Gut Strings for Beginners?

November 7, 2009 at 04:16 AM ·

 Hello! Ive been reading the threads on this site for months and have learned SO much. This is my first posting.

I am 20 years old and am about to start violin lessons. I am really attracted to the deep, rich sound of gut-core strings but they seem to be geared towards advanced players- am a bit concerned that starting on them could be inappropriate. I have no idea really. Im leaning towards the new Pirastro Passione's.

I think if I had a brand new, shiny, cheap violin I would go for regular strings, but mine is around 200 years old and gut-core strings just seem so fitting.

Any comments or suggestions would be greatly appreciated!

Replies (21)

November 7, 2009 at 04:34 AM ·


nothing wrong with starting on passions.  You might consider the cheaper gut covered Eudoxas first.




November 7, 2009 at 05:19 AM ·

I think passiones are stable enough that they won't be a problem when tuning the instrument and they sound great!

November 7, 2009 at 05:22 AM ·

Hey Shona,

Nothing against Passione's (I have them on my violin and love them), but I'm not sure it's the best string to start with. If your violin is 200 years old, it will most likely have a more mature and rich sound. Generally, if a violin is rich and dark, bright strings will go on it, while if an instrument is overly bright, darker strings would go on it (dark strings on a dark violin could muddy the sound, while bright strings on a bright violin could make it sound harsh). That said, a 200 year old instrument could easily be bright, so I'd ask your teacher when you go to him/her.

Also, Passione strings are *very* expensive. I spent around $140 on my first set, although I think you can get them much cheaper if you buy online. If you do this, I suggest buying the medium gauge for all of them, which should have listed (gauge for gut strings is based off of numbers, not the words "thin, thick"). You can always change gauge after starting and thinking the string is too unresponsive ect. Medium is just a good starting point :)


Pros: Strings sound AMAZING. Very reliable (no tuning problems) after the first few days.

Cons: Expensive, and especially for somebody who is relatively new, the string may not make a difference in sound. In my opinion (the next person might disagree with me), one should start with synthetic strings: they are generally easier to start with. It took me a little while to get used to the way I had to bow with gut strings after playing on synthetics.


Other options if you decide not to chose Passione's:

Vision Titanium-Overly bright from some people, but will complement an overly dark instrument... these are also expensive.

Evah Pirazzi- Also bright strings, but sound very well and will complement a dark instrument.. Expensive.

Dominant- Somewhat considered the 'neutral' string (in my opinion). They aren't too bright, aren't too dark. Are fairly cheap. That said, I would never put a dominant on my violin... ever again. For my violin they sounded horrendous.

Obligato- These might be the answer for you. If you like the dark sound, but don't want the cost of a Passione and still want synthetic these will fit well. No tuning instability (tuning instability happens if you have gut strings... all gut strings except Passione's for the most part). One warning with these though: if your instrument is very dark, these are said to 'muddy' the sound. If you have an opportunity with your teacher to go to a luthier, they can put strings on your violin and your teacher can play it while you tell which one you like best.

Eudoxa- These are expensive, very unstable tuning (gut string), and unresponsive. That said, I've heard out of all strings they have the richest and deepest sound. I really would not suggest these at the minimum until you can tune your own violin (the traditional way).


Overall, this is YOUR choice. Other people may be able to give their opinions, but it is your choice ultimately. Who knows: if you buy Passione's it might 'spark' an inner voice in you and want you to play violin and not put it down (that happened to me..=] ) Good luck with your search! :D


November 7, 2009 at 05:51 PM ·

I agree with the two first posters. Sure if you can afford Passionnes why not! It's your choice!

I can say that what Mark said about Eudoxas is true!   I am presently in love with them because I'm somehow purist and too much of an old fashion sound lover but for 100% optimum precision and control,they are maybe not the best.  If you are a true addict to old sound, they are heaven but you must know that they will untune every 5 min (but it's good to learn to adapt your hand no matter what to play in tune. But if you learn by putting tapes on the finger board, it would NEVER work because this requires stable pitch strings...)  The lifespan is medium. You have to change quite often.   These strings give an exquisite rich sound but are very stuburn so be ready to fight with ridiculous amount of RELAXATION. This is the secret if you want to be friends with them... they don't take boxing very well and if you boxe with them, you'll just have a bbbbbbbuuuuuuzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz. 

