From Christian Vachon
Posted March 7, 2005 at 05:52 AM
Since I have joined this site, I have seen a lot of talk and inquiries about strings. Over the last few years, I have made it a point to try out many if not most brands of strings available on the market and I have always wanted to do a review of strings, and I thought this might be a good and useful avenue. I thought that I would write a personal review based on my experience (and try to maintain some measure of objectivity). For those who may be interested in exploring, this might be a good place to start. Bear in mind that this is based on personal experience and is therefore not definitive by any means.
Everyone knows the categories : plain gut, wound gut, synthetic and steel. Here is the list of what I have tried and my reviews.
PLAIN GUT : There are several companies that make plain gut strings. The top three are Pirastro Chorda, Kürschner and Dlugolecki. I have personally only tried the Kürschner and found them to be excellent strings and the price is great (much less than Chorda or Dlugolecki). The quality is somewhere between the two others. I think that anyone who hopes to understand the classic sound of violinists like Heifetz and Milstein needs to try these. They are excellent strings although pitch stability and durability are an issue for sure.
WOUND GUT : Of these I have tried only the three Pirastro brands. Here is my review.
Pirastro Gold : Comes in only one gauge. The quality control is not as great as Eudoxa and that is immediately evident in both the pitch stability and tone quality. They are good strings, a little brighter than Eudoxa, but too unreliable for me to use. The E seems to be a favorite for Dominant users or Olive or Eudoxa users who want a plain steel Pirastro E.
Eudoxa : The standard before Dominants. Eudoxas are a great string and in my experience the most reliable of the Pirastro wound gut strings. The sound is warm with a huge range of dynamics and colours. The wound E is a little dull. I find that like the violinists from the 50’s and 60’s the Goldbrokat E is a good match as is the Kaplan Golden Spiral. In my opinion the best overall string for orchestral playing.
Olive : At the risk of offending people, I did not like them as much as the Eudoxa, as they are less reliable pitch-wise. They are more powerful and tight than the Eudoxa and will take more bow pressure. Great range of colors and huge range of dynamics. The Gold E is very powerful but whistles a lot and tends to break very easily. I find again that a plain steel E is better. The A is a problem. No matter what gauge it is very unstable pitch-wise. A thinner gauge is better, but the sound cracks. I think that using something else for the A is better, though the D and G are very good. Excellent range of colors in these strings, but very unstable, much more so than the Eudoxa. The best soloist gut core string.
SYNTHETIC : In recent years the market has been flooded with new products claiming to be the next great thing. I am not convinced. Here are my impressions of the strings that I have tried.
Dominant : The first and the standard for synthetic strings. They are the most popular by far. Dominants can sound metallic at first but settle after a day or two. They are meant to reproduce the feel of gut, but without the pitch instability. They are excellent strings and affordable. In my opinion, the E is not as good. The best match seems to be the Jargar Forte E, which reduces the metallic quality of the Dominants making them more « gut-like » while keeping the rest of the qualities intact. Not the longest lasting synthetic but an excellent one.
Infeld : Comes in Red and Blue. The Blue is brighter and more powerful, the Red darker. They were designed as an improvement over Dominants but fail in my opinion. They are longer lasting, but the tension is a killer and there is a loss in range of dynamics and colours over the Dominants.
Vision : I have little experience so far. They seem very thin for synthetic strings. The regular Vision seem similar to Dominants to me, but break in quicker. The Titanium are powerful but harsh and were designed to compete with the Evah Pirazzi. The Titanium E is very thin and expensive and not worth the price as the difference over a steel E is not significant. Reported to have a long life.
Evah Pirazzi : It’s becoming one of the most popular synthetics, and many soloists are switching there from Dominants. Personally, I don’t like them. They are loud with a limited range of colour. I do appreciate the power and edge, and if you are playing concertos it’s great, but otherwise, I find them inflexible. The high tension requires one to press more, and they don’t blend all that well in ensemble. If your instrument needs brightening up or if you are playing a concerto and need power and edge, they are good. The life-span is not that much longer and the price high.
Obligato : The new core type predecessor of Pirazzi in the Pirastro line. They were designed to be longer lasting synthetics, and they have a close to the Eudoxa. They emulate the Eudoxa well, and they are probably the longest lasting synthetics that I have tried. They blend well in ensemble playing. They are more tense than Perlon core strings, but not overly so. The gold E is the best of the two, and the aluminium D seems to work better as well than the Silver D. The draw-back : They lack power and projection. Great for playing in orchestra though.
Tonica : Pirastro’s third and most successful Perlon-core string designed to compete with Dominants. Close to Dominants although darker and less powerful. In my opinion they don’t measure up to the Dominants, and seem to die out quickly. However, they do blend well. The short life span and lack of projection needs to be factored in. However, the price is good.
Aricore and Synoxa : The first answers of Pirastro to Dominants. The Aricore is dark with little edge and kind of dull. There is an Aricore/Eudoxa A designed to go with the Eudoxa, but it’s not all that great a match. The Synoxa is better and brighter. The E is identical to the Pirastro Gold (different color). The A is good and blends well with Gut core strings, especially the Olives, but the D and G aren’t on the same level quality wise.
