steel strings

May 27, 2007 at 05:15 AM · Are there violinists playing on steel strings? I don't play on steel myself, I am just curious who does it, and why. For cello and bass players it is very normal, and sometimes they wonder why we don't use them.There are many brands on the market, but I never see a violinist using them. Does somebody know anything about it?

Replies (44)

May 27, 2007 at 07:07 PM · I use aluminum wound steel strings, both Helicore and Flexocor (Pirastro) BUT I am "just a fiddler" who has been playing for 30 years.

I have tried Rennaisance style unwound handmade gut strings at a historical site on an old violin. Have you ever used those? Warm, organic but very quiet.

I have used modern gut strings and for many years various brands of Perlon strings. The gut is too sensitive to weather changes requiring constant tuning. The perlon are indeed warm depending on the brand but do not respond for me nearly as quickly as good all metal strings. My choice-Pirastro Flexocor.

The myth is that metal strings sound too bright "like a metal garbage can" I once heard a violinist say. But i find that all new strings sound bright, perlon and all-metal strings alike. We all have our own taste in what we like to hear in or on our instrument.

Classical violinists don't use "steel" strings because they don't.

Fiddlers use any string they want.

May 27, 2007 at 07:31 PM · In the classical Russian setup you use a steel A string. Oistrakh and Kremer as examples.

A friend of mine uses Helicore A with dominants and it sounds good.

May 28, 2007 at 02:48 PM · I read that Oistrakh used Prim steel e and a-strings and a wound gut g&d.

May 28, 2007 at 03:33 PM · Helicore A balances very nicely with Dominants.

June 3, 2007 at 04:22 PM · I personally prefer steel Es.

I use loop end Goldbrokat's.

Oistrakh used Goldbrokats infact.

June 4, 2007 at 01:49 PM · I've tried steel on lower strings but found them to have less elasticity that synthetics or gut. Or maybe the response curve is different--as you push into the strings, they stop giving and just become rigid. Synthetics and gut are more elastic, and the elasticity is a constant and more predictable curve.

June 13, 2007 at 08:49 PM · Yes! - Because of that for G I use a Dominant. The others Helicore or Flexocor/Permanent.

June 16, 2007 at 03:38 AM · Hello, Finn.

I am an adult violin student, who just started learning the violin in late February and I went the traditional route of students using steel strings.

I wanted the advantage that steel strings offer of "settling" more quickly and staying fairly settled.

I am on a very tight budget and got a set of Preludes put on the violin and have a spare set in my violin case.

I now wish, however, that I'd spent the extra money to pay for a set of Helicore steel strings, which have a richer sound (in my opinion) than the Preludes.

Again, I am a student, so steel strings make sense for me.

Finally, my violin teacher, who is also a professional violinist, uses steel strings, although I have not asked her what brand or gauge. We have become closer as people, however, and I have been asking her more about her performance career, without wanting to intrude upon her privacy. Perhaps I will ask her what type of strings she uses.

Thank you for your time, Finn!

Cordially,

David

December 30, 2013 at 11:26 PM · Many (most?) Soviet era Russian violinists used a steel A along with the normal steel E, but stuck with aluminum on gut D and silver on gut G. This practice started long before any synthetic strings were available. Few classical players use steel for the D and G today because the sound is harder and less flexible than gut or synthetic. The steel A is used by Ann-Sophie Mutter and Gidon Kremer today. The Quartetto Italiano used all-steel strings from the 1940s until they disbanded in the 1980s. A steel A is actually quite a good string and can sound as good or better than a synthetic A on some violins. As for David Oistrakh, I read somewhere that he used the Prim A for years but then switched in the late 60s to the Spirocore.

December 31, 2013 at 01:29 PM · Occasionally I've used a steel A (Pirastro Chromcore) and generally have enjoyed the experience. What I particularly like are the similar tonal and response characteristics of the steel E and A. Those who have a whistling E problem may possibly find it is ameliorated by a steel A, although I am of the opinion that a whistling E is often more of a bowing technique problem than anything else.

I once installed a steel G and D; never again - they felt ugly to play on, the tone was nothing to write home about, and high on the G a pack of wolves started howling where none had been heard before. I soon passed those strings on to another player.

