Violin Shoulder Rests and Pads

You go into a Violin Shop asking for rests, & with any luck you are shown a few models.
Here I attempt to show you a bigger selection, and give some personal impressions of each rest.

Opinions & Reviews by Roland Herrera, Westbury Park Strings, Bristol, UK (Article in Progress : October 2008)
Recently I went into my local shops to see what shoulder rests were available for my students...
(and ended up finding one I really like for myself!).
Below watch my hasty YouTube video on the subject ! (or click this YouTube link)

Very Few rules ; but here they are !

  1. The Violin must rest on your collarbone (The "Heifetz" recommendation) ; this will connect you to your violin. It has a lot to do with sound, and maintaining a stable position of your violin, whereby the fingerboard will not float around (this could wreak havoc on intonation) because your violin is anchored on your collarbone. If you have a pretty long neck, you may need a higher chin rest, not a higher shoulder pad. Certainly try and avoid those very low, flat type of chin rests, unless you have a short neck ! On high rigid rests, there's an opinion that the violin does not contact the collarbone. All I can say is that I would have a preference for collarbone contact, and would urge readers to be very aware of what is happening with regards collarbone contact.
  2. A rest / pad must not rob the violin of its "vibes". The bass and body of tone of your instrument must not be compromised by rests or pads which muffle the sound by pressing against the back, or by pinching the ribs of your violin. The design of the latest rests take this challenge very seriously. Play without, then with the rest to hear the difference... ask your audience or a friend if they can hear a difference.
  3. A rest / pad offers a balance between amount of support and freedom of movement. If a rest gives you a lot of short term support, then you will probably realise in the long term, that your freedom of movement may be limited, and your posture may have become a little rigid ! Whatever rest you have, try to adjust it so you are given some support, but you also have some freedom of movement in which to move the violin around 3 main axes of movement (up and down, left and right, and twisting fingerboard vertical / horizontal).
  4. The purpose of the pad / rest is to free the left hand from holding the violin so you can shift, vibrate and perform finger action with greater freedom and agility.
  5. Your chin must rest on the chin rest... use gravity... do not squeeze the violin tightly, though sometimes, say during descending shifts you will have to compose your head and maintain a little firmness to keep the violin still. At times, when in fixed position, you may remove your chin completely off the chin rest in order to relax your neck muscles !
  6. Try different rests / pads / or even using nothing every so often ; by changing your "support setup" configuration you can appreciate what the different pieces and shapes of equipment are doing (or not) for you. Remember to adjust your shoulder rest (and all your support setup for that matter) to fit you, not adjust yourself to fit your setup, and lastly, do not overdo the height of a pad... you can do some serious damage if you clench your violin too tightly with your chin.

The Equipment ; mostly subjective opinions !

Pads

    Pads usually offer more freedom of movement, but only half the support of a rest. They are comfortable, natural and friendly. Kids without long necks are likely to like this kind of support. Foam is a good do-it-yourself support (Isaac Stern used a piece under his jacket). You can cut a piece out the shape you like and attach it to the violin with rubber bands. The Huber (4) is a commercial product or "kit"... a hard foamy sort of substance, cheap, good shapes allow you to build it up to the right height. I like it, and have used it successfully with students. Here's a link to a pad made of suede and filled with quinoa. It's called the Shoulder Pet. Below : The German made Gewa Foam-Rubber Pad, model 11a ; initially I wrote beginners only, but it has to be remembered that great players often settle for a seemingly simple solution: David Oistrakh used / experimented with a relatively unsophisticated Poehland Pad.

