Viola Strings -- Steel C with Synthetic or Gut G and D?

July 1, 2012 at 04:36 PM · I recently developed the desire to start messing around with strings again after the strings (plain gut A and D; Oliv G and C) on my good viola started gradually going bad.

So I sat out to do some research. In doing so, I found a photo of a 1733 Paolo Antonio Testore viola, on David Cox's website, strung with (what appear to be) a Jargar A, Oliv D, Oliv G, and a Spirocore C--I didn't get a look at the peg box, so I can't be entirely sure it wasn't a Dominant C.

But the picture made me think of the possibilities of stringing mine with a Spirocore C,whose color I know nothing about as of yet (I suspect they will be pretty dark), for the clarity it would provide on the C string which can get fairly muddy and still getting the sound I want from the D and G without too large of a discrepancy in color/tone/dynamic range/etc.--the A will likely be a Larsen A.

Has anyone hear of anyone using or does anyone play with a Spirocore C and any form of gut Gs/Ds?

Replies (24)

July 2, 2012 at 03:25 AM · One of the very best violists I know (a professional quartet player) uses a Spirocore tungsten C with the Helicore G and D (which are also steel core, but are lower in tension than the Spirocore G and D but higher in tension than the Dominant G and D) and a Jargar or Larsen A. I've also occasionally seen the Jargar D on her viola.

A great violin maker I know uses the Spirocore C and G strings on his violas, with a synthetic D and steel A. I don't remember exactly who he said recommended this combination to him - I think it was Lawrence Dutton.

July 2, 2012 at 06:44 AM · Spirocore tungsten C with the Helicore G and D is what my viola started out with, eventually moving to G and D synthetics. It seems this latter configuration is quite popular with French luthiers. The Spirocore tungsten C is not cheap and doesn't last very long so that drove me to look for an alternative - I use a heavy Zyex C (not quite as heavy as the tungsten C) and am quite happy with that. The Zyex medium for example is a lot lighter than the tungsten C.

July 2, 2012 at 02:59 PM · I think Lawrence Power uses a Larsen A, Oliv D and G, and Spirocore tungsten C.

I think the difference in tone and response between the G and C would bother me, personally.

July 3, 2012 at 08:15 AM · On a "typical" viola there's less homogeneity of sound between the C and G compared to the G and D on a violin. One might say the tendency is for the C string to be "woolly" or have less focus than higher strings, so the tungsten string provides the necessary density to compensate while still remaining agile, so it's this aspect that makes it a workable combination. Anyway, that's my interpretation.

July 7, 2012 at 08:30 PM · The string choice will depend on the instrument, the player`s style and personal taste.

I don`t like Spirocores for violas, I think they impose their features to the instrument, but many soloists are using them.

My first choice for the violas I make are Evah Pirazzis with a Larsen A.

July 7, 2012 at 09:32 PM · I took a Larson A off of my viola today. It is just too bright. A full set of Dominants work best for me. I'm trying a Jarger A before I go back though. I still have a Dominant D, G, and C. It all depends on the instrument though.

July 8, 2012 at 06:34 AM · Try Warchal Karneol...very warm sound, and the wound A is much less punchy than the Larsen A (which I still like, depending on the playing situation).

July 8, 2012 at 11:52 AM · Back when I was in the States I used Pirastro's passions - I was in love with those. I don't know how they are priced now but perhaps you could give them a try?

August 10, 2012 at 09:07 PM · I think the best set of strings I've used on my current viola were: Warchal Brilliant C, Obligato G and D, and Warchal Brilliant Synthetic core A.

October 19, 2012 at 01:20 PM · I had Pirastro Tonica C, G and D with a Larsen A on my viola, until recently. The G, D and A were great on my instrument (initially the A was slightly brash, though this subsided). The Tonica C was actually the tungsten alternative, but I wasn't too happy with it because instead of providing the clarity I sought, it was fuzzier than my previous Corelli Crystal C (which I found rather dull sounding). It also snapped by itself after only 4 weeks - I was very surprised. I replaced it with an old Obligato C (about 3 and a half years old, had been off my instrument for 2 years) and immediately the sound livened up. It sounded much clearer, provides the same richness as the tungsten C did, and also it actually caused the A string to blend better with the set! My instrument now sounds fuller than it did before. It is probably important to take into account that I am primarily a violinist; my viola, a Westbury Antiqued Viola made by The Soundpost UK, was (as of 2009) £400 including case, a decent bow and a professional setup with Despiau bridge and a full set of Obligato strings.

October 19, 2012 at 03:16 PM · I personally love the Spiro tungsten C, the sound is clean, it projects well, and the response is the best I've been able to find. I also really like the Larsen A. I think the Passione A is also really nice sounding. The middle strings I'm still working out, though I think (personally) the response difference between a steel c and a gut g-d would make me crazy, I'll be interested to hear what you discover should you go through with your experiment.

October 19, 2012 at 03:21 PM · occurs to me now that I have all of those strings you mentioned, including cgd oliv rigid. Do you use the rigid gauge? Perhaps I'll try that myself :-) I'm due for a new set.

