensembles because they can be played softly when needed. Their slightly longer string length takes very little getting used to. In fact, because the proportions are correct many players say they don't even notice unless someone points it out to them. Despite the mezzo body length of 368 mm (about 14 1/2 inches), standard chinrests, tailpieces, pegs, and strings will fit, so you don't have to deprive yourself of your favorite accessories. Although the mezzo won't fit into most standard violin cases, It will fit nicely into a case for a small viola, and there are many good models to chose from.

Customer Comments:

. . . I am happy with the mezzo (the first one that I have ever seen and touched). [It] is easier to play than my old violin, but as you stated in the material about the Chinese mezzos, one finds himself playing better on one of these instruments. I asked our best violinist/violist to play the mezzo when the church was empty. She commented on the evenness of sound over all strings. I am pleased with the full and room filling sound. Trade fiddles now sound thin and disappointing.
. . . A.B.L., Dike, Texas




 

 

 

. . . The vertical viola . . .

 

imported alto violin back

Here's a picture of a particularly nice back on one of our imported alto violins on the bench for setup. We are constantly impressed by the beautiful wood the Chinese have on their side of the Himalayas. These are hand-crafted instruments from start to finish, and the workmanship is generally good. The advent of these altos heralds a very large price drop from what was available before; in some cases they are as much as 70 percent lower in price. No more excuses for not buying that alto you've been wanting!

Bridges for the alto were designed geometrically on the Golden Section by Robert J. Spear and are hand-cut for each instrument from a blank of aged wood. The bridge in the photo was done for us by colleague Dylan Race. We will be offering acrylic templates of the alto bridge for use by luthiers in their own shops.

The imported octet violins listed on this page are made on my models and built to my specifications. The typical alto receives anywhere from 5 to 10 hours of additional work. It is set up with a well-fitted and tonally adjusted soundpost and a custom-designed and entirely hand-cut bridge. The fingerboard is dressed and receives a hand-rubbed oil finish. The fingerboard edges will be beveled and the nut smoothed and rounded so there are no sharp edges to damage the strings. At your option, the instrument will be fitted either with a good-quality wooden tailpiece with a single adjuster for the A-string or a lightweight metal Chinese model that has adjusters on all four strings.

I put Supersensitive Sensicore strings on most of the altos, but you can swap in any string you like later. When the alto is ready for sale, it looks and sounds much beyond the usual factory instruments in this class and represents an excellent value for the money.

Perhaps Your Next Viola Should Be an Alto?

There are many reasons to consider an alto violin. There has been much misunderstanding about the tone of the alto and rumors that it will sound out of place in a section of conventional violas. After real experience, though, I can state with confidence that this is not the case. The greater power of the alto comes in the range where it is most lacking in standard violas, which is on the C-string. If you are a chamber player in small groups of any size, you need worry no more about the alto voice getting covered, and since you will have less work to do pulling out a big tone, you can focus more on style and nuance in your playing. And, yes, it can be played softly, too.

Customer Comments:

I took the alto to our [cello choir] rehearsal yesterday and did demo[it] for the group. They all really like it. After hearing it, they are all convinced it will be a great addition to the [group] . . . It actually sounded quite good in the larger music room. The cello teacher with whom I've recently worked was playing the alto yesterday, and the tone was lovely.
J.G., San Diego, California

Pleased to report that the Alto has arrived safely, and even with the improvised bridge setup that the cello teacher did last night, sounds fantastic. I was amazed at the response and sheer volume from the instrument. Also very pleased with the case. Anyway, hard at work now to come up to standard to rejoin my adult learners string group, and bolster their viola section - the violas (all 2 of them) aren't going to know what hit them :>
A.S., Christchurch, New Zealand

tenor violin frontI'm very pleased to announce the arrival and sale of low-cost Chinese-made tenor violins in addition to my own hand-made tenors. The advent of imported tenors marks the first time that these instruments have been available anywhere for sale in quantity. The new family tenors are remarkable instruments with many desirable characteristics.

tenor violin backThe imported octet violins listed on this page are made on my models and built to my specifications. The typical tenor receives anywhere from 5 to 10 hours of additional work. It is set up with a well-fitted and tonally adjusted soundpost and quality bridge. The fingerboard is dressed and receives a hand-rubbed oil finish. The fingerboard edges will be beveled and the nut smoothed and rounded so there are no sharp edges. The instrument is fitted either with a good-quality wooden tailpiece or a lightweight metal Chinese model that is the correct size and has adjusters on all four strings.

