string lifespan - synthetic vs. gut-core?

August 11, 2011 at 02:44 PM ·

Hi all,

So for about a year I've been using Thomastik Vision strings (experimenting around among Solo, Titanium and Titanium Orchestra varieties.) I like them very much, except I've found that they only last a few weeks before going pretty well kaput. I'd say on average I get three to four weeks of actually good sound out of a set before they start to go fuzzy and dead. (And I'm usually being pretty generous with my estimation of when I need to change my &^%$ strings already.) At around seventy dollars a set, this is becoming problematic.

Now, I've heard that gut-core strings last much, much longer than these newer synthetics. I heard someone once say they got a full year out of one set of Olivs. I guess I am just looking for more people's input and first-hand experiences, pro or con, on such assertions. Do gut strings really last that much longer? Is there a notable difference between, say, Oliv and Passione? Any sound/projection/playability downsides to gut strings that anyone has encountered?

Keep in mind that the "daily workout" I put a set of strings through is the typical conservatory-student workday of several hours of individual practice plus orchestra and chamber rehearsals, side gigs etc.

Any input is most welcome! Thanks!

MG

Replies (42)

August 11, 2011 at 04:26 PM ·

I played 6 years ago on Tomastik Vision -- except for Titanium Orchestra -- when I home-tested several vintage instruments.  They were already on the fiddles the dealer shipped to me.  They held up well during the tryouts, about 15 days.  No idea how long they would have lasted after that -- haven't played on Visions since then.

Tomastik Dominant A-D-G worked well for me, too, and didn't go kaput after just a few weeks.  They were the first post-tryout string change I made on one instrument.

I'm more familiar with Pirastro strings, mostly gut.  Eudoxa and Gold Label give me very pleasing results with the fiddles I have now, and they will last me about 3 months without fraying or going false, with 3 hours of practicing and playing each day.  Ditto for Pirastro Wondertone Solo, a composite core.  In fact, for me, they hold up even longer than the gut types I've used so far.

About gut downsides: With Eudoxa, the regular D-G fall short for me in power and projection, and they're more prone to broken or crushed tones.  Bow pressure and speed can compensate for this, but I prefer the stiff D-G, which give me a big, robust sound that carries well and holds up firmly under intense bow pressure.  I also get more sheen and carrying power -- plus stronger sympathetic vibrations -- with Gold Label E in place of Eudoxa wound E.

No experience yet with Olivs -- although I've read some good reviews of them by v.com writers.  I'm getting ready now to try Passiones on three instruments -- this will probably take 2-3 weeks.  I've seen good reviews on them, too.

I hope this helps, but as always, it's going to be an individual journey involving experimentation and tryout.  So many things can affect string life -- individual player touch, chemistry, storage conditions, instrument setup.

August 11, 2011 at 04:46 PM ·

Regular visions aren't too expensive (if you pay more than $40 for a set, you're being ripped off really badly), I think Pi strings are supposed to feel like (extremely) upgraded Visions with a longer lifespan; I've tried the G and it was amazing.

Some gut strings last really long; Olivs are expensive as hell, but they last for months. Passione also lasts longer than your average string.

I use Dominants and change them every couple months. Are you currently at Mannes? You can get really good prices for any string down at Ideal Musical Merchandise Co., at 150 West 22nd Street; you can take the 1 train down there. Great staff and selection, I've been going there for the last four years.

If I were you, I'd consider trying Passione.. they should last you at least two or three months. They're expensive, though, and you might find the G string to be a little sluggish (the "stiff" Oliv G beats it by far, and it lasts forever). I prefer to stick with Dominants and just have to replace them more often; they last a little longer than the more expensive Vision sets or Pirazzis do, and are cheaper. I know a couple musicians in the major NY orchestras, some of them are able to hold out on one set of Dominants for months, others change them once a month or even sooner.

Jim, have you ever tried Eudoxa Brilliant? I'm considering trying the Eudoxa G and D on my new violin (either Stiff or Brilliant), with a plain gut A string, to see how that works out.

August 11, 2011 at 06:20 PM ·

I can wring four weeks out of Olives, Eudoxas, and Passiones.

