Let's just say there are a lot of different kinds of violin strings out there, and choosing which kind to use can be a little overwhelming.
One factor that can be helpful is knowing and understanding what is at a string's center: is it gut, synthetic or steel?
Synthetic-core strings, which have been around for about 50 years, are probably the most popular kind, but gut is the original and arguably still the best-sounding. Steel strings are great for their stability, but for acoustic playing, one might like a little more complexity and richness in the sound. Many people use a combination of different types, for example, synthetic-core string for the A,D and G, then a steel E. Steel strings offer some benefits for cello and bass playing. What kind of strings do you prefer? Tell us more details in the comments, as well. (Below the poll, I've also offered more information on each kind.)
GUT STRINGS: Back in the day, this is what everyone used, as there were no other options. Though they sound warm and appealing, pure gut strings take a long time to stabiliize, lose their pitch easily, and break easily. Jascha Heifetz famously continued to use pure gut strings, even after technology was putting forth new options. It's still possible to get "pure gut" strings, and a number of period-performance ensembles and performers use them. But another more modern option is gut core strings, which are wound with silver or aluminum. That lengthens their life and bolsters their ability to keep pitch, while still allowing for the appealing gut qualities to come through. Gut tends to be the most expensive kind of string, with a shorter life than synthetic or steel strings. By the way, though gut strings are made from "catgut," that term is misleading, as "catgut" is made from sheep intestines, not from cats. In fact, there is doubt that our feline friends were ever part of that equation. Some gut strings options include: Pirastro's Chorda, Eudoxa, Gold Label, Oliv and Passione.
SYNTHETIC-CORE STRINGS: Invented in the 1970s when Thomastik-Infeld began producing the revolutionary Dominants, these tend to be the most commonly used strings. They are stable in pitch, last long and produce a tone that can be (arguably) as rich and complex as gut strings. They are priced in the medium range - not as expensive as gut, not as inexpensive as steel. There are SO many kinds on the market, but some of the most common include: Thomastik Dominants, Evah Pirazzis, Larsen Tziganes, Infelds, Tonicas, Visions, Zyex, Obligato, and many more.
STEEL-CORE STRINGS: Bright and focused, these thin strings tend to be the easiest to keep in tune, as well as the least expensive. They are popular among non-classical players for that direct sound and also work well on fractional instruments. Their stability makes them popular with school programs. Their sound tends to be simple, without a lot of overtones. Different kinds include: Chromcor, Helicore, Jargar, Kaplan, Larsens, and Red Label by Supersensitive.
Thank you to Morgan Watkins for this vote idea! if you have an idea for the Weekend Vote, please e-mail your idea to editor Laurie Niles.!
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