Can you help me figure this out?

February 1, 2010 at 10:43 PM ·

Why are strings so expensive? Is there any reason aside from making money? It costs about 6$ for 6 guitar strings, but an arm and a half for four violin strings (exaggeration). Is there really that big of a difference? are they really hard to produce? I know a lot are made out of different matierial, but you could buy a family a matching set of nylon jump suits for half the price of a set of nylon strings, or is it a different kind of nylon? 

Plus, with the amount of livestock slaughtered everyday, you would think that gut strings would cost less then a lamb chop dinner. I just don't understand this.

Mabye they assume all violinists are rich and snooty like the stereotype for people that like classical music.

Replies (47)

February 1, 2010 at 11:08 PM ·

As always, when people are forced to buy something (assuming we can't make strings ourelves in our basement lol) they can put the price they want...

Funny you look so much like Einstein ; ) 

Anne-Marie

February 1, 2010 at 11:53 PM ·

You can buy Black Diamond violin strings for US$4.34 a set, if price is all that concerns you.  Cheaper than guitar strings.

You can buy Opera nylon strings from China for about $10 per set.

There are well over a million violins sold every year, and most of them need strings.  It's a fair sized market with plenty of competition.  Haven't heard any mention of a violin string producers' cartel.

If you don't want to pay the price, buy something cheaper, or don't buy at all. Monofilament fishing line can work. So can mandolin strings. They just don't sound very good.

If you think it's possible to produce a better string than what's on the market for less money and still make a decent profit, by all means go ahead. 

Alternatively, you can make your own out of gut or sinew.  Historically, they were hand made, and they are still largely hand made except for the winding and sizing / polishing machines.

No, I don't think we are being used. Not as long as we are free to choose.

February 2, 2010 at 12:55 AM ·

Pro Arte guitar strings are about 17 dollars less than Pro Arte violin strings. 

That being said, the higher strings on a guitar are usually just a solid nylon cord.  Then again, on the violin the highest violin string is just a metal wire AND there are as many wound guitar strings as there are wound violin strings. 

So...yes they're probably charging us a little more.  Prices are set by supply and demand...and in the case of violin strings probably other factors since there are only a few well known manufacturers so it really can't be helped much. 

February 2, 2010 at 01:07 AM ·

 Guitar strings are twice as long as violin strings. That's a lot more material.  

February 2, 2010 at 02:18 AM ·

 Its undoubtedly a conspiracy. Perhaps you can petition the current US administration to do something about it. They are trying to do something about everything else. Why not violin strings too?

February 2, 2010 at 04:05 AM ·

Over a lifetime of playing violin, I have gone through 1000 + strings, mostly from Germany.  In that time, I have come across one defective string.  I think that money has been well spent.  Quality strings do make a difference.  I budget for strings.

Rich?  No.  Snooty?  Maybe.  I guess we all have our own sets of priorities. 

 

February 2, 2010 at 05:03 AM ·

Though I love feeling like the man's got it out for me, I have to agree with the naysayers. 

As a guitarist and violinist I have to acknowledge that the RANGE of prices for guitar strings is comparable to that of violin strings.  It's just that very few guitarists feel the need to spend the money on the really expensive ones.

So, I guess that they don't have to take advantage of us violinists because they think we're snooty.  We're totally capable of doing that ourselves.

February 2, 2010 at 07:03 AM ·

I think there is a significant difference in the strings, as I have tried a number of chealer alternative violin strings, and I would not consider anything below a $20.00 price point at this time.
When I get a new fiddle, I take the oportunity to experiment before I settile in to the final configuration; you may try that too, maybe even take some guitar strings and trim them doen next time you are going to change strings?

My perception is the Quality Control on violin strings is the big reason for the difference; not the makeup, but the extra steps to make certain they are consistent.

February 2, 2010 at 07:40 AM ·

I also play guitar. The most expensive guitar strings I could find were 45$ (but there could still be some that are more). Top three were gut, and the bottom three were silver wound, yet its twice that for violin strings made out of the same matierial.

"My perception is the Quality Control on violin strings is the big reason for the difference"  but they come in the same packaging as guitar strings. You mean before there in the package? What about companys that make both? 