Corelli Crystal : Dark and warm strings, that can be dull. They take a few days to open up. Very cheap and OK overall. A good budget Perlon-core string and they are not too bright making them good ensemble playing strings.
Corelli Alliance : Recently reformulated into the Alliance Vivace, which is a totally different string. The old Alliance were similar to the Obligato although a little brighter and somewhat less tense. The new ones are much more tense and flat sounding but very good in terms of pitch and clarity of intonation. Personally, I could not get used to the high tension of these strings. The E isn’t as good, but I found that the Goldbrokat E works well.
D’Addario Zyex : With a core made of a material designed to replace gut in tennis rackets, these strings were first promoted as being the best replacement for gut strings. That is not the case. They have the advantage of being quickly tuned and highly pitch stable, probably the most pitch stable synthetic. The draw-backs : The dynamic range is from loud to louder. Also they are extremely tense (I had pains in my hands after only 30 minutes of playing on them). If you want a lound long lasting string that never goes out of tune, that is a good bet.
Larsen : Perlon core strings that are overall excellent. They are more powerful and punchy than Dominants but not as warm. A very good string that is not too tense and that goes well when playing concertos as the sound carries well and they are very stable. The draw-backs : Less range of colour than Dominants and the D and G have a very short life span (no more than 4 weeks with anyone I have met). They are also expensive.
STEEL : I have little experience with these, and will give comments on the few brands that I know.
D’Addario Helicore : Currently the best steel string on the market. Surprisingly warm and very pitch stable. The sound is on the clear side. The range of color is limited but the pitch stability is excellent. They seem ideal for viola, and a lot of violists have switched to them as they bring clarity to that instrument. Long lasting strings.
Piranito and Chromecore : Bright strings that I would recommend for small student instruments. Long lasting and very bright. Better in my opinion the Standard Red Labels that most people use.
Jargar : I have tried only the A and E. In my opinion the Jargar Forte E is probably the best on the market and the best match for Dominants. A favorite of current soloists. I have tried the thin A. Good warm string overall. Blends well with gut or synthetic D and G. Should be used with a fine tuner.
E strings : Why the special category? Because most people use them with other strings. In my personal opinion some E strings work better than others depending on what you use for the G, D and A. The E does affect the overall sound of the instrument as it highlights different overtones for better or for worse. This said, here are some recommendations based on personal experience...
Goldbrokat and Golden Spiral : Similar although the Goldbrokat has more punch and edge. In my experience these two are the best match for gut-core strings and they seems to add some brilliance and edge and are quite flexible strings.
Gold E strings : Various by various companies. Good and brilliant, but they tend to whistle a lot and in my opinion do not have the round sound of steel E’s. However the power can be amazing, especially in high positions.
Westiminster : One of the most powerful E’s out there. Favoured by many, especially the heavy gauge. In my experience it is a good, but brash string.
Hill : Not as powerful as others but very sweet sounding. I used it with Olives and it seemed to be a good match.
Jargar : Many soloists have switched to this E, especially the heavy gauge. Seems to possess the qualities of the gold and metal E’s without the evils. It doesn’t rust or tarnish, is very round in sound, and powerful but not harsh. My favorite in a set with Dominants and Larsen’s. Really helps to round out the Dominants, making them less metallic and more gut-like.
I hope that this will be helpful to some. Please bear in mind that this is based on personal experience with my instrument (and the experiences with my students), and on my style of playing and bowing. Some may find otherwise. But, I think that overall it’s a good start. I have a few combinations and favorites that I personally prefer. If anyone is interested, please let me know.
Dominic: The Pirazzi and Dominants are really two different kinds of strings. They have a different type of core and they play differently. I will get to compare/contrast in a second. In my experience here is what I saw. I tried the Pirazzi for a while. They seemed bright and edgy, although they had a lot of brilliance and projected well. I tried them with the Pirazzi E and a Goldbrokat, but didn't notice much difference. Then recently, a student of mine came in with Pirazzi/Goldbrokat thin E and it gave me a chance to try them again. As for Dominants, I went back and forth for years. I tried just about every E with them: their own, the Goldbrokat, Golden Spiral, Pirastro Gold, Hill, Westminster, but somehow it didn't work, so I kept looking for something else. Then a soloist friend of mine suggested trying the Jargar Forte E, so a few months ago I tried it and they were like a new string: warm, flexible, non-metallic and gut-like - I was impressed! I guess that the tension in that E string brings out different qualities from the Dominants and eliminates some of the evils. So far it's the best match in my experience, and with my students. I wouldn't recommend anything else.