Having said that, a set of Helicores (heavy gauge) has been doing the business on my cello very satisfactorily for several years, and I know professionals, including a young soloist, who use them. Which goes to show that the cello is a different species than the fiddle and is not just a super-large version.

December 31, 2013 at 01:32 PM · Some fiddle players use Prim strings. O-T artist Brad Leftwich said he did so in part because they stay in tune when playing the very long and repetitious tunes for square and round dances.

January 1, 2014 at 12:20 AM · I think steel strings, particularly the thicker ones are stiffer than gut. This results in their ameliorating the player's scratches, but by the same token they are less responsive in terms of expression. I was brought up on them, I went through the grades on them and, I think, as far as the ALCM. It was when I was 18 and about to perform the first two movements of the Brahms D minor that I changed over to gut (I think it was Eudoxa to start with and later Golden Spiral, as I thought my instrument was dark toned in nature), except, of course, for the E, and frankly, I'm glad I did. I'd never have got that upper G string tone and expressiveness with steel (but might with synthetics, had they been around).

On the cello, strings are over twice the length, and the effect of the stiffness is correspondingly less, so cellists do not have the same motivation for using gut.

Somewhere in between was the guitar, where classical players preferred nylon (the only synthetic around then, too slippery for the bowed instruments) to steel.

October 16, 2015 at 02:49 AM · I'm curious, do others find playing on steel strings easier?

It seems that everytime I get to play on a violin with D'adrio cheap steel strings, I find the violin EXTREMELY easy to play. Simple, clean tones and carries vibrato very well. They are on my newly acquired acoustic-electric violin. I find the sound distasteful due to its brightness, and how it just sounds so simple.

October 16, 2015 at 04:13 AM · Strings like Helicore have a very fast attack - great for styles that need rhythmic precision and articulation. I don't find them particularly bright.

October 16, 2015 at 09:01 AM · Steel strings ar certainly easier to play: they absorb clumsy bowing better. But one can't play so near the bridge. I find their timbre more monotonous.

I began the viola in 1963: plain gut A & D ("true fifths" marked on the envelope as a selling point!), wound gut G & C. Then Eudoxa, or Red-O-Ray (brighter).

Then Jargar or Spirocore for reasons of economy and stability. The much higher tension requires less space between string and fingerboard.

With Spirocores, I always used the four little rubber grommets which filter some of the "fizz"; my ageing ears now do this for me!

Then Dominants in the 70's, with a tension similar to Eudoxas, so a higher bridge again. Nasty when new, though, so back to Eudoxas, then Aricores in the 80's.

On the violin, I use Tomastik "PI" G & D, Pirastro Chromcor-Eudoxa A and No1 (wound) E: clean, smooth tones with good transtion across the strings.

On the viola, either four steel strings (Helicore), or four synthetics (Obligatos, but an Aricore-Eudoxa A, wich sounds like a viola, rather than a trumpet!) I keep Jargar "weich" A in reserve, or the Oblogato A (wound steel).

I wonder where we are heading: In Shawn Brook's charts, Evah Pirazzis have a higher total tension than Spirocores!! And helicores higher still..

October 16, 2015 at 10:35 PM · Accuracy was the word I was looking for. Like you said, it absorbs all the clumsy bowing.

With my good violin with Obligatos and Infeld Red E, it's very loud, and complex in the lower strings. I actually like it a lot, except response time in the lower strings have been deteriorating with increasing playing hours.

With that set up, in order to have a very good intonation, speed and good vibrato, I have to be extra relaxed in the left hand, and almost no grip whatsoever in the right hand(sorry, I don't have the right word for it). At each practice, I try to achieve the best tone in the first half hour then stay with it throughout the practice. The violin also rings much better when I achieve that, and it's what inspires me to keep practicing.

On the cheap violin with steel strings, it responds immediately, and each note is accurate, articulate, and I just have so much control over the sound, and I can attack with my carbon fiber bow at any strength, still makes a good note. Just not fond of the sound though. I think with violins with Dominants, I get the similar response, which is why I ran from Dominants as soon as I tried them.

