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Violinist.com Interviews: Vol. 1

Our exclusive, one-on-one interviews with 27 of today's best-known violinists, including Hilary Hahn, Joshua Bell, Sarah Chang, David Garrett, Anne Akiko Meyers, Maxim Vengerov, and others.

Silver-wound strings vs. regular strings

Instruments: What are the difference between silver-wound strings and regular aluminum-wound strings?

From Igor Mata
Posted June 12, 2007 at 03:15 AM

Are there any differences (for example, tone or durability) between strings with silver winding those with regular aluminum? I'm just wondering whether silver-wound strings are worth the extra dollar. (By the way, the strings in question are the Dominant G and D strings)

From Allan Speers
Posted on June 12, 2007 at 10:01 AM
In general:

Silver-winding gives a softer, warmer sound than aluminum. It is particularly beneficial on the lower strings.

No idea about durability.

From Andrew Holland
Posted on June 12, 2007 at 01:19 PM
I actually think silver strings can create a brighter sound as compared to aluminum. The silver Dominant D is significantly thinner than the aluminum Dominant D, and I feel that the thinner string generally produces a brighter sound.
From Andrew Victor
Posted on June 12, 2007 at 02:50 PM
What will work best depends on the violin it is used on. I['ve tried both silver and Al (especially) D strings and found that on some violins I prefer the Al string because it seems to have more "breadth" of overtones that gives amore mellowed sound that vibrato can do moore with 9at least for me on those fiddles).

i think it may be partly because being lighter (lower density), Aluminum winding requires a thicker string that would naturally have overtones somewhat "detuned" from the "infinitely thin theoretical ideal."

From Ron Gorthuis
Posted on June 12, 2007 at 03:40 PM
Well, technically, different metals have different physics: mass, tensile strength, density, hardness, heat conductivity, melting point, etc. Metals are wound onto strings to give mass, and therefore change the inherent pitch of the core material, and the physics of the metals will all combine to create a unique tone. I would agree with Andrew: in my limited experience, I have found the silver wound strings to be brighter in sound than the Al strings. The choice between Ag and Al would seem to depend upon your preferences and violin.

Now, what I want to know is why other metals are not used. The inherent limitation of AL, AG, CU, etc is the oxidation of the metals. If inert metals were used, eg gold or platinum, strings could last much longer.

From Christian Vachon
Posted on June 12, 2007 at 07:31 PM

The Dominant Silver D is thinner in diameter than it's aluminium counterpart. The sound is different - perhaps not brighter but on some violins more focused. It is a personal choice in the end.


From Sean Themar
Posted on June 13, 2007 at 03:57 AM
Silver makes it kinda ring more than aluminum. But for E strings Gold will really make it ring.
From Allan Speers
Posted on June 13, 2007 at 04:46 AM
The information I posted was given to me by techs at both Thomastik and Pirastro. They most likely know their stuff.

I've also A/B'd a few sets of silver & aluminum A strings (when "5 string" audition sets are provided, and the silver A's were softer everytime.

I image other factors (such as diameter) might come into play in certain circumstances, but that is the correct technical answer to the original question.

From Frederick Rupert
Posted on July 8, 2007 at 03:23 AM
I think the silver-wound D's are brighter. What you pick entirely depends on the fiddle and th sound you like. Silver is a harder metal than aluminum so the silver wrapped strings are somewhat more durable.
From Scott Cole
Posted on July 8, 2007 at 04:40 PM
I think this is not correct--aluminum is a more brittle material than silver. That's why al bikes have the rep for a stiffer rider. Also, I doubt absolute hardness dicates string longevity. It's more likely the winding.
From Scott Cole
Posted on July 9, 2007 at 09:27 PM
BTW--aluminum is the material of choice for various bicycle components that must be light and very stiff: derailleurs, chainrings, rims, hubs, brake calipers/levers, etc. It's also used in the aircraft industry for the same reasons. I'm sure if silver were harder, it would be used in some of these applications.
From Antonio Lofu
Posted on July 9, 2007 at 09:55 PM

silver is better because you can melt the silver to get silver bullet to kill the lycanthropes living in your house under your bed.


From Emily Grossman
Posted on July 10, 2007 at 07:40 AM
I'm deathly allergic to silver. Makes me die and stuff. Someone give me a rare steak before I break down and eat my student.
From Antonio Lofu
Posted on July 10, 2007 at 11:43 AM

we haven't been keeping in touch for a while!

By the way are you a lycanthrop?

That would be intriguing

From Bilbo Prattle
Posted on July 10, 2007 at 01:36 PM
The parameters for string wrapping:

Modulus of Elasticity
Corrosion Resistance
(*edit) Surface Texture (see Burgess' post below)

Density: for a given lineal grams per centimeter, a more dense winding will produce a thinner string. This may be "good" or "bad" depending on what the goal is.

The hardness is not terribly important. Even the tensile strength is not particularly important for a winding. (It is important for the core, and in fact determines the maximum pitch achievable for a given material on a given scale length).

The modulus of elasticity is independent of hardness and strength and is a fixed number for a given metal, regardless of the particular hardness. This parameter affects the elastic response of the string and therefore the sound. Silver is only slightly greater (higher modulus of elasticity) than aluminum, and yet it is much more dense. This makes for a lower characteristic frequency for a given tension (PSI, not force, LBS). )However this is a winding material, and so the winding angle and the plastic deformation during the winding affect the contribution of the silver or aluminum so it is not a simple effect of the density to modulus ratio.)

For an infinitely thin flexible string, the modulus has no effect on the resonant frequency. However, strings are not infinitely thin, and the bending stiffness of the string (which is proportional to the modulus of elasticity) affects the harmonic contributions and this applies to the winding as well. One effect of a winding is to stiffen the string, and therefore the winding angle, the thickness, and modulus of elasticity of the winding affect the sound.

In the end, it is as the doc says: a matter of preference.

From David Burgess
Posted on July 10, 2007 at 01:04 PM
From Ron Gorthuis;
"Now, what I want to know is why other metals are not used. The inherent limitation of AL, AG, CU, etc is the oxidation of the metals. If inert metals were used, eg gold or platinum, strings could last much longer."

Ron, one of the reasons outer winding materials are chosen is how they interact with rosin (according to Thomastik). For example, oxidation on aluminum forms microscopic pits which become filled with rosin, making aluminum wound strings more "grippy", all other things being equal.
Another example:
While uncovered nylon strings are popular on guitar, they aren't used on violins partly because the bow doesn't grip them well. If you've ever used a bow with nylon "hair", you have a sense of this difference in sensation.

David Burgess

From Fareeh Jallel
Posted on August 24, 2008 at 01:13 AM
I just put on an (Al) dominant d.. it seems more focused.. as far as warmth i'd say it's still pretty much same im still getting similar overtones if it were (Ag) silver..
From kabir khan
Posted on September 15, 2009 at 03:15 PM

 I broke my D string and went to the local 'Edmond Music' store to buy a new one.  However, they refuse to carry silver violin strings citing that "schools prefer the aluminum ones because when players start out they sound less 'squaky'".  Has anyone here ever heard an excuse like that before?  It's definitely a first for me. 

Ilya Gringolts

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