Viola cases are purpose built to protect the viola and bow from the dangers that may damage the viola. There are three main threats:
1. Dropping or knocking the viola
2. Changes in temperature
3. Changes in humidity
Dropping the viola or knocking it against something is the most common reason that violas need repairing. A case will protect against these threats by cushioning the instrument inside the case. Most modern cases cushion the violin very well. Historically, cases were not well designed and the viola had to be cushioned by wrapping the instrument in a silk cloth before putting it into the case.
These days many cases provide a soft but tight fit. The viola should be suspended off the base and lid of the case. Often the viola is placed on small cushions within the case. A cushion is positioned under both the neck and the end button of the back of the viola. A third cushion is often located above the chin rest. The function of the cushions is to keep the viola secure but also in a suspended position. This can prevent damage to the viola in case of forceful impacts to the case but not to the viola due to the shock absorbing cushioning.
There will also usually be a strap for the neck of the viola. When looking for a case for your viola, make sure that there is a gap between the bridge and the top of the case. This prevents forces from travelling through the bridge and damaging the belly of the instrument.
Finding a case to fit a viola is a little more difficult than finding a violin case. Violin cases can be used for violas up to 14 inches in size. Many manufacturers make viola cases in various sizes for violas larger than 14 inches. Some viola cases have been designed with adjustable cushioning to allow them to house different sizes of viola. This can be great for the young player who is still growing and will need to go up in size.
Ideally a viola case should be a separate compartment or accessories pouch to keep rosin dust away from the viola. It is also useful to have a place to fit a shoulder rest inside the case. Some cases have an external sheet music compartment and some have a detachable exterior exterior for sheet music.
Changes in temperature and humidity can be very damaging to your viola. A very humid atmosphere can loosen the glue the holds the seams together and soften the wood which leads to all kinds of problems. A very dry climate can cause the wood to crack. Cold winters are associated with a dry atmosphere. Loose seams are less worrying and easier to repair than cracks to the wood, but it is best to minimise the effects of humidity. Hygrometers measure humidity levels to let keep an eye on humidity levels. If too dry you can use a humidifier to correct this. If your prefered case does not have a hygrometer, you can purchase one separately. Hot weather is associated with high humidity. Hot weather can cause the wood to expand and this means the instrument will go out of tune more often. A good case should provide thermal insulation. For those living in extremes of climate, a wood laminate case will provide the best protection from temperature and humidity despite newer materials being available.
Most cases can hold at least two bows and some will hold four. For those who like to use stiff (steif) strings, some cases will have a long tube for storing these strings.
If you are considering purchasing a viola case online, it is best to measure the lenghth of the back of the viola along with the width of the bouts. There are violas that are outside the common dimensions and it takes more thought to find a case to fit them. For example, some violas have a wide lower bout and these will need a case designed for the next size up. We are always happy to help you with this.
Choosing a case depends on several factors including your lifestyle, the climate you live in and your budget. A valuable violin will need a more expensive case with good safety features such as foam injected cushioning and strong seals. If you travel a lot with your instrument, you would want a case that is robust with several straps. These can be backpack straps for hand free transport or “subway straps” that makes it easier to hang onto the case. Sometimes it is preferable to have very streamlined case that makes it simpler to take your viola as carry-on when flying. At Animato Strings, we have a wide range of viola cases so that you can find a suitable case for your instrument.