I can also wring four weeks out of Dominants, Titanium Solos, Red and Blue Infelds, and Larsens Tziganes.

I can get six weeks out of Obligatos.  That's the brand I use now, with the Wondertone Gold Label E.

 

In a perfect world, we would have strings that remained fresh and true for months.  Oh well...

 

 

August 11, 2011 at 07:21 PM ·

Mara,

I'm curious to know how you clean your strings. The hard workout you give them is bound to melt rosin into the windings of the strings. This can be cleaned out with solvent that must be removed immediately - along with the rosin it has dissolved.

I would be surprised if this did not increase the longevity of your strings quite a bit.

Andy

August 11, 2011 at 07:49 PM ·

Anne: Care to estimate how many hours of playing time that is for your ~4 weeks?  Also, what factor leads to you changing strings?  I assume breakage is not it.

I'm using Passiones - had them on for 2-3 months at 3hrs/day and still going strong (least for the needs of a 'advanced intermediate' (?) learner... 

August 11, 2011 at 09:43 PM ·

Hi Elise, it depends.  130-140 hours a month, give or take.

I could leave the strings on longer.  The noticeable drop-off can be somewhat compensated with more effort.  I don't want to work that hard though. (Smile)

 

Also, I used Passiones when they first came out, and really, really liked them.  But my local climate is too humid for gut or gut hybrid strings, so instead of incessant tuning, I went back to my old friends the Obligatos.

 

August 11, 2011 at 10:15 PM ·

I can totally relate to your situation!  I've never found strings that sound good after 4-5 weeks.  It really ends up being quite expensive...When I researched this topic a few years ago, I discovered that the general rule of thumb seems to be that a set of strings lasts about 150 hours before starting to sound dull and fuzzy with strange overtones.  Octaves, fifths, and harmonics become increasing difficult.  Some people wait until the things actually fray, but the sound of dying strings tortures me long before anything goes physically wrong with them.  I use Evah Pirazzis, so this is even more of an issue.

If you play 2 hours a day, your strings may last 2-3 months.  If you play 6-10 hours a day (which easily adds up if you practice 5 hours, have a 2.5 hour orchestra rehearsal (about 1.5 actual hours of playing) and teach 3 hours (about 1 hour actual playing.)  In this scenario, your strings will last about 3-4 weeks.  The only partial solution I've found is to change the A and E after about 4 weeks and the D and G after about 6.  The lower strings seem to survive a little longer (perhaps because they are thicker?)  Doesn't save that much, but...

August 11, 2011 at 10:36 PM ·

Brian, I haven't tried Eudoxa Brilliant yet, but I'm considering a comparison tryout of Brilliant D-G versus Stiff D-G.

August 11, 2011 at 11:30 PM ·

I use Fortune strings they last a while and sound great!

http://www.concordmusic.com/dynamic_str.asp?pagelabel=Fortune

August 11, 2011 at 11:41 PM ·

Jim, I just talked to a major string dealer about it, she says she doesn't bother ordering the Brilliants because she doesn't really see a substantial difference between them and the other Eudoxas; she recommended that I try stiff.

August 12, 2011 at 12:22 AM ·

I have some experience with Oliv's:

At one time I used D-G Oliv-stiff, wich gave a wonderful sound. But unfortunately, besides the high prices, I had a problem with the wounding and my finger aspiration: The strings, especially the D string, melted away after two weeks and got coarse (?) like a guitar string. Any position change was from then accompanied by a loud sliding sound, wich wasnt that useful. I know there are different materials they use for the wounding, one is silver the other aluminium as far as I remember. I may be mixed up in that but I think I tried both and the D-String didn't work for me unfortunately. The strings are just awesome in sound, and I would say they could last about a month and a half, if you play a lot, with constant quality.