This said, here is what I think (comparing here Dominants w/silver D and Jargar Forte E, and Pirazzi w/Goldbrokat E). I would say that the Pirazzi are slightly more stable in terms of pitch. However they are also more tense than the Dominants. I find that the Pirazzi are more metallic and edgy and bright. I also find that they are rather loud and seem to react well to bow pressure and lenght rather than speed and contact point. You can dig in a lot though as they will take tremendous bow pressure (unlike the Obligato for example). The Dominants in the combination that I used seem more flexible and less tense. You can get more colors and do more with bow speed and contact point than with the Pirazzi. You don't need to press with the Dominants, although they will take bow pressure and you can "dig in" if you want. The sound is still powerful (perhaps not as much as the Pirazzi) but darker and more complex to my ear and on my violin. I also find them to be with the Jargar E a better overall string and more adaptable. You can play well as a soloist and in big chamber music, and yet, still blend in orchestra (the Pirazzi seem to stick out more). And one last point, I find it easier to play a long fast light bow on the Dominants than the Pirazzi. Because the Pirazzi are more tense, I find that the bow doesn't adhere and track as well. In the end though, I think that it depends really on your instrument and also on your method of sound production.
As for the Universal E and Larsen E... I haven't tried the Universal E (except for once on a colleague's instrument), so I can't tell you much - I remember it as resembling the Gold Label E somehow. As for the Larsen E (I am assuming you mean the gold E here... - I usually use the Jargar E with the Larsens at a friend suggestion) I liked it (although mine snapped quickly), and remember thinking that it was probably a good gold E: not as bright and warmer than the Pirastro ones. Can't say much about it though since I didn't get the chance to try it much, and quickly had to use the metal E. I have had too many problems with the gold E's (except the Pirazzi) and usually avoid them.
Hope that this helps and answers your questions!
That said, some broad generalizations are in order since buying strings are expensive. If you have an warmer instruments, usually older instruments with lots of overtones, then more brilliant strings are better. Use the guide above, but I like Pirazzi's the most.
If you have a more brilliant instrument, usually modern ones, then something more warm and mellow, such as Obligatos, can provide balance.
If you're unsure and have a limited budget, Dominants work well in most situations.
I think my main "issue" with the latest Pirastro Strings is that in comparison to others I have tried like Infeld and Larsen, they are seemingly less responsive. By that I mean I find it is harder to get the tone "to go" than it is with the Thomastic or Larsen strings. This makes it more difficult when for example playing sautille where a very quick string response is extremely helpful.
I currently have Violinos on my D and G. I tried Obligato but they were way too warm on what is already a dark instrument. And I have stayed away from Pirazzi because there have been so many reports here that they go dead very quickly. I would probably like to try a Pirazzi string if I thought I might get a few months out of it, but it sounds like that might be wishful thinking if other people's experience is anything to go by.
I'm wondering if anyone else concurs with these observations or whether this is a characteristic of my instrument (ie that it is more responsive with Thomastic strings than it is Pirastro).
Jonathan: First of all, thanks for the info on the chromesteel Aricore and Obligato. I didn't know that. As for your observation, I concur. Except for the Pirastro gut-core strings, I find the others considerably less responsive that Thomastik or Larsen. Plus, you have to press into the Pirastro to make them sound, and I am not partial to that way of playing. I have tried the Violino. My experience was that they are great for what they were designed (i.e. student instruments), but I have the same problem of responsiveness on my violin.
So notwithstanding the actual sound differences, do you believe I would be unlikely to get any response gains from trying Pirazzi over Violino?
I have tried Larsen and they are nice and responsive under the ear but in recordings they come out fuzzy and unfocused compared to Pirastro strings. And I am pretty much forced to use an Aricore chrome A and Universal E since these are the only "non steel core" strings on the market that my perspiration does not wreck.
I was sort of content with my strings but now I am tackling the Telemann Fantasias which are full of delicate off the string strokes in the middle and lower half, the response shortcomings are starting become a bit of a thorn in my side. Just that very slight reluctance for the string to immediately vibrate becomes quite noticable in this sort of repertoire.
Christian, this post was so informative I thank you. Do you have an opinion about which strings I might like now that I will have to change?
Kimberlee: Thanks! Actually, I have not found one string that is quite like the old Corelli Alliance. In terms of feel, the closest is probably the Larsen. In terms of sound, the closest one I found was the Obligato. However neither of them can compare really, as the Larsen is brighter and the Obligato more tense. Sorry for the bad news...
I generally agree with Christian's summation of the Larsen Gold E. I have used three gold type E's in the past (Olive, Obligato and Larsen). Unfortunately it has been so long since I had an Olive E in my posession that I can't remember too much except (i) they were prone to breakage (ii) they felt quite "tough" under the fingers and (iii) sounded quite bright and penetrating. Of the gold E's I have found the Larsen to actually be incredibly warm and almost muted for want of a better word. The tone is extremely soft, so I guess it would suit a bright violin.
The Pirastro Universal E is very good for people with perspiration problems. For me, even after 6 months, the string is just as pristine as the day I put it on (it is coated with chrome steel). As for the physical "feel" of the string, it feels a bit tougher under the fingers than, say the Pirastro Gold or Kaplan Golden Spiral, but it seems a bit thicker too. So it's not like it wants to bite into your fingers. But like all Pirastro strings, it sort of has this tough "feel" about it (and the low tension one is too easily squashed under bow pressure for my style of playing).
