Strings Similar to Obligatos/Passione

June 15, 2012 at 05:07 AM · It's been about six months or so now since I've gotten my set of Passione and Obligato strings, and I've loved them. Unfortunately, they've started to sizzle down now, and it's about time I replace them, but I'd like to try new strings, but don't really know where to start looking, so I figure I'd ask. Although I understand it's hard to gauge what effect what string will have on my instrument, I figure it's a better idea than playing roulette anyway.

My violin is on the bright side, so strings like Evahs and Dominants tend to make it sound a little harsh. I'm currently using a silver Passione G and D string, an aluminum Obligato A, and a Passione steel E. The E sounds beautiful in the higher positions, but whistles a little bit in first. My biggest problem is probably the G string; it's very... lackluster compared to the other strings. The D and A strings themselves aren't so bad, but I'd still like more of a warmer feel to it than what I already have. What would happen if I tried using pure gut strings, I wonder? I've been mainly using steel and synthetic strings until now, so I've never tried them before.

Any tips and recommendations would be extremely appreciated. Thank you in advance!

-David

Replies (25)

June 15, 2012 at 05:55 AM · I play on a really old, cranky violin. I love using gut strings, especially on the G and D- their tone is really beautiful. However, on my violin here were the drawbacks:

-They only lasted 3 1/2 months and are expensive.

-The responsiveness is very different and took a week or so to get used to. Spiccato and other off string bowings were hardest to get used to and I never liked the way I played them.

-They aren't as loud as dominants, so I had to work harder to get a loud sound. But it was much easier to get a soft sound.

-They didn't handle weather changes well at all.

-Harmonics weren't easy.

-The colors I could get out of them were different from the ones I can get from synthetic. Not worse, just different. Last fall, I was playing some baroque piece. On dominants, I could use a fast light bow and get a sound that was like a harmonic but more resonant. When I switched strings, I could no longer make that sound, so I had to make up a new sound for that section.

-I found the timbre change from gut GDA to steel E really jarring. I got the dullest E I could find, but then I had a dull E. I've never been able to fix that problem *on my violin*.

So those were my negatives. Mostly the cost/durability and playing in a new way. I couldn't use guts to play something really aggressive, but quieter pieces are amazing to play with gut strings. I had fun finding all the different tones I could get while playing pp. Even with all the above negatives, I still prefer to use guts when I can afford them and when the weather is stable. But every violin is different. My music store will let me put on different strings and try them out before I commit. Maybe you could do that?

June 15, 2012 at 05:44 PM · You might like Corelli Alliance Vivace or D'Addario Zyex - they generally sound warm and reasonably complex - if they work for your instrument.

June 15, 2012 at 06:19 PM · Pure gut strings have a tendency to be bright and edgy, although with a lot of complexity.

I actually find wound gut strings to be very long lasting, especially Oliv strings.

If you enjoy the feel of gut, one of my teachers suggests a combo of the "stiff" Oliv G and D or Eudoxa G and D with a Kaplan Golden Spiral A string.

I used wound gut for a long time on my old instrument, and occasionally I use a combination of plain gut and wound gut on my current violin, but I always go back to my regular set of mittel Dominants (with the aluminum D) and a Jargar forte E. I find that this set brings out the best qualities on a well-adjusted violin.

June 15, 2012 at 06:23 PM · David - you live in the Big Apple. Go to any of the fabulous luthiers there, who will be able to hear your violin with your current strings on. They will be in a much superior position to us to advise you on what combo will give you the sound you want.

June 16, 2012 at 12:31 AM · Susannah-- Price isn't a big deal for me, so I don't really mind that. I did try gut strings once, and it sounds like you had the same problems I did. I loved the sounds myself, but I guess people were hearing a different sound from what I was hearing from across the room since many people didn't like the sound of it, but I did. Go figure, right? What setup are you using right now?

Andrew-- the Corellis are really cheap for a set, so I'll definitely try them out. Is there a certain gauge you recommend, or do they all come in the same gauge?

Brian-- I'll definitely give those stiff strings a look. I tried gut strings awhile back (I think I tried the tricolore ones or something like that...), and loved the feel of them compared to regular strings, but couldn't really make a good sound out of it.

Tom-- I'm not too knowledgeable about which luthiers in the city and which ones are bad yet as I haven't been playing for long. The only one I've really gone to consecutively was Matthias Lehner, and he suggested Obligatos on my violin; he said their darkness would compliment and balance out my violin's brightness. Alas, I didn't like the sound they made very much, especially with how flat and dull the A was, so I'm experimenting again.

June 16, 2012 at 01:16 AM · Right now, I am using dominants and a goldbrokat thick e. My preferred setup is Eudoxas with the thicker e string. They aren't super resonant, which is good because my violin is too resonant. Maybe it's my climate, but none of the guts I bought have lasted longer than about 3 or 4 months, so it's hard to justify the cost, especially during seasons with variable weather.