Gewa Pad 11a

    The Professional Pad one can buy almost anywhere from the USA is called Playonair. I like the Deluxe version (25). That's a kidney shaped pad filled with air, that is so comfortable to use, you can almost fall asleep practicing ! I also have a Jumbo model, which has two chambers you blow up. It's much bigger, but I don't find it better. Maybe it's better for viola players. Playonair gives you a lot of freedom. That's what I like about it. It's completely anatomical.... it shapes itself to you. It's a great pad if you don't have a long neck... (and if you do have a long neck try a higher chin rest!). I have a lot of time for Playonair. I think players who have never used a Rigid Rest will like the Playonair... it's a "friendly" pad, easy to get used to if you have never used anything before. Does it dampen the sound ? You'll hear a lot of people say yes, but I can safely say it's not as clear cut as those people may think. There is air inside these things and air will not dampen the back of your violin... if anything it will allow it to vibrate, and it's quite possible that the air inside these pads resonates and adds to the overall vibes ! Children can get round Junior models, but I think the full size Deluxe version is right as soon as your violin is big enough to accommodate it. In theory, you can get spare fittings (elastic and feet) for the Playonair (picture below shows detail of a Playonair foot / clip). One report warns that the clips may spoil your varnish a little, especially if the varnish is soft. I have never had such a problem, myself. I used a Playonair for 20 years, mainly on recommendation of my last teacher (and formidable Violinist), a pupil of Mikael Vaimann in St. Petersburg, Stojan Kaltchev. Keep reading and you will find out which rest I have decided to use now. Interestingly, I can safely say that I can play with 90% of all rests as long as they are not set too high ! Sometimes I go through Month long phases in which I use no support.... see my YouTube video : I just hold the violin !

Playonair Made in USA

For something which looks half way between a pad and a rest check out Suretone-Rest. Its form is typical of the latest designs because it traps air between it and the violin, and it certainly is made with the concept of maintaining (and perhaps even enhancing) all the original sound in your violin. Unfortunately, I have not tried one out yet. Along similar lines for preserving the tone of your instrument comes the Acoustifoam rest, made of water-blown polyurethane which touches the back of your violin only in 6 small tightly focused "pyramid tip" areas. Another pad worth investigating, but not sure this one is in the same category for looking after your tone ; The Sostenuto, in both soft and firm foam / rubber versions with suede finish. It attaches to the end button and then to the corner via an elastic band.

Rests

Below : My first rest ; I was about 10 years old, and my first rest was a brown "Menuhin" Rest. It was state of the art back then, but now it is out of production. However, the rest was copied almost exactly by the Chinese, and the picture below is of such a clone. It's not very "high" and I'd probably recommend it. My rubber feet became soft and old within a few years... I suspect the modern ones use harder, longer lasting rubber. Ask if you can get spare parts for the rest you are interested in. It's not important what rest you like most. You won't play like so and so if you get the same rest they do ! Get what feels right for you.

Menuhin Model (Clone)

   

The "rigid" rests offer more support than pads. Wolf Forte Primo and Forte Secondo come next. They are a Dutch company and here is the link to Willy Wolf. Wolf is the number 2 rest company worldwide. They are pretty popular and mainstream. I have listed them before the Kun rest because they are flatter, and I feel more universal in fitting different players. On both rests the tilt can be adjusted. Height can also be adjusted, as can the shape of the base of the rest. It will retain the shape you give it. Forte Primo is meant for players who hold the violin out more in front of themselves rather than to the side. That's a good postural tendency, one that especially aids bowing (because you bring your violin closer to your bowing hand and therefore make a better sound because your bowing hand is nearer to you and more comfortable). My preference is for the crescent shaped Forte Secondo which I did use for a year or so (a long time ago). It is highly adjustable, not too rigid, and pretty universal in appeal I would say. You can buy spare parts like the legs (feet) for the Wolf rests.

