Buying a viola is a complicated process so you need to know what viola brand to buy. You need to buy a viola brand that is known for high-quality workmanship. Quality is shown through the external beauty of the instrument and also the sound. Our list is based on quality and affordability, and is intended to help you buy a viola brand that is high-value, but that fits within your budget.
There are a few clear things that anyone looking to purchase a viola should keep in mind:
- The fewer upgrades needed the better
- Quality of materials used
- Attention to detail
To learn more about what you want to look for when purchasing a viola, read our viola buying guide where we cover what makes a good viola. Violas are a very personal item. You want to make sure that you buy a viola that sounds and feels right to you so you’ll want to try a lot of different violas. You may want to go to a local music shop to try some violas out before finally making your purchase online.
Most violas cost somewhere between $200-$5000, and the violas listed below cover that spectrum. We will call out typical prices and recommendations for skill level for each of the brands below.
One final note before we get to our recommended viola brands: Buying a viola online is a relatively new phenomenon. We highly recommend going to a local music shop to try out violas before you buy a viola online for the best deal. However, if you feel comfortable with Amazon’s return policy, you can certainly buy a viola from them and return the viola if it doesn’t sound quite right.
Best Viola Brand for Beginners
Recommended For: Beginner
Cecilio is once again our number one viola brand. They produce quality instruments at a fraction of the cost of other big-name players and all of their instruments are hand-made, even the less than $200 CVA-400. Because of this, Cecilio is one of the most well-known student viola brands in the world.
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 buying a higher-end viola below.
You can read our other Cecilio reviews on these pages: Cecilio CVA-400 review and Cecilio CVA-500 review.
For more beginner viola brands, check out our Best Viola Brands for Beginners guide.
Best Viola Brand for Intermediate Players
Recommended For: Intermediate
DZ Strad violas are consistently rated as some of the best mid-tier violas. Reviews on Amazon rave about the sound quality of these instruments so we had to give one a try. We were blown away! The Model 400 in particular is a great instrument for the intermediate viola student.
The company has a workshop in New York and Minnesota and offer a complete range of services for the string community. The violas themselves are made with hand-rubbed Italian tonewoods that have been naturally dried outside on a covered, ventilated area for 20 years. The wood is then placed into a drying room, consistent with old world traditional European practices to ensures that the wood will not open or expand, and guarantees stability.
The outfits include the viola, a viola case, and two bows: a carbon fiber viola bow, and D Z Strad Pernambuco Viola Bow. For a high-quality viola that ranges between $1000-$1300 depending on size, this is a ton of value.
D Z Strad Model 300
D Z Strad Model 400
Best Viola Brand for Advanced Players
Recommended For: Advanced
While Eastman Strings does make student model violas, they are well-known for making advanced violins and violas that sound beautiful which is why we highly recommend them for the advanced player. Strings Magazine often recommends Eastman VA305 violas for advanced players due to their playability and tone.
The violas are handcrafted from one-piece, flamed maple back with boxwood-and-ebony fittings. Outfits generally come with a base Despiau bridge, which can of course be modified after-market, and a Wittner tailpiece with built in fine tuners.
Outfits on Amazon usually only include the instrument, no bow or case. As Eastman’s violas are built for advanced players, the bow choice is often up to the player. As we mention in our buying a viola bow guide, the viola bow needs to fit the player’s style.
Eastman Strings Violas
Other Viola Brands
Recommended For: Beginner
This viola brand is trusted by viola students and teachers of all kinds. 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.
Recommended For: Intermediate
Yamaha is a well known in the musical world for producing top-quality instruments at an affordable price. Their piano and violin family instruments are just as high-quality.
While more expensive than many of the models featured in the above list, Yamaha violas are hand made in Chinese workshops out of the highest quality woods for this price range. For this reason, Yamaha rounds out our list as one of the top brands of violas.
The Yamaha student viola outfits come in assorted sizes, and includes a case, Brazilwood bow, and rosin. Thhey are hand made out of solid spruce, maple, and ebony and fitted with a Wittner tailpiece with four fine tuners for easy tuning.
Yamaha violas also come with quality D’Addario Prelude strings, though upgrading your strings to Dominants or Evah Pirazzis can drastically improve the tone of your instrument.
Yamaha Model 5 Viola Outfit
Yamaha Model AVA5-140S
Recommended For: Beginner
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.
Recommended For: Intermediate
Primavera violas are a very affordable intermediate viola brand. Slightly more expensive than many of the beginner brands ($250-$350), Primavera violas are made out of high quality solid tonewoods, including hand carved maple and spruce with inlaid purfling. The fingerboard and pegs are made out of carved ebony, as well as the fittings. In addition, the Primavera intermediate viola outfit comes with a “student proof” (ie. very strong) composite bow with an ebony frog and Mongolian horsehair.
Primavera has made several decisions to cut costs while improving the musical experience. For example, they use a metal alloy tailpiece with four fine tuners, instead of a solid wood tailpiece. They also use a Styrofoam shaped case instead of a standard “pillowy” case. While slightly lower in quality, this case still performs well, and will protect your viola from the elements and drops.