Strings make a much bigger difference on violins, which could explain the price gap. I never indicated that they weren't worth getting, the difference I mentioned was pertaining to violin strings vs. guitar strings. Things still dont seem to add up, I guess its just all relative   ; )

February 2, 2010 at 08:56 PM ·

 Randy,

which are these expensive guitar strings of which you speak?  Maybe I"m out of the loop, I've been using the same strings for 20 years or so now, but at the time they were the most expensive guitar strings on the market (I think).  They're still more than GHS and D'Addario (I'm speaking of classical guitar strings, not phosphor bronze, nickel, etc.).

Do you mean that there are guitar strings with list prices that compare to the higher-priced violin strings?

February 2, 2010 at 09:20 PM ·

 I too am a lifelong guitarist.  I think we expect more from violin strings that we do of guitar strings.  It would not surprise me if violin strings were made to finer tolerances as they have to provide smooth operation and tonal balance with a hair bow sliding over them.  

There appears to be no reason why one could not use guitar strings of appropriate gauge on a violin.  Just cut them short.  I would not do it, but I expect they would work, after a fashion, if economy is a priority.  Tone is my priority and a few extra bucks each month is worth it in my view.  

 

 

 

February 2, 2010 at 10:40 PM ·

I guess it all comes down to priorities...very decent strings will cost in the $60.00 range...if you change them every six months it amounts to a mere 34¢ per day

February 2, 2010 at 11:39 PM ·

As a violin maker I spend a lot with strings...    There is the Euro factor, most of the strings we use are made in Europe, and the dollas is quite weak against the Euro.

Good strings may be quite difficult to make otherwise Chinese would be making good strings, which is not the case.

www.manfio.com

 

February 3, 2010 at 05:29 AM ·

Most (steel string) guitar strings are made in USA. A set runs $6-.8. I can get a good set of mandolin strings for less than $10 for 8 strings; for my Neapolitan mandolins I need strings made in Europe; they run about 25-30 per set. The quality is high; a set can last a long time. Some of the cost is due to shipping and low demand in the US, some of it in (perhaps) higher quality of material and construction, some of it is greed.

I suspect a high OC/neurotic index for string players, which loads the situation against them. I can't really see paying more than $40 for a set of violin strings, but of course I have to, if I want the fiddle to shine. But I do think someone's making millions off this.

On the other hand, there's economy of scale. I suspect strings bring a decent profit to brick and mortar shops, which we need. No doubt they buy in large discounted quantity.  I don't mind them making a buck.

 Daniel Larson at Gamut Strings handmakes various types of gut string. You can get a set that includes double e, a and d strings and a single G for around $60. If a single maker can put this much effort into essentially handmade strings at a reasonable price point, , it gives me serious pause at the prices asked by the major string manufacturers.

 

February 3, 2010 at 07:19 AM ·

I don't know if we're being used, since I have no idea what goes into string making but it does seem kinda weird that the price of a set of Dominants was pretty normal in the low 20s for a long time and then suddenly they started to cost the same as Obligatos and Evah Pirazzis, just saying.  I don't think that was a good move on Thomastik's part because a lot of the reason Dominants were so popular is that they sounded as good as a lot of those expensive ones and cost less than half as much.  Now that the cost is very similar perhaps some players will give into Pirastro's energetic advertising.

Hmm.. 6 months?  That's not necessarily my experience but maybe I just practice too much (also possible).  I must wear out my strings too frequently

February 3, 2010 at 10:14 AM ·

Good strings were expensive in the past. If I am not wrong, there is a letter by Bach mentioning the price of strngs to one of his patrons, and they were comparetevely more expensive than today.

Perhaps the demand increased because the number of player today is much bigger than in the 80's, and that was reflected on price.

Wood, resins and raw material for violin making in general is much more expensive today too.

But as I have mentioned, I imagine that making good strings is not an easy thing, it may envolve dear materials,  dear workers, research, etc, otherwise the Chinese would be making good strings by now, wich is not the case.  I test drive new strings for some European and American manufacturers, and it takes time to develop a new string that will be accepted by professionals.