My Universal E's always seem to last 6 months, at which point they dutifully break. Same goes for a friend who uses them. Soundwise, I would consider them to be fairly neutral (neither too bright nor too warm). They might be a little overwhelming on factory fiddles though, in which case a gold E would help. The Universal has good volume and a fairly good representation of the overtones. For all that, the main reason I use it is for it's durability. I destroy ordinary steel E strings literally within a matter of hours.
Larsen also make a steel E as an alternative to the gold E. Personally I have found this E to have the best sound of any E on the market. It is powerful and very clear. The only reason I can't use them is because I ruin them from perspiration after a few days.
The recent 'non-whistling' E string from D'addario is truly a non whistling estring. but i thought that lacked some clarity, esply when you get up at a very high position. Also, since it is not pure steel, but winded just like most A,D,G strings, i feel that they tend to have a slower response and projection.
The Gold label Pirastro is overall a good choice although when i compare it to the Larsen Steel E string, it feels like Larsen has more of a 'punch' and clarity at higher positions.
The Eudoxa Steel E, i tried as part of my curiosity. Somewhat bright, but i think it has a tendency to whistle at some occasions.
There's more that i tried, but those are the general thoughts i have on Non gold E strings.
My primary focus for choosing the E string is rite now probably "non whistling", but along with that i also try to find a string that has clarity and projection, even at high positions.
So far i have come to a conclusion of using the Larsen Steel E strings.
They don't whistle as much as other Steel strings, has a clear sweet tone+punch at high positions.
Hope this kinda helps players looking for a good Steel E string.
THANKS EVERYONE for adding on to this list!
Dominic: In response to your above post. I have tried the Silver and regular Dominant D. The Silver D is thinner and somewhat brighter and more focused that the regular D, especially in higher positions. The price difference is small. I have used the Silver D recently, but have ordered a regular one just for kicks.
Jonathan: I will give the Universal E and Larsen E's a try. Have you tried the Jargar (especially the Forte gauge)? Like you I have perspiration problems, and this E does not rust or tarsnish since it is a chromesteel E. I use to burn through Goldbrokat E's like you wouldn't believe in the past (in the summer, 2-3 weeks and that was it - thank god they were cheap). For me, it's the best solution. Plus, it sounds great.
Pauline: Thanks for the info. I used to live in Baltimore and for a while tried to play on Olives there, and you are right: the climate is drastic and it was a disaster! Incidentally, what do you use?
Do unused strings (still in their packet) have any kind of expiration date? I have some Dominant strings that are about 7/8 years old (I'd forgotten I had them until recently) and want to know if I can still use them.
I used to use the Jarger E's in the early 1980s at the recommendation of my luthier. I remember back then they were more resistant to perspiration damage than, say, the Pirastro Gold, but I think I still only got a couple of weeks out of them.
As you can probably sympathise, as an E string gets tarnished from perspiration damage, it goes dark, gets thicker (is it rust or what?) and perfectly smooth shifts become harder when you are running over the worst of the damaged areas.
Maybe Jarger has changed their formulation in the last 23 years? If it is chromed steel, you are right - it should not be a problem. Do they still use those relatively chunky balls at the end of their strings? I think I might possibly have trouble fitting it to the end of my bois d'harmonie tailpiece.
Carl, I think the main issue with storage life and synthetic strings would be the state of the windings. Both aluminium and silver deteriorate when exposed to the elements, but synthetic materials such as perlon, nylon, kevlar, etc probably wouldn't deteriorate much more than a plastic bag. I guess with silver you could always clean an oxidised string up with Silvo cleaning polish. I've done that before and not suffered any after effects. Not sure about aluminium though. At a guess, I think chrome steel wound synthetic strings (ie Obligato chrome, Aricore chrome, Universal E) would have - for practical purposes - a very long shelf life indeed.
If violinist.com did nothing more than exchange information of a like nature, it is worth its' weight in cyber-neutrons. Thanks - a'recovering violist'
Since my original post, I have revisted many of the strings, using different brands and labels and trying out different combinations on different instruments. Pirastro was helpful in sending strings for me and my class to try and for review. It gave me a chance to formulate my opinions in a more objective way, and get a clearer idea of things. We tried different strings on different instruments, including mine. Here are my personal observations.
Of the Pirastro synthetic, we tried Violino, Obligato and Evah Pirazzi. The Violino worked on only one instrument, which corresponds to what they were designed for. On most instruments they were dull and unresponsive, but on one bright instrument with a hard tone, they warmed it up and took away some of the hardness, thus fulfilling their description well.
The Evah Pirazzi are still not a good string overall in my opinion. Much too tense, with little range of colour or dynamics and they require too much pressure to respond. They are loud and louder. They were a dismal failure on my violin, and two others. However, on one cheap Guarneri model low end fiddle, they seemed to work. I guess the instrument needed the extra tension to respond. But overall, I don’t recommend them, unless you just want loudness and brightness and want to press into the fiddle, which I hope no one wants to do.
As for the Obligato, my initial opinion remains. I have not changed it. It seems to be the best Pirastro attempt at a synthetic string so far, though the lack of power is worth noting.
I have also revisited the Corelli Crystal, as I was short on cash and needed something cheap quickly. It came out better than the Pirazzi, but not that great overall. Problems with tonal distortion.