The tenors on this page are shown as they look upon arrival here. They are in a tilted display holder so the scroll is farther away from the camera. Don't let the perspective fool you! For a 3/4 profile photo of a tenor, click on the "hand-made" tab, above. The quality of wood in these tenors has so far been quite nice, as you can see from the accompanying photos. The varnishing on the factory models is well done and presents an attractive appearance. Workmanship varies from piece to piece, but all in all it is very good. I put Supersensitive tenor strings on most of the instruments, but you can swap in any string you like later. There will be new and greatly improved strings for the tenor coming from Supersensitive soon.

What Can the Tenor Violin Do?

For the cellist, playing a tenor opens up many interesting opportunities. Certain pieces by Bach, for example, that are awkward to play on the cello lie easily on the tenor (6th cello suite and anything written originally for Gamba, for example). Because the tenor is an octave violin, it can be used for almost anything written for the violin while retaining all the playing techniques, such as thumb position, that are familiar to cellists. For players who enjoy the larger chamber groups, the tenor fits in easily and effectively. In pieces calling for two violas, the tenor adds a dimension of warmth and fullness when used to play the second viola part. In pieces where the composer has indicated two cellos, the tenor easily and naturally takes the higher cello part where it imparts a free and open-sounding quality that cannot be obtained by playing the cello in its extended range.

Are you playing in a string band or old-tyme fiddle group? The tenor will add a voice and a sound quality that cannot be duplicated by putting trick strings on a violin or using a pickup and running the output through a signal processor. If yours is an acoustic band, you'll find that the tenor has plenty of power and won't get buried in the mix.

Customer Comments:

I love playing this instrument!
M. S., Syracuse, NY

This is my instrument. It just fits me perfectly. I have a small hand, and I have to constantly stretch it whenever I play my cello. With the tenor, I can use my natural spacing. The notes fall right under my fingers.
L. K., Ithaca, NY

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

. . . The Baritone Refined . . .

Our newest baritone stems from the work originally done by Hutchins and Schelleng and incorporates the scientific findings and the many helpful comments of working musicians. The boominess on the low C string and the suppressed A string of the original models seemed like an acceptable trade-off for an instrument that could finally "talk back to a grand piano," yet players, especially soloists, yearned for more sparkle in the top string and a shorter string length for ease of playing.

Due to my association with the acousticians still working in the area of bowed string instruments and my extensive studies of musical instrument geometry, I have been able to address both problems in my latest baritone violins. They have been shortened to approximately 800 mm (31.5 inches) body length and the string length has been adjusted to under 700 mm (27.5 inches). The resulting instruments have a powerful C string, a rich, dark A string, and they are not fatiguing to play. The string proportion is altered to that of a violin, which brings the player's left hand to the body in a slightly different place, but most players adjust to this within minutes. These classically proportioned baritones blend in well with conventional chamber ensembles and orchestral cello sections.

The low rib heights common to many New Family instruments are found in the baritones, too, which gives some players a bit of difficulty because the front surfaces of the baritone are brought closer to the body than when playing a standard cello. This does not usually confer any long term problems, but rather some advantages. With the body of the instrument closer to the player's body, the player's left hand need not encounter the ribs at all in higher position, allowing for fast and fluid shifting between thumb position and lower positions. The resulting body posture is also more natural, which reduces the need to push the left elbow forward and upward when playing in thumb position.

Perhaps Your Next Cello Should Be A Baritone.