The number of brands used by professionals is small, pointing out to a market that is very demanding in quality, and willing to pay the price.

www.manfio.com

February 3, 2010 at 11:40 AM ·

Hmm.. 6 months?  That's not necessarily my experience but maybe I just practice too much (also possible).  I must wear out my strings too frequently

JUST DO THE MATH...if you change them every month then the cost is $2.00 per day....how much did you spend on coffee yesterday????

February 3, 2010 at 11:47 AM ·

I have noticed that the "tolerance" in relation to strings durability may change from player to player. Toby Appel told me he changes the strings on his violas every year and half!  If I were a professional I would change them every month, at least, because  I think there is a quick loss in high frequencies, mainly in the basses.

www.manfio.com

February 3, 2010 at 04:18 PM ·

It is my understanding that strings for bowed instruments have special requirements for self-damping. That is just the opposite of the requirements for plucked strings, that are required to "ring."

Gut strings have that self-damping quality. To get a similar quality in metal and synthetic-material, composite-construction strings, requires more complicated material selection and manufacturing techniques.

Andy

February 3, 2010 at 04:43 PM ·

If you take apart a set of violin strings, you'll find that they're much more complex than guitar strings, with more layers, of different materials. Every layer multiplies, not adds to, difficulty for the maker. In my shop we have gone through the lower grades of strings looking for something adequate for our rental violins, and found that the lowest-priced ones aren't even good enough for rentals.

We tried Piranito cello strings (from Pirastro!) and the pitch varies depending on how hard you play--because of this, they can't be tuned! It wasn't just us being fussy; teachers complained, too. You'd think that making a string that could be tuned would be fairly basic. Some of the stuff that comes in the door on Ebay violins looks a lot like guitar strings, and are horrible sounding beyond belief. I don't think making violin strings is an easy job that can be compared with guitar.

By the way, I've tried appropriately gauged guitar strings as vioiin E strings. It's all just plain steel, but it isn't: they clearly didn't work at all.

February 3, 2010 at 08:40 PM ·

 Michael,

thanks for that info--I thought that both guitar and violin strings were simply some sort of nylon-type material with a metal winding.

I figured that it was something like charging more for the same drug if it's used for humans rather than animals.  I guess that says something about how I feel the general public regards guitarists as opposed to violinists (and I'm a life-long guitarist, so I can say that).

February 3, 2010 at 09:34 PM ·

Just received a couple sets of Eudoxa's in today's mail...cost $47.00 per set including postage...a modest some for my favorite gal "Fifi Millant"

February 3, 2010 at 09:42 PM ·

Nice violin Sam!

February 3, 2010 at 09:53 PM ·

I keep passiones on my fav man Xaveri :-)  Kinda pricey...but it's not like you have to buy new strings everyday.  Go to www.gostrings.com  Love them!

 

February 3, 2010 at 10:37 PM ·

ATTN : Jonathon et al,

http://www.nsamusicsupplies.com/  plus $10.00 off discount for February too...you may be able to save a couple of bucks

February 3, 2010 at 11:52 PM ·

Well I didn't mean to whine.  I am just wondering one thing though, for peace of mind: are the prices going up because we're running out of the materials?  I know that pernambuco shortages are causing more bowmakers to turn to carbon fiber for making bows but are we going to be running out of materials for strings as well?

If the materials are becoming problematic it seems to me that string companies might be interested in some kind of recycling program.  I'd be willing to save my old strings and send them back to Thomastik if the materials could somehow be salvaged and used again.

February 4, 2010 at 03:24 AM ·

Prices of European products are going up constantly because of the constant weakening of the dollar against the Euro, triggered primarily by the US's constant borrowing due to ever-increasing deficits, and to balance of trade deficits. This isn't a political observation, just a non-partisan economical one.

 

February 4, 2010 at 03:48 AM ·

I use gut strings. Whenever I visit Daniel Larson's website I can't help but be impressed by the time and effort that goes into making them. So for me it's more like the deal of the century. But I'm also happy that my guitar strings are only 9 dollars a set. :)

February 4, 2010 at 09:51 AM ·

I'm glad the different structure of guitar and violin strings has been mentioned. Guitar strings can be made very simple, but there are also some which are more complex and sound finer than others.