So, the bottom line: the standards are still the best. For synthetics, the best overall string is still Dominants with a Jargar Forte E (the best E for Dominants). The only other ones that I would use aside from that in my opinion are the Larsen (with a Larsen gold E or Jargar Forte E), as they have some qualities that the Dominants don't have although they aren't as warm. I might on occasion use the Obligato in ensemble, should I need to.
Then, I played again on the Eudoxas and Olivs. Both great strings. Still no comparison in terms of range of colour and dynamics. The only synthetic flexible enough to compare was the Dominants. I had a student play on the Eudoxa and Olives and he loves them. The Olives are brighter and more "soloistic" in the modern way. The Eudoxa are darker and more subdued but still very resonant and rich. The Eudoxa are still more stable than the Olivs, and the ones I got were as stable as I have ever seen gut-core strings be (I think I got lucky). The good old time proven idea of using a Goldbrokat E or Golden Spiral E (both medium gauge) with gut-core strings is the best match.
So, it’s funny that in the end, I found myself going back to the good old standbys. There is a reason why strings hold their reputation for a long time: they are good and stand the test of time.
So my votes are this :
Gut-core : 1- Eudoxa (with Goldbrokat medium E or Golden Spiral medium E)
2- Olivs (with the same choice of E’s)
Synthetics : 1- Dominants (with Jargar Forte E)
2- Larsen (with Jargar Forte E or Larsen Gold E)
In my opinion and most of our trials these seem to be the best overall and most flexible strings for classic violin playing, with the best range of colours and dynamics. Everything else, unless your violin has a particular issue that needs to be dealt with is simply a waste of money.
This was fun. I am sure that many will disagree. Again, I disclaim that this is a personal opinion (or personal opinions) based on a series of comparative tests by a few people, including myself with a few instruments both in the studio and a hall, and in some cases, under battle conditions.
I hope that this helps and can save some time, money and frustrations.
P.S. I did not include plain gut A's and D's which are great, but harder to use and find, and a totally different kind of string. I still think that anyone who wants to understand the sound of people like Heifetz and Milstein needs to try these. But, they are a seperate thing altogether, and I would recommend them only for very advanced players or even professional violinists.
Thanks for sharing!
This is a very informative and interesting thread. It got me to thinking, especially regarding overtones and color. I wonder to what extent some otherwise seemingly minor technique variations, especially location of the contact patch between string and hair, might affect the results.
As an analogy, if you have ever played or just experimented with guitars, mandolins, or ukuleles etc, you will know that where you strum the string has a profound effect on the overtones: strumming at mid-length produces the fundamental with virtually all of the harmonics suppresed; playing toward the saddle increases the harmonics. As you go closer to the saddle, the sound becomes more tinny.
Yet there are more nuances: at certain locations, you will once again accentuate a certain harmonic; e.g. the fith above the fundamental (1.5 time fundamental), the octave, etc.
Now, to the even more interesting part: While what I said above is true for both nylon as well as for steel strings (e.g. classical versus folk) there is a profound difference in the extent to which these rules apply. A nylon string never produces anywhere near the upper harmonics that a steel string will.
In one experiment, I was playing around with open tunings, and I discovered that with the steel string guitar, if I strummed hard, at the location where the peak of the second harmonic would be, it brought out that harmonic (octave) (on the e string in this case) so strongly that it was virtually indistiguishable from placing my finger at the octave location and strumming! The same experiment carried out on a nylon rig brought no where near the level. It was astonishing--I could virtually "octave" a cord merely by strumming it in the right spot/right way.
I suspect that some of these same dynamics apply to the violin. Yet, to what extent does anyone pay attention to the precise location of the contact patch with respect to variations in sound production? (I am just a hack and can't remember if I ever knew this in my youth)?
Anyway, in my own opinion once you get into a large concert hall, the actual strings used don't really make that much difference to the audience. I know people here have had contrary experiences, but I don't think I could honestly tell if someone playing in a concert hall 30 or more feet away had changed their strings, although I would be more likely to notice on a recording. Then again, I remember buying a recording of one of my favourite contemporary violinists and swearing he had either changed his bow or strings or both - the sound was so much better - much more clear, focussed and silvery. I wrote to his manager querying this and he replied that the artist hadn't changed anything. So I guess it was just better sound engineering. I think strings make much more difference under the ear and certainly make a significant difference in playing feel. And I might be shot down in flames, but in my opinion, the main difference a listener might hear due to different strings is not so much the innate "sound" of the strings themselves, but the fact that their different characteristics enable to the artist to modify their technique to suit the strings. For example, some will take more pressure, some react more quickly, some are more tolerant of sounding point, etc.
In the end, when I finally figure out what strings I will end up using, my choice will be based on (i) what they "sound" like when I make a test recording (ii) response (iii) physical feel under the fingers and (iv) durability.
I am even more involved in strings these days than ever, conducting experiments with my class. Incidentally, the first person to use and advocate the use of the steel A was Carl Flesch. It is clearly audible on the recording of the Bach Double he made with Szigeti in the 1930's. As for Kogan, legend has it he used all steel on all four strings.
