I need a stronger A string

September 16, 2011 at 04:54 PM ·

Hi all

I am looking for some advice.  I have recently switched to viola.  I have obtained a Gliga genial 16.5 inch which I am very pleased with except for the tone of the A string.  It arrived with Dominant strings, and the A sounded awful - very thin and "nasal" compared to the others which have a lovely rich, balanced tone.  I changed the A string to a heavy Dominant, which made no difference at all.  Then, on advice from around the web, I switched to a Jarger (medium) A.  That was a big improvement, but I am still not totally happy with the tone on the A - it still sounds oddly weak compared to the other strings.

I know the effect of different strings depends largely on the instrument, but does anybody have any suggestions for an A string with a stronger tone? 

Many thanks

John

 

Replies (27)

September 16, 2011 at 06:02 PM ·

Hard to know much without actually testing the instrument myself.  I don’t play viola; but when I tried violin Dominants 6 years ago, I learned firsthand that they can sound metallic and wiry till you get them fully broken in.  So I wouldn’t be surprised if viola Dominants presented the same problem when new.

Since the violin Dominant E has a reputation for being a wrecker, I can't help wondering if the viola Dominant A presents a similar problem.

Definitely have your luthier check this out.  If the tone still sounds weak with the Jargar A, there could be instrument setup problems -- bridge position, bridge groove, and sound post for starters.

September 16, 2011 at 07:06 PM ·

Violas often have a wolf range around the open A string and this can sound like a string problem when it's not, because it makes that range more diffuse and sometimes ringy in an ugly way. You might try finding and going after the wolf, before you mess around more with strings.

September 16, 2011 at 07:28 PM ·

If we are talking violas then the first recommendations for strings go to Vision Solo and Evah Pirazzi (my favorite being the Vis. SOLO) The majority of players use a Larsen A string which I recommend giving a try but the Vision SOLO A actually happens to be very good as well. A Larsen A is less than $18 at IUStrings and about $21 everywhere else.

The Jargar A is also very popular for viola so that was a good choice on your part. It tends to be less singing than the Larsen though.

September 16, 2011 at 08:32 PM ·

I'd start with a good set-up check, before investing in strings, that is, after giving the Dominants break-in time.

September 16, 2011 at 08:48 PM ·

I've owned a couple Gligas in the past (my last violin was a Gliga Maestro) and I know from experience that they tend to come with rather awful setups (bridge and soundpost wise; also, the necks can be poorly aligned).

September 17, 2011 at 04:27 AM ·

Definitely look into setup problems, but if that checks out, and if you like Jargar A better than Dominant A, but want a fuller sound, I would try Larsen A next as well.

September 17, 2011 at 01:06 PM ·

May I suggest a medium-heavy gauge plain gut A - Pirastro Chorda*, perhaps? It should have a tone that projects all you need. Less expensive than the synthetic counterparts, and retains its tone much longer (at any rate, that's my experience with plain gut violin A). And at the end of its playing life it makes a useful natural tying material for the garden.

*cheapest on-line.

September 17, 2011 at 04:36 PM ·

I'd stay away from plain gut for now, especially for the viola A. I typically practice at least 3 to 4 hours a day (plus orchestra and chamber rehearsals) and my plain gut (violin) A string hadn't been on for more than a week before it started whistling and squeaking uncontrollably (though I was using unvarnished gut, apparently this problem is less pronounced with varnished gut), and the string was extremely frayed.

Your A string is going to be taking a heavy beating, I'd suggest sticking with steel.

September 19, 2011 at 01:30 AM ·

John,

I'd definitely have the setup checked out.  If the sound post is set too far toward the C string, the upper strings will lose power, while the lower strings will gain strength.  Play across the strings and note the volume produced.  If the volume does not seem even from string to string, having the top of the post adjusted slightly toward the A string should even it out.

However, if the A string is the only one that seems 'off', the problem may be inherent in the tuning of the plates, which could be more difficult to correct.  Wolf-tone eliminators won't help you here, since they are meant to dampen a note that is vibrating too much, and you have the opposite problem.  Assuming that the setup of the bridge, post, etc. is appropriate, then trying different string combinations may be the only practical solution.  Keep in mind that the other strings vibrate in sympathy with the A string, so you might try swapping some of them out as well.  (Also try dampening them as you play the A to see what effect that has.)  Personally, I'd try a full set of Evah Pirazzi strings and see how they sound.  Good luck!

 

September 19, 2011 at 12:10 PM ·

Thanks everyone for the helpful advice.  I do think the set up needs checking out.  On closer inspection I have spotted 2 things.  Firstly, the groove in the bridge is noticably deeper on the A string, which, as someone kindly posted, may be having an effect.  (The top of the A string is lower than the top of the bridge, where the other 3 strings stand slightly proud).

Secondly, there is a loss of projection as I move across the strings from C to A, which seems to suggest a soundpost adjustment is needed.

October 14, 2011 at 03:49 AM ·

 Definitely get the sound post checked out. My friend's dad, an L.A. phil player, sent me to his luthier because my viola was having some similar sounding problems. Turned out- not only was my soundpost in a bad place, it was much too long and made out of terrible wood. Got a new sound post and had it properly placed, so now everything sounds fantastic! Granted, my instrument is a grumpy, temperamental, old german viola, so there may be less problems than that. It might just need an adjustment. 