October 17, 2015 at 08:21 AM · I find steel-cored strings tend to have just one tone-colour.

I too like to concentrate on e tone rather than speed during initial warm-ups.

October 17, 2015 at 01:05 PM · I just installed a set (A, D & G) of Pirastro Flexocor-Permanent strings on one of my violins (retaining the Thomastik Peter Infeld Platinum-plated E that was already on it). The F-P strings produce gorgeous sound on this violin. I prefer them to the Evah Pirazzi Gold, Thomastik Vision Solo, and Peter Infeld sets I had been using most recently.

I decided to try the F-P strings on a violin because I had found Pirazzi Permanent strings the best ever on my viola, and on two Strad-model cellos. Flexocor-Permanent is as close as Pirastro's violin strings get to their Permanent line of steel-core strings.

Andy

October 17, 2015 at 02:29 PM · I'm a little bit puzzled, how/why is vibrato much more clear and articulate on steel strings?

October 17, 2015 at 04:30 PM · A couple of inspired guesses?

Steel-cored strings are much more tense than Eudoxa/Dominant/Tonica/Crystal(light)/Larsen etc.

For the same sound energy, they deflect less far than softer strings and react faster (with a heavier bow) .

So:

- the slight changes in tension due to the "impulse" component of vibrato will have more effect;

- their bright but over-clean tone will encourage a livelier vibrato to compensate a lack of "texture";

- their quick response will permit the quick pitch changes of a fast, lively vibrato;

- thestrings are (should be..)closer to the fingerboard, permitting a livelier vibrato.

December 20, 2015 at 06:47 AM · I'm not too crazy about the sound of steel strings, as they are often quite bright. Sometimes the strings have an unusual texture I can't put into words. Sometimes it's okay.

December 20, 2015 at 08:23 AM · I'm puzzled by something there; on the Pirastro Flexocor-Permanent, what do they mean by "Permanent"?

Are these the last strings you'll ever have to buy?

Once you tune them they'll never get out of tune?

...will they permanently bond with my violin and if I want to change strings I have to get a new one? ;)

December 20, 2015 at 02:28 PM · The Pirastro Flexocore-Permanents are excellent strings! They do have that steely backbeat, but are not overly bright at all.

Not sure about the permanence of them though

December 20, 2015 at 03:46 PM · I've had really good experiences with the Helicore strings, they are brighter but still warm and ring beautifully! I want to eventually try other steel strings, I'd kept away from them since synthetic was all I knew and I thought I'd dislike the "bright" sound, but it just sounds RIGHT to my ears, as if that's how a violin (fiddle?) is supposed to sound. :D

(Of course, everyone's tastes are different but I think it was a worthwhile experiment.)

December 21, 2015 at 12:31 AM · Last month, D'addario sent me a prototype of their new "beta" helicore strings to try out. The luthier I go to ,and myself, were amazed that they felt and sounded like synthetics. Very warm sounding strings. I don't know when they will be available as they are still in development

December 21, 2015 at 02:10 AM · I think D'Addario should make them available, especially if they sound a lot like synthetics.

December 21, 2015 at 02:10 PM · I'm a long time Helicore player. For a while I had them on both my working violins but now I use them for my electric acoustic and have a mixture of Obligatos and Helicores for my acoustic (a weird mix I know but it works for me having a steel core A string).

Why steel strings? Mainly speed of attack especially if you play something like jazz but I just as happily play classically on them. They are also very stable and you usually use four fine tuners with steel strings making tuning on the fly very quick. As for tone, I really don't find them to be metallic, I think it's mainly a matter of perception - do synthetic strings sound like plastic? Certainly Dominants or Eva Pirazzis are more edgy than Helicores. If anything Helicores are a bit thin at the low end (at least the mediums) but this works fine when amplified and they are popular as electric strings.

Helicore are not solid steel but strands spun together. Thomastik Spirocore are also fairly warm or at least not sparkly bright. There are other solid strand steel brands such as SuperSensitive that sound a bit more edgy and folky (as far as I know they are solid strand but may be wrong on that).

