Playing in tune on gut strings

July 5, 2011 at 03:50 AM ·

I want to try some different gut strings, but I have been thinking about some other things.

Currently I have light passiones on my violin with a stark gold label E. I want something on the lower end that has much more depth to the sound. A very dark sound I guess. Tchaikovsky is the concerto on the my stand as well as Beethoven Sonata No. 1. 

I was thinking about the tuning instability. I do not have that many problems with the Passiones. In Isaac Sterns recording of the tchaik i have, he does a great job. Many violinists will know he was most likely playing on Eudoxas with a Goldbrokat E at that time. Question at hand is, if these gut strings have tuning problems, why is it not reflected in recordings like Sterns tchaik? I was surprised at how in tune it was the first time I listened to it. 

There are plents of gutsy spots on the g string in the Tchaik i really want to bring alive. Do I go for Oliv, Eudoxa, or synthetics? 

Any opinions will be appreciated. 


July 5, 2011 at 04:32 AM ·

Maybe try medium gauge if you haven't already?

For a more "gutsy" sound on the G, I'd use Oliv stiff (but that's really expensive, which is why I don't use it anymore) or Eudoxa stiff/brilliant.

I'm currently using Evah Pirazzi on the G and D, but they just died, so I'm looking for a good (synthetic) replacement to try out since I'm not doing any more performing this summer.

July 5, 2011 at 10:13 AM ·

If gut strings are already well settled in on the pegs, move smoothly in the nut and bridge grooves, and are warmed up with 5-10 minutes or so of vigorous playing in the rehearsal room there shouldn't be any significant tuning problems on the concert platform. Non-gut strings are quite capable of slipping out of tune, anyway.
That Isaac Stern recording ... was it recorded live (and perhaps available on YouTube), or was it a studio recording?  If the latter, then who knows what goes on in the recording studio! There could be any number of takes (for reasons unrelated to tuning) but you can bet that the soloist would have checked his tuning before each take. 
I've use all four gut strings (a Pirastro Chorda set) in my last three chamber orchestra concerts, and had no tuning problems. The plain gut E and A in particular were dead stable for the whole two hours. One or two very slight checks on the two lower strings were done – the wound gut G tended to drift a little sharp if I didn't watch it, but it was easy to adjust in a second with the peg.
@Brian Lee, I'd recommend Obligato G and D. Good strong tone. stable and long-lasting.


July 5, 2011 at 04:29 PM ·

I've tried the Obligatos, they're stable and long lasting, but they sound kind of dead on my violin. (It isn't a very expensive one; I feel like I need higher tension strings like Pirazzis to really draw sound out of it.)

Since I still have them lying around, I'll probably put them on just to have something to practice on.

July 5, 2011 at 06:34 PM ·

I have had excellent results with gut strings, even with the challenge of long, hot, steamy summers.  Extending Trevor's point about the strings being settled in on the pegs and moving smoothly in the nut and bridge grooves: If the pegs themselves are well lubricated, so that you can make small adjustments fast, you shouldn't have any major problems.

Consistent tuning is a factor -- I am fanatical about it.  I have so-called perfect pitch but still re-check fairly often during a session with the A-440 tone.  When it's really humid, I run a small circular floor fan about 10 feet from me on low setting, and this keeps excessive moisture from building up on hands and strings -- and it keeps the strings from drifting flat.

Regarding more depth at the lower end, something with a dark sound: The Eudoxa, which you and Brian mentioned, is one I have used for a long time.  I presently have the stiff versions of D-G in medium gauge.  I don't know how they would work on your instrument; but two of my instruments, 19th century German hand-made, respond very well to this string -- with a pronounced viola tone in the lower register -- just what I'm looking for.  I get more ring and brilliance in the top register by substituting Gold Label E for Eudoxa wound E.

No experience yet with Olivs or Chordas.  My tryout of Passiones is still future.

Hope this info will be useful.

July 5, 2011 at 10:10 PM ·

Pirastro told me the thicker the Passione string the darker the tone. I use one gauge thicker than medium and my violin loves them.

July 8, 2011 at 11:26 AM ·

 @Trevor - Well I guess if you've used that set without any problems. I think I should be okay. 

@Jim - I think i'm going to order GDA Eudoxas with gold lable E. Do I get the Stiff or Brilliant Versions of the D and G? Anybody know the difference and have played both? 

My violin is set up very well so I think everything as far as sound post, smooth pegs etc is okay. The lady who does my work, does work for many people in the Cleveland Orchestra so i think she's done a good job. 

July 8, 2011 at 02:09 PM ·

Jerry, I don't have any experience yet with the brilliant versions of D-G, but I have played on both regular and stiff D-G.  As I recall, member Pierre Holstein, AKA Fiddlerman, has used the brilliants.  Pierre, if you're reading this, could you confirm?

