Heavy gauge strings- Pros & Cons?

January 16, 2007 at 10:03 PM · I am beginning to think that, in general, heavy gauge strings will suite my violin & playing style Surprisingly, you almost never see anyone mention them. Most folks seem to stick with mediums, "just because" with a few brave souls using light gauge.

It seems heavy gauge strings are practically a myth. I know Charles Strang like them. So does Thomastik, who told me I would get more fullness and more timbral complexity from them.

So far, the only heavy's I've tried are Vision (non-titanium) I have not tried these in med, so I have no frame of reference, but they indeed have great depth.

I'm looking for opinions on heavy gauge in general, and perhaps which strings work best in heavy. I'm aware that some violins don't take well to them, but I assume that would be instruments with very light tops, which would hence be too restricted by the extra force. No problem with my beefy fiddle.

I also realize that, all else being equal, a heavy gauge string has a slightly slower response. Funny thing is, I've come to realize that this is a GOOD thing, at least on my very fast-responding fiddle. I prefer the FEEL of a faster string when I play (slightly) but I prefer the SOUND of the slower response when I listen back to a recording. (THERE'S a can o' worms...)

Opinions? Thoughts?

Replies (27)

January 16, 2007 at 11:15 PM · Hi Allan, as you say, I do like them, at least on the violin I am now using. The only drawback seems to be that after a few hours of playing, my fingertips hurt a little....

January 17, 2007 at 12:00 AM · i have tried them, and most of the time i enjoyed the sound, however every couple of weeks they would become very tinny and metallic, usually just for one day, and then it would return to normal. I'm not sure if my violin is suited for the higher tension.

January 17, 2007 at 06:28 AM · And I just noticed that now my string afterlengths are way out of tune....

January 17, 2007 at 04:35 PM · I use a heavy gauge Goldbrokat E and the sound is fantastic. It also balances out my other strings very nicely, so the whole fiddle ends up sounding better. The only problem is, playing really high notes can be kind of painful on the fingertips. :)

January 22, 2007 at 09:09 AM · Maura,

I agree that the E string is the best candidate for a stark, even with med or light gauge on the rest. Do you find that the extra tension in any way chokes the violin? Is there more, or less timbral range?

-----------

Charles, you're right about the after-length, IF the exact setting has to do wit tuning. It might not. I'm sure you've seen the several recent threads on this, here & elsewhere. It seems no-one is really sure just exactly what's going on with after-length. (very strange)

still, you'd probably be well-served to experiment with it, certainly starting with the 1 to 6 thing, or maybe a bit more since the harmonics on a heavy string are spaced further apart.

January 22, 2007 at 01:34 PM · Hi,

After reading this post, I am tempted to buy a set of stark Dominants for my fiddle and try them out.

Cheers!

January 27, 2007 at 01:30 PM · Hi,

I just put on a heavy set of Dominants with a Jargar Heavy E (finally found one...).

I have to say I like it so far. On my fiddle, the articulation between the notes is clearer, I can actually dig in for real into the G string. True, it needs more bow pressure, but so far, the ups are better than the downs. Plus, they are fatter strings, which I like.

Lets see how it keeps after more than one day...

Cheers!

January 31, 2007 at 03:06 AM · Thanks, christian.

Is there any noticeable lack of timbral-depth with the heavy gauge?

January 31, 2007 at 03:37 AM · Right now, I am using a Vision heavy A D G and a Westminster heavy (25.7 lbs) E. They sound fantastic (i have a contemporary instrument). The highs are brilliant and intonation on high tension strings sounds more perfect, though it is harder to fudge something to sound in tune, as you can with lower tension strings. My only issue with high tension strings is that when the tension of the strings climbs higher, string types tend to sound very very similar. I am about to experiment with obligato mediums because i fear the high tensions will be too similar sounding.

Playing in high possitions is no problem, generally. Playing up past a high D on the e string certainly does become a pain, but up there, you do not neccesarily need to touch the fingerboard at all to sound the note.

I will forewarn you about your bridge, though. Under high tensions, your bridge will move more then with mediums or lows. Check its position often. You will see it moves more with tuning hten with mediums (not too much, but enough to nock off the 90 degree angle of the back of the bridge to the body and make your bridge stand perfectly straight, fyi.. not what you want). Also, it may widen the gouges in your bridge more significantly. Keep a close eye on that, and if your worried, have your luthier instal some velumn on ur bridge. I used to have a piece under the a, but i like the sound of it better without it (it made it sound muted) but i now do need to have my violin checked out because it appears to be more slightly in the bridge then the other strings, not enuf to be worried about, but early enough to stop any real damage.

Overall, i love playing with high tensions, but they arent for everyone, and they certainly arent for orchestral playing (you will play far too loud, because the high tensions produce a much lounder volume)

January 31, 2007 at 04:27 AM · Ian, that's interesting about the intonation clarity. That's something that I would be happy about. Never have seen this written anywhere, but it makes some sense as the thicker string would have more harmonics.