Jonathan, I agree with you. I depends on the instrument. Mine reacts violently (really, for real) to different strings. At the moment, I have Obligatos on, and it's crushing the sound.
Steel A's... If you like warm, I would try something like the Helicore. It's the best modern steel string. A little more old-fashioned but warm and quite good is the Jargar thin A. The other steel strings that I have tried, I wouldn't recommend actually. There is also an Eudoxa steel A, which I haven't tried, but heard is very durable.
Bill: I don't know really enough to be able to compare, but violins and guitar are dramatically different instruments. Part has to do with the different string tension and amplifying means of each instruments(bridge height, and soundpost vs. no soundpost).
Cheers to all!
Ron, you are right. The Violino do exactly what they were designed for. The only problem is that on non-student instruments the results are inconsistent, and my personal experience with them was not great. However, one of my students has the kind of Chinese violin that you described and he uses those, and I recommended that he stick with those. For those kinds of instruments, they are a great string.
Again, I want to state that my review is personal and based on my personal trials with strings and with my students. They are the result of what we look for in sound.
Thanks for the post, it was very informative. However i don't agree with people saying Oliv's go out of tune frequently. I live in Toledo, Ohio were the weather can go from 40 to 80 in two days. Mine very rarly go out of tune.
Danielle, with the Olivs, experience is variable depending on a lot of factors I am finding out. They are not affected as much by temperature changes, as by fluctuations in humidity. I remember the humdidity as being quite consistent during my couple of trips to Ohio.
Also, the warmth and perspiration of one's hands has a lot to do with it. For example, Heifetz's luthier said that his plain gut A's and D's lasted for a long time because of the fact that he didn't perspire much. Also, as a result, they were quite stable with him. So, I don't know anymore. More than any string, gut strings tend to be a personal experience for everyone.
Glad you liked the review though. Thanks!
Just a couple of updates for you and others. I tried the Jarger E but it rusted away after a few days. In this case it wasn't any better than most E's I have tried unfortunately. Larsen apparently don't make a soft gauge steel A for violin (they only make medium), so that really leaves the Jargar and Helicore as the best steel A strings to try in my opinion. The Larsen steel A is so incredibly high in tension that using it is really tiring, even though it does have absolutely enormous reserves of power. If your hand and fingerboard can take the punishment, then by all means try it! I'm currently trying out both the Helicore light gauge A and the Jargar soft A. Both seem to be very good, with the Helicore being brighter in tone but less complex and slightly less warm.
I have recently had great success with the Pirastro Olive E (in both medium and thin gauge). They sound quite unlike any other gold E I have tried. They are very pure, brilliant and clear and so far have lasted a couple of weeks without my perspiration damaging them. They might be a good alternative on a violin that is either "neutral" or leans to the warm side. I found that changing from medium to thin guage on the Olive brought an improvement in response and brilliance and the trade off was very slightly less volume and slightly less warmth.
As for Violinos, I have an update on those as well. As my 6 month old violin has played in more and more, I have found it likes the Violinos less and less. Now the violin is acquiring it's own depth and warmth to the sound, the Violinos are turning out to be too much of a good thing, and are now too soft, warm and fuzzy for the instrument. But when the instrument was new, they were excellent strings. Additionally, other strings are now sounding far better on it than they did before. Now it seems to be a battle between Larsen and Obligato for the D and G strings. I still think Violinos are great strings and definitely worth a try no matter instrument you have. The results could be suprising. I intend to keep using them on my second factory fiddle. Interestingly though, Pirastro tells me that the Violino is constructed to be a very easy to play string in comparision to their Obligato. But I have found the low tension Obligatos are actually easier to play than the Violinos. As Pirastro says, it all depends on the violin and the player's technique.
Back to E strings, and if people are not yet aware, Pirastro are currently bringing out a new E string called Wondertone Solo. It is supposed to be an improved version of the Wondertone (Gold) E. Additionally, I am told it is much more resistant to perspiration than the Wondertone Gold and has improved playing charateristics.
Kudos to Christian.
Michael: :=) You just made my day and it hasn't even started yet!
(I find it to bring a lot of ring and color to the rest of the dominants and the tone is very clear but has a lot of power.)
My experience was with wound gut, so I had much to learn about the new strings, none of which had the wonderful sound I remembered. My bow quivered with Larsens and to a lesser extent with Obligatos but has been OK with Dominants. Is this likely a function of the higher tension strings? Is there a site that compares the tension of violin strings? The bow problem could be attributable to the last bow repair and not the strings. The Obligatos gave a tubby sound to my instrument (nineteenth century Del Gesu copy by unknown maker) that it never had before and the gold E whistled, as others have noted. I think I will end up alternating Dominants with Gold label steel E and Eudoxas.
Is there an absolute measure for string pressure and how big are the differences for different gauges within a given brand ?
What are you folks basing your decisions on? Are you recording the instruments? Are you listening from 20 feet away while someone ELSE plays your violin?
-Or are you making judgements based on the sound in your left ear?
If the latter, then this could all be a somewhat wasted effort. Well, not a complete waste, as it's great to know how various strings relate to each OTHER, but you get my point.
