Another Viola String Inquiry

January 3, 2013 at 06:28 AM · For years I've been experimenting with my Jay Haide 15.5' viola and the many different string combinations out on the market. I had started with Dominants w/Jargar A, then moved to Helicores, back to Dominants, switched to Obligatos w/Larsen A, then to Evahs w/Larsen A, and now finally Vision Solos w/Jargar A. My question for you violists is which string set do you produce the best sound with? Or if you're a violinist which set do your fellow violists tend to use?

I would also appreciate some good input on a viola A string other than Jargar or Larsen! Cheers!

Replies (55)

January 3, 2013 at 09:01 AM ·

January 3, 2013 at 12:02 PM · I have an excellent French trade viola (J.T.L, ca.1900, 16ins, narrow bodied) with a wolf-less but rather nasal tone; I play chamber and orchestral music, not concertos.

My French friends like gut or synthetic G and D, with (to my delicate ears) A booming steel C, and a squealing steel A. I don't know why!

In the days before Perlon I used Plain gut D & A, wound gut C & G. Then all 4 Jargars, with a lower bridge. Then all 4 Spirocores, with the little rubber rings to filter the metallic fizz. Then all 4 Eudoxas.

I found Dominants too harsh on my viola, so I have used all 4 Aricores for many years.

I am now using all 4 Obligatos: the C is synthetic wound with tungsten: deep rich, and focused; The G & D are warm and well-grained; but the A is steel, unlike the superb violin A, so I shall try the Aricore A.(Or the Obligato violin A might work since the peg is not too far from the nut.)

In any case, the viola demands different bowing on each string: slow and heavy on the C, changing progressively to long and light on the A. With a flexible, synthetic A, I get clear, singing tones beyond the end of the fingerboard.

For a concerto performance, I would go back to all 4 Spirocores, with a lower bridge that I keep in reserve.

Edit: The Aricore A is sweet and clear, even high up, but does not match the "grain" of the Obligatos. The Dominant A is too harsh, and the Crystal A also, though a bit less so. I shall try Karneol, Zyex, and the Obligato violin A..

January 3, 2013 at 01:25 PM · The Dominant C, G, and D where really resonant on my viola, and after them being broken in, they lost the metallicness and warmed up. The Jargar was actually to bright, which actually is backwards. Usually the Jargar is a darker A, but my viola switched it. So now I use a Larsen A, and it's slightly darker and warmer. I use Vision Solos at the moment. I am in love with this set. I don't think I'll try any other sets until I get a new viola. I'm happy that experimentation didn't take long.

January 3, 2013 at 08:08 PM · The Warchal Karneol set for viola is surprisingly good for the price (~$40). Very warm and full, with an excellent wound A.

It's not quite as complex as Obligato, and not quite as punchy as Evah Pirazzi, but for the price I can't complain!

January 3, 2013 at 09:03 PM · I will add to the specific desire for an 'a' string other than Larsen or Jargar; I really like the medium gauge Passione 'a' as an individual string.

As far as a set, my go-to are spiros with the tungsten c and a larsen a. Subtle they are not, but they do what I need them to (they are clear, responsive, and they project) and they last a reasonable amount of time.

January 4, 2013 at 07:39 PM · I have used Obligatos for years, and see lots of them on other people's violas too. I bought a set of Evahs a year or so ago for a gig where I needed to be able to project and cut through a little more and have liked them, too- that's what I have on now. I tried a set of Passiones recently. The sound was gorgeous, but the lack of stability made me nuts, especially as winter set in and I was constantly going from over- to under-heated places.

January 5, 2013 at 01:00 AM · Hmm, are the A string Passiones also gut or are the steel instead?

Oh, and I believe Pinchas Zukerman has switched to Vision Solos, though I don't exactly know the A string he uses.

Does anyone know how the Passiones compare to the Vision Solos? Specifically in tuning, tone (warmth), projection, and response.

January 5, 2013 at 05:14 PM · The Passione As are wrapped gut, and they are beautiful, giving a lovely, true viola tone in the highest registers. I've only tried the Vision Solos on my violin, and hated them- they screamed something awful.

January 5, 2013 at 08:32 PM ·

January 6, 2013 at 07:57 PM · The Passione 'A' I mentioned was the steel, I didn't realize that they had a gut 'A' for the viola set.

I enjoyed the sound of the Passione set, they were warm and complex. However, I found that the 'c' string far too thick and sluggish and I had worse luck keeping the set in tune than I've had with any other set ever, including Olives and Eudoxas.