The baritone provides a clarity, focus, and reserve of power not found in conventional cellos, yet it fits with surprising ease into all chamber groups and larger ensembles. The cello-like string length allows the cellist to adapt to the new instrument in minutes, and permits the player the choice of all commercially available strings. The top string is not harsh or edgy, and the low string's clarity and punch helps give better definition to the cello line in large ensembles. Although the baritone in the New Family no longer serves as the bass, it provides a more substantial low end than a cello in ensembles in which it is the lowest instrument.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

. . . Some Great Choices . . .

Bassetto (1/8 Chamber Bass)

Paul Unger tries out the chamber bassWith a body length of only 940 mm (37 inches) and a short-scale vibrating string length of just 812 mm (32 inches), this little bass harkens back to the German "half-basses" of the 19th century with the added benefits of modern acoustics and free-plate tuning. It is tuned in fifths (G-D-A-E two octaves below the violin and a fourth below the cello), and above first position the string length is that of a cello, allowing fast and flexible fingerings for the chamber musician or jazz player. The pizzicato is quick and punchy, and the bowed upper strings blend seamlessly with conventional cellos or New Family baritones. Designed to be played standing or on a stool, we're finding that most bassists prefer to play seated in a chair with the instrument held like a cello. The small size makes the bassetto easy to transport, and the low G string provides a surprisingly firm bass in ensembles in which it is the lowest instrument. While the bassetto is the same size as a 1/8 bass, it is not a child's instrument, and the neck width and string spacing are sized for the adult hand. It is also amazingly easy to play: it responds so quickly one player uses a viola bow! In the upper registers it plays as fast a cello but with a cleaner sound. If conventional fingering is preferred, a high fourths tuning (A-D-G-C) is a good alternative.

This bass is available on special order. Deposit required. Wait time estimated at six months. The photo is of a handmade prototype: the imported models will look similar.

The photos of the molds and templates below will give you an idea of the relative size of the basses to each other. Left, 940 Bassetto; center, 1130 standard 3/4 orchestral bass (Unger model); right, 1230 G sub-contra. Note the greatly rounded shoulders to facilitate playing of these violin-influenced basses.

 

5/8 Small Bass (not shown above)

This instrument is for those who want something slightly larger with more emphasis on the low end, or for those who prefer a bass on the length of the original Hutchins model (1040 mm). The string length is about 963 mm (38 inches) for a familiar feel. It is normally tuned in fourths (low A-D-G-C) a minor third below the cello, which proves to be a useful tuning. Some players consider it to be a 5/8-size bass and report that when strung in conventional bass tuning it has a surprisingly strong low E. It is also possible to tune this bass in fifths with G as the lowest note.

This bass is available on special order only.. Deposit required. Wait time estimated at one year.

3/4-Size Contrabass in 4 or 5-string models

Unger 3/4 5-string bassPaul Unger, assistant principal bass of the Fort Worth Symphony, approached me with a request for an instrument that could be tuned in fifths, had a substantial low C for orchestral work, and could be fitted with an additional string tuned to high E for chamber playing. He wanted all this in one instrument! He asked for a string length no longer than 38 inches (965 mm) to ease fifths playing in lower position, which he thought would encourage others to use fifths tuning. In short, a paradigm shift-- the creation of a good, all-round standard bass with extended range for the 21st-century player.

The concept was so intriguing that I decided to offer the bass in Unger's five-string version and a four-string version for those who prefer a narrower neck. The body length is 1130 mm (44.5 inches), which is the same as a standard-size 3/4 orchestral contrabass. Like all the other basses on this page, it is a violin-shaped bass with the low rib heights typical of New Family instruments. The five-string model has slightly taller ribs to allow for a head block that can support the extra tension of the fifth string.

This bass is available on special order only. Deposit required. Wait time estimated at 14 months.