One point is still missing. We can work with our set of violin strings for some months, but on my guitars I have to change the strings for every single gig, if I want a decent sound. There are guitarist who don't do this, but then they miss a special clean and brilliant tone. On classical guitars the treble strings last much longer, but the wound bass strings lose their brilliance very  early.

Btw, the string prices here in Germany are higher. I pay 60€ {regular price 70€) for a set of Evah Pirazzis, and 40€ for Dominants.

February 4, 2010 at 10:44 AM ·

Yes, strings in Europe are more expensive than in the USA, it is hard to believe, but it's true, at least in the last 25 years.

www.manfio.com

February 4, 2010 at 12:06 PM ·

I don't know what all is involved in churning out strings during production, but having been around a couple of engineers with the string manufacturer D'Addario, and having a little exposure to the development and testing process involved with new strings, it must be awfully expensive.

Different metals and wire shapes and sizes are tested for windings. Different core materials are tried. Different damping materials are tried. Some outer winding material will "grip the bow" better than others. Different thicknesses and tensions are tried. Throughout this process, there is testing and feedback from musicians, and one needs to figure out what to do when some musicians test the string and say, "This is very good, except for this one little thing".

One thing which needs to be controlled on violin strings, which probably isn't a factor as much on guitar strings, is the resistance to twisting or rotation of the string. Since a bow applies a sideways force on only one side of the string, it tends to roll or twist. This twisting back and forth can form another vibration regime, with it's own contribution to sound or playability, and it can do some other interesting things too.

I once tried some prototype strings from another manufacturer, and the resistance to twisting was way off. What would happen is that every time the bow would change directions, there would be no sound for a moment, as the string "wrapped up". Once the string had rolled up to the point where it wouldn't go any farther, you'd finally get some sound. :-)

They worked fine for Pizzicato......

February 4, 2010 at 08:16 PM ·

Interesting comment, David. The twisting thing is indeed crucial and it also has to do with the stickiness of the rosin. Also, if my memory serves me correctly, a plucked string vibrates with a standing wave and a bowed one has to vibrate with Helmholtz motion. What any of this has to do with the price is beyond me but I find it interesting. Certainly the design of a violin string must be different than a guitar string because of the differences in excitation as well as vibrational modes.

February 5, 2010 at 08:38 AM ·

You think violin strings are expensive, try cello strings. They will cost you both arms and both legs!

February 5, 2010 at 09:48 AM ·

Yeah...  and what about Harp strings...   and some woodwing instruments that will "die" after 5 years of use, such as the oboe...

www.manfio.com

February 5, 2010 at 03:48 PM ·

I'm a cheapskate who have been using a set of Dominant string for almost 2 years.Anyone know what kind of string last the longest time(gut or steel or other...)?Or what brand of string(Evah,Olive...)?

February 5, 2010 at 10:25 PM ·

Yes, a major symphony player was recently mentioning some of the woodwinds in the group, which are cheaper than violins, but are considered to "blow out" in about five years. Then there's also the matter of what goes into good reeds...

If there was a fabulous margin between production costs and selling price with good strings, and they were easy to duplicate, I imagine that there would be a greater selection of strings used by good players. But it doesn't seem to be that way. Just a guess on the reasons.

"Bartholomew", on string life, it's tough to give a good answer. Some people play them until they break. Others find that the strings have changed unacceptably in a short time. I know of one soloist who changes strings before every performance; twice in a day, if there are two performances.

February 6, 2010 at 05:07 AM ·

Common people , you cna pay $20 for a stinking pizza these days, and $3 for the zantax..

July 20, 2011 at 02:32 PM ·

July 20, 2011 at 03:43 PM ·

On my best violin (orchestra/chamber) I use Chorda gut A, D and G, and a Goldbrokat E.

Looking at the prices quoted by a well-known on-line violin string supplier in the UK, this is my projected expenditure for strings on that violin for the coming year:
E (x 2)   £2.64
A (x 4)   £28.80
D (x 3)   £26.40
G (1)     £12.00
Total: £69.84 (free economy delivery to the UK by the supplier)
It is possible I might get away with 1xE, 3xA, and 2xD, in which case the total would be £52.52.

