The viola is a member of the violin family of string instruments commonly used in orchestras, string quartets, and solo performances and can be heard in numerous genres of music.
There are plenty of options for the student, intermediate and professional violists. This isn't only true of individual instruments but also of solo viola makers and larger viola brands.
Of course, the brand is far from the most important aspect of an instrument, though it's still worth considering for general knowledge and judgement. In this article, I’ll share my take on the top viola brands.
Though obviously subjective and prone to biases, I’ve done my best to list out these brands based on the following metrics (in no particular order):
- Company reputation
- Performance of the violas
- Longevity of the violas
- Variety of violas available
- Accessibility of the violas (how easy they are to find/buy)
- The company must currently be in operation
With all that being said, let’s list out the brands.
The top 11 best viola brands are:
Let’s get into each of these brands in greater detail and explain why they belong in the top 11 best viola brands. I’ll share their country of origin, a bit of history, an example of a notable viola, and a link to their official website.
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Eastman is a company that has branched out into building a plethora of instruments achieving amazing results at every step of the journey. Nowadays, the combined effort of this family of brands has enhanced the production techniques of each particular instrument and achieved collective success being present in every corner of the world.
This company takes inspiration from the 17th-century German tradition and creates some of the finest student-model violas on the market. Eastman instruments can be a great ally on your journey to stardom without breaking the bank.
Notable viola: Andreas Eastman Series+ VA405+ (link to check it out at Eastman)
This is not just another viola; it is an electric-acoustic model featuring a fully integrated and preinstalled pickup system. But that’s not all because this viola is made with the finest ebony for the fingerboard, European or Chinese Spruce for the top, and heavily-figured maple for the back and ribs. Furthermore, the antiqued spirit varnish gives it the look you need to shine on any stage.
This is a great choice if you are a gigging musician needing a great-sounding, perfectly-made, electric-acoustic viola.
Official website: eastmanstrings.com
Eastman Strings was founded in 1992 by Qian Ni. Currently, the company’s headquarters are in Pomona, California, USA.
Eastman is featured in other top brand articles at My New Microphone. Check out these articles here!
Maple Leaf Strings
The lack of consistent, well-made student-grade classical instruments made two music lovers who received orchestral training from an early age take matters into their own hands. They wanted to manufacture the kind of instrument they would have loved to play when they were students.
Thus, their refined ears, musician sensitivity, and passion for music gave birth to one of the best options in the market for beginners and advanced students. Moreover, they have expanded their line to accommodate professional players as well.
If you haven’t already, play a Maple Leaf Strings viola today and feel the difference.
Notable viola: Maple Leaf Strings Master Lucienne Viola (link to check the price on Amazon)
Available in 15” and 16.5”, this is a luxurious instrument ready to take any stage. It is made by Master Lucienne, one of the biggest names in the viola-making world today. Also, the materials used for its construction are elite-level tonewoods such as the grade AAA seasoned spruce top and highly-figured maple back and sides. These are not only premium woods but have also been dried in-house for 5+ years. In the same vein, the top is completely hand-carved, and the oil varnished is 100% hand-applied.
If you are after an elite instrument that comfortably sits among the best modern violas in the world, you have to try this one before buying.
Official website: mapleleafstrings.com
Jason M. Bartel and Brad Patterson founded Maple Leaf Strings in 2011. Currently, the company’s headquarters are in Cincinnati, Ohio, USA.
Maple Leaf Strings is featured in other top brand articles at My New Microphone. Check out these articles here!
Although Vasile Gliga was elected to Parliament in his home country of Romania in 2008, his career as a master luthier and player was outstanding. Furthermore, his nuances and sensibility as a musician blend seamlessly with his talent as a woodworker. As a result, every Gliga viola not only sounds musical but also plays effortlessly.
If you want to try the best of the European musical instrument tradition, you have to try a Gliga viola before buying anything else.
Notable viola: Gliga C8145V Gama Elite Viola (link to check the price at Violins Lover)
With a solid Carpathian spruce top and solid Carpathian highly-flamed maple sides and back, this instrument is capable of some serious resonance and projection. Moreover, the ebony and maple manually inlaid purfling and hand-applied oil make it a beautiful-looking musical. But that’s not all because, besides the top-notch materials, Gliga employs its finest luthiers to hand-make each of these violas to the highest standards in the world.
Finally, each of them comes with a certificate of authenticity so your instrument will never lose its value.
Official website: gligaviolins.com
Gliga was founded by Vasile Gliga in 1991. Currently, the company’s headquarters are in Reghin, Romania.
Material sourcing is, perhaps, the main reason why Knilling instruments are sought-after by pro players around the world. Indeed, starting every project from the best-quality materials allows Knilling to achieve uncanny consistency throughout its catalogue.
