Low tension vs High tension strings

December 31, 2010 at 08:31 PM ·

I've read about these a lot - the PI low tensions are the topic that promted this question.  But why pick one over the other?  Is this determined by the instrument, the sound, the player, the piece or some other reason?


Replies (32)

December 31, 2010 at 10:10 PM ·


January 1, 2011 at 12:38 AM ·

 In my opinion, I think the strings  you use have to match the character of your violin and the sound that you are going for. A hard bridge and soundpost put in at higher tension will match better with high-tension strings. While a softer bridge and soundpost put at soft tension with match better low tension strings.

The effect of low tension setup is a warmer, modulable sound, while a high tension setup is a powerful brilliant sound. Some people mix and match (or are unaware) these qualities to achieve the sound that they want.

January 1, 2011 at 12:48 AM ·

I have been experimenting with lower tension strings and I have found that low tension tends to be warmer and not as loud.  But the downside is lower tension strings crush more easily, so require a more delicate bow arm.  Lower tension strings are also much easier on the finger tips.  I can't play on Evah's -- it's like finger torture.  I wish I weren't so wimpy.

January 1, 2011 at 12:15 PM ·

Interesting.  To be honest, I'm not sure what I have on right now (the Luthier told me but I forgot to write it down).  I was using dominants with a jaeger E on my previous violin, which I assume are high-tension strings.  These ones feel high too, and the violin is loud but the sounds is still sweet - which probably means a good match. 

[Smiley: is it possible you are squeezing too hard?   I found I've been doing that, gripping with the thumb - its a current project to 'stop it'  (qv Bob Newheart skit on UTube).  It really doesn't take much pressure to make a note and I've found that my L hand becomes much more fluid...] 

January 1, 2011 at 02:40 PM ·

Elise is correct. Most of the time you don't need to press the string into contact with the finger board in order to get a good sound. A good way to find this is to bow a note – say the C on the A string – with the finger barely touching the string. You'll get a whispery sort of sound but no discernible note. Gradually increase the weight of the finger on the string until a clear note is heard. Unless you have an incredibly low action the string shouldn't at that moment be in contact with the finger board. That is the effortless weight of finger contact you should aim for. It needs no opposing reaction from the thumb.

January 1, 2011 at 03:51 PM ·


A very happy new year!!!

well, i have just moved from pirastro chromcor to tonica medium tension after three years.this has been for about two months the sound is deafening. it does help to ease the finger pressure. but when i do this i am less confident about the intonation. the bowing tends sounds glassy too.

after two months when i went back to chromcor it just did not feel like playing the violin. i was like zipping through. so now its back to tonica medium tension. it is getting better as far as the fingering is concerned. but the higher positions are still tough. and the bowing too.

More suggetions and guidance will be much appreciated.

January 1, 2011 at 03:55 PM ·


To figure out what strings you have, you might find this String Identification chart useful.  I believe dominants are medium/low tension compared to others.

I don't think I am pressing too hard.  I am just a wimp. :-(

January 1, 2011 at 04:19 PM ·

Take a look at a Sarangi. The string is "stopped" without any pushing the string tp the fingboard at all. Rather, it is the side of the finger pushing sideways.

 go to 1:59 and 3:00 of the following:


also good views here:





January 1, 2011 at 05:07 PM ·

 I'd be wary of thinking it terms of string gauges doing specific things like making a violin warmer or brighter.. For instance, on a violin that's already keyed up to the max, heavy gauge strings can repress brightness since high frequencies are delicate and the first to go when the system is over-tensioned. Likewise, on an over-tensioned violin, a lighter gauge can open up the sound and make it clearer. What happens really depends on where your specific violin is starting from.

January 1, 2011 at 11:59 PM ·

 I'm referring to a combination of making and setup. Both NYC and Chicago have a reputation for this. It involves things like aggressive necksets/bridges and tight posts. There seems to be a myth that more tension gives more, forever, where the way it really works is that more gives more up to a certain point, then less; that is, there's an optimum spot for power. . . and that may detract from other aspects of the quality, which often require less tension. As with anything else, there's a balancing act, and various optimums, depending on what you want. No one answer fits all.