I am happy to not have start with them but now, I'm TOTALLY sold to them.  I vibrate and play like a star (in comparison not that I really do it like a star...) when I play even cheaper violins with syntethic responsive strings but nothing nothing nothing that I tried sounds as close of the sound I like as my violin with this setup.  Well, eudoxas are a great teacher in a way... 

Well see this with your teacher, try to figure out if you are for perfection, for sound, for playability. Do you want to sacrifice one for the other?   Listen to violinists of all eras on youtube and it will give you an idea of what sound you like (old, modern etc).  

If I was a professionnal, I couldn't use Eudoxas... (they did in the past because they didn't have much choice.  People had such big hands to compensate... : ) My teacher loves the sound but screams that she would die with this in an orchestra.  It's a caprice that is, ironically, very amazing for amateurs who don't have to play perfect...  However I agree with the orchestra thing... It would maybe be a burden. Then again, it's a choice...   However some are completely "gaga" with the Eudoxa sound so maybe it,s a thing to try once to know for sure (just for a test). Sure good or bad violinists are to be found with any strings.

Good luck!!!


November 17, 2009 at 03:22 AM ·

 Thank you all so much for your comments and suggestions, they have been very helpful. My violin has been under repair for the last 3 months; my luthier said it should be done in a few weeks. I have never heard it played before as it was not in playing condition when i bought it. It's quite an exciting story actually- I bought it from an estate sale for $200 and when I took it to a luthier for repair he appraised it at 3 to 10 thousand dollars (he won't know the actual number until it's ready to play)!  Needless to say, I am absolutely dying to hear it and even more excited to learn on it.

I've decided to start with a passione medium set. It seems it will be a bit too expensive for me to also try a quality set brighter than gut-core, so I think I'll opt for a cheap synthetic set to try as well- since Im new, I would like to hear the difference in gut and non-gut specific to my violin.

Can anyone suggest a cheap set of strings that would serve well in this experiment?  


November 17, 2009 at 03:44 AM ·

Try Dominant with Silver D and Jargar E forte ( thick). its great combo and that's kinda more universal, and settles easily than guts strings.

Goodluck! I have the same feeling when I have my violin set up.

November 17, 2009 at 04:24 AM ·

I also vouch for the combination Elinor suggested. Yes, get the silver D.

In addition, you might also want to try a Pirastro Gold Label E (medium) with the Dominants; popular and reliable combo.

November 17, 2009 at 01:08 PM ·

The folks at my luthiers have a very good sense, IMO, of what strings will bring out the best in violins they buy, recondition & sell. Why not ask yours for an opinion? If you're not sure about the sound from the first set they recommend, you can ask if they think it sounds "dark" or "bright", and what would take your violin a step in whichever direction. It takes many beginners awhile to get the feel for tuning. All strings wear out faster if loosened & stretched a lot while learning to tune, but I think gut maybe more than others. On that basis you might start w/Obbligatos or Dominants, which are synthetic approximations of gut. Your sound wouldn't be so different if you change later,&  they also feel pretty similar under the bow & fingers. Sue

November 17, 2009 at 06:35 PM ·

 Wonderful summary, Mark A! I enjoyed reading it and learning from it.

November 17, 2009 at 06:48 PM ·

I'm a little worried about a total beginner handling a valuable old violin, anyway that's off topic.

Regarding gut strings, I'd say just stick with something that's stable in tuning. Stable tuning is no.1 priority for beginners - the less the beginner need to take care, the more they're learn. Less is more, learn one thing at a time.

A ferrari can be a joy to drive, but imagine a beginner learning on a ferrari...

November 17, 2009 at 08:38 PM ·

I would agree with Sue and Casey.  Ask your luthier for a recommendation and maybe start with a synthetic which is less expensive and a bit more stable than the Passiones.  For someone who is just starting out, whatever extra beauty gut would provide on your violin is probably not going to help you much at this stage.  Use the money you save by not getting Passiones for lessons, a better bow, or something else that will serve you well.

November 17, 2009 at 09:39 PM ·

If you can afford the cost of more frequient replacement, and aren't put off  by doing a bit more tuning, go with your gut instincts.

Up until several decades ago, every violinist started with gut strings.

November 17, 2009 at 11:27 PM ·

These chinese synthetic core strinsare cheaper than gut and worth a try.


