Viola! Level Up! Which Viola to buy when you 'Level Up'?

Posted by Richard Bodinnar on 1st Oct 2015

Gliga Superior Viola and the Struna Master Viola

The violas the Gliga Superior Viola and the Struna Master Viola are superbly made and are well worth their price range as options for beginners and intermediate students.

The Gliga Superior comes from the workshop of the famous luthier Vasile Gliga. For people who have never had the chance to see or hold a Gliga, once you get the opportunity, you would surely be blown away by the quality of the craftsmanship in all of their string instruments. There is just a remarkable benchmark in their craftsmanship that has to be upheld by all Gliga string instruments regardless of level. You can be assured that the best skills and innate passion for string instruments are applied on all Gligas including the Gliga Superior.

The workshops of Vasile Gliga in Romania pride themselves in the quality of woods they use for their string instruments. Most of these naturally aged woods are taken from some of the best sources in the world for resonant sounding boards-the Carpathian Mountains. Part of the Carpathian Mountains that extend to Romania is home of the finest spruces that are highly-prized by ancient and modern string instrument makers. This is exactly the reason why some people call these wooded areas the Italian’s valley.

When it comes to timbers, the Gliga Superior makes use of naturally seasoned and very resonant spruce at the top while sycamore maple of excellent quality is used for the back, ribs, and neck. They have solid grains with moderately high flames. Ebony of very good quality is utilized for the chin rest, pegs, nut, and fingerboard. You can also notice a very elaborate, detailed, and deeply-etched scroll.

Interestingly, the Gliga Superior that I am holding right now has visible lines at the top. They are quite clear when viewed closely. These lines are not part of the wood itself. They are not necessarily a bad thing. Often with violas, luthiers might make the flank using a different type of wood to prevent wolf notes. It is not unusual for viola makers to look for pieces of woods with knots on it. They are actually very pretty and look like natural fibers. Sometime ago, I sent an instrument to a customer that have these same lines. The customer sort of panicked upon seeing the lines! You should not be concerned when you see violas with these lines as they help that particular viola sound better and look good at the same time.

The Gliga Superior has a very rich and warm brownish sort of color. It has an antique look about it with impressive polish using oil varnish. If you have to buy a Gliga Superior, you would have to buy special clothes and walk around looking extremely superior. You can almost play this viola with a raised and aristocratic chin if the viola is not in danger of falling. Like I said, the quality of this string instrument will blow you away.

The Struna Master is a result of a seven-year collaboration with an amazing Chinese luthier. I go over to his little shop and provide some advice about thickness and varnishing. The result of our collaboration is the Struna brands, of which the Master is the start of the higher level.

The Struna Master is where we use our top of the range timbers and varnishing techniques. Russian spruce makes up the top while highly-flamed maple is utilized for the other parts like the back, ribs, and neck. Like the Gliga Superior, Ebony is the choice of wood for the fingerboard, nut, pegs, and chin rest. The varnishing is done using a combination of spirit varnish underneath and oil varnish on the top. If oil varnishing is solely relied to coat the Struna Master, it would somehow constrict the sound a little. This varnishing technique allows the wood to vibrate the way it wants to.

Like the Gliga Superior, the Struna Master also has an antique look. The main difference is the latter really looks like a three hundred year-old viola courtesy of faded flanks and well-worn appearance. It also has a very nice look and can certainly give other violas a run for their money when it comes to aesthetic appeal.

When it comes to sound, there are some similarities and differences between the two violas. You would have a better understanding of what I am writing about if you have seen the video review.

The Struna Master has a good edge when it comes to power and loudness. This is the sort of viola that is custom made for soloists who are planning to play in a big hall. The soloist would have little trouble filling up a huge hall with the kind of power and loudness the Struna Master brings. There is also warmth and richness found here. It asks you to play fast and loud.

On the other hand, the Gliga Superior is awesome in its mellowness and dark rich tones. It is something you would want to play in the privacy of your room. There is a very real attraction of playing slow music with the Gliga Superior so you can savor the pleasantly dark, deep, and rich tones. True to the history of the Gligas, the Superior really offers the dark and deep tones unlike any other brand.

Both of these violas are amazingly well-made and beautiful. They also get the thumbs up from Whitehorse Music.