(CHRISTIAN, I DO APPRECIATE YOUR EXCELLENT POST AND THE CONSIDERABLE TIME AND THOUGHT BEHIND IT.)
I am a recording engineer, and VERY interested in how various strings sound from a short distance away. My experiments to date are insuffient to make any recomendations, however one glaring example of the problem became clear: I wanted to try the Vision titaniums, since they are stable and break in fast. It is important for me to be able to put on a set, and record the same day. -But I read so many reports that they are harsh. Well, yes, they are indeed harsh in the left ear, but from five feet away, that harshness is quite attenuated and they simply cut through the music well. I found this on both my cheap violin, and on a studio pro's very expensive one.
I'm not saying that Vision T's are the best, or whatever. Other strings are certainly warmer, but I am pointing out the problem in auditioning strings. -Same goes for buying a violin, when you get right down to it.
-Just some food for thought.
On a positive note, I am now hopeful that I may find a replacement e-string that will warm-up the Vision-T's.
More interaction problems:
The same holds for bows: If auditioning expensive bows, the type of strings you have installed could drastically affect which bow you prefer, both regarding tone and feel. One could easily make a "mistake" this way: Assume that you have picked the best bow, for a given violin and strings. You are happy with the resultant tone & feel. However, changing the strings to a brand that sounds / feels worse with that bow might result in SUPERIOR tone / feel with a different bow, superior to what you have now with what you thought was the best available combination.
Try auditioning strings with various bows. Better record the whole thing for future reference, because human aural-memory is not quite what we'd like to believe.
Enough to make you nuts.
Enough to make you switch to bagpipes.
.................... Well, maybe not THAT bad....
Well, my violin came apart at the seams (literally) caused by the high humid summers and low humid winters here in Shanghai. I was permitted to upgrade (for more $), so now I have what my prof says is good enough for a pro. I'm not a pro, but this violin definitely sounds better.
Anyway, I had to change strings, as the Violinos were getting old, and they are not improted here. So, I went with the Dominants.
I don't see why people rate these strings. They took a full 2 weeks to settle, and it was very frustrating having to retune every 5 minutes. Now, they hold tune better, but they are definitely affected by the higher humidity and warm temperatures here. At first, they sounded thin, but now sound much warmer. The G, D, A strings play and sound well - as Christian writes. The E string is definitely not a good match for sound - thin and harsh. It is wound very thickly, and does not fit into the fine tuner. After 3 weeks of fiddling, I decided to remove the fine tuner, and mount the E string into the tailpiece the same way as the others. This actually improves the sound of the E - sweeter! Tough to tune though, so now I have to search for tuner to fit the E (frustrating).
Overall, I find these strings have good tone and dynamics, but are very finicky. Definitely old technology. The Violinos are much better build quality - truly immune to weather, and perform as advertised. I will try Obligatos next.
On a different topic, I bought a new Carbon Fibre bow, locally made. No more warps! This creates a much mellower sound than the wood one, and s much easier to play. So, people are right about the string/bow combination!
Thanks for reading my 2 bits. Best wishes to all!
I also tried the Thomastik Vision strings on this fiddle, and found them more powerful but with a harsh edge. Good for solo work, but the Pearse strings are really just velvety to play.
Because I took the strings off and then put them back on (not very carefully), I can't really tell their longevity from this set.
I know lots of violinists that only change strings either when they break, or every 4-6 months. Strings die out! The great sound of new strings wear away over time and I reccommend changing monthly! I tour about 120 shows each year and I change out my strings every 2 shows. Its a great habit to get in. It's expensive, but it strengthens your art!
1) Eudoxas with a goldbrokat E
2) Violinos with Evah Pirazzi Gold E
3) All Evah Pirazzi (with gold E) - these have a _lot_ of power, but can be a bit metallic. Very Soloistic.
4) Vision Titanium (you can save a lot of money by using another E...I think I used goldbrokat with them to good effect). Also very powerful, soloistic strings that I found very similar to Pirazzi.
All of these combinations are excellent all-around strings on my instrument (and probably on a lot of instruments). I am currently using #1, and will probably continue, but all are superb. Violinos are probably the cheapest option, and also by a bit the darkest tone color (and don't be confused by the "student" label or the price...they are superb strings).
Oh, one note (noted elsewhere): if you use Eudoxas, they will respond very differently to bow control than the synthetics. This is neither a bug nor a feature IMHO, just something to be aware of.
PS It can be hard to find most makes of string in stores. I get most of mine from Southwest Strings (www.swstrings.com) online. I've lived in OH, PA, and NY, and very few shops stock Pirastro strings, which I usually prefer.
I'm wondering how Visions (regular) are being regarded, now that they've been out a year. Have they replaced Dominants as an all around string, or is the jury still out?
My limited experience is that they last a lot longer than Dominants (had my current ones since January), and at the beginning they sound a little metallic and irritating, but they break in to a wonderful edgier sound. The tension is relatively low compared to Pirazzi's and they allow the sound to flow out rather than having to be pushed out.
