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Because of the competing requirements for tone and playability (large sized violas sound better but are hard to play), compromises must be made and there is enough lattitude to vary design while attempting to understand the contribution of various parts to the sound and function of the finished instrument.
This is my Model-D viola; it is based around long, upright f-holes and a broad body. The C-bouts are long and deep to allow easy bow access. The arching is fairly high, which promotes a strong rich tone in lower register instruments and also allows a little extra breadth in the C-bouts. The ribs are not unusually high. I mostly use either poplar or willow for the backs. These woods contribute a warm tone and attractive appearance to the instrument; they are also light weight, which makes extended playing easier. This example is of domestic willow with a cherrywood scroll and a lightly antiqued varnish. The tone is rich and even.
Same mold, different outlines.
A range of body shapes and sizes can be obtained from a single mold simply by cutting the top and bottom blocks over-size. These examples were both built on my Model-D mold. The viola on the left is the smallest at 15 1/2"; with its square shoulders it looks like an old viola that has been "cut down". As the back is lengthened to 16 1/4", the outline becomes more normal looking. In each case, the center of the instrument, the f-hole layout and bout widths remain the same.
I made this series of violas of various sizes from a single mold to try and get a handle on the effect of body size on tone. My conclusion: that convention is correct, and larger instruments do tend to sound better. I also found that string length seems to be more critical than body size.