Furthermore, for those after a special instrument they can’t find in the market, the Custom Shop division turns every player’s dream into a tangible reality that can propel their playing forward.
Whether you want the one-of-a-kind viola you’ve always dreamt of or a factory-made model, you have to try a Knilling viola before buying anything else.
Notable viola: Knilling 3182 Nicolo Gabrieli Concert Model Viola (link to check the price at Sweetwater)
Germany, Bosnia, and Romania are the source of the premium tonewoods used in the making of this outstanding instrument. This is not just about picking the wood from the harvested trees, but also the drying and testing are done in-house. This exhaustive work is combined with the craftsmanship skills of the master luthiers at Knilling, who hand-carve the spruce top, apply the spirit varnish by hand, and finish each instrument to the highest standards.
Finally, every 3182 viola by Knilling is made 100% in the USA and ships with D’Addario Kaplan Amo Synthetic Core strings.
Official website: knilling.com
Knilling was founded in 1922 by Bernard Kornblum. Currently, the company’s headquarters are in St. Louis, Missouri, USA.
Knilling is featured in other top brand articles at My New Microphone. Check out these articles here!
The tradition of Yamaha musical instruments has been in the making for over 100 years, being pushed by revolutionary innovations every step of the way. Moreover, the quintessential craftsmanship techniques blend seamlessly with some of the most audacious models by Yamaha to create a different plateau for instrument-making worldwide.
Yamaha is synonymous with the highest quality standards, flawless performance, and reliable instruments. If that sounds like the kind of instrument you’re after, try a Yamaha before buying anything else.
Notable viola: Yamaha Silent Viola SVV200 (link to check the price at Sweetwater)
Only Yamaha could come up with such an amazing instrument capable of defying the very principles of what we believe is possible. Indeed, the silent viola is a solid instrument that is easy to carry, can stand the weather, and delivers impeccable sounds and playability. In other words, viola players on the move or that need to do much studio work will find this instrument from Yamaha’s critically acclaimed Silent line a goldmine.
Official website: yamaha.com
Yamaha was founded by Torakusu Yamaha in 1887. Currently, the company’s headquarters are in Hamamatsu, Japan.
Yamaha is featured in other top brand articles at My New Microphone. Check out these articles here!
Being a vintage string instrument collector as well as an accomplished player and a master builder gave Jay Ifshin a competitive advantage when he started manufacturing violas under his brand. Yet, he started making string instruments because he couldn’t find any reliable, consistent, student-level violin or viola to offer students coming to his Berklee shop.
Joining forces with another master builder trained in Guangzhou, China, his shop foreman Haide Lin closed the gap with quality, affordable instruments that soon started being shipped to every corner of the planet.
For those trying to balance price, quality, and performance, Jay Haide is a great option.
Notable viola: Jay Haide 104 Model (link to check it out at Jay Haide)
This model was designed by Jay Haide for the advanced student and is made of quality, seasoned spruce and maple. It offers playability and sound normally found in instruments with a much bulkier price tag. Also, in terms of looks, the hand-applied shaded golden-orange varnish gives it the looks you would expect from pricier instruments.
If you are after a second viola to protect your main instrument or a great-sounding, stage-ready viola at an affordable price, Jay Haide needs to be on your list.
Official website: jayhaide.com
Jay Haide was founded by Jay Ifshin and Haide Lin in 1992. Currently, the company’s headquarters are in El Cerrito, California, USA.
Jay Haide is featured in other top brand articles at My New Microphone. Check out these articles here!
The story of StringWorks is common to other brands. The company was founded by a musician who played cello for the Los Angeles Opera for over 17 years, played Hollywood productions with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and occasionally with the Los Angeles Master Chorale.
With his trained ear, Todd French couldn’t find any good student-level instruments to sell at his shop. Therefore, he decided to pour all his know-how into a line of instruments that could fulfill that goal. That is how StringWorks became a manufacturer.
Nowadays, and to critical acclaim, the company expanded the line to include professional-oriented instruments as well.
Notable viola: StringWorks Soloist III (link to check the price at StringWorks)
This viola made with Himalayan maple and spruce offers the player substantial resonance that allows for a wide-open tone and evenness across the instrument’s register. Moreover, these hand-picked tonewoods are naturally aged, and then the spirit varnish is hand-applied on top, giving the viola a reddish finish that makes it even more appealing to the eyes. Furthermore, all fittings are made of ebony.
Finally, don’t let the 13” size fool you since this is a state-of-the-art design capable of delivering full viola tones in a smaller format.
