string question

July 28, 2007 at 11:13 PM · do you know of any strings that would make a dark, robust and scratchy violin more clear and focused?.. i don't have any hopes that it will ever sing, i just wanna hear some suggestions on what would fit an instrument like that.

Replies (24)

July 29, 2007 at 02:45 PM · Before you change strings, it would be good to check a few things.

First, how old are your present strings, and what kind are they? Dominants, for example, can get very scratchy when they get old.

Second, is your bridge straight, square, and in the proper position? A tilted or mis-located bridge can really hurt your sound.

Third, have your sound post checked. A poorly fitted sound post can give a very scratchy sound.

Fourth, I don't want to insult you by asking the obvious, but how is your bow position? A bow that is not dead square to the strings can give a very scratchy sound. Bow speed and pressure are really important, too. Violins absolutely hate tentative bowing; you have to play it like you mean it, even in the softest passages.

My guess is that once these things have been remedied, your scratchiness will go away. Scratchy sound is quite often a matter of technique and adjustment rather than equipment.

As a fellow self-taught player, I think that really good tone production is the maybe last thing to come. My speed is good, intonation OK, rhythm OK, vibrato coming along well, and I've got a very good instrument and bows, but my tone is still a long way away from the professionals that I work with every day. I'm working hard on contact point, bow hold, speed and pressure, etc, but it's going to be a while (years?) before I'm really anywhere near proud of the sound I produce.

July 29, 2007 at 06:56 PM · You might try Thomastic Vision. They seem to me to be a lot more focused and clear (at least under my ear) than lots of other brands, especially Evas.

July 29, 2007 at 07:19 PM · From what you asked Sarah, I would suggest using gut strings for your G,D, & A (either wound or unwound). Synthetics are good, but they do not 'sing' or have the expressive nuances that gut strings have. All the great players of the past used gut strings. The greatest organic materials always beat synthetic. Sheep gut has been used for strings on musical instrument even dating back to Ancient Greece. I've heard many say that gut strings do not have the projection of synthetics. That is an absolute myth

July 29, 2007 at 08:28 PM · Sarah - you have received some good, well-meaning advice from people who cannot hear or play your violin with its current strings. While any of them might be correct, different strings sound different on different violins. You will do best to go to a luthier who can hear and play your violin with its current strings and recommend, on that basis, strings that will achieve the effect you seek. Good luck!

July 29, 2007 at 08:31 PM · Oh,my...dark, robust and scratchy just don't go together for me, maybe because dark and robust seem positive, even if not to your taste?, but scratchy is really negative. I agree with the 1st writer about everything to check and consider. If singing means something lighter, brighter or more treble? you might really be meaning you want a different violin than what you're describing. Sue

July 29, 2007 at 10:25 PM · Sorry Nate,

I must quibble with these two points:

"All the great players of the past used gut strings. The greatest organic materials always beat synthetic"

All the players of the past used gut--great and otherwise--because they had no choice.

Also, there are lots of examples of synthetics beating original organic materials, in uses from Gore-tex (beats rubber for breathability) to nylon stockings, to synthetic drugs like chloroquinine and aspirin.

I know you're a fan of gut, but it really depends on the violin. On some instrument it can sound great, but on others it can sound garbled and woofy (like mine). They're a nightmare to install and to keep tuned, and they're expensive. The poster doesn't sound like a professional, so I'd think she would only go to gut as a last resort, not a first.

July 29, 2007 at 11:34 PM · Hi Scott, I still think gut core or plain gut strings are wonderful strings for everyone to try at one time or another. Who knows they might even agree with your fiddle if you give them a shot. Of course it is a personal choice. Players since the 60's have had synthetic alternatives to gut and before that there were steel strings. So really that is not true about players not having a choice. I was referring mainly to stringed instruments when addressing organic vs. synthetic materials although it is good to point out I think how some tennis racquets strung with sheep gut are pretty damn good. Getting back to instruments, I think we can agree that horse hair and pernambuco are the best combination for a bow rather than carbon fiber or fiberglass coupled with horse hair on those ‘Coda‘ or Yamaha bows.

Actually once stretched in my experience, gut strings are quite stable. Sure one might have to tune the instrument a tad more with gut strings than with a set of Thomastik strings, but the amount of nuances and expressive soprano like qualities found with gut strings cannot be replicated in my opinion.

Gut strings are not overly expensive compared to synthetics. The plain gut A string I use is about 5 dollars, the plain gut d-string I use is 7 dollars, the G-string I use (Pirastro Gold Label) is 12.50, and the steel E I use is about 1.50. So the set of strings I use is about $26. A set of Dominants costs $33.96, a set of Thomastik Visions costs $40.03, and a set of Evah Pirazzi strings costs $40.03 at Southwest Strings

July 29, 2007 at 11:46 PM · Sarah,

I have to agree that you should have the setup of your instrument checked, as having a poorly setup bridge, tailpiece, soundpost, etc could be the real problem.

Scott, I agree with Nate on using gut strings; I have only to add that gut strings -- in addition to giving a better tone -- are far more sensitive to the distance between your bow and bridge (sounding point), to changes in bow speed and pressure, and to bow pressure and vibrato. So quite a lot of technique that can be learnt intuitively using gut strings is mostly lost on synthetics.



July 30, 2007 at 02:01 AM · In my opinion, normally strings won't have too much impact on the sound. They'll give you like 10% or maybe up to 20% of changes with strings that are made with newer material, but they won't make your violin sounds like another violin.