After that I tried Oliv-normal on D-G and was also very satisfied about the sound, but they never get 100 % stable (not even 90 %), wich is better with the stiff ones, and I had to be always aware of the tuning even during a concert. So I startet with synthetic strings again and finally landed with larssen tzigane on my old violin. But soundwise nothing surpassed the Eudoxa set, but I want to play, not tune my violin for hours... ;)

My new violin I play now with the Evah Pirazzi, wich to my ears is a good string(not working on my old violin at all), but I miss the gut feeling after some months with pirazzis, its hard to play piano with them, it feels artificial somehow. But I wonder if my new violin will work with gut and I also wonder wich one to choose. Maybe Passione would be something to try out for me, or Eudoxa stiff. Anyway, the Pirazzis seem to lose some of their specific energy after a month and tend to go in direction of Dominants after that, wich I don't like so much. but they are very reliable and in the beginning edgy, wich is for that price.. ok. But I still hope some gut string will fit my new violin. Somehow I have the feeling I go off topic... talking about my future stringchoicethoughts too much.

To conclude: I think gut-stiff is always a very stable and long lasting choice, as far as your hands doesn't sweat like mine, so you won't get problems with the winding. But I don't think you will get from stiff-gut much more than a month and a half, if you play much. Don't forget to consider the fact of the much longer play-in-time and especially tune-in-time with gut strings(wich can be very unhealthy for your left hand, if the pegs setup "isn't that nice" --> suck). This relativates the possible longer playing time, if you substract that play/tune-in-time.

One more thing coming to my mind: I just learned to change E-string twice as often as the rest of the set. It gives the whole violin a strong refresh already with a 3 weeks old E-String. (Btw.:At the moment I play infeld blue E string together with the pirazzi a-d-g)

Try it out if you set sounds dull or weak to change just the E. A-D-G can be used much longer this way, I haven't tried that out extensively though. Maybe its just a short living effect.

Have a nice day!

August 12, 2011 at 02:16 AM ·

Simon: I just want to tell you that your post made my day.  Its so refreshingly like a warm chat with friends after dinner...  :)

xx

August 12, 2011 at 03:05 AM ·

Thanks, Brian.  I'll take the dealer's word for it -- and yours.  Pirastro recommends Stiff for modern players, and that's me; so I'll stay with it.

August 12, 2011 at 11:52 AM ·

I met Glenn Dicterow (NYP concertmaster) about a month ago and he told me  he changes strings every 3 weeks.

www.manfio.com

August 12, 2011 at 01:46 PM ·

Did he by any chance mention which kind of strings he uses?  :)

August 12, 2011 at 02:04 PM ·

I know in the past he used Dominant D and G with a Helicore weich A.. I've heard that he might be using Pi strings now.

I'm pretty sure he uses a Jargar forte E, I think I remember seeing it on his violin lately.

August 12, 2011 at 02:07 PM ·

No, I don't know what strings he is using now....   Mr.  Dicterow was test driving my violas with his wife Karen Dreyfus in their apartmentm we were talking about strings   and Karen mentioned that.

www.manfio.com

August 16, 2011 at 01:06 AM ·

Although it primarily concerns gut tennis racket strings, this article (which has been drawn to my attention on another forum) seems very relevant to gut violin strings, particularly plain gut:
http://www.performaxxstrings.com

There is a most interesting bit in the article about two types of durability – resistance to breakage, and performance life. The point is made that: "natural gut has a much longer performance life [i.e. compared with synthetics]; in fact, they usually play well up to the time they break". Although this is about tennis strings it is, I believe, applicable to natural gut violin strings, and indeed reflects my experience as a cellist many years ago when I used gut strings. My plain gut violin strings today seem to be behaving the same way.

Any comments from regular plain gut users? 

 

August 16, 2011 at 05:46 PM ·

Gut strings are at a much lower tension than synthetics or steel, and when they break (if you elect to ignore the warning signs of fraying) I suspect the breaking is also slower as the individual fibres break one after another. However, the breaking of a steel string is virtually instantaneous as far as the human is concerned, and there's generally no warning*, so I suppose in theory if a violin steel E breaks at the nut it could hit one's face, but it is more likely to pop at the bridge or the ball (or loop),  the broken end travelling towards the scroll.  I remember, as a youngster, having a gut cello A snap a couple of times at the bridge, but it just flapped around well away from me. After these occasions I got the message to pay attention to any fraying that was well under way and to replace the string. I never had a gut D or G break, and I never needed to replace the covered gut C. 