December 21, 2015 at 04:16 PM ·

December 22, 2015 at 03:12 AM · I think I would call them neutral rather than boring and in that way they are more of a blank canvas than all these strings with so called complexity, sizzle and projection. Maybe this is more important on an amplified instrument but in the end I think its a personal choice.

I'm not sure what you mean by elasticity but I find them soft in comparison to Dominants for example. The softness allows for a deep attack.

December 22, 2015 at 03:51 AM · Do you mean Helicores are difficult to press down on? I've faced that with some strings. Sometimes it's the string. Sometimes it's the bridge or nut. Sometimes it's both.

December 22, 2015 at 04:15 AM · They are soft strings. Never had trouble pressing down on them!

December 22, 2015 at 04:15 AM ·

December 22, 2015 at 09:12 AM · I wonder why nobody has mentioned Infeld Prazision. Whoa Nellie! Those bad boys will put some hair on your chest....or something like that.

December 25, 2015 at 03:25 AM · So I gave myself some Pirastro Flexocor for Christmas, to try them out.

HOLY CRAP they are loud!! Like, "I could play over the whole orchestra" loud!

Is that normal? My happy little fiddle is now suddenly a booming soloist!

I noticed the overtones sound like they're 'simplified'; they're still there but like a background afterthought. The strings are also very responsive, and I wouldn't recommend them for beginners because they are very forgiving (could encourage bad habits/sloppy playing). I can definitely tell I'm playing on steel.

And the ringing is tremendous!

I admit I kinda like them, but I don't know if I can get used to how loud it is for my quaint playing style.

July 16, 2016 at 06:53 AM · Well, here it goes I just put on a fresh set of Pirastro Chromcor on my violin. It certainly is a lot more more simple than Warchal Brilliant Vintage. Very easy to play with so far.

I'm not quite getting the same feeling as the break-in time edginess that I enjoy from Obligato and Warchal Brilliant Vintage set.

I think Warchal BV is almost exactly alike Obligatos, except the break-in time is longer, lasted longer, and cheaper(depending on exchange rate anyways).

Chromcor, certainly quieter, simpler, easier to play on. I think next stop will be Dominants, I never had good experiences with the Dominants, but I might as well try a full set for once.

July 16, 2016 at 08:27 AM · Oops!

July 16, 2016 at 08:28 AM · Decades ago I had one violin with Eudoxas for classicalplaying, and the other with Spirocores for a dance band in a noisy room. The steel strings would take a harder beating, and mask clumsy bowing, as well as being "cleaner" close to the microphone, and less affected by the heat from the lighting.

July 16, 2016 at 09:42 AM · Chromcor is 'quieter' for you? I tried them a while ago and it was like the volume was turned up to 11!

July 16, 2016 at 02:11 PM · Steven, you may want to try the Warchal Ametyst. I think they have a cleaner sound than the Brilliants (which are very resonant), a certain sweetness to the tone. And they are quite affordable.

July 16, 2016 at 07:55 PM · Seraphim, Ametyst has my 5 stars/5, I tried them before. I'm just at an experimental stage.

So far Chromcor is 3/5 in my books. It broke-in and stable tuning after just an hour(I have pegheds, so no peg slipping and fine-tuning is easy). The sound is too clear. It's missing the complexity, and apparently I do like complexity.

July 16, 2016 at 07:57 PM · So far, my 5/5 are:

Obligato

Infeld Red

Warchal Brilliant Vintage

Warchal Ametyst

4/5 are:

Warchal Amber

3/5 are:

Pirastro Chromcor

Warchal Karnoel-I might've had a dud, it just was awful with my violin, it's on my electric violin now.

July 18, 2016 at 08:07 PM · Update:

Chromcor, 2/5. This set is a terrible combination with my violin. Especially G string, it stretches at aggressive bowing. A sound soul-less and D and E are decent.

July 18, 2016 at 09:10 PM · At least on my violin, Warchal Brilliant Vintage is very, very different than Obligatos. However, they're surprisingly close to regular Passiones.

July 20, 2016 at 12:35 AM · I've never tried Passiones, so I can't compare. Well, each string makes different noises on each instrument with each bow. I like violins for its complexity.

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