But also- Dominant A strings are absolutely terrible! If you're looking for something fuller, I'd suggest a Larsen A. Or if you're feeling even bolder, I'd really suggest trying the Vision solo sets. I've tried so many different things, from Passiones to Obligatos to Helicores, and the vision solos are the best. Good luck!

October 17, 2011 at 10:11 AM ·

UPDATE: Thanks again everybody for your advice.  I am pleased to report that the problem of the choked A string is now solved after a visit to my luthier.  She spotted 3 things straight away:

1.  The A string groove was too deep (simply tested by placing a piece of parchment over the groove and getting me to try it - there was an immediate improvement),

2.  The bridge shape wasn't quite right at the A string side,

3.  The soundpost needed adjusting to give more favour to the higher strings.

The bridge was high enough to be cut back to the correct height and shape without lowering the strings too much against the fingerboard.  I am really pleased with the sound now, so thanks again.

John

November 23, 2011 at 02:29 AM · Hi. I have a Tertis model viola with helicores and a jargar forte a. The a string sounds a little harsh, and I've had a superb luthier play with the soundpost ad infinitum. What would you guys suggest for an a string that might soften the a sound and reduce the high frequencies a bit? I want to stick with metal. I've thought of a)Moving to Jargar medium (but might that actually increase the high frequencies?)2)Larsen, but I remember trying it years ago and preferring the Jargar; 3)Passione (metal) a; and 4)Kaplan - not Kaplan Solutions, but rather their new one. I know there's no way to really tell without trying, but if you had to suggest an order to go in, what would it be? Thanks so much - this is driving me crazy. Bob

November 23, 2011 at 02:38 AM · Hard to say, but I'd probably start with Jargar medium, as they seem to work well on a wide variety of violas.

November 23, 2011 at 02:56 AM · Do you think a medium would be less bright than the forte?

November 23, 2011 at 03:03 AM · The sound should be less hard edged, although it could have more high frequencies as well.

November 23, 2011 at 03:43 PM · More high frequencies, definitely. But probably softer in quality (not necessarily volume) and sweeter.

November 24, 2011 at 01:54 AM · Bob, why do you want to stick with metal strings? If you are at all open to synthetics, I've been using the full st of Obligatos, and find them well-matched across the instrument. I put a set of Evahs on mine about a month ago just for a change, and I'm liking them, too, especially the A and D.

January 5, 2012 at 09:36 PM ·

January 13, 2012 at 08:43 PM · On my 16-inch JTL viola (ca.1900) with its slightly nasal tone, I use all 4 Aricore synthetic strings for their warm, round tone. Personally I like a violin-like sweetness from my A-string, using a longer, lighter stroke to make it sing.

I hate the screech of a steel A and the hollow booming of a Wolfram C when they do not match the warmth of the G and D. Corelli Crystal combine roundness with more clarity. For an all-steel set on a "stiffer" instrument, I use Jargar.

The viola A, like the violin E, can sound thin and harsh because it is near the edge of the bridge. Try a little blob of Blu-Tack on the corner of the bridge to mute the A just a little: if you like the result you can ask your luthier for a wider-topped bridge. (Someone asked me why I stuck my gum on the bridge!)

Heavy-grade strings sound great for a while, but the extra tension ends up suffocating the vibrations in the wood, and the tone gets duller.

I hope you find this useful. Adrian

January 13, 2012 at 09:57 PM · Kaplan Solutions Viola Strings are quite good too, a friend soloist helped on its development.

www.manfio.com

April 21, 2012 at 09:20 PM · Try a Larsen A string, you might like it.

October 23, 2012 at 03:21 PM · I play a lovely deep sounding Tertis model viola and it sounds great with dominant mediums or Pirastro Eudoxas on the C, G and D. However, I can't find a good A string to compliment them. I have tried Jargar, Larsen and Helicore A's which are harsh and piercing, and the Dominant A sounds like a strangled duck. I've currently got a Pirastro Obligato A string on there as an experiment and it's the best I've tried yet, but I'm still open to suggestions for good viola A's which aren't too bright.

October 23, 2012 at 07:12 PM · Colin, have you tried experimenting with gauges of A strings? Trying a different gauge could provide what you're looking for.

October 23, 2012 at 09:14 PM · I have a set of Passiones on mine right now. While I have mixed feelings about the set as a whole, the A is fabulous. It keeps a rich, deep viola character no matter how high you are.

October 24, 2012 at 08:18 PM · In my not-so-humble opinion , if the Dominant A sounds "like a strangled duck" it is because it is being strangled!! We should try varying our bowing technique, rather than expect the A to resist the same pressure as a C.. I find the same with the much-maligned Dominant wound E: it just needs to be played properly.

On my above-mentioned viola, I am now trying all 4 Obligatos: they seem like an "improved" version of Dominants: warm and responsive, but brighter without being "edgy".

October 29, 2012 at 01:35 PM · The Larsen A string fixed the problems I was having. If I didn't play it exactly the right spot it made a mooing sound. Now its awesome.

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