My family (my doting audience) liked the Eudoxa's when I played slower baroque stuff, but didn't like it for modern music at all. And frankly I couldn't play modern music on gut strings.

Disclaimer: Ask a luthier before you do this. I don't know if I should be doing this or not, but when my grandfather gave me his violin, he told me when he wanted the violin a little calmer he would move the bridge toward the fingerboard. He also messed around with the sound post a lot, but I don't do that. Again, I don't know if this is something people ought to be doing, so I don't recommend it unless you talk to someone who knows about this stuff first. I don't want to be responsible for your violin caving in. :)

June 16, 2012 at 01:41 AM · In my experience the G is the most problematic of the strings. I suspect this may be because the fundamental frequency of the G on the violin (a consequence of its historical design) is very weak and what you're hearing most strongly is the 2nd harmonic (the octave). You can check this out with the spectrogram view on some sound editors. I get the best G results on both my violins (one is late 18th century, the other 21st century) if I use the Pirastro Chorda G, which is low tension wound gut, and, interestingly, is the only G I've found that doesn't wolf on the old violin.

I believe that if you settle on a G with a good rich tone with not too much tension that resonates well, then that makes it easier to get a good tone out of the upper strings. There is something in the old Flesch theory of matching steel E and A with gut G and D (although I don't use a steel A).

If you don't want to use gut upper strings I'd think seriously about the Larsen Tzigane A and D. These are synthetic cores with, I think, a slightly lower tension than normal, but with a lot of the feel and tone of gut about them. A comparison with Eudoxas wouldn't be unfair. They have a big tone, are stable, and last well.

A very good match E with the Tziganes on my old violin is the Vision Titanium Solo.

My modern violin is strung with Savarez plain gut E, A and D. with the Chorda G. I believe the tone is helped by the baroque tailpiece. That is interesting in the way in which the real gut tail gut is attached, so that this baroque tailpiece behaves as a sprung lever and interacts with the vibrations of the bridge (someone has probably worked out the differential equations describing this interaction).

The other point of interest in the combination of plain gut strings with this baroque tailpiece is that there is a much better match between the frequency of the bridge-nut string length and the frequency of the after-length on the next string up than with strings that have coverings over part of the after-length. Such coverings alter the masses of the after-lengths unpredictably, making that ideal frequency match almost impossible to achieve. As a matter of record, with my plain gut strings the after-length of the D is as close to 2 octaves above the open G as makes no difference, and the A and E after-length frequencies, two octaves above the open D and A respectively are equally accurate - a set of very useful resonances.

June 16, 2012 at 02:13 AM · Gut strings are harder to play, but I find that a violin that is well adjusted can sound just as good with synthetic strings on it as with gut strings. My suggestion is to go for good, all-round strings (such as Dominants, my favorite, or PIs) and then have the violin adjusted by a good luthier who can bring out the best in the instrument for you. My objection to strings like Evah Pirazzis or Obligatos or Infeld Red/Blue is that they attempt to change the voice of an instrument instead of bringing out the violin's individual character.

There's many good luthiers in New York City, most of whom would be more than willing to help you in a greater capacity than we can.

June 16, 2012 at 07:24 PM · Brian, that's a good point about some strings trying to change the violin's tone. I experienced that some time ago when I tried Evahs. When the A frayed after three or four weeks mild playing (one of the two or three occasions when I've had a covered string fray on me) I took that as a good excuse to ditch them.

June 16, 2012 at 08:31 PM · David, gauge really depends on your violin, but I'd probably try medium first. Ironically, these strings used to be much more expensive than most other synthetic strings, but they just haven't risen in price much over the past several years, while the Thomastik/Pirastro strings have.

Another warm, complex sounding synthetic (on many violins) is Infeld Red.

June 16, 2012 at 08:45 PM · I'm still voting for Thomastik's Peter Infeld (PI) strings - WITH the PLATINUM-coated E string (that is important).

I've got these strings on 4 violins that are rather uniquely different from each other. Nevertheless each violin is better with this set of strings than it has ever been (in the 60 - 40 years I've owned them).

Also, this is the first time I've ever been happy with any violin strung up with a complete, rather than a mixed, set of strings.

Andy

June 17, 2012 at 12:04 AM · Trevor, you're lucky the Evah A lasted you that long.. it usually starts fraying in under two weeks for me.

Under my ear, Infeld Red sounds like a set of played out Dominant strings.

I honestly like the tin-plated E the most out of all the Peter Infeld E strings; the PI A string seems designed to blend with the platinum E, though. When using the Tin E (or my preferred Jargar/Westminster) I tend to swap the PI A with a Vision Solo A.

June 17, 2012 at 12:31 AM · I actually have a platinum plated PI E laying around somewhere that I bought awhile back but only played for about a week or two. I paired them off with the Tricolore gut strings, so the contrast was very odd. When I brought my violin into Matthias, he suggested I use a goldbrokat Lenzner E, but I didn't like it too much either. I'll give the PIs another try since I'm using Passione/Obligatos right now until I can buy the Oliv strings.