January 2, 2011 at 01:04 AM ·

I suppose that is code for Renée Morel, and Bein&Fushi.

I don't know anything about the latter, but I have heard a couple firsthand stories of utter miracles with the former...

January 2, 2011 at 08:09 PM ·

Generallyl, it can be said that the higher the tension, the louder the sound. Unfortunately, high tension has a number of disadvantages. First of all, it makes playability and response worse. This is manifested mostly in the softer dynamic ranges and higher positions. Moreover, with increasing tension, the number of overtones in the sound decreases; the sound becomes rather strong close to th ears, but does not project well. When the tension is too low, the sound is thin and sharp, lacking a robust core.

However it is much depending on a particular instrument.

January 3, 2011 at 12:30 AM ·

So is there a table for the tension of different strings?  It would be interesting to hear if people's experiences fit with the predictions here... the 'high tension/high volume/low tonal dynamic range" , 'low-tension opposite" seems a good starting point (if that is fair)... 

January 3, 2011 at 12:44 AM ·

The ultimate bottom line is that you'll need to try a string on your violin to truly know how it works. Warchal has given some valuable general guidelines, but has basically said the same thing.

There's one more confounding factor: A particular string might work best with an existing adjustment, and another string might blow it away with a different adjustment.


January 3, 2011 at 01:00 AM ·

...is nothing simple about this instrument David? :-\

January 3, 2011 at 01:23 AM ·

I have to say, there are WAY too many choices for violin strings; it is absolutely overwhelming.  Not only are there so many brands and models, you also have the choice of thin, medium and heavy gauge.  In the ideal world, where time and money are no object, one would try every single string to see which ones work best with a given instrument, but since time and money are always an object, that is not really feasible.

As pointed out by Mr Darnton, there is no absolute rule, but at least to narrow the search somewhat, I think the general rules of thumb are still useful, i.e., lower tension tends towards warmer, more complex sound but less projection than higher tension strings.  In my personal trials (I have tried about 8 different brands of strings over the years), I have found that this rule of thumb is more or less applicable to the strings I've tried.  That at least gives a starting point.  But, in the end, the proof is still in the pudding. 

January 3, 2011 at 03:14 AM ·

I'm using the strings my luthier put on - I mean the luthier that made the violin.  I'm guessing he's probably got a good idea what works.  Something may be better but I may not be the person to find out!  Right now I love the sound but I guess the violin will evolve in time...

January 3, 2011 at 08:19 AM ·

They are a set right now.  I did try changing one - the A I think - but the result was not an improvement.  However, I might try the D, he's a bit quieter in the upper register than the other strings.  From the above, maybe I should try a higher-tension string... but I don't want to loose the rich tone.

January 3, 2011 at 02:34 PM ·

Bach, in the polyphonic sections of his solo violin works, often takes advantage of the different tonal characteristics of the four strings to represent four different voices. Awareness of this should determine the fingering and positions used when playing these compositions.
The sound of the violin would be much less interesting if you couldn't tell the strings apart by their tone. 

January 3, 2011 at 03:31 PM ·

Don, that is a question for the manufacturers to answer, but I've always understood "matching sets" has to do with overall tonal quality, longevity, materials, and end use (electric violin, inexpensive beginner, baroque, concerto, orchestral etc), helped along with matching color codes, which are sometimes mystifying!   

January 3, 2011 at 04:59 PM ·

Elise, the tone in higher positions on the D string is the downfall of most violins.  My guess is that it's a function of the instrument more than the string.  Maybe David could weigh in on why this is so?

January 3, 2011 at 08:50 PM ·

Shopping for strings and shopping for violins suffer from the same problem.  According to the manufacturer (or seller), they all have full rich tone, quick response, great projection, etc, etc., but when it comes time to try them out, 9 times out of 10, it's a dissappointment.