January 10, 2013 at 10:59 PM · Results for a Singing Synthetic String to replace the steel Obligato viola A:

- Obligato violin A (synthetic) (yes, the coloured winding does disappear into the peg-box): much brighter than the same string on my violin, and the extra tension stretches it too much and damages the aluminium winding, affecting intonation;

- Obligato violin A soft tension: much better, but too flexible for my heavier viola bow;

- Zyex A: a good compromise; similar "grain" to the Obligatos, not too harsh, playable to the end of the fingerboard, (even without pressing the string right down);

- I might just try the Zyex set, (cheaper!) or maybe the Obligato C & G, with the Aricore D & A...

Why am I the only one who hates the whining sound of a steel viola A?

Edit: After I filled in the survey on their site, Pirastro sent me a Evah Pirazzi synthetic A. It is too bright for my viola (or for my taste..) but it matches the Obligato C,G,&D quite well, and has a good balance of playability, clarity,(right up the string), and "complexity". I shall use it until they do a synthetic Obligato A...

January 15, 2013 at 12:19 AM · String choice depends on the instrument and the violist style, technique and personal taste.

In the violas I make I use Evah Pirazzis, sometimes with a Larsen A. The good thing about this is that most professionals know these strings so they can evaluate my instruments. Evahs are very popular among professionals in top orchestras.

Obligados can "dead" your viola, I wuold use them only if the viola is extremely bright sounding.

I find VISIONS too bright too, there is a trend towards too bright strings.

I liked Dominants with a Jargar or Larsen A in the past.

January 15, 2013 at 10:30 PM · Manfio, for chamber and orchestral music, (and for my ears!) my viola sounds warm and velvety with Obligatos. It has reasonably thick plates, but a much lower bridge than on your violas, so there is less muting effect to be overcome; its tone is nasal rather than bright. And I still want a sweet, singing A, which continues the tone graduation across the lower strings.

I am impressed by the Evahs: maybe I would use them if I were to play in a larger hall; they have a more varied tone-colour and attack than Spirocores etc.

I should love to be able to afford a second viola - one of yours, for example!

Edit: from warm to bright, Aricore, Obligato, Zyex, Evah.

N.B. Aricore and Zyex are much cheaper than the other two!

February 15, 2013 at 08:39 PM · I saw this thread when it started but didn't reply at the time as I'd just put the new Kaplan Viola string set on my instrument, so was still in the playing-in period so only commented on that thread. Having had a chance to get familiar with them I think they are really great strings. The C string is beautiful, much clearer than the Zyex Cs that I've had on my instrument (either medium or heavy tension). Compared to the Zyex that I had before there's more resonance but at the same time the softer dynamics are much more refined. Response is great too.

The timbre of the new A string I find much more interesting than the Kaplan Solutions A. The D and the G make a really satisfyingly homogenous set, and I'm planning on sticking with them.

February 26, 2013 at 08:36 PM · Interesting analysis of viola strings:

Geeks please check here!

:^) It's great stuff!

http://digitalcommons.unl.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1032&context=musicstudent

February 27, 2013 at 02:13 PM · thanks for the link, good stuff!

February 27, 2013 at 03:10 PM · From that analysis report, the Tonicas look to be a nicely balanced set. (The Eudoxas even more so, but are twice the price...)

I have a set of Tonicas on my violin, with no complaints. Anybody use them on their viola?

Anybody try ProArte on their viola? I had them on another violin of mine, and they were nice, deep, mellow strings. Very affordable as well. Any feedback on them?

I have a new viola in mail to me as we speak. A Tertis styled widebody that'll need a set of strings. Maybe I'll spring for the Tonicas and try them out myself. I'd hope the reported bright nature of the Tonicas would help balance the widebody depth of tone.

March 22, 2013 at 05:14 PM · Update: I think I've found my favorite A!

I wanted a synthetic A to replace the Obligato steel A (an excellent string, sweeter than Larsen, but still steel..).

After the Aricore A, sweet and clear, but less "complex" than the Obligato C,G,&D, I found the Eudoxa-Aricore A, which I never see mentioned. It is designed to replace the wound gut Eudoxa, and is an excellent match for the gut-lke Obligatos.

So, to sum up:

Obligato C: deep and clear (tungsten winding);

Obligato G: rich and warm;

Obligato D: warm and clear; (silver winding, so thinner than usual - I had to put a layer of plastic in the groove of the nut to avoid buzzing on the open D);

Eudoxa-Aricore A: clear but "complex", a perfect match! I have the "medium" 13-1/2 guage, but I may try the softer 13-1/4.