Again, though, I am looking for comments concerning timbral-depth. Heavy strings are supposed to have less depth than meds & lights, this being their one negative quality. Have you noticed this at all? Have you compared them to the same brand in med or light gauge?

January 31, 2007 at 06:23 PM · Hi,

Allan - to your questions "Is there any noticeable lack of timbral-depth with the heavy gauge?"; it's the opposite. There is more on my fiddle. What prompted me to try these was the fact that in the fall I used very heavy plain gut strings and it worked great.

For metal over sythetic, these seem to do well for me. They are fat strings, which I like. They do require a little more pressure, but will also withstand more weight and the G doesn't crack (which is good since I am playing big chamber works with piano). The fiddle feels a little more Del G├ęsu-ish in playing style now.

That is my experience so far with them...

Cheers!

January 31, 2007 at 08:22 PM · Oh, Baby, that's what I wanted to hear!

Thanks.

January 31, 2007 at 08:42 PM · I guess it is my duty to put in a word of warning here... :^) I think the main reason most people play mediums is that it is what works best for two kinds of players: 1.: those who doesen't dig into the instrument a lot, and dont want too much sound really. 2.: orchestral players who need too play real pianissimos and be confident in an easy repons at low volumes too. These groups are already about 80 % of those who play violin I think.

Some soloists, or people with a very physical playng style, use heavier strings, and some people with abnormal violins too. But still, on many instruments people find after a while that these strings takes some "colour" and flexibility out of their instruments and go back to a lighter setup after a while.

In any case, If it works well go ahead! BUT try lighter strings sometime too, and se what it does to the response in your instrument, and maybe you will end up on mediums again in the end!

One compromise that is quite widely used is to use just a heavy G-string (i prefer the Evah P).

Also NOT all instruments, or bridges are suited for heavy strings...

January 31, 2007 at 09:37 PM · A word of warning: the one time I tried stark Larsens, my bridge snapped in half under the tension, so be careful. I wouldn't really recommend playing on stark strings unless you really think there's a problem with medium tension.

February 1, 2007 at 10:24 PM · I installed Evahs on my Gliga to brighten it up and make it louder for playing in large folk sessions. The combination worked well, but I wanted even more brightness and volume, so I tried Evah Starks. The D and G are good -- the G doesn't crack when I play heavily. The D was definitely brighter than Dominants, and gives a bit more volume than the Evah Mediums. The Stark A feels very thick under my fingers, but it's not hard to get used to. I guess the main problem is the slightly slower response with the heavier strings. I'm going to try Vision Titanium mediums next to try and get the power that I want and to brighten up the Gliga.

February 2, 2007 at 10:24 AM · When I used Dominants, I always preferred a heavy G with the medium set (plus plain wire E).

A heavy G puts more pressure directly on the bass bar, and seems to liven up the entire instrument.

gc

February 2, 2007 at 03:39 PM · Hi,

OK, so after a week with the heavy gauge, I decided to put the mediums back on for a try. And Magnus was right, it was better. I kept the Jargar Forte E. The G doesn't crack, so I guess the E had something to do with it in the end. But, the response is better, more shadings are possible, and I don't have to press so hard to get the string to sound.

But the major thing is that on the Heavy Gauge the bow did not track as well, which proved problematical in this week's program which has the Brahms Horn Trio. The last movement was impossible and instantly felt better with the Mediums with a Silver D.

So, I guess that's that. Worth the experiment. But once again, it confirms the importance of finding the right E for a set of strings for your instrument no matter what you use on the bottom strings, at least on my fiddle.

Cheers!

February 4, 2007 at 10:43 PM · A couple years ago I used heavy Visions. I thought I liked them, but I didn't. I hate them. Sound was horribly congested, tracking and engagement of bow were a struggle, pianissimo impossible, spiccato rough. It seemed fun to be rough and tough with the violin and it could take it-- but for what? To sound rough and tough? Ick. I finally figured that out and went back to medium strings, and was immediately relieved and delighted by the sound and performance. In fact, more recently now I've gone the opposite way and find a better range of sound and more comfortable and versatile bow using light strings (D'Addario Helicore, which are lighter to begin with-- I may end up compromising with Dominant weichs or something like that...), though only if I keep some tension on the top. The light e'' from the set was horribly weak and flimsy under bow and finger, and vanishing in volume. The entire violin is sounding and responding better now with a medium Hill e'', and the e'' itself actually sounds balanced and strong enough now, but still warm-ish. Whatever this means for different instruments &c. :-)

February 6, 2007 at 12:08 AM · I just put thick Pirastro Eudoxa G,D,and A with a thick Hill E and I'm thrilled at the change in my fiddle. A deeper rounder sound and more colors!! My luthier said I should try them and I followed his advice--that plus what I've been reading here. I had been playing Kaplan medium g,d,a and a medium Hill e. they were nice and held their tuning nicely. Now I have to wait for these to settle in. I like them ever so much more than my Dominants. Now I can pursue a silky sound without feeling that I'm playing a surface sound. What a kick. Also I don't notice too much change in my left hand but time will tell.

