Violin Shoulder Rests and Pads
You go into a Violin Shop
asking for rests, & with any luck you are shown a few models.
Opinions & Reviews by Roland Herrera,
Westbury Park Strings, Bristol, UK (Article
in Progress : October 2008)
Very Few rules ; but here they are !
The Equipment ; mostly subjective opinions !
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.
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 !
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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 !
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.
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.
Not discussed yet : Comford Cradle /