Official website: stringworks.com
StringWorks was founded by Todd French in 1997. Currently, the company’s headquarters are in Geneva, Illinois, USA.
Cremona pays homage to the city where some of the world’s most sought-after string instruments were made in Italy. This includes the worldwide famous Stradivarius violins. But Cremona’s homage doesn’t end with the name; the company manufactures quality instruments at affordable prices, so music students can become proficient players without having to spend a fortune.
The brand’s catalogue covers a vast sonic ground, and it is safe to say that unless you’re looking for an elite-level instrument, you can always find a Cremona option to choose from.
Notable viola: Cremona SVA-500 Premier Artist Viola (link to check the price at Music & Arts)
The hand-carved spruce top and figured maple sides make this a great-sounding instrument oozing the kind of tone you would expect from a much pricier unit. In the same vein, the hand-applied golden red and brown varnish and French-made Aubert bridge give it a sound and a look that can make you shine on any stage. Finally, every unit ships with USA-made Prelude strings.
Advanced students will find this viola a great vessel to arrive at instrument proficiency.
Official website: cremonaviolins.com.cn
Richard Keldsen founded Cremona in the early eighties. The company’s headquarters can be found in San Francisco, California, USA.
Cremona is featured in other top brand articles at My New Microphone. Check out these articles here!
D Z Strad
D Z Strad is a relatively young company that has already grown in people’s minds as the go-to option for quality, affordable instruments. Moreover, D Z Strad can offer you a great-sounding viola regardless of the step of your musical journey you are.
This is because the finely-curated catalogue of the brand features instruments with impeccable craftsmanship at every price point. That being said, buying a viola in any tier from D Z Strad is a great choice.
Notable viola: D Z Strad Professional Model 1000 (link to check the price on Amazon)
This instrument is entirely made by Silver Award-winning luthiers of the Violin Society of America. That alone makes it an outstanding instrument made with obsessive attention to detail by expert luthiers. But that’s not all since the Model 1000 is also handmade from hand-picked tonewoods. Finally, the same experts apply the premium oil varnish by hand before putting the instrument through an aging process to give it the looks and feel of a vintage, timeless, classic piece.
Official website: dzstrad.com
D Z Strad was founded in 2017. Currently, the workshop and retail headquarters are located in White Plains, New York, USA.
D Z Strad is featured in other top brand articles at My New Microphone. Check out these articles here!
Samuel Shen arrived in Canada full of hopes and dreams. He opened a small shop where he repaired violins and sold second-hand instruments alongside his own creations. Although he crossed the ocean to triumph in Canada, never in his wildest dreams did he think his reputation would take him so far. Indeed, by 1993 he was able to hire the best luthiers in his homeland to create one of the most important viola brands in the world today.
Try one today and hear the difference; the only warning is that once you pick a Shen viola up, you might not be able to put it down.
Notable viola: Shen 16 1/2″ Viola (link to check the price at CSC Products)
Made of fully carved spruce and maple, this viola is a serious instrument aimed at serious players. When you compare performance and price tag, this is a viola that outperforms most of the competition in its price range. Moreover, the hand-applied oil varnish, ebony fingerboard, chinrest, and tuners also add to the quality of this viola.
If you are an advanced player on a budget, or a pro looking for a quality, affordable backup, this viola might be a perfect choice.
Distributor website: cscproducts.com
Samuel founded Samuel Shen Musical Instruments in 1989. Currently, the company’s headquarters are in Suzhou, China.
Shen is featured in other top brand articles at My New Microphone. Check out these articles here!
Michael Chapman Doughty founded a world-class company, but this wasn’t a coincidence; his family’s tradition in musical instrument-making can be traced for over a century to Edward Champan Doughty, who started making elite-level strings in 1895.
That leverage of trying every string model in countless prototypes gave Stentor the know-how needed to create some of the best violas on the market today. Therefore, what you can expect from a brand like Stentor is state-of-the-art craftsmanship, modern manufacturing techniques, and great-sounding instruments.
Notable viola: Stentor Messina Viola (link to check the price at Gear4Music)
This handcrafted instrument features top-notch European tonewoods, inlaid purfling, ebony fingerboard and pegs, and professional-quality strings. Moreover, this line is not manufactured in the same facility as all the student models, but the hand-picked spruce top is hand-carved in a separate, hands-only custom shop within the Stentor factory. In this same spot, every instrument gets a hand-applied coat of classic Shellac varnish and is individually fitted and set up by experts before shipping.
Official website: stentor-music.com
Stentor was founded in the early sixties by Michael Chapman Doughty. Currently, the company’s headquarters are in Reigate, England.
Stentor is featured in other top brand articles at My New Microphone. Check out these articles here!