c.1930 (?) Viola da Terra

I posted this instrument a while back under the assumption it was an early 1900s instrument. Since then I've found this style and finish type in use in violas made both in the US and in the Azores from around the 1890s to the 1960s, so who really knows! A quick little explanation about these -- the "viola da terra" is related to the old guitar-like Spanish/Portuguese viola family, and is a folk instrument used and built on the Azores Islands as well as Madeira. Typically it's tuned similar to a 12-string guitar with steel but minus a low E course and is used to pump out chords for backing singers and other instruments.

Since the last posting of this instrument, the strings have been setup in a "tailpiece" fashion to alleviate stress on the top, friction tuners have been replaced with geared Kluson repros, the original string-mounting portion of the bridge has been replaced, and I've setup the stringing and string spacing to convert this into a small 12-string guitar in standard EADGBE (2-2-2-2-2-2) rather than an ADGBD (3-3-2-2-2) instrument in 5 courses. This makes it more practical for the American guitarist, though of course it can be converted back by replacing the nut and reslotting the bone bridge.

The scale is 21 5/8" which means even at pitch with the light 12-string set on it, the feel is slinky and fast and easy on the fingers, even with the bigger v-shaped neck on it. The advantage of lightening the build and using a shorter scale and lighter gauge strings is obvious -- and also something typical of Portuguese-influenced instruments like Portuguese guitars and related string families. They still have plenty of volume but aren't encumbered by having to be built so rigidly and so have a mellower, sweeter tone.

The heart soundholes are awfully pretty and the construction is extremely light. Almost all the weight is in the new tuners I put on it.

After playing this for a while, the remains of the original clay dot markers wore out so I replaced them with abalone that looks quite fetching with the rest of the instrument.

Note all that pickwear! The top is crack free. Also, check out the pretty purfling around the top edge and the inlaid "rosettes" -- also the top is bound in what appears to be either maple or pearwood or something similar.

I had to slightly cut down each of the single-unit Klusons to fit correctly, but they're a vast, vast improvement over 1:1 friction pegs and hold tuning quite well.

The heel is a Spanish-style one where the neck and neck block are the same piece. This has a very fine hairline crack on its exterior where someone (foolishly) put a strap hanger. I've backfilled it and it's stable and does not go into the inner part of the neck/neckblock.

Note that there are a couple of medium-length repaired hairline cracks on the back. The back may be some sort of cypress? or other similar wood, stained a medium-dark "fiddle" red.

I reused these brass screws which were the string mounts from the original "pin" style bridge that disintegrated roughly a week after first stringing (I must say, the original bridge design for these is really not the most successful effort).

The result of a tailpiece-loaded string tension is that this instrument has warmed up, increased in volume, and stabilized as far as tuning and top deformation goes. This stays in tune better than most modern instruments hanging around the workshop and is certainly more stable than most 12-strings (save older Martins) that I've encountered.


chris passaro said...

I just found this post. I have one of these Violas. Right now it's just hanging out waiting for ne to do somthing to it . The tuners are trashed , there is no nut and no bridge just the saddle. The saddle is also missing the end carving both on myn. If and when I repair I am thinking to make it just a 6 string I'm not a fan of 12 strings. I like the idea of attaching the strings at the bottom. I haven't researched much to understand string tension but you addressed that so I get it . I will probably put silk and steal or maybe nylon. What kind of action does yours have and did you shave the saddle . If you have any advise on stuff I should be aware of or take in consideration I would appreciate. I am not a Luther but I have re glued the back and some cracks on a Harmony Partician.I have dialed in the action on my acoustic with a little nut and bridge work . No Luther but I take my time I am happy with my work . Thank you my name is Chris.

chris passaro said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
chris passaro said...

Oops got my bridge and saddle mixed up.