October 22, 2012 at 02:49 PM · It's true that French violists like a booming C and a shrieking A! I like my A to sing right to the top, with a long, light stroke. I have gone from all-Dominant, (too nasal on my viola) to all-Aricore (warm, but lacking "projection") and now all-Obligato (warm and clear, on all strings).

I used the Wolfram C in my Spirocore days, but as Mr.Manfio suggests, they are rather "monochrome".

May 23, 2014 at 09:33 PM · I just put new G, D and A on my viola today.

The C is a Pirastro Permanent. Its a Tungsten wound steel rope core string. Works nice on my instrument. I haven't tried a Spirocore, but for half the price the Permanent C suits me just fine. Warm, strong, clear.

Doesn't seem muddy or wooly to my untrained ears (The Pro-Arte C fit those descriptions though....)

The A is the ubiquitous Larsen A. No complaints from me here either. I had a synthetic core A on there before (Zyex), and just putting on a steel A livened up the whole instrument. I was rather shocked at the difference. Even with a simple Prelude A on there the viola opened up. Byt the Prelude was a bit whiny sounding. The Larsen is sweet and pure. $27 is top of the price range for an A, but I have no regrets about it. I also got a Hill style tuner and got the Larsen with a loop end so that I could have a nice, clean setup on the tailpiece.

The G and D I loaded up with the new formulation Zyex. I love the Zyex G and D on my violin, so I was hoping for similar results on my viola. So far, so good. They sound warm and resonant with plenty of "oomph".

$10 for the D, $12 for the G (Johnson Strings). Great strings (on my axe, anyhow), and helped balance out the $27 Larsen A on my personal finance sheet.

Just sharing my experiences...

May 24, 2014 at 04:41 PM · Seraphim, are you sure that they're new formulation? I thought that they never actually redesigned the Zyexviola strings, only the violin ones.

May 24, 2014 at 05:05 PM · Yes.

The Zyex A I had previously was the pink windings and different packaging. The new ones are yellow and red windings like the new violin ones.

May 24, 2014 at 08:10 PM · Are you sure they changed the formula?

I think they changed the winding, but not the formula.

After they changed the violin strings, the tailpiece windings were blue and teal before they finally settled on red and yellow later on.

May 24, 2014 at 08:17 PM · That I do not know...

So, you're saying they changed the windings, the packaging, but not the string itself ??

An email to DaDarrio may be called for to clear this up.

May 24, 2014 at 11:46 PM · I am saying that.

They change packaging, in particular, quite frequently.

They've changed the windings for Pro Artes and Helicores in the past, too, and I don't think the strings changed at all.

I'll write them.

May 27, 2014 at 01:55 PM · D'Addario responded that the formula for Zyex viola strings never changed (from introduction in the late 1990s).

May 27, 2014 at 06:34 PM · Thank you for finding that out!

June 2, 2014 at 08:20 PM · I am using:

C- Pirastro Permanent

G- Zyex

D- Zyex

A- Larsen

I have a Hill style tuner on the A. The G and D tune fine with the pegs, but the steel ropecore C is a bit tricky...

So today I got another Hill tuner and found that I could rather easily remove the ball from the Permanent C. Fine tuned C works very well now.

P.S- before resorting to the Hill tuner, I decided to try the last C I had on there--a Pro Arte C. It was horrible!!! Flabby and gutless. Put the Permanent back on immediately. I'd be interested in the possibility of a non-metal C, but the faves out there (Oliv, Passiones, etc) are a bit steep to just give a whirl...I'll stick with this one for a while I think.

June 3, 2014 at 03:56 PM · I use a Spirocore (silver) C with Tonica G and D. The A I'm using is a Warchal Karneol synthetic since a metal A sounds too bright on this viola (tried Karneol, Larsen, Jargar, Kaplan). I plan to switch the Tonica G and D back to Warchal Karneols when they wear out. The Karneols have such a warm resonant sound and good response, and are priced well.

June 9, 2014 at 06:51 PM · UPDATE: (in case anyone cares...)

Using my handy, dandy iphone (dB Volume) app I was able to deduce that My C was giving me ~82dB at @ 3 feet, My G ~82dB, and likewise my Larsen A ~82 dB. But my D was lagging behind at ~76dB.

So, I replaced the medium Zyex D with a heavy gauge Zyex D, and now I'm measuring quite uniform across all strings at ~82dBs. Sound nice!

This discussion has been archived and is no longer accepting responses.

Facebook Twitter YouTube Instagram Email is made possible by...

Shar Music
Shar Music

Pirastro Strings
Pirastro Strings

JR Judd Violins
JR Judd Violins

Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases
Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases

2023 Authenticate LA: Los Angeles Violin Shop
2023 Authenticate LA Shopping Guide Shopping Guide


Metzler Violin Shop

Southwest Strings

Bobelock Cases

Johnson String Instrument/Carriage House Violins

Jargar Strings

Bay Fine Strings Violin Shop


Los Angeles Violin Shop


String Masters

Nazareth Gevorkian Violins

Laurie's Books

Discover the best of in these collections of editor Laurie Niles' exclusive interviews. Interviews Volume 1 Interviews Volume 1, with introduction by Hilary Hahn Interviews Volume 2 Interviews Volume 2, with introduction by Rachel Barton Pine