For the time being I've taken the gut strings off violin #2 (practice/folk music) and replaced them with various old (but ok) synthetic core strings that need to be used up, so I don't expect to be spending on strings for violin #2 for a while.

I suggest the reasons why gut strings (esp plain gut) are significantly less expensive than their synthetic core equivalents are,
1) there is far less R&D expenditure involved in their production – there is of course some because no craft, even the oldest, is ever completely static, or can afford to be,
2) the raw materials are animal byproducts (I always say "thank you" when driving past a field of sheep),
3) the tone of gut strings doesn't seem to deteriorate with use anything like synthetic cores do (admittedly that is my personal impression), and fraying of the gut is a good early warning sign.

 

 

July 21, 2011 at 05:13 PM ·

I can't help but think that if you believe that guitar strings are equivalent to violin strings, that maybe you should buy guitar strings and cut them down to fit your violin and see how that works! ;DDDD

If you want to feel better about the price of violin strings, check out the price of some brands of cello strings. WHOA!

 

July 21, 2011 at 05:56 PM ·

Round wound guitar strings arent good with a bow. But I used to like flat wound guitar strings when I played guitar. I played rock but mostly only jazz guitar players like flat wound cuz they have a softer tone than round wound. But they were really tough and cheap. $11 for 4 wound/2 plain steel. You can make alot of money selling rich people things alot more than they really should cost. I wear $18 wrangler jeans and I used to own 2 pairs of $120 designer jeans and I dont think there is really much difference exept the price. But really $40 per pair ( Levis ) is probably better so the workers are payed more. But you do also need that silky winding to protect the wood peg. You dont need that on guitar.

July 21, 2011 at 06:45 PM ·

Rebecca: cello strings are, I assume, lower tension so do they also last longer?  Also cellists aren't as crazy as violinists... I find :)

July 21, 2011 at 10:24 PM ·

Why do you assume cello strings are lower tension?  That is a very silly assumption indeed.

July 21, 2011 at 11:02 PM ·

If I feel just awful when an E string breaks on my violin, I wonder what'll happen to me if I break a cello string @_@

July 22, 2011 at 09:10 AM ·

Here is a website that shows graphs of violin, viola and cello string tensions: http://www.rdebey.com/string_tension.htm

Extracting a few figures from these graphs it appears that the total tension for a set of medium violin synthetic core/steel strings can be anything between 47 - 59 lbs, with an average of 52. The average total for the cello is 127 lbs.

The total tension for violin Eudoxas is 44, but that includes a steel E.  If you had a set of plain gut E,A,D with a wound gut G I think the total tension would be a bit less than 40.  I have no figures for the cello Eudoxa, but the lowest tension non-gut cello set seems to be the Dominants at 102.

Someone referred to round-wound guitar strings as being no good for bowing. If they are guitar strings maybe, but on my gut-strung violin the Pirastro Chorda G is round-wound gut. Imo it gives a richer sound than the flat-wound Eudoxa G. It's a lovely string to play on and I suspect the tension is slightly lower than the Eudoxa's. Incidentally, the Chorda G is the only string I've found that has completely rid my old violin of the wolves that used to camp out in the lower regions of the second octave of the G.

If violinists are worried about their string costs then they should have a look at on-line double bass string prices, but be prepared to have a good lie-down afterwards!  Some years ago I knew an orchestral bass player who had been using the same set of steel strings for over 30 years (he's probably still using them). Don't ask me what the tension of those strings could be, I don't know and prefer not to think about it.

July 22, 2011 at 09:30 AM ·

Interesting Trevor, and takes me back to my childhood violin strings.  As I recall, the round wound strings give a quite loud whoosh sound if the finger remains in contact during a shift - which is one reason the tape-wound ones were favoured.  Do you get this effect?

 

[@Bill: thanks] 

July 22, 2011 at 10:02 AM ·

Elise, the "whoosh" when shifting on the Chorda G is very slight, and most of the time I'm not aware of it. It's certainly nowhere in the same league as the round-wound strings I had on my classical guitar. Perhaps Pirastro have engineered the winding on the Chorda to reduce this effect (or "feature"!). Anyway, I'm inclined to think that too much finger pressure (or perhaps too little) is a significant factor in causing the sound. 

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