The New Violin Family Association is holding a festival, Octet 2005, to celebrate the Hutchins violin Octet, a family of string instruments based on Jascha Heifetz's Guarneri violin. The instruments are spaced about a half-octave apart for each member, ranging from C2 to E7 (well, the treble will be able to play higher than E7, that is just its highest open string.
The traditional string family is actually a combination of two different types of instruments, the viol and the violin. The violoncello, viola, and violin are all members of the violin family, whereas the contrabass is from the more ancient viol family (though it is not fretted like its ancestors). Differences include the tuning of the strings (in perfect 4ths for viols, in perfect 5ths for violins) and the shape of the shoulders (very slanted for the viols compared to the high, round shoulders of the violin family). In addition, the viola is an instrument of compromises (insert your own viola joke here). It should have a larger body for the range of notes it plays, but then it could no longer be played on the shoulder, making it difficult for violinists to transition to the viola (the most common path to playing this instrument). This compromise is what led Carleen Hutchins to develop first the vertical viola, which became an alto member of her 8-violin family. It will be interesting to see if the new instruments will become popular, or if tradition wins out.