Beginner viola players need an instrument that is both ready-to-play out-of-the-box and is cost-effective since they may not continue playing for long. Our comprehensive list of beginner viola brands below has been evaluated by our staff to ensure that they are both beginner- and budget-friendly. Each of the viola outfits below comes with a minimum of a student viola, a bow, a case, and strings. As with all violas, components can be upgraded, but these basic outfits will be enough to get the beginner up and playing within minutes.
For our full analysis of the best viola brands, check out our Best Viola Brands guide.
One final note before we get to our recommended viola brands: Shopping online for violas is a relatively new phenomenon. We highly recommend going to a local music shop to try out violas before you shop online for the best deal. However, if you feel comfortable with Amazon’s return policy, you can certainly buy from them and return the viola if it doesn’t sound quite right.
Cecilio violas are made out of hand carved solid tonewoods in the traditional fashion: spruce top, flamed maple sides and back, and inlaid purfling. The chin rests are made of boxwood, traditionally a feature only available on higher-end models.
The main shortcoming of Cecilio violas is that their fingerboards are made of maple instead of ebony. Ebony fingerboards are sturdier than maple since ebony is a hardwood which means ebony fingerboards can withstand the repeated pressure of fingers tapping on them. Of course, removing the ebony fingerboards makes for a lower-cost viola, but you may need to take your viola in for repairs more often.
These viola outfits are also very generous. Most Cecilio outfits come with a quality brazilwood bow with unbleached Mongolian horsehair. They also come with boxwood pegs, chinrest, and tailpiece (with four fine tuners).
Given the value you get for the price, the Cecilio viola brand gets our highest vote, but if you are an advanced player, we recommend looking at some of the higher-end violas below.
Very affordable, Stentor has made a name for themselves by being one of the highest quality viola brands for the price. Many parents rely on this well-known brand to get their children to an intermediate level viola.
Based in the United Kingdom, Stentor manufactures the instruments in Chinese workshops, but checks each instrument for quality before delivery to your home or store.
With a wide variety of violas for sale, from absolute beginner to slightly below intermediate, Stentor is sure to have the right viola for your student. Not only do they come in multiple sizes, including variations on a “full size” instrument (a misnomer because viola sizes are not as standardized as cellos or violins), with 16” and 15.5” outfits.
Like their other instruments, Stentor violas are made in the traditional way out of solid tone woods. This includes a solid ebony fingerboard (as opposed to the Cecilio above), pegs, and fittings with maple sides and back, and a spruce top. Stentor violas also have inlaid purfling to prevent the softer spruce wood top from splitting.
Packages on Amazon include a padded rectangle case, wood and horsehair bow (usually brazilwood), and rosin.
For a beginner outfit, Cremona violas are great quality for a decent price tag. Made out of select tone woods, such as hand-carved maple, spruce, and ebony, these violas stand up well on their own, but can be made significantly better with small improvements.
Out-of-the-box, Cremona violas come with Prelude strings which are okay, but swapping them out for a higher-quality viola string brand can make a world of difference.
Cremona violas are built to MENC standards (National Standards for Music Education as prescribed by the Music Educators National Conference in 1994) in their Cremona workshop in the state of California. The MENC standard ensures that they are playable when they arrive, and can be easily integrated into your child’s school orchestra or ensemble. It’s no wonder that students and teachers alike favor Cremona over other student viola outfits.
Each outfit comes with a high-quality J. LaSalle Brazilwood bow, a popular TL-33 case, Prelude strings by D’Addario, A. Breton VP-61 alloy tailpiece with 4 built-in tuners for easy tuning, along with a Kaufman chinrest, and rosin.
While lower quality than many of the viola brands on this list, Merano definitely deliver on affordability. Many of their violas are just over $100 which makes them especially good for absolute beginners who may not continue playing after their first year. While they won’t garner a high resale value, they will certainly meet the requirements of a novice and your budget.
Like Cecilio listed above, Merano viola fingerboards are made out of hardwood instead of ebony, meaning you will most certainly have to upgrade to a better model or have the fingerboard repaired frequently.
If you can’t afford a higher quality model at this moment, the Merano viola makes a good starting instrument.
Outfits on Amazon include a ton of extras including an extra set of strings, an extra bridge, a shoulder rest, rosin, case, music stand, and electronic tuner. Buying a Merano viola outfit is one way to be up and playing in no time.
Mendini violas are the bestselling viola brand on Amazon due primarily to their relatively low price of about $80. From a quality standpoint, we can’t recommend this brand highly, but they are certainly a bargain for beginners looking to save a few bucks. Mendini violas are completely hand-carved with a solid spruce top and maple back and sides. They are fitted with a maple fingerboard, pegs, and chin rest, and an alloy tailpiece with four integrated fine tuners.
The viola outfits generally include a lightweight form fitting hard, a Brazilwood bow with unbleached genuine Mongolian horsehair, rosin, and a bridge making this package a great deal for beginners. They also come with a 1 year warranty against manufacturer defects.