Edit:

The 13-1/4 seems very similar to the regular Aricore medium A (which I had used for sevareal days). I have asked Pirastro if it is the same String.

Edit-edit: Pirastro told me these A's have different structures.

May 22, 2013 at 03:53 AM · All violist should try the Pirastro Permanent A string. I used Jargar and Larsen, both of which I really like, but Permanent A produces a gorgeous sound and stays true to the beautiful colors the A string should sound like on a viola (I find that a lot of viola A strings are sounding too loud and bright). I went to a brilliant luthier, Adam Crane in NYC. He worked on my instrument and suggested I use a Permanent A and since then have tried other A strings, but nothing compares to the sound this string produces. (I'm not a fan of C, G and D Pirastro Permanent strings, but the A is on point)

May 22, 2013 at 04:10 AM · So, what do you use along with the Permanent A?

May 22, 2013 at 01:43 PM ·

May 24, 2013 at 02:44 AM · Seraphim, I use Evah C,G and D along with the Permanent A... Dominants work well too.

May 26, 2013 at 05:32 AM · zyex by d'addario - inexpensive, good quality strings which last forever and produce a full, warm, gut-like tone.

but i was told - and no reason to doubt - that given the subtleties inherent in each individual instrument, what works for me might not work for you.

July 14, 2013 at 12:02 AM · I'm responding to Seraphim Protos' question about the Pro-Arte strings for viola. I had a set of Obligatos, which I love, on my viola, but both the D and G strings unwound (anyone else have this problem with Obligatos?). I had an old Pro-Arte G string I used to replace the Obligato and, while it sort of works with the Obligatos as a temporary replacement, it doesn't have the aliveness or smoothness of the latter. I got an Aricore D to replace the other unwound Obligato because I wanted to try out the Aricores without getting a whole set. While I like it, it doesn't blend as well with the Obligatos which have a clearer tone. But the more I play the Aricore it seems to be breaking in a bit and I'm appreciating it's "dark" tone with all its complexity. It also has vitality and smoothness. Still, I think it would sound best within a whole set of Aricores. It's just a different quality of tone and so I'll get myself another Obligato D until I'm ready to try a whole set of Aricores. BTW, I also tried a set of Nyex and didn't particularly like them on my viola. Maybe I didn't give them enough break-in time, and I had probably gotten used to my more expensive Obligatos which have a gorgeous tone. The Nyex seemed to lack subtlety and fineness compared to the Obligatos and seemed to have a ringing quality. Thank you to everyone for this discussion. Very helpful.

April 1, 2014 at 02:51 PM · Hi All~

To resurrect this topic once again...but to focus more on school instruments. I have students that are ASTA level 3-4. Many of the instruments are school purchased. Students however are responsible for strings and general maintenance of the instrument. Some own their own instruments, but we're not talking high quality here. Being a violinist myself, I have that covered. And, while this is a primarily violinist wall--I ask you for direction on recommendations for low stringed instruments. What string sets are decent quality for these kids? Thanks~ Lisa

April 1, 2014 at 08:29 PM · Zyex or Helicores will probably be decent enough for the violas; they're both adequately priced and fairly sturdy.

April 1, 2014 at 10:01 PM · Euh, what does "decent enough for violas" mean?!!

Absolutely grotty on violins?

Both my violas are 16".

One is ca. 1910, narrow, and a bit nasal, so I use Obligatos, replacing the (excellent) steel A with a sweet, singing Eudoxa-Aricore aluminium-wound synthetic.

The other is a brand new Chinese-made Yamaha, much wider (and heavier). To "run it in", I have put all 4 Jargars: the tone is dull for the moment, (the wood still smells of sap!) but as it wakes up, I may find I want something more subtle.

I really dislike a steel-cored A with synthetic C, G & D. I had learned to lighten and lengthen my bow-stroke as I pass from lower to higher strings.

I don't expect the A to resist my bowing in the same way as the others.

Four metal strings is another matter, as they then have similar reponses.

April 2, 2014 at 02:55 AM · Lisa = you don't say what size the violas are. That can make a difference. Corelli Crystal would be a suggestion for a decent inexpensive string if they are 15" or bigger. Frequently on the small violas I will use violin strings for the A, D, G and a helicore C. The helicore C is thinner than the other small size C strings. Though one of my students has a Tungsten C that is fabulous but I don't know the brand. I used to use vision violin strings a lot for the smaller violas but they have increased in price.