March 1, 2007 at 03:05 PM · An update:

Since my last post I have tried four brands of heavy gauge.

I can see how they might be helpful with a low-volume instrument, but on the two violins I used for testing (both loud & expressive) all sets were just terrible. (except possibly for the G strings.) I am 100% cured, in fact, I now intend to explore light gauge, even (surprisingly) with the E-string.

I found the same as christinan & others - with heavy Gauge the bow does not track as well, and this is s ignificnt change.

Also, as was also said, it takes more to get the string going. Subtlety goes out the window.

Last, but no least - all four brands were louder and more aggressive, but lacks richness, low mids, I guess. On my two violins this was a terrible trade-off. Bleah.

Again, I can see how heavy gauge might work well on certain instruments, specifically quiet, stiff student instruments.

Thanks to all for your thoughts.

March 1, 2007 at 03:21 PM · I put on heavy gauge Eudoxas on my fiddle with a thick Hill e. I had been using Kaplan medium thickness strings. I find them to have a slower response and it is sooooo easy to scratch especially on the D string. There is a payoff in richness of sound and I have had to use a much faster, lighter bow to get6 the sound I want. In fact I find it easier to achieve a silky sound with these strings than I could before, although the truth is thaqt I have to consciously make an effort to play cleaner because every mistake seems magnified with them. I wonder if others had a similar experience.

March 1, 2007 at 07:46 PM · Scratchy, yes. THat's another good word for them, all four brands I tried.

I know what you mean about intonation being more apparent, and that's one of the few things I did like (and miss.) If you get your finger-position just right, the sound rewards you on playback.

However, they're just not worth the trade-off for all the negative bits.

March 2, 2007 at 05:13 AM · I've been using thick Tziganes for a couple of weeks and couldn't be happier with the results. Personally, I like a thick resonant sound with a little grit to it. I've found that in a quartet setting I don't have to struggle to be heard, and to hear myself, not necessarily because I'm putting out more volume, but because i'm putting out a sound that can stand up for itself. Harder to play? Gut strings require more technique too, but if you like the sound enough, you'll go get the technique. These Tzigane strings can take a good bit of digging in, and at the other end of the spectrum, a little more bow speed and a light touch yields a very soft sound; altogether, to me, you have a broader spectrum of sound. It depends on a lot of factors, your skill, the violin, the bow, your idea of what the ideal sound would be, where you play etc.,

July 16, 2008 at 12:26 AM · How do you tell the gauge of a string? Are strings marked for gauge?

July 27, 2008 at 09:05 PM · I used Dominant Starks for years on my high school / college violin, and I thought it gave a stronger, better sound than medium-gauge Dominants. I tried a number of different strings when I went to a different primary violin, where I'm now using Infeld Reds.

Dominant Starks make a lot of violins bark and whistle, but they worked great for my setup at the time.

June 24, 2011 at 09:08 PM ·

 For those of you that struggle with finding the right kind of e-string I have 2 suggestions. 1) Most everyone begins by using (or has been using) gold e's of some sort.  Luckily for most, these strings tend to work on a lot of violins (with the occasional whistle).  If you're like me though, and a gold e doesn't work, then we have to go in search of something else.  2)  I've seen a lot of posts here about Jarger E or Hill E, and various others - all of which I've tried and in various gauges.  Generally speaking, most of these E's all "worked" on my violin, as I'm sure most of these would "work" fairly well on most peoples violins who are in search of something other then the gold e.  The "stark" gauge seemed to also give the warmest and least piercing quality - which is important when thinking about balance and evenness across all four strings.  After this, I found the Pirastro No. 1 "universal e" string as it is sometimes called to be the best fit for my instrument (in the stark gauge) (I also use a dominant medium a string, and larsen tzigane d and g medium on the lower two strings).  My instrument is a bright powerful instrument - so this is a combination I would suggest to people looking to keep some of that power, but give the instrument more depth and control (that or try obligatos).  I think another important thing factor when trying to find the best strings (and more importantly balance) for an instrument can be found by testing the strings by playing Bach - both fast and slow.  There really is no other music more clear in revealing the overall balance of strings.  ESPECIALLY when it comes to e-strings.  Generally speaking, I'd always suggest giving up SOME brilliance on the e-string for more depth and warmth.  What sounds great in a concerto may not sound so great in Bach, chamber music, orchestra - oh wait, that's everything besides concerto's :) 

June 24, 2011 at 09:40 PM ·

Is thick equivalent toi high tension for unwound gut strings too?  Dumb as i am I did not know that high-guage strings are also high tension...   Or are gut strings by their nature lower tension?

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