I've noticed Visions on sale so I'm wondering whether others have adopted Visions as their default string, or have gone back to Dominants or whatever they had before.
BTW, try Tonica for a first. They are inexpensive, but very good. Tyr to keep notes as you experiment.
Keep us posted on your findings.
As far as changing strings before a concert, I wouldn't do it less than two weeks before a solo concert, or one week before an orchestra concert if using synthetics, but that's probably a bit conservative. With some synthetics (Evahs set in fairly fast), I imagine you could get away with 3 days in a pinch - but I wouldn't take the risk myself unless the old strings are audibly false, in which case you just weight the two risks, I guess.
I've mentioned my response to Vision strings in other threads so my apologies if repeating myself here.
Like you, the Visions were surprisingly bright when I first put them on my violin, somewhat metallic and harsh. Apart from that, I was impressed with their resonance, clearness and focus. Great in upper positions. Nearly eliminated the wolf on the G string's C#, making them almost worth it for that reason alone.
After a few days, some of the metallic and harsh sounds settled down, still leaving the clear, strong sound.
Until the Visions, I had tried several brands, finally settling on Dominants. However, I believe I've been sold on Visions for my current instrument. Haven't tried any other strings that come close. I've no idea how general response to Visions are. They're probably a bit bright for general acceptance. They've quite a different character than Dominants and I very much doubt that they'll be a wholesale replacement for them.
Regarding longevity: I'm only on my 2nd set at the moment, the first lasting about 4 months. In the past, it's been the A string that unravels ('D' position on the A string). However, with my first set of Visions, the D string unravelled as it crosses the bridge, perhaps being my fault when installed or not having the bridge lubricated enough, etc. Even 4 months is a reasonable amount of time for a set of strings I suppose.
Thanks in advance.
I remember giving them a VERY bad review. They lasted all of two weeks before going false and generally crapping out on me.
I have never given them a second thought. Perhaps I should put them on a different violin and see what I think.
(There is definately a technique element, though...when I sqeek, usually either my attack is imprecise or my first finger on my left hand is brushing the [open] E.) It especially gets me on three and four note chords that end on open E, and sometims for those I radically slow down my bow speed before hitting the E, so I use 90% of the bow on the first 3 strings and just hte last bit on the E. This is a pain, though, and isn't always practical.
Actually, Rosand used the weich gauge of Tonica for a while, but is now on Dominants weich. I think that the middle gauge would be best with these strings since they are not overly responsive and a thick gauge would make them even less so.
thanks for the info.
ps--know of anyone using a perlon E (there must be a reason dominant makes them)? Also, any more info on steel A's would be appreciated. I have a lot of old European fiddles with very different traits and I'm interested in these two extreme scenarios.
Ilya - I had missed your post... Thanks! :) I need to find some plain gut that is good for something later this season, so I will give Damian Dlugolecki a call. If you find a solution for the D, please let me know.
Thanks and all my best!
Congrats on the Annapolis gig!
To all: I have been using the Universal E srring for a few months now - courtesy of pirastro - and have been really loving it. I don't think it has whistled once yet, and the tone is powerful - yet sweet.
As for Pirazzi's - I have been using them also - again, courtesy of Pirastro - but have enjoyed them more than Dominants. I think they have more to give than a regular Dominant. In my mind - a Dominant is like a Honda Accord - while the Pirazzi to me is more of a Lexus.
Igor - a beer does sound good. However, for the Annapolis gig, wrong Christian (it's the other one). In any event, you're the one with the ultimate gig! Go dude!
On the subject of strings, I did revisit old favourites in the last few months. First Olivs, which Pirastro sent. Great sound, great range of colour, but the stability is too much of a problem for me. The A is impossible, though I tried a ball end Oliv E for a change which I liked better than the loop end. I returned to Larsen's then with beloved Jargar Forte E. I think that I might use those in the future. On my instrument, they bring a range of colours and focus that no other synthetic can. I am now on my old combo of Dominants w/Jargar Forte E. Still great. More open perhaps then the Larsen, but without as much clarity. I did try briefly the Thomastik Vision (regular ones) and something must have been wrong with the set - it went false, dead false after 9 days, and that during the course of teaching a lesson, after which nothing could be done. I am not inclined to that route again.
Cheers to all as this thread ends! I hope that you all find your string sound!!!!
About Pirastro Olivs: Based on info in this discussion, and I'm sure in other threads, I have so far avoided Oliv E-A but have done well with D-G -- although these have to be the stiff versions; I won't use regulars. Ditto for Eudoxa D-G -- they have to be the stiff ones.
New strings keep coming on the market periodically, and I'm always curious and open to trying new combos. FWIW, these are what I currently use on three older hand-made fiddles:
E - Westminster Heavy
A - Vision Solo
D - Peter Infeld - Aluminum
G - Peter Infeld**
E - Goldbrokat Medium
A - Wondertone Solo
D - Oliv Stiff
G - Oliv Stiff
E - Goldbrokat Medium
A - Eudoxa
D - Oliv Stiff
G - Eudoxa Stiff
**Infeld Red G gave better bass response on this instrument -- planning to use it again at next string change.
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