Obligatos - Do they break in quickly?

November 5, 2006 at 08:55 PM · Yet another "which strings?" thread:

My violin is extremely strong in the upper mids, but somewhat lacking in body. I use it for recording simple lines on pop records (interweaving between vocal lines and such) so I do NOT want the Evah Pirazi / Vision Solo sound! The sound must have character & depth, but not stick out too much.

I am looking for a string that will add fullness, not take away HF. Warm, but not dead. Think chamber music

Since these will be for studio use exclusively, I also require a fairly fast break-in time.

I just installed Vision Orchestras. They do break in bloody fast, and the pitch seems very stabile. However, they aren't quite as warm as I had hoped. I considering Obligatos in light gauge. From what I've reead on many threads, these should have the sound, but do they break-in fast or slow?

What are the negatives to light gauge, vs med?

What is the difference between the silver and aluminum D's?

Any other suggestions for a warm, blending tone that still has complexity?


Replies (42)

November 5, 2006 at 10:31 PM · I have Obligatos, love them, and I recall from six months ago, that they were ready to go in about two to three days. Yes, they've lasted six months with constant playing.

November 5, 2006 at 10:46 PM · Funny, I find that the strings wear out extremely quickly. They are quick to play in, and they sound fantastic at the beginning, but within six weeks I start to have problems, and it goes downhill pretty quickly after that. Mind you, I usually play 6-8 hours a day, but even then, I wonder if they're worth the cost for such a short period of use.

p.s. Eudoxa? Larsen?

November 6, 2006 at 02:11 AM · I wonder if the differences you two have seen have to do with gauge? What gauge do you use?

Eudoxa? No good. I can't deal with gut strings in the studio.

Larsen? Hmmm, another contender, thanks. I knew nothing about these, but they sound intriguing. Does anyone know how fast they break-in?

November 6, 2006 at 03:06 AM · They break-in fast but they also break fast.

November 6, 2006 at 04:07 AM · Hi,

Allan, Obligato have a warm sound. They break in fairly fast - a day or two. They last 6 weeks which is good for any string with a lot of playing. If you are not looking for projection but just warmth, these are a good option.

Larsen break in pretty fast too - about a day. The sound quite warm. I did not have luck with the Larsen E's, but like with Dominants, I found that a Jargar Forte works well. They die rather fast, especially the D and G. I have never gotten more than 3-4 weeks out of these strings.

I find with both the Obligato and Larsen that the Aluminium D is better than the Silver D. Thicker strings, easier to play. Only with Dominants have I found the Silver D superior to the Aluminium D.


November 6, 2006 at 04:43 AM · Thanks, Christian.

The Obligato & Larsen are both on my list to try at this point, though I'm still not sure about which gauge to use.

I don't need projection, as ALL I do with my violin is record on pop & country tunes. Lead lines, plus weaving underneath a lead vocal. Think Mark O'Connor. (the master) or the Dixie Chicks.

I also need as much depth as possible. I must be able to sustain one note, and bring various timbres out of it. The Vision T Orchestras seem a little lacking in that department.

Based on that, and the fact that my violin has tremendous Cut & presence. would you start with Larsen or Obligato? Light gauge or medium?

November 6, 2006 at 07:02 AM · I use obligatos, and love them as well. They break in quickly, but this last set hasn't been nearly as lasting. Usually for me they last months, and that is playing a lot every day. I believe it is the guage.

Also, in how much rosin you use, which builds up on teh string, and with cleaning can cause the string to break and get little tickish spots on them. So the less rosin the better with these strings, I have found.

They are GREAT for recording. They have beautiful overtones, but not cutting in the upper regester. Lushly poignant in the lower frequencies, so that the mic picks up a very round, full note/sound.

You might have to get used to the bow pressure/speed needed to get these strings to sound. I found that at first, it was hard to play them, as they reacted a bit like gut strings with my bow. That might just have been me, though.

They respond quickly enough. I've been using obligatos for years and years. I can only recal one actually breaking one time. They usually just sound a bit dull first.