"Bob, I've had one of the best mornings of my life.  I just spent the last hour SIGHT READING the first Bach Cello Suite! I've been waiting 25 years to be able to do that on the bass. What an amazing difference it makes to have a high "e" string that sounds GOOD and balanced with the rest of the bass. With this bass I could read the suite in the lower positions where it was meant to be played. I could also perform all of the chords and open strings that Bach intended - the bass was ringing all over the place!

My wife tells me this bass is the most powerful one I've ever practiced with in the house. She said there wasn't a spot she could go to get away from its sound. I can't wait to hear what it does in a concert hall." --Paul Unger

"Kicks butt!"

"Amazing instrument!"

"Thirty-eight inch string length sure makes a lot of stuff easier."

"Unbelievable range, and incredibly easy to play."

"The violin-shaped shoulders do not get in the way. Getting over the bass is not a problem."

5/4 G Sub-Contrabass

This is the heavyweight of our bass line: a bass one not only hears with their ears, but feels in one's feet! At 1230 mm (48.5 inches) body length it possesses substantial radiating area and enormous power in the nether regions. Yet the string length is kept to a comfortable 1054 mm (41.5 inches) so that fifths tuning is possible and playing conventionally in fourths is no different than playing on a 3/4-size bass. For added flexibility, this bass can be tuned in a number of ways. In conventional fourths tuning, the low E speaks with unrivalled authority, yet it is not boomy. In low fourths tuning (low B-E-A-D), the lowest notes are substantial. A single bass in this tuning can support a string orchestra of 25 to 30 players.

However, this bass was designed to play even lower. It is tuned (low) A-D-G-C, an octave below the Hutchins small bass and our Bassetto in fourths tuning. The advantage of this arrangement is that the player can switch between the largest and smallest instrument without having to compensate for strings in different positions or having to transpose parts. Standard basses sound one octave lower than written; the sub-contra sounds two ocatves lower than written. With an optional one-note extension installed, or when fifths tuning is employed, the lowest note is G three octaves below the violin's low G. The sound must be heard to be appreciated. While not quite Vuillaume's Octobasse, it doesn't require two people to play it. The low G at approximately 24.5 Hz is off the piano keyboard and down as far as most people can hear. A truly visceral bass for folks who never heard a note they thought was too low!

This bass is available on special order only. Deposit required. Wait time estimated at 18 months.


How to Order Our Imported Instruments

I try to always have New Family instruments in stock and ready for sale. I use the few on hand to demonstrate them and take orders. I suggest that you try out the instruments available to see if your choice is really what you want. Then, if you'd like to own one that's not in stock, I will place an order based on a 50% deposit.

Please contact me by email to see what is in stock and immediately available or if you are interested in further discussions or have special requirements.

Other Interestng stuff

The Latest Word on Prices

. Please call or email for prices before ordering. Instruments not in stock, and some basses, are special order items that require a 50% deposit. Typical wait times for special orders run 3 to 6 months. Please inquire for further details.

The "high-grade" line has been discontinued except for special orders. All imported instruments are now "Master Shop" models

Prices For Imports

Updated March 26, 2015

Piccolo Violin
(unavailable at this time)

Soprano Violin
$995.00

Mezzo Violin
$1495.00

Alto Violin
$2,250.00

Tenor Violin
$2,595.00 - $2,995.00

Baritone Violin
$3,995.00

Bassetto (940 mm)
$5,995.00

Small Bass (1040 mm)
please inquire

Unger Model (1130 mm 4-string)
$8,500.00

Unger Model (1130 mm 5-string)
$9,500.00

G Sub-Contra (1230 mm)
not available at this time

Last updated March, 2015

Export Orders

We ship worldwide via FedEx, United Parcel, or the US Postal Service. The postal service is the most economical in most cases for instruments up to an alto in size. The receiving country sets the limits for size, weight, and insurance on packages. It is typically 66 pounds, 108" (275 cm) combined length and girth, and $1,000. Tenors and baritones can be shipped by FedEx and UPS air only. All basses go over land by truck and over water by ship. Charges for crating, freight, and insurance are not included in the prices above. Customers outside the United States are responsible for all taxes and import duties imposed by their countries.