I want to play Viola? Which Viola should I buy? Gliga vs. Struna

Posted by Richard Bodinnar on 1st Oct 2015

Knowing the Struna Classroom Viola and the Gliga II Viola

In this review, we will be comparing two Violas within the $1,000 price range, the Struna Classroom and the Gliga II Viola. Nobody’s probably more excited about this review than my wife Michelle who is also a viola player. For quite a few number of years, I have been asked by people to do a review about violas. Today, I am giving in to this request and quite excited as well as this will be the first time ever at Whitehorse Music to do a viola review!

The Gligas, as you may have well known, come from the workshops of the renowned Romanian strings instrument maker Vasile Gliga. Vasile Gliga holds quite a prominent place in the hearts of many violin, cello, and viola lovers because of the quality of the craftsmanship of these instruments. Viola enthusiasts in particular are often mesmerized by the dark undertones of the Gligas.

Part of the Gligas’ fame lies in the history behind the timbers that are used in their string instruments. The wooded areas where the top quality woods are taken from are called by some as the Italian’s valley. This is so because of the reputation of the resonance in the woods around certain areas in Romania that has caused Italian master luthiers to specifically look for them. Quite obviously, Vasile Gliga has been using, for the longest time possible, the best qualities of the woods in Romania.

I am very excited about the Gliga II as a viola of this price range. It has very considerable improvements from the Gliga III. The Gliga III is their cheapest viola, followed by the Gliga II, and then the most expensive ones, the Gliga I. As such, I should say that there is a very wide chasm between the Gliga II and the Gliga III. Although there are marked differences between the Gliga II and the Gliga I, it is not as vast as the differences between the Gliga II and III models.

One very clear difference between the III and the II is the varnishing. The Gliga III has about 3 layers of thin varnishing while the Gliga II has at least 6 layers of very thin varnishing. And despite the numerous layers of varnishing, you can easily feel the timbers that are being used in the Gliga II. Additionally, the varnishing is the kind that allows the woods to vibrate the way they want to. It allows the woods to fully realize their sound potentials.

Speaking of timbers, the woods being used for the Gliga II are spruce with very good resonance at the top and moderately flamed maple at the back, sides, and neck. The maple is also of very good quality. For the other areas like the pegs, fingerboard, and the nut, ebony of really nice quality is used as well. Several layers of oil varnishing are coated on the Gliga II to provide a somewhat glossy, but antiquated look. The antiquing is also done tastefully which projects the image of a really old viola.

The clearest features coming from the Gliga II are the deep and mellow sounds it provides. It entices you to play it in your bedroom to melt your heart or someone else’s. A melting heart is quite a problem medically, but tonally, it sure is fantastic!

The next viola to review is the Struna Classroom. People who are familiar with Whitehorse Music would know that the Strunas are a result of my collaboration with an amazing Chinese luthier. Seven years of cooperation with this master Chinese latter have resulted in the production of very nice violas, including the Struna Classroom. I should say that I am really proud of them. There are actually four brands of Strunas with the Classroom as ideally intended for beginners.

The woods used in the Struna Classroom are Russian spruce at the top for its exceptional resonance while flamed maple composes the back, neck, and sides. Like most violas of excellent quality, ebony is the material of choice for the fingerboard, pegs, nuts, and other areas. To top it off, very nice Italian spirit varnishing is used to provide a very nice antique look. Unlike the Gliga II, this one looks slightly bit older. The varnishing, like the one used in the Gliga II, also allows the woods to vibrate the way they want to.

Like the other Struna models, the Struna Classroom has plenty of oomph in its power. Power is something that can be easily measured in decibels unlike the other qualities found in string instruments. The importance in power is always emphasized by teachers because it allows the music to be heard even from the back rows. Violinists, violists, and cellists are oftentimes defined by the kind of power their preferred strings instrument offers.

Another quality shared by the Gliga II and the Struna Classroom is a deep, rich, and full sound. It is really quite hard to define what a full sound is that I actually ended up describing the fullness as voluptuous, which is probably not the right kind of word. Rich and full may be described as sunshine in full bloom. Both of them have a radiant kind of fullness and warmth. I think that is a much better description that being just voluptuous.

If you have seen the video reviews, then you would get a fairly good idea of what I am writing about. Most often, experts would simply let people hear a musical piece to spot the difference. Hopefully, the videos would be of much better help regarding the similarities and the differences in the sounds.

I would tend to give the slight edge to the Struna Classroom when it comes to power and volume. It has a very pronounced boldness compared to the Gliga II, which is superbly mellow, but strong. Both violas are exceptionally good options for beginners and intermediate students for this price range. Also, both of them get a thumbs up from Whitehorse Music.