I use the string cleaner sold by Shar, as alcohol swabs tended to cause slight erosion. After using the cleaner, it kind of had the effect of playing on a new string not yet broken in...for the first practice session.

One problem I have found with the higher gauge is that the A string has slipped (down to floppy string) several times during intense orchestra rehearsals. It must be a pressure thing combined with how it is wound on the peg. Only the A string, and only on Obligatos has this happened.

They tend to go flat if you travel a bit and have fluctuations in humidity. But this could just be a fact of life, not a fact of a certain string...I don't know because I've used Obligatos so long.

I'd try Larsens, but aren't they really expensive?

Ooooh, I'd love to try them.


November 6, 2006 at 07:31 AM · Jennifer,

Thanks for that wonderful information. You describe the sound and response that I am looking for. (I actually enjoy a slightly slow response, having played gut cello strings all my life)

I stil don't know which gauge to use, but I guess I just have to try 'em & find out.

BTW- Ifshin has the Larsens at a great price. About $45 as I recall.

November 6, 2006 at 10:58 AM · Alan;

I don't know any way to determine the best gauge/tension other than experimenting. As a general rule, thinner strings (in the same brand and type) will give a less bodied, brighter sound, but this will vary from instrument to instrument.

I was wondering.......

If the violin is used for recording, will it have it's own track?

If so, have you experimented with filters or post-processing to get the sound you'd like?


November 6, 2006 at 05:43 PM · Thanks, David. Somehow I had it backwards. I had read somewhere that heavy strings stifle the violin's vibrations, and hence lessen body. That never did sound plausible to me, You can find anything on the net, true or false. I guess I should start with heavy gauge and then med afterward.

Good question about filtering and such. Yes, I've been experimenting heavily for the last few weeks, as my technique has finally reached a point where I can "safely" record myself for clients.

The thing is, and this relates to violin setups as well, I believe strongly in getting the sound "correct" (whatever THAT means) at the source, as much as possible. Any later changes are in essence subtractive and false. There are other ways to work, but most great engineers I know share this attitude. (EQ is always a trade-off) A typical way to put it is, you can put a spinet piano into a 10 million dollar studio, with the world's best equipment and engineers, and you still can't make it sound like a 9' grand.

This is why, for instance, I am currently so hung up on tailpiece wood & afterlength issues. Sure, everything you change has an effect on everything else, but I want to start with the MOST sound & life possible, then slowly shape that with other things like bridge & soundpost adjustments. It seems to me that it would be harder to start with a more dead sound and then ADD life with other factors.

Same goes for strings, I think. I'd rather take an "out of control" violin and tame it a little with mellow strings than try to brighten-up a dead-ish violin with Infiled-Blues and such. (but I am just guessing at this point.)

And thus to the recording chain, where (if I can't get it perfect) I'd rather start with an overly bright violin/strings combo and then take it down with a ribbon mic, rather than starting with a duller combo.

BTW, I am currently loving the Coles 4038 ribbon mic on violin. It's very rich, and seems to have the perfect roll-off in the HF. I used it yesterday on a session violinist as well, so it seems to be pretty universal. Highly recommended.

I've also found that cutting a little around 3K can lesser the "rosin," but again there is a trade-off involved.

Anyway, I'm kinda' rambling now, sorry. Maybe I should use heavy gauge, as they have the capacity for a more complex tone (being thicker) and then deal with whatever I don't like about them later down the chain. Hmmm, it's a never-ending quest........

November 6, 2006 at 05:26 PM · It's strange--they certainly are darker than Evah Pirazzi's, but on several instruments, I've found that Obligato's (all medium) can sound rather thin and lacking in depth. I do like their sound very much, but generally find that Dominants, for example, sound richer and warmer, generally. Not darker, but warmer.

Alan--you said, " had read somewhere that heavy strings stifle the violin's vibrations, and hence lessen body. That never did sound plausible to me." That actually does seem to usually be the case, in my experience.

"I had read somewhere that heavy strings stifle the violin's vibrations, and hence lessen body. That never did sound plausible to me,

November 6, 2006 at 06:29 PM · We'll get into trouble with the adjectives used to describe sound (darker, warmer, brighter, richer etc.) because there's not a lot of agreement on what they mean.

