New Strings open up the Sound

December 28, 2006 at 03:49 AM · This topic has been worked over ad nauseum, but I have to report the major change that occurred when the Luthier put on different strings last week.

A few years ago I was using Infeld Red strings and a Goldbrokat E which made my 1909 Alfred Vidoudez, violin sound quite nice. I liked them a lot. Last year, the Luthier, a superb technician and superior tone expert, suggested Obligatos. He put the mid thickness grade on and the violin really sounded quite a bit better. The Luthier was proud of himself for choosing these for my instrument. While in his shop last week talking about buying a Vigneron bow from him my A string suddenly started to unravel right in front of us. Larry, the Luthier, watching this happen, and trying to suppress a laugh, said he’s been thinking seriously about changing strings anyway and making some other very minor changes to the violin and would I consent. This guy, the former Luthier to the Moscow Conservatory, is really good. I have always told him you can do whatever you want with my Vidoudez anytime you want.

Larry disappeared for awhile and gave me a Pressenda to play around with while he was changing strings. He hadn’t worked on the Pressenda yet, but said he was taking about a month to think about what he wanted to do with it. It belongs to my stand partner, by the way. He also has a gorgeous Vuillaume. We’re trying to decide which sounds better.

After having fun with the 1844 Pressenda Larry reappeared with my violin. “Here,” he said, “play for ten minutes while the strings loosen up a bit.” He disappeared again. Actually I did more retuning than playing, LOL. I must admit the violin sounded even better than before. All he did was put the thin Obligato strings on instead of the medium grade that I had before. Larry explained that the thinner strings would be more mellow and a tad softer which was fine as the absolute last thing the Vidoudez needs is more power. He said he was wandering the building listening to my playing. Larry said the violin was much improved with a definite improvement in overtones and quality of sound. And, yes, the sound carried throughout the building with no loss the farther away he went. The new strings sounded better so I paid him and drove home.

At home my wife said the violin sounded too sweet, however, she said that the sound penetrated the whole house as well, if not better than the other thicker strings. Ok, I value her opinion, but I told her I want to live with these for a week or so.

Wow! After about three days of practicing (a half hour a day, my right shoulder is really sore) with the improved sound I picked up the fiddle to practice yesterday. Holy cow. What happened? The violin sound had aged a hundred years overnight, was mellower with a lot of the icky sweetness gone and was significantly more responsive. The E string too was very impressive. Best I’ve ever had. It, too, had aged and sounded gorgeous. No, it wasn’t the weather, humidity was the same. I called Larry who said it wasn’t anything technical he did, just that new strings usually take a few days before they open up. Boy did they ever. I’m just having fun bowing one note and counting how long the ringing tone lasts before fading out. I would compare the sound now, and my wife agrees, to quite a few of the old Strads I have heard, but not a Guaneri sound. Rats. Oh, well, If I have to put up with a Strad sound I will force myself to do so.

Will these strings help you? Maybe, and maybe not. Each violin responds differently. I just wanted to report on how a simple change can make a very major difference in your sound if you get lucky and hit on the perfect combination of strings and setup for your particular instrument. Well, enough writing, have to go and practice. Ye haa.

Replies (11)

December 28, 2006 at 05:21 AM · If I ever have to go back to synthetics, I will definitely go with the light-tension Evah Pirazzi. These strings sound so much more complex than any other synthetics I've tried so far, without sacrificing any projection. They are the closest thing I've found to Olivs. But, since I haven't had any problems with tuning and find Olivs to actually be more cost effective in the long run than premium synthetics, I use an Oliv G and D, a medium gauge Synoxa A, and a medium gauge Gold Label E.

But I agree, Ray--it sure does feel good when you find your ideal string setup. Besides knowing how much better you sound, you can also just focus on making music. :)

December 28, 2006 at 09:14 AM · So uh, you like your new strings? ;)...

Just kidding...

Someday when I'm famous, and Hilary Hahn is hanging out, I'll experiment with strings, but that may be a couple weeks.

Seriously though, I just put new ones on mine--last pair was in July--and though it's not revolutionary, it's very noticable. Even for novice players, it's hard to tell sometimes how strings deteriorate, and at what rate over time.

I think the last I heard was change them every six months?

December 28, 2006 at 08:48 AM · I've heard that thinner strings project more.

December 28, 2006 at 10:57 AM · I know what you mean, i was in heaven when i first heard what the obligatos did for my violin!

If there is anyone out there exept for me that has got a czech strad copy i advise you to try the obligatos. the sound got more balanced, more warmth, and they ring. the sound is like waves.

December 28, 2006 at 11:45 AM · As a counter, I was very dissapointed with Obligatos.

They are warm, but not super-full like Oliv. The big problem for me was that they lack some upper-midrange bite, they are a bit one-dimensional and "polite" that way.

The "right" string depends not only in your violin, but on your playing style and the sound/response you are after. I want warmth and fullness, but I still want some "bark" when I play hard or near the bridge.

One thing that's definitely true: although Obligatos stabilize in pitch very quickly (about one day) they continue to break in for maybe 3-4 days after that, actually getting brighter and more alive after the 4th day.

I love the response of the Vision T solo mediums, but they are too thin / bass shy on my newish fiddle. Since the Obligatos failed to please, my next trys will be Vision T HEAVY gauge, Vision T Orchestra, and regular (not T) Vision heavy gauge.

December 28, 2006 at 01:05 PM · Hi,

Glad you like your strings.

Pieter, that is not necessarily true. Depends on the fiddle and the strings. And balance. One of the most projecting strings I ever used was a set of very heavy plain guts from Dlugolecki. That said, when you using sythetics, anything heavier than medium (for perlon cores doesn't work) and newer core types are a mess.

So I guess to each instrument its own...


December 28, 2006 at 03:15 PM · From Christian Vachon;

"So I guess to each instrument its own..."


Very true, Christian.

If the same string combination optimized every violin, our lives would be much simpler.

David Burgess

December 28, 2006 at 02:59 PM · Of all the strings I've tried, Obligatos are the strangest. I've used them to darken nasty instruments, and to brighten up dead ones, and sometimes they did nothing, or made a violin worse. It's too bad they're so expensive, because it's a great string to experiment with, and you may end up throwing them out.

I watched Aaron Rosand play a concert with light Dominants (and totally adequate projection), which he explained he sometimes uses when he travels, instead of gut, so there's another vote that light is not necessarily bad, and may actually be closer to a gut sound.

The loudest violin I've heard has bare gut on it--who'd have guessed?

Strings ARE a mystery, I agree.

December 30, 2006 at 11:44 PM · I had a bunch of very old gut (or silk?) E strings, and banged one on with plain Dominants. Made the Dominants sound more like gut, and the E was out of this world. A massive, crunchy, grungy powerful, sweet sound if that makes sense. The contact of the bow on the string was great - None of the skimming you get with a steel E. Made the violin quite a bit louder and richer. I've tried lots of steel E's, including the fabled Jagar Forte, but none of them even come close to the same power or tone. If I could find someone making strings like that today, I would buy heaps. They sounded so great, I even practiced Kreuzer 3(?) a lot, just to be on the E string...

December 31, 2006 at 01:29 AM · Aaron Rosasnd used to use a gut E. He gave me one of his used ones (two playings) and it really helped the violin sound great.

December 31, 2006 at 02:28 PM · Hi,

Bram - there are two really great American strings makers making excellent gut strings: Daniel Larson, and Damian Dlugolecki. Check out their webistes; Daniel is and Damian's is I used Damian's Heavy Gauge plain gut strings (for Romantic music) and was blown away.



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