November 18, 2009 at 12:15 AM ·

If it were me, I wouldn't buy those strings. I've never heard of them, and they seem a bit cheap for violin strings. It's terrific that you found such a nice violin that you bought for so cheap! :D Also, I wouldn't worry too much about a beginner having an expensive violin. It's obvious the OP is not a child that would run around and destroy his/her violin. In addition, it's more dangerous, for multiple reasons (speed, crash test ratings) to use an expensive italian sports car. There is almost no down side to using a nicer violin for a beginner.

In regards to the strings, I'd use a set of Dominants for your other strings (Never, ever, ever use the E string though... with thomastik's) . Even though I don't like the strings, they are a fairly good, cheap (ish), standard set of strings. I've heard good things about Jargar E (stark) strings, so I might go there.


November 18, 2009 at 04:02 AM ·

Mark - An adult probably won't destroy a violin as a beginner by tossing it around, but there's the responsbility of taking extra care for the instruments. Remember playing the violin is to have a bow swinging around the violin, there'll be some risk on damaging the instrument, even by professionals. Then, it's 200 years old, and sensitive to the humidity. Then, there's strings changing, bridge care, varnish care, open seams detection, do's/don'ts...

November 18, 2009 at 06:06 AM ·

Casey, I appreciate your concern for my instrument, though I don't think your worries are valid.

There are many musicians in my family and I am a guitarist and pianist; I have been surrounded by music all my life and it is something I will always be passionate about. That being said, I am an experienced musician and I know I will learn the violin to the very best of my ability. More to the point, I am not new to the world of valuable instruments so obviously upon discovering the age and quality of this violin I have gone to great lengths to ensure that I am well aware of what it needs in terms of care and tender loving, if I may. I have no interest in the money so I don't think I'll sell it to protect it from the "danger" that is myself.

I completely understand what you mean though, cheers.


November 18, 2009 at 06:32 AM ·

I am having pegheds (perfection pegs) installed- the tuning issues with passiones will not be a big problem I don't think.

(By the way, I'm not installing them just because I want to try gut strings)

I know there are other threads on perfections, but does anyone have any direct experience on tuning gut strings with them?

November 18, 2009 at 06:55 AM ·

Shona, if you have experiences on taking care instruments, as well as well experienced musicians around you, just go ahead and enjoy the wonderful experience an old violin going to give you. ;-)

November 18, 2009 at 03:55 PM ·

If you will be playing your violin under different climatic conditions - for example if your house is air conditioned and your teacher's is not (or vice versa) or if one is kept hotter and drier than the other - you will find the annoyance of retuning, even with Pegheds kind of overwehlming. It is not as if one can just re-tune the instrument every time you start to play in a different venue, it is that it can take an hour or so for the strings to come into equilibrium with the new environment and they need to be retuned continually during that time.

I'd sure advise against starting out with a gut core string these days (maybe not 50 years ago). I have tried Passione strings and while they are more stable than Olive (which I also retried in the past month) they are somewhat "environmentally sensitive" like all gut strings have always been.

On the other hand if you will not have to play the instrument under conditions that change abruptly, gut strings sure can be beautiful. I don't think gut strings are aimed at advanced players, I think I had them on my first violin when I was 4 years old - what else would have been used back in those days.


November 18, 2009 at 04:05 PM ·

I would think that as an experienced musician your ears should be sharp enough to handle having to retune your violin.  It comes down to what you can afford. From most expensive down a)Passione. b) Eudoxa c) Dominants (though they are synthetic Hilary Hahn uses them and they are usualy very sweet! But ditch the E string and go with either a gold label wondertone E or a Jargar.).

November 18, 2009 at 11:37 PM ·

In regards to tuning, I don't think there will be any problem with Passione's (besides the first few days) compared to a synthetic string. I used Obligato's before, and only recently switched to Passione's. I found that Passione almost had better tuning stability.That said, Eudoxa's/Oliv's will not have that stability. They will go out of tune every 15 seconds.... (exaggeration :D)

In regards to the fine tuners, I'm not sure. I was told to only use fine tuners on steel strings when I wanted to put them on my first violin (that didn't have 4 fine tuners like my rental violin did). It probably won't harm anything, so I wouldn't worry too much.

Casey did make a good point though. Caring for a violin is a lot harder than a piano ect, so I'd look up about some basic care (which you probably know/looked up already) such as cleaning off the strings with a soft cloth, making sure the bridge is parallel to the body of the violin on one side and leaning slightly back on the other, and loosening the bow when putting it in the case.

Good luck with your new violin/strings! :D


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