Different people may be taking their cues from different parts of the spectrum when using terms like "body" or "richness".

By and large, a more massive string will move the body of the instrument with more amplitude at the lower frequencies. It may or may not do this with the harmonics (subdivisions of the vibrating string), depending on what damping and bending stiffness changes the string designer has incorporated into a heavier string.

Most of the newer string constructions and materials have much less inherent damping than gut. So much so that some strings of modern materials even incorporate a viscous liquid into the windings to make them behave and sound in a more familiar way.

As far as I know, the Evahs are the highest mass and tension popular string, but they also put out too much high end for some people's taste.

Right about now, Allan's probably thinking,

"What would happen if I took Evah Pirazzis and soaked them in glycerin?" ;-)

November 6, 2006 at 06:28 PM · Hi,

Mr. Burgess, thanks for that info. A question for you... Why is it that a very heavy gauge plain gut A and D with Silver D and steel E which I have on at the moment don't choke the instruments like all these newer type strings? In fact, it is the opposite. Any reason for that?

Allan - I tend to prefer the Larsen mediums when I tried them. For the Obligato, I did not have much success, so I don't know. I used only the medium gauge with a Goldbrokat E which seemed to help more than their regular E. I remember that both strings are quite stable.


November 6, 2006 at 07:12 PM · Christian;

Several possibilities, and without experimenting on your violin I'll only be guessing.

My best guess is that this combination of strings produces an overall tension (meaning downforce on the bridge in this case) that the violin likes. Your thick pure gut strings may actually produce less tension and downforce than much thinner metal wound strings. Or it could be the other way around.

Just like with tailpiece weight, changes to downforce don't produce linear or progressive results in sound. Every violin has a downforce "sweet spot" (there are several really) where it gets REALLY HAPPY, and everything in between sounds worse and response suffers.

That's one reason why someone will try a brand or gauge of string and give it rave reviews, and then you try it on your violin and it sounds horrible.

In other words, with the combination of strings you're using, you may have found the tension "sweet spot" for your fiddle.

This brings up another issue:

If a luthier claims that "raising the neck projection on a violin does this to the sound, and lowering it does that" be very suspicious!


November 6, 2006 at 07:15 PM · I like Obligatos on my viola. They seem to have all of the qualities described above. They also have always lasted me a long time.

They're not as bright as I personally like, so next time I'm trying Evah Pirazzis.

November 7, 2006 at 02:32 AM · David,

I'm glad you mentioned fingerboard angle. My bridge is on the low side, and so I was considering having the neck raised. I have read all sorts of discussion on this pro & con, but forgot about the downward-pressure thing. More tension is probably exactly what I DON'T want, and perhaps why my bright violin was made this way.

The following is a MASSIVE oversimplification, but take a look at "The Art Of The Violin." It's great that we can all use this as a reference point, of sorts, when discussing tone.

Check out Heifetz's 1945 Carnegie Hall recording. Granted, his violin probably sounded great out in the hall, but up close it's massively bright, thin & squeeky. Truly awful, IMO. (please, no flames. I am entitled to my opinion) That sound could probably kill cockroaches at ten feet. It's a sound that would scare away rabid alley cats. Look at his bridge: Extremely high.

Now listen to the clip of Millstein that immediately follows. Warm and mellow, almost to a fault. Look at his bridge: Very low.

This certainly could be a (small but important) factor in the overall picture. As I now study other performances, looking for the same thing, I definitely do see an overall correlation between bridge height and stridency.

So, as you suggest, David: Perhaps if one finds a string they really like, but it's just a bit tense or a little too loose, or too bright or mellow, a bridge-height adjustment might be better than trying yet anoher string.

Enough to make you insane. Enough to make you wanna go beat up on some rabid alley cats .......

November 7, 2006 at 01:02 AM · Hello,

Mr. Burgess, thank you for your answer. That helps a lot.