As for me, whatever strings on it, I don't really care. Yes, strings have character and some are very obvious, say, if there's Evahs then I might consider that the violin will have a slightly less power with say if it was Dominant; if the violin still sounded brilliant with Obligato then the violin probably has very very bright sound if it was on Vision. But still, what you hear basically represent the tone character of the violin.

It might also that your violin is lower range level thus not producing a very clear tone thus sounded dark and unpleasing (robust is a positive word, not sure if it's really what you mean).

So you can try Vision series if you want a big and brilliant sound (but honestly I hate Vision, almost always too bright and harsh for my taste).

As for the scratchy sound, it's either your bow has very little rosin, or as mentioned your violin has a poorly fitted soundpost, or it's just your skill to produce a good and focus tone. Have the violin play by your teacher or another professional and ask their opinions...

July 30, 2007 at 04:20 AM · I'm also one of's converts to gut strings--I'm stuck with Evah Pirazzis again for the time being (my new violin came strung with a new set of them and I don't want to waste them) but I hate them! So high-tension and monochromatic. I'm getting a new set of Passiones as soon as I can!

Never mind my rant, but if you want to try gut strings I personally would recommend Pirastro Passiones. They have a good deal of clarity and brilliance (the best aspects of Evah Pirazzi) but also more colors than synthetics, and they just feel nice to play on. The other advantage is they stay in tune just as well as synthetics after a few days....unlike Olivs, aaaaarrrgh.

July 30, 2007 at 06:51 AM · Did Szigeti use gut strings?

July 30, 2007 at 11:42 AM · Thanks to everyone.

The scratchy sound comes only from the violin, i have 3 violins and the other 2 don't sound like that.

the violin i'm talking about is hand made by my grandfathers brother when he was 80 years old so this violin is different. it's fingerboard is lower than normal so the bridge is cut round and low. it looks as if it has got fake purfling, looks like someone has just taken a pencil to make it look..ehum nice.

it's head is too big for it's body and really big f holes. i have replaced the soundpost once, didn't help. i have dominants on it and i have also had helicore on it once. i use obligato on my other acoustic and helicore on my electric.

hmm, i really wanna try gut strings now, but passions must be expensive... what is your oppinion on olives? ps. i'd love this violins sound if it where only dark and robust.

July 30, 2007 at 02:46 PM · Nate--probably, but I actually don't know what kind of strings he used....argh.

Sarah--Passiones are cheaper than Olivs! Good strings are expensive, and unfortunately there's really no way of getting around that. I actually found I preferred the Passiones to Olivs after a while--after a month or so the Olivs started sounding a little muddy on my old violin, and Passiones didn't. Olivs also went out of tune like crazy and it drove me nuts.

August 2, 2007 at 06:09 AM · From the description of the violin itself, it sounds like urging her towards gut strings is not the answer. Everyone is trying to push their expensive esoteric strings on Sarah, who's clearly not a professional, and I think it's a waste of money and trouble.

It's like a novice going into a fly shop and all the other fishermen pressuring her to buy a $600 rod, a $300 reel and a fly tying kit.

I think it's part of the whole "how the old masters did it" fetish.

The more strings I try, the more I come back to Dominants.

August 2, 2007 at 07:10 AM · You have a point, but I object to your assumption that those of us who prefer gut strings do so simply because of a "that's-how-the-old-masters-did-it fetish". Some of us just like the strings.

I never really liked Dominants myself, but I know a lot of people do so I guess they'd be worth a try. Incidentally, can you name any good strings that are cheap?

August 2, 2007 at 07:50 AM · Dominants seem to be the best string out there for the money. You can get a set for under $30.

August 2, 2007 at 10:16 AM · I just wrote a blog that might address this a little bit. My violin isn't dark or robust, but it is scratchy. Since my new viola sounds *so* much better than my violin, even with the same player (me) playing the same piece, just on a different instrument, I think it's not primarily due to my playing (or bow position, or what have you). Two things seem to have helped my violin so far: 1. Infeld Reds. They're not cheap, but they are clear, focussed, and ringing. And not scratchy. They make my violin sound much better in the upper register. I had Dominants on my violin before, the Infeld Reds are better.

The other thing is rosin. Using too much rosin can really make an instrument sound gritty. I've had that experience on both my violin and viola. You might just be able to try not using rosin for a few days and letting it wear off--or, you might try getting your bow rehaired and having a more minimalist approach to rosin from the start.

Finally, a light touch can do some surprising things. Try getting more volume from bow speed rather than pressure.

August 2, 2007 at 12:54 PM · Karen's point about rosin is a very good one. You should use very little rosin, perhaps running your bow over the rosin two or three times and then not rerosining for a week or so.

August 2, 2007 at 03:07 PM · For all the gut fanboys/fangirls: If Sarah emails me, I'll send her a set of Eudoxa strings, used for a day, for free. Then she can decide.

All they did for me was add extra wolfs.

August 2, 2007 at 04:50 PM · I want to tune my strings all an octave lower and play cello. It sounds like fun. Maybe that will make them not sound so bright?

August 2, 2007 at 11:16 PM · yeah scott send me those eudoxas, i don't mind experimenting with this fiddle. last night i tried to move the soundpost and guess what.. it fell, ha ha.

August 3, 2007 at 03:23 PM · Sara,

Send me your address via my profile and I'll send them to you. Get the post put up first, though.


August 3, 2007 at 03:28 PM · Go ahead and try Eudoxas, but don't judge all gut strings based on them. I'm still a "gut fangirl" and I didn't like Eudoxas.

August 3, 2007 at 04:23 PM · Yes Maura, you are right, there are so many good gut strings out there. You just have to find the right fit for your instrument.

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