Pirastro recommends the stiff versions for modern players.  They definitely work better for me than regular.  With my hand and instruments, at any rate, I get a noticeably more robust sound in the contralto range; and the tone is much less apt to break under intense bow pressure.

I notice medium-gauge D is 16.75 in regular and stiff but only 15 in brilliant.  For G, it's 15.75 in all three versions.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
About "gutsy spots on the g string in the Tchaik" -- I find the stiff G especially good for these; but again, I don't know how it would play on your instrument -- definitely worth a try.  I'm thinking especially of the unaccompanied solo part in the finale, right after the opening orchestral tutti; then the sul G stretch in three sharps marked "Meno mosso," about a page and a half later; and the recap of this part in one sharp, a few pages beyond.

July 9, 2011 at 12:13 AM ·

 Thanks for the advice Jim!  Gunna go ahead and order them soon. 

July 10, 2011 at 01:00 AM ·

are the eudoxa as pitch stable as the passione?

July 10, 2011 at 01:38 PM ·

 I wouldn't say so. The Passiones were engineered to have a fast break in time and be less resistant to humidity thus making them more pitch stable. 

I think I've decided to get a set of light tension Evahs for right now. I have to play Humperdinks Hansel and Gretel Opera and i'm not really going to have enough time to get the Eudoxas Settled in. After that and when it start to cool down some more, i'll get the Eudoxas for school in the fall.

April 18, 2013 at 11:19 AM · not to revive an old thread or anything, but...

I thought I would share my experiences with gut strings.

Since the original post, I've tried all three of the stiff, regular, and brilliant eudoxas.

As far as tuning stability, Brilliants were by far the best and what I will use most often. After the initial stretching period, I can't say I had any problems. Even played Beethoven's Eroica on them. They had the tension quite literally almost that of a synthetic string and were incredibly smooth under the bow.

Used the thinnest gauges on the recommendation from Paul Cheng at the Shar Violin Shop who uses Olivs in the thinnest gauges and doesn't have any problems tuning.

April 18, 2013 at 02:25 PM · Odd that this has not been mentioned before, with broad limits (and excepting only open strings) intonation is not determined by the string tuning but by where the finger is. A pro like Stern would automatically adjust his finger to the tone most probably without even noticing it.

I remember a story about someone plucking the violin strings after Heifetz did a performance and finding that they were totally out.

Sure, its important to get the strings in tune - in particular if you are going to double stop wiht one finger I suppose - but the beauty of a fretless instrument is that it really doesn't matter.

April 18, 2013 at 06:36 PM · The old players learned to deal with it. They adjusted the fingers, they tuned silently in certain places (tuttis) and they started with a slightly sharp tuning sometimes too.

April 18, 2013 at 08:13 PM · My teacher Dan Mason (who studied with Heifetz) would always tell me how infuriated Heifetz would get when a student would tune during a lesson! He considered adjusting to an out-of-tune instrument part of the virtuoso's package. That said, I wonder if he would have embraced non-slipping geared pegs?

April 19, 2013 at 03:32 AM · I agree you'll adjust -- you might not even notice the instrument is out of tune until you play an open string, and (possibly) double-stops. Indeed, the instrument can be wildly out of tune and you'll probably still play in-tune.

But I still find frequent tuning to be annoying. Otherwise I would be using Olivs.

April 19, 2013 at 04:00 AM · Yes, it is to do with the ear and not the strings.

April 19, 2013 at 05:31 AM ·

April 19, 2013 at 10:51 AM · Someone once slowed down significantly a video of Heifetz playing and noticed that he almost imperceptibly adjusted his finger for each note.

April 19, 2013 at 01:31 PM · Josef Gingold told me to practice with my strings (eudoxa) out of tune, since they would go out of tune in performance.

April 20, 2013 at 09:52 AM · there are some things you can play on an out of tune instrument, but some other things will sound terrible. Adjusting is good and necessary, but tuning is essential for some music (open strings, chords with open strings, harmonics etc.).

Actually I wonder why Heifetz is always used as an example for a clean technique. Of course he was a master, but his technique was totally different to the best violinists of today. He made lots of slides and played very fast (but not always in tune), that was his thing, but it was an different era. Maybe Zimmermann is compareable to Heifetz in that regard (slides).

One has to be careful with those tips like "play on an out of tune violin", because many people should learn to tune properly in the first place. If you play in your gut strings and tune a little sharp they will pretty much stay in tune. Carl Flesch has an good article about tuning in his book "Art of violin playing and teaching". very practical and eye opening.

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