November 7, 2006 at 05:31 AM · I have the medium gauge Obligato strings on. It's been about 6 months and they're only now just beginning to sound different after about an hour into practice. Six months isn't bad, my friend. Projection problems? Hardly. I stand out above everyone else so I have to tone it down to blend in.

November 7, 2006 at 01:40 PM · Wouldn't it be easier to shave down the bridge, than raise the fingerboard? what exactly is fingerboard projection? You techies amaze me sometimes, making me realize how much more there is to know about my intrument!

As for thickness and sweet spots....I had three Aricores on and one TOnica. THe viola shut down, more or less. I took off the C string and put my old Obligato string on it and that fixed the problem. The C string would not only do more than merely vibrate now, but the other strings opened as well. Of course, I couldn't stand having an old with new, and three brands that didnt' quite match my ideal, so I bought a complete new set of Obligatos for them. Then the viola really sounded better.

It is also hard to keep perspective after the strings are off the instrument as to what it sounded like, a few minutes after playing the new strings...


November 7, 2006 at 04:28 PM · Jennifer,

that's an excellent observation.

To answer your question, yes there is a difference between a low bridge / low f-board, and a high bridge / high f-board. Neither is necessarily correct, and there is much debate on this subject in various luthier forums & articles.

Three things happen when the bridge is higher:

1: As David wrote, there is more tension on the violin. This is perhaps the most important factor, as it affects both the string itself and how the top vibrates. David suggests (I think) that more tension lessens LF vibration. I would add that is also probably increases HF transmission through the bridge, though that is a guess. In any case, as David wrote, there is a "sweet spot" where tension is pefect for a given violin/bridge/string set combination. Well, actually there are probably several sweet-spots, all with different spectral content. It must be a real bear for a luthier to try to get a handle on all this.

2: There is a more acute angle where the strings pass over the bridge. With guitars, this is known as the "vector" and a higher saddle gives more brightness and sustain. (Again, not ALWAYS a good thing) I would imagine that the same holds true for violins. The "sustain" part is interesting. Notice at the end of Heifitz's performance, how much his final chord rings out after his bow comes off the strings? That could easily be (in part) due to that high bridge.

3: It increases the overall length of the string, slightly. Different tension = different total length for any given pitch. This probably affect the harmonic content to some extent, but I don't want to even think about it.

November 7, 2006 at 05:12 PM · Allan,

your comments about Heifetz are music to my ears, but why do you have a problem with gut strings in the studio?


November 7, 2006 at 08:29 PM · Ilya, you mean you agree with me? I thought I would catch all sorts of flack for daring to have contructive critisism of the maestro.



Regarding gut strings: I must say I am beginning to wonder if they might be worth the hassle. OK, here's my situation, which probably won't apply to many here:

I own/ operate a high level stduio, catering to pop, country & R&B music. I hire session violinists all the time, and decided last year that I could probably learn to play well enough (given my cello backround) to play the typical stuff required. All that is typically needed is simple lines, flowing around the vocal. What counts is tone, depth, intonation, and of course musicality.

-But here's the rub: I might go three months without needed to record, then on the spur of the moment we may need something laid down. Recording with old (even semi-dead) strings is not an option, and I may not have a week for new strings to settle in.

In this regard, the Vision Titaniums are a gift from the gods. Imagine if I had to put on a set of Eudoxas, and record 2 hours later. Egads.


BUT NOW I'M THINKIN' (and there's a question in here:)

The Eudoxas will surely give me the exact sound I want, as well as all the depth. I will be installing four fine-tuners (either mini carbons or the Harmonie tailpiece) so constant re-tuning will not really be a problem. A slightly slow response is also no problem. MAYBE they could work after all.

SO HERE'S THE QUESTION: I know that gut strings change pitch for quite a while when new, but how do they actually SOUND when new? Within a period of, say, 15 minutes, they would probably hold well enough. Would they sound defined and accurate, or is the tone sort of fuzzy and nebulous? I used to play cello with Pirastro Golds, but it's been too long to remember.

Also, how long to Eudoxas last before starting to change, even a little bit?

November 7, 2006 at 08:47 PM · Why don't you use Helicores. Stuart Duncan and Aubrey Haney use them and do sessions all the time, nobody

complains about there tone. They are very stable

and last a long time.