Primavera beginner viola outfits come in many sizes, so you can find the proper fit for you or your child. Most also come with a hardwood bow.
Primavera Prima 100
Primavera Prima 200
Recommended For: Beginner
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.
Hi, I’m not quite sure what is meant under the Primavera review that is recommended for intermediates. I’m looking to get an intermediate viola, and am not sure whether the Primavera Prima can be used as an intermediate viola or not, since it is listed under the same category of the Primaveras, which are recommended for intermediates. Thank you for your help in advance!
Hi Beth, the Primavera Prima violas are considered intermediate violas, but the Prima 100/200 are on the lower end for intermediate players. If you want a better quality Primavera intermediate viola we recommend the Primavera Prima Loreato: http://amzn.to/2rXfpay.
Hi, I am currently an advanced violinist thinking about starting viola. I know the viola will be very easy for me to learn because of my background in violin. I’m not looking to spend a lot of money on a new viola but I might be playing as one of the main violist for the orchestra I am currently in. Should I look into getting an intermediate or advanced viola?
Hi Grace, since you have experience playing violin, I would go for an advanced viola, but since you have a limited budget, you could stick with intermediate. The intermediate viola will not have the same sound that you’re used to from the violin and you may need to upgrade in the future. It really depends on how long you plan to play viola and if you think you’ll upgrade later.
I am looking at the Yamaha AVA-7 viola. I see you rated the AVA-5, but can you give me an indication of how the AVA-7 stands up to your review.
Hello, I’m looking for advice while shopping for a viola for my teenage daughter and came across your page here. I would call her an intermediate player and she recently joined the local youth symphony. There is very little non-biased info out there to educate buyers! The local shop near us sells Strobel brand. We have found one we may buy. Is this a good manufacturer? They also sell Bellafina and Maple Leaf Strings. We are prepared to spend $1000-2000 for a good quality instrument she can play for many years. I’m at a loss about whether the ones I have found are good manufactuers and will have any resale later. Or whether it doesn’t matter as long as she likes the sound? Thank you for any advice you can offer!
Hi, Thanks for this great information! I am an advanced player looking for a smaller viola. I am 5’0 and have been playing on an 16″ with a beautiful tone (my viola was purchased when I was in my teens and I never did grow enough for it, and am also now living with a back injury and feel it is best to go smaller). I recently tried a 15 1/4″ and still a bit of a stretch for my pinky on the C-string. I find I lose the beautiful tone on most violas I have tried under 16″ though. Is there something you recommend? My budget is between $1000-2000, depending.
I am a high school senior who is going to graduate this upcoming spring. I plan to pursue music in college and as a career. Should I get an intermediate or advanced viola?
If you are pursuing music in college and as a career then you should consider the advanced viola. It will grow with your talents and repertoire.
Charlie: I’m not sure how this writer defines the terms “beginner”, “intermediate”, and “advanced”. My son is a violist. He was playing an Eastman model 405 (a step up from his previous model 305, referred to as “advanced” above). When he started college, his major professor was clear that, as a performance major, she expected him to have a better instrument than that. I would speak with your professor before buying a new instrument. S/he may have a strong opinion. I am not saying these are bad instruments (on the contrary; the Eastman instruments were very good), just that your professor may have very different definitions of those terms.
I would also disagree with the writer’s advice to try instruments in a shop before buying online. While I strongly agree with trying an instrument (more than one) before buying, especially as you advance as a musician, I do not agree that you should exploit the expertise of your local shop and then go online to make the purchase. If you like the instrument you try, buy it from the person who let you try it. Reputable shops will let you take higher quality instruments for extended trials so you can compare them outside of the shop. They may also have a lot of expertise. (We buy from a luthier who does not make instruments for sale, but represents others and makes repairs.) Don’t abuse that by then turning around and buying online.
Brilliant comment, I do I wish that a greater number of people grasped, as you certainly seem to do, how increasingly urgent it is for us all, to buy from “indies”, Even if the ethics of the matter do not enter into it for one, the health of that person’s local economy (local income levels and tax base equal you name it: school quality; crime rates etc, etc) certainly should.
Please forgive my imperfect use of English punctuation/grammar. 🙂
I have been trying to find a black viola of high quality. I honestly don’t know where to see one of decent quality or by a brand I know and trust and used. Without trying to be ripped off, I won’t get my money’s worth. If it’s not possible, it might cost me a fortune to have an Eastman stained.
My daughter is getting ready to start her 4th year playing viola (she is 13).. She plays in her school orchestra (a year ahead of her grade level) and in our area youth orchestra so not just a once week lesson kid (though she also does this). I’m guessing she would be considered an intermediate player. My question is if we invest in an advanced level instrument outlined above, would that matter in her ability to play the instrument or is it just a better quality instrument? No strings experience myself so sorry if this is a simple question.