January 3, 2011 at 09:13 PM ·

 I use Passione Solo strings and in the time I've had them, they have been brilliant and haven't yet gone false (I put them on my violin late October). They are a great set in my opinion and are nice under my fingers when I'm playing. All in all, I'm really pleased with the set. However, I won't be able to afford to buy any (Pirastro kindly sent me a set to sample) so I've got to start the search for some new strings when they need replacing. I was wondering if anyone had any suggestions?

January 4, 2011 at 08:13 AM ·

Here's an interesting article on strings (as an introduction) but it may be a bit dated now:


By the way, apparently I have Evah Pirazzi strings on.  I understand these are high tension strings and yet my violin sounds sweet.  The G has a buzzy sound though (far as i can see nothing is loose but I'm going to get it checked). 


February 2, 2011 at 08:25 AM ·

 High tension: I think you have to press more to change the loudness of the sound. Also, it's more difficult to create a 'nuanced' sound. However, you are able to press down on the strings more without the sound 'collapsing' per se. Pirazzi has high tension.

Low tension: Able to produce a wide variety of sounds because the low tension is more responsive. However, putting too much pressure on the strings may cause the sound to 'collapse' rather than getting loud. Gut strings have low tension. 

I find that Thomastik Dominant with Oliv E string works well though I am right now trying the Thomastik Vision Titanium Orchestra. The orchestra also has medium/low tension (higher than Dominants) but I think it has longer life than the Dominant. I tried the Vision Titanium Solo but the sound's too bright for the violin


Just try to find the strings that work best for you and your instrument


February 3, 2011 at 01:32 AM ·

Elise:  "So is there a table for the tension of different strings?"

Somebody on Maestronet, I've forgotten who, put one together a while back. It is far from complete but covers most of the common synthetics, mostly medium gauge. Try a search with Google (String tension chart, site:Maestronet.com). That may not be exactly right. If it doesn't work, PM me and I can email it. It is an Excel spreadsheet and works fine in Open Office. I think the info came directly from the makers websites. It's a little surprising.

February 3, 2011 at 10:46 AM ·

 I have tried the links at Maestronet, but it seems the files are not available anymore. Will you send me the excel file to nacho.teminoATgmail.com?

Thank you in advance.

February 3, 2011 at 03:08 PM ·

 Any chance of publishing that information, or selected parts thereof (e.g. the surprising bits), here – perhaps in a blog?

February 3, 2011 at 07:21 PM ·

Hi, Trevor.  I'm not much for blogging (maybe Nicolas will take it on), but here is a little bit, and I would be happy to email it to anybody. It covers partially Thomastik, Pirastro and D'Addario. Only Zyex in all three gauges and I think the old version. These numbers all came from manufacturers web sites, although it can take a little digging. The numbers are pounds force, by the way. Not really any smoking guns here but interesting to me. Wondertone and Gold Label are listed separately with Wondertone tensions about the same as most synthetics and Gold Label a little lower except the E.  I'm not familiar with Wondertone and one of my catalogs uses both names together.

All G strings are about 10 lbs except violino and gold label (lower) and Evah and Zyex (higher).

D strings similar except that silver, where available, always a little higher than aluminum.  More variable than G.

A strings more uniform, around 12 lbs except Evah and Zyex.

E's mostly around 17 except wound Dominant (16), Evah steel (19) and wound Po-Arte (18).

Wish I had time to dig into it more myself.

February 3, 2011 at 08:56 PM ·

Thanks Lyle, that's interesting,  especially about the Evahs and Zyex , which have similar tensions. On one of my violins I'm currently running a set of Evahs, but the A developed an unexpected fray (my strings almost never fray), so I replaced it with a spare Zyex. The feel and sound are almost identical.  

February 3, 2011 at 09:41 PM ·

Trevor, are the Zyex strings the new version or old version? 

The new version remind me more of Obligatos (sound and tension-wise) than anything else.

February 7, 2011 at 09:55 PM ·

Andrew, that Zyex A is a spare I last used a couple of years ago, but it's still in good condition. I think it may be the new model because the ball end is blue with a dark blue band at the bridge end, and the peg end is black-wound. I don't have any other Zyex strings.

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