November 7, 2006 at 10:44 PM · Thanks, David. That's very valuable information for me. I associate steel strings with fiddle & country music. Duncan & Haney are country/bluegrass players, so there you go. Of the three genres I need to play oin, Country is the least important (mostly because it's also the hardest of the three to play) but it's good to know which strings to choose for such session. (and CHEAP!) On my list they go. I doubt they will be warm enough for pop ballads, though. D'Addario specifically recommends them for dark instruments, and my Klier barks like a terrier with a new postman at the door.

Realize also that session pros don't quite have the problem I do. That is, ALL they have to worry about (and spend money on) are their violin strings. I have 12 guitars, 4 basses, 15 snare drums (heads go bad as well) etc etc It gets EXPENSIVE, so I can't just change strings once a week. Session players also typically know ahead of time when they will be recording, and so can put a new set on at the optimal time. They may be able to use a string with a long break-in time, while may not.

BTW- Do you have any idea what strings mark O'Connor uses? His tone is typically more rounded and full, though not always. i assume he uses a variety of strings, and even violins, depending upon the session, but any info would be great to have.


November 7, 2006 at 10:25 PM · Allan,

I've heard fine tuners are not good for gut strings - something about the way the tuners adjust the pitch puts strange pressure on them. And you'll be looking at a few days (at least) before you get any stable sort of intonation. If you're not playing all that much, obligatos might just be the way to go.

p.s. Gut strings won't hold for 15 minutes at first. There's a lot of stretching to be done...

November 7, 2006 at 10:34 PM · Mark uses Helicores Heavies along with Stuart Duncan, Aubrey Haney, Casey Driessen, Darol Anger, Michael Cleveland, Alison Krauss.....the list goes on and on !!! The Heavies I like better than the mediums. The last time I saw Mark he was was playing a J.B. Vuillaume


November 7, 2006 at 10:42 PM · Aubrey Haynie does use Thomastik Superflexibles on an old red American Guarnerius vioin he has been using the last couple of years. That fiddle is so dark sounding he needed a little brighter string on that fiddle.


November 7, 2006 at 11:52 PM · Allan,

It's both true that you can't use tuners with gut, and that gut takes a couple of days to settle, however with your usage you can keep the strings on for months, and they'll be more alive than dead, just as long as you tickle them every once in a while...


November 8, 2006 at 12:52 AM · I'm glad to see Stuart Duncan and Aubrey Haney mentioned. They're my two favorites. They're similar in sound and note selection in their studio work. I think they're a lot more more "roots" sounding than O'Connor. Both just brilliant. Haney is very accessible and friendly. Ilya-esque you could say, though I haven't seen him on any message boards and I think his email address is actually his wife's. I think he's using a fiddle attributed to V also.

I don't think you would be able to hear much difference between steel and say Dominant strings on recordings of the kind I think you might be doing. It's not something that jumps out at you. If you could quickly A/B them, yes you could hear a difference.

November 8, 2006 at 01:37 AM · Allan,

Eudoxas sound great when you first put them on. Gut strings do fade with time, but it's a gradual thing, unlike some synthetics which will just poop out on you after a couple of months. Having said that, if you're fussy about tuning the instrument (which isn't the same thing as being fussy about playing in tune), you should stay away from gut. New gut strings will stay in tune for about 15 seconds, not 15 minutes.

Obligato medium gauge should be fine. I use the A in my string combination. Of course if you really want a warm, blending sound, you could use a viola...

By the way, most of the difference in sound between Heifetz and Milstein comes from their technique, I think, and the setup is a secondary consideration. Look at where their bows make contact with the string and how they begin notes...Milstein has a tendency to use a more distant contact point (and he often starts a stroke well over the fingerboard, then pulling the bow in to the bridge), while Heifetz tends to use a bit more pressure in his attack and a contact point a bit closer to the bridge.

November 8, 2006 at 01:38 AM · Megan, Just curious; Do you know why one can't use fine tuners with gut strings? I would think both pegs and fine tuners adjust tension in strings. Isn't the tension the same however it is adjusted?