* which is why coal miners prefer timber pit props to metal – the wood bends and gives warning creaks in good time.  

August 16, 2011 at 06:30 PM ·

Mara - having used Passiones and Obligatos for the last few years, I would say that at my rate of playing, they both do fairly well.  But you clearly play much more than I do.  In terms of gut strings, Passiones are apparently the most stable, which is worth something.  At the rate you go through strings, it may be cheaper to use synthetics, but it is hard to tell.  The other variable, of course, is what sounds good on your instrument.  The strings which sound best may not be the longest lasting.  A luthier who can hear your instrument and discuss in detail your needs may be in the best position to tell you the answer to your questions.   Good luck and welcome back.  It's been a while since I remember you posting.

August 17, 2011 at 05:29 AM ·

Tom, I just wanted to mention that when I saw this post, it's been over a year since I was really commenting on the threads here, and I was like, "I wonder if Tom is going to recommend a luthier give her a suggestion."  Without fail, that is always your wise response to string questions (as I remember from my many trials with strings back when) and I'm so glad you cover that point. :)

Mara, I do think that gut strings last longer (especially Passiones) but not long enough to outweigh the higher cost. =/

August 17, 2011 at 12:04 PM ·

Tasha - thanks so much for your kind thoughts about my posts. 

I am hoping Mara will post more of her wonderful, interesting blogs.  I have missed them.

One final thought:  my luthier's rule of thumb is that you should change strings after 120 hours of playing.  Obviously, this is not meant to be hard and fast, but if you play four hours per day, you end up changing them about once a month.  Thus, strings become an expensive proposition for the professionals out there.  That should figure into the calculations somewhere.  I only have to change two or three times per year, so I can afford to choose strings without much concern about price, but for some, this could be a significant concern.

 

September 1, 2011 at 01:29 PM ·

After quite a bit of messing around I have now for the time being settled on the following, which works OK on my fiddle:

E      Goldbrokat

A      PI (Peter Infeld)

D     Obligato Aluminium

G     Obligato silver wound

I would like to go back to Eudoxa (covered gut)or at least try them again after many years but it will necessitate a change of tailpiece and other setup I think.

By the way, I sometimes keep strings on for 6 months but that might take into account a three month gap in playing. So normally I would change about every four months on about 1.5 - 2 hours a day average. (I don't do so much these days as I no longer have to scrape a living in an orchestra ...)

December 21, 2016 at 07:25 AM · Technically everyone here spends an average of $600 for violin strings in a year. That is huge.

December 21, 2016 at 09:45 AM · The nylon synthetics (Dominant, Tonica, Aricore, Larsen etc) have tensions close to the gut-cored Eudoxa; they take a week to settle, but can be over-stretched overnight if we are in a hurry; they also deteriorate gradually and slowly.

The "composite" synthetics (Evah, Zyex, Vision, PI, etc,etc,etc) have similar tensions to the steel-cored Jargar or Spirocore, settle quickly, take heavy-handed bowing gracefully, but over-stretching damages the core (without breaking it). Two exeptions: Violino, as "slack" as Dominant, and Obligato, halfway between Violino and Evah. Composites deteriorate quickly and are more expensive, although the price of nylon cores is fast catching up!

December 21, 2016 at 03:03 PM · I think Obligato and Evah have the same core.

December 21, 2016 at 03:57 PM · Pro-Arte by Dadario is another nylon (perlon) core option. And much more affordable than the others listed, Adrian

December 21, 2016 at 04:06 PM · "Composites deteriorate quickly and are more expensive, although the price of nylon cores is fast catching up! "

The assumption (seemingly made by most) is that it's the CORE that is deteriorating.

How do we know it's the core and not the windings? It's possible that, except for falseness or breakage (rare), different types of windings absorb differing amounts of oil and sweat from the fingers, dampening the sound over time. It's also known that aluminum corrodes.

December 21, 2016 at 06:09 PM · Old discussion, but the cost of strings is one reason I'm considering Tonicas. Less than half the cost of Dominants and apparently around the same quality (slightly better or worse, depending who you ask).