June 17, 2012 at 12:43 AM · I feel like the PI platinum E and the Goldbrokat .26 gauge E are relatively close in terms of sound character..

IMO, Olivs are the Rolls-Royce of wound gut strings. Menuhin used the 15.5 pm stiff G string and 16.5 pm stiff D string, with the 13.75 pm A string, and a Goldbrokat .26 gauge E.

June 18, 2012 at 01:03 PM · DAvid - lots of the good ones are all located in one building. I think the address is something like 250 W. 54th ST. Anyhow, one of the people on this site can give you the name and address of one of the real good luthiers there. Gradoux-Matt is one.

June 18, 2012 at 04:39 PM · There's only one violin shop, one auction house, and two bow shops left in that building now; Gradoux-Matt moved down to 28th street several years ago.

June 18, 2012 at 05:09 PM · I've tried a lot and went down a similar path to you. Even did the pure gut - until my teacher insisted I took them off (they were holding me back apparently).

I LOVE the gold olive E (medium). No whistle and nice to play. You can use the heavy if you want to fill an auditorium

I use the tzigane A and D - very stable nice tone, low whistle and altogether you forget that you had to choose strings.

G was a problem because of a persistant wolf at the octave. This is something you need to check and is probably more important than just sound - most violins are vulnerable there. My luthier suggested I get a low-tension string and I settled for the Obligato 'soft' and it worked a dream. Its not the richest string but I can play well above the octave without any wolfiness.

ee

June 18, 2012 at 07:58 PM · Elise, as I believe I've mentioned elsewhere, the Chorda G (covered gut) worked exactly the same way as your low tension Obligato in getting rid of the wolves, and it also is a low tension string. My guess is that the wolf problem on the G was rare before the advent of synthetics and the quest for higher pitches and tensions.

June 18, 2012 at 11:30 PM · Thanks for the tip Trevor - I wonder if the chorda G has a better tone than the Obligato. Interestingly, I had the same issue with passione G - which is also gut core.

I'll look for one.

June 22, 2012 at 08:51 AM · Elise, "better tone" is a personal opinion here, I think. The two strings are certainly different. A closer comparison may be between the Chorda and Eudoxa Gs. My impression (I don't have test figures to justify it) is that the Chorda has a slightly lower tension than the medium Eudoxa. The Chorda is intended as a baroque string so has a softer, but still rich, tone than the Eudoxa. I find it works well on both my violins and is now my G of choice.

I must also mention, if you don't already know, that the Chorda G has a loop end (gut, of course) and should not be fitted to a tailpiece adjuster.

July 26, 2012 at 05:38 PM · I second what Mr. Lee's teacher mentioned about the stiff version of the Eudoxas (or Olivs); I do use a steel A, however, not a Golden Spiral A (currently Larsen steel A, which is powerful BUT very warm, and matches the Eudoxas like a dream). It is IMHO a myth that one has to change gut strings more frequently-the stiff Eudoxa G & D has lasted me quite a bit, and they can be as loud or gentle as you may need them to be. I've had a new Passione Solo set on my drawer for many months now, but the Eudoxa still sound so good that I still haven't had a need to change them-never too dark, with lots of richness and more than enough brightness, actually.

Despite the "bad" reputation that Eudoxas ocassionally get, they are quite stable, not "wimpy sounding" at all, not as woofy/muddy as some report (the Obligatos ARE darker, IME, but not richer-they do have their own, good, warm tone that isn't just like gut), and can be as loud as your bowing technique allows. I do have to note that I use the thickest stiff gauges, not the normal Eudoxa, which I assume are the ones people refer to the most when speaking about Eudoxas.

I mentioned them because I feel they are more than worth the try, especially considering their price vs Oliv-who knows, stiff Eudoxa may work as well for you/your violin as stiff Oliv (although of course they'll sound different). I can vouch for their great tone, great projection, great bow pressure tolerance (Stiff version), and great durability. My violin has never sounded better before, although of course that doesn't mean Eudoxa Stiff are "the best strings", because such assessment will always be relative to the player, violin, and quite many other variables.

July 26, 2012 at 06:09 PM · Thanks Adalberto. I will try the Eudoxa stiff DG in the near future! I am also trying an steel A Spirocore and the Russian A from Warchal. I didn't know until recently that there is an Larsen steel A. I currently use the larsen tzigane A, wich is quite good. quite bright but singing.

July 26, 2012 at 10:46 PM · If you use the Eudoxa or Oliv G and D strings (I always recommend the "stiff" version), I'd suggest first trying 15 3/4 pm for the G and 16 3/4 pm for the D - these are the gauges people usually find success with. Yehudi Menuhin used the 15 1/2 and 16 1/2 pm Oliv stiff G and D strings - one gauge below "medium."

July 28, 2012 at 07:35 PM · Medium Dominants, with aluminium D. Jarger Forte E. Best all round set in my opinion.

Cheers Carlo

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