Wolf Violin Forte SecondoWolf Forte Primo

    Kun is probably the most famous Shoulder Rest maker, from Canada. Their models come in small sizes up to full size. Their "Original" and "Super" (25) models are quite popular and widespread. I did use one, in my student days for a Summer, because I was on a Music course and had lost my normal rest... which I think was a Playonair which I had left home or lost. Anyway, it was way too high for me. My teacher Alexei Mikhlin (Winner of the Queen Elisabeth Competition and pupil of David Oistrakh) was horrified at the "ergonomic" shape of the Kun (probably The Original) ..."What if your chest is not shaped like this rest... what then?"... Well I didn't like it much, but it's all the local shop had. Mainly it was too high for me, I didn't like the S shape in it, (it can't suit everyone) and I threw it away or lost it when I got back home that Summer. Well, recently I discovered the wooden Bravo model (50). Much nicer, with a less pronounced curve (or is that just a feeling I have?). Good weight, good sound... (I'm sure the "Original" wasn't this comfortable)... excellent support... loved it. It sounds good too, in fact I talk about this one a lot on my video. The recently invented carbon fibre Voce (90) was not a success; I couldn't adjust it so that it was low enough... but you may find it perfect ! These rests are very subjective ! If you can't afford one of these top of the range models, like the Bravo, the ordinary Original and Super models should not be far removed in terms of shape and adjustability... indeed there is a collapsible Original model too. They should retail for around 25 and should last a long time... there are spare parts and fittings available for these very mainstream models.

Kun Bravo made in Canada

Kun Bravo made in Canada

Kun Bravo made in Canada

Below : More Kun models. The Super (bottom right) was introduced after the Original model (top right). Lower left if a foldable or collapsible Original model, and top left is the latest Carbon fibre Voce.

The Carbon Fiber Kun VoceKun Spare PartsThe Kun Original for under 20 in UK

Kun Collapsible (based on the Original model)Precision brass Bravo nutsKun Super Streamlined model

    Next came my discovery, a newish make from Slovenia called Viva La Musica, formerly (or currently, I'm not sure) Augustin. They, according to their site are Number 3 in the Shoulder Rest business. The model I really love is called Diamond (40). It's like a slightly tamer Bravo, and also comes in a nice soft bag. The fittings are shiny, and the wood, maple I think, is also shiny and very pretty. It's a lot lighter than the Bravo, and the way I have adjusted mine it's pretty low, even a little lower than the Bravo... and I like it. It works just great. If anything, I feel the ergonomic shaping is a little overdone but not by much. Freedom of movement, and rock solid support. Augustin do a mid range and entry level version of this rest, which cost about half the price of the Diamond Model. I feel they have got everything just right in this rest. If it didn't exist, I would go for the Bravo... (which is a nice piece of Professional equipment).

Augustin Viva La Musica Diamond

Augustin Viva La Musica Diamond

Augustin Viva La Musica Diamond

Below : I think this is VLM's former Original rest ; this one is called the Artists' Model. It's out of production. The company had some initial trouble, redesigned all its rests and now seems to be firmly on its feet again.

This was the Original VLM Artists model, now discontinued

    More ? Yes, Peter Voigt Ltd... Wooden rests, pre fixed non adjustable heights. Nice simple design... don't quite work for me, but it may well work for you. I sort of liked it, but it doesn't fit me nor my pupil !

 Peter Voigt Wooden Rest

Below : Mach One is another make (Wooden, more expensive, version available). Check it out ; I have not seen one yet but it seems too high and too shaped for me, again that's nothing objective I'm saying. There are also some Professional expensive Rests which are especially designed not to interfere with sound emission... Like the Stowemaster, (not sure they are all that robust or reliable) or the Bel Suono.. expensive and not entirely mainstream, though the concept is great.

Mach One

    Below : The shapes get weirder and stranger... here's something that hooks right around your shoulder.... for those who still don't feel secure ? I'm not sure how much freedom the Bonmusica (retails for around 32 in the UK) leaves you. It's not a mainstream rest, and I'd say try something more traditional first, like a Wolf. However, it can be adjusted a fair amount, like many rests, to better fit the user.

BonmusicaBonmusica

Not discussed yet : Comford Cradle /
 


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