November 8, 2006 at 02:56 PM · Since I moved back to S.America,with all the issues w/heat & humidity, using gut strings went impossible. I've tried most of the synthetic strings and prefer the Larsens actually, also because of the durability, but the break-in times for Obligatos and especially Evahs are much shorter, IMO.

And now forgive me a silly joke, but since I've read "your comments about Heifetz are music to my ears, but why do you have a problem with gut strings in the studio?" I can't help myself to answer "maybe because Heifetz used them...?"

November 8, 2006 at 05:45 PM · Thanks, Claudio. My original thought of Obligatos is sounding better & better.

Peter, you wrote, "most of the difference in sound between Heifetz and Milstein comes from their technique, I think, and the setup is a secondary consideration. Look at where their bows make contact with the string and how they begin notes...Milstein has a tendency to use a more distant contact point "

Of course, I just thought it was interesting to note the bridge height as one possible contribution to the overal sound. Also note that Heifetz kept his bow quite tight, while Millstein's is typically fairly loose.

--And thanks for that observation on contact points & angles. That's very useful to me.

November 8, 2006 at 06:38 PM · Alan,

If you want something that sounds very gut-like, Pirastro's Violino strings may be more satisfactory than Obligatos. They are a bit softer-feeling, warmer, a bit less brilliant than Obligatos.

November 8, 2006 at 06:48 PM · Thanks, Andrew. I'm going to try Violino as they are cheap enough to just toss if I don't like them. I sort of have my doubts simply because of the price. -that's probably a really dumb attitude, but it's human nature, I guess.

Well, heck, Helicores are only $21 and are on tons of it Country records, so maybe Violinos will work after all.

November 8, 2006 at 09:23 PM · Ihnsouk -

Good question. Not sure if I can answer it exactly, but here's a try. (Ilya, violin makers, anyone, can you do better?) When you tune the string with the peg, you're adjusting the length and tension of the whole string - pulling on it so to speak, but the strain is spread out over the entire length. With a lot of (if not all) gut strings, the ends are loops rather than steel balls, and the loops will break when you pull on them (which is what you do with a fine tuner), because they're forced to sustain all the tension.

I don't know, really. There might be more to it than that...

November 8, 2006 at 09:42 PM · The loops take tension whether there is a fine tuner there or not. Except that typically you do not use the loop in that way with a gut string. Rather, the loop/knot acts as a stopper under the tailpiece.

Even if you were to put the loop end of a gut string around a fine tuner, the sharp metal prongs would likely cut the gut.

Furthermore, gut stretches (elastically) so much that the fine tuners would have very little pitch effect. Or in other words, you don't need them anyway. Of course your pegs need to work well.

One really *aught* to at least read the following article regarding gut strings:


November 9, 2006 at 12:50 AM · I thought it was because gut strings have such low tension. -Therefore, when changing a gut E by 5 cents, there is more total stretch than when tuning a composite string the same amount. Thus pegs (designed when plain gut was all they had) work well enough without fine tuners.

-Since most modern strings are of significantly higher tension, and thus require less total peg movement, fine tuners become more important.

The other reasons mentioned above may also factor into it, of course. I don't know. It could be that gut strings catch slightly on the bridge, and so fine tuners give a false tuning that soons goes flat, but that's a complete guess.


Good article, Bilbo. Thanks.

I am not surprised to read that Mischa Elman continued to play on a gut E, while Heifetz adopted the new (presumably not-yet-perfected) steel E.


November 20, 2006 at 07:08 PM · I like Obligato's very well, but Vision has a new heavy string that also produces a warm tone.

November 21, 2006 at 12:32 PM · Obligatos Rock!

December 5, 2006 at 07:46 PM · What about steel strings?

December 5, 2006 at 09:25 PM · I just put a steel A string (Chromocor) on my violin, with Dom D and Dom G. It feels more responsive than the Dom A which was getting old. I heard that older generation Russians used Steel A strings. Is there a reason with respect to sound and response or is it that the A string wears out too fast when going in and out of warmed buildings to cold outside.

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