December 21, 2016 at 06:17 PM · Are you sure that Tonicas are better than Dominants in terms of warmth. I haven't tried Dominants but the Tonicas are warm on my violin. I am on the lookout for something warmer than the Tonica. I have a Wittner ultra violin tailpiece and cannot install a gut string.

What strings do I order now? How about Evah Pirazzi and Obligato compared to Dominant. Anyone have an idea on these strings?

December 21, 2016 at 07:32 PM · Scott, I mean that composites cored strings deteriorate faster than nylon/Perlon cored ones; I assume that the materials for the windings are similar, so I accuse the cores.

Two observations may confirm my theory:

(a)Alliance and Cantiga strings, which are thicker than average, are very stiff when new, with out-of-tune harmonics causing false fifths across the strings; as thet play in, the intonation "sweet spots" emerge,suggesting to me that they soften most where the fingers have pressed; and (b) when I overstretched an Obligato A (synthetic version) the core was damaged in random places, causing uneven but marked extensions of the windings;

Pure conjecture, but based on observation!

I have never had thes phenomena with nylon strings.

Gautam, Tonicas are not better than Dominants; I find them a little brighter, but with less harshness when new. Personally I choose the wound E, but the plain E suits many folk.

December 21, 2016 at 08:08 PM · Gautam - I am just running trials of my own now, but apparently this is how it goes with those strings...

Dominant & Tonica - both neutral, 'middle of the road' strings that let you get an idea of how your violin sounds naturally. Good life.

Evah Pirazzi - Very bright, shorter life

Obligato - Very warm, good life.

Violinist String Guide:

http://www.violinist.com/wiki/violin-strings/

December 21, 2016 at 10:43 PM · It's not necessarily true that composite-core strings are either more tense or less long-lasting than nylon core strings.

The Vision strings have fairly similar tensions to medium-tension Dominant strings, for example.

The tension of the medium-tension Tonica strings, per Pirastro's website, and the tension of Pro-Arte strings, per D'Addario's website, is actually fairly high.

And I've found PI strings, with their composite core, to be pretty long-lasting.

December 22, 2016 at 11:41 AM · Andrew, re Vision strings I'm relying on Shawn Bouké's charts on violinstringreview com. But yes, I prefer Tonica "light" on my violin!

I wonder if the "new formula" Tonica are not tighter than the older ones?

December 22, 2016 at 12:04 PM · @Adrian Heath. My violin is loud when I install Tonica (Mittel) strings. The response isn't instantaneous either. Would the Weich version be more suitable if I were to buy the Dominants?

December 22, 2016 at 12:28 PM · Many violins vibrate more freely and are more responsive with lower-tension strings. The bow stroke has to be more subtle, and often nearer the brige. The tone can have more "shimmer" but less harshness, and wolf-tones can be less apparent.

December 22, 2016 at 01:24 PM · Famous soloists using Dominants: Many

Famous soloists using Tonicas: 0

December 22, 2016 at 01:30 PM · Fair enough, but these famous soloists have loud but very responsive violins; if I understand correctly Gutam's is loud but not responsive.

December 22, 2016 at 02:10 PM · Adrian,

You are quite right -- the violin is an important part of the equation.

Sometimes response problems can be the bow, not the violin or the strings. A good bow has a feeling of "engaging" the string more fully.

December 22, 2016 at 04:04 PM ·

December 22, 2016 at 08:30 PM · Hmm. As the Composites stretch less than the Nylons, I should be surprised if the windings let in more gunge. As regards longevity, everyone who writes here seems to find that they want to change Composites much sooner than Nylons.

December 22, 2016 at 09:12 PM · Try Corelli Cantigas! They are less expensive than other strings and appear to last longer. Keep in mind that their medium gauge is a bit more tense than Dominants, if you want to avoid choking your violin.

Passione will last approximately the same as other composite core strings, despite the fact that they are hybrid (with gut core). They stretch within a week, sound fabulous next 4-5 weeks top, and then die quietly and drive you nuts!

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