The vision solos break in quick - almost no break in period and hold pitch well which could be an advantage to you.

April 2, 2014 at 02:57 AM · As for the original question: Corelli Alliance and Evah were the only ones I used for a long time - with a Jargar Red (strong). I was given a set of Vision Solo and am pleased with them - including the A. They feel very different under the bow than do the Evah's.

April 3, 2014 at 03:32 AM · I have been using a Kaplin A and like it very much. At present my other strings are Vision Solos. The combination works pretty well. Other strings I have tried are regular Visions (not bad), Evas (too shrill), Obligatos (dull and murky), Doms (The best of all after break in. However, they don't seem to keep their best tone for too long. After 6 weeks or so the tone starts to degrade and finally becomes harsh. The Dom A is pretty bad. I have used a Kaplin A with them and liked the combination)

May 1, 2014 at 02:33 AM · Thank you for your replies....the sizes of instruments vary. I am trying to put together notes for me to refer to. There's nothing worse than having students with strings on violas for 10 years, never changed and they sound miserable or strings that are breaking and not really having enough experience with violas to recommend the purchase of new strings. I need to be sure I am prepared and capable of addressing the need. I will take all your comments into consideration! Thank you!

May 15, 2014 at 10:02 PM · I'm using the spirocore tungsten c, vision g and d, and a chrome-steel passione a. It sounds magnificent and it's really the first time I've ever been happy.

Something about putting the spiro g on with the c makes the whole instrument just fail.

I prefer olivs for the inner strings even more, and since I just moved away from Houston (to LA) this set up might actually work for me haha.

Hope you figure it out Kenny!

May 15, 2014 at 10:27 PM · I actually just bought a set of evah golds on a whim, I'll let ya know how they sound. I'm excited haha

May 16, 2014 at 03:12 PM · Ryan, face it--you're a viola string junkie!

You just can't stop!

;^)

Love hearing about it though!

May 19, 2014 at 12:58 AM · Thanks Ryan! What do you perceive to be the difference between Vision and Vision Solos? When I read your blog on AVS it seemed that Vision Solos didn't leave the kindest of impressions haha

September 5, 2014 at 06:10 PM · On Adrian's suggestion I tried an Aricore A to tame a rather unruly A on one of my violas.

Previously I had tried:

Larsen- (very strident on this particular viola, nice and smooth and clean on my other, as is usually expected of a Larsen A..)

Zyex- OK, but still a bit "creaky" if not bowed just right on the open string in particular on this viola.

Kaplan- Similar to the Zyex as far as creak/harsh goes (again, only on this viola, it sounds nice on my other one)

Pro-Arte- Lackluster A, it didn't stay on very long at all (the C, G, D were OK, though, nothing to write home about, but not duds).

Aricore- As advertised, a dark, smooth sounding string. It stretches quite a bit when first installed. The "creaking" is gone on the open string. I'll see how the tone develops over the next week or so. I'm liking it so far.

Others yet to try:

Eudoxa/Aricore: If the Aricore is good, can this one possibly be better???

Heavy gauge Zyex- The Zyex was pretty good, but perhaps a heavy gauge would tame the A? (I am also using a Zyex D on this viola)

NS Electric (DaDario)- Maybe a crazy idea, but according to DaDario's site (I'm paraphrasing here), since electric instruments do not require the strings to produce the "projection" (just dial up the volume...), they can focus on producing a string with more tonal range as opposed to power. The NS Electric A is a stranded core A, as opposed to the solid core A on the Helicores and Kaplans. Something to try perhaps, they're pretty cheap.

September 6, 2014 at 09:58 AM · I have cured the sizzle of the open A (especially when slurred from a D-string note) by placing a tiny bit of thin leather in the groove in the nut. The open A sounds alittle more like a fingered A.

September 6, 2014 at 11:45 AM · And what string are you currently using? The Eudoxa/Aricore?

Or have you been able to use others after applying the leather?

September 6, 2014 at 12:14 PM · Eudoxa-Aricore. But I apply the leather to the A on my all-Jargar VaSO too.

September 6, 2014 at 12:50 PM · Thanks, I'll look into trying that out.

September 6, 2014 at 01:38 PM · BTW, I find very little differenc between Aricore and Eudoxa-Aricore; the latter is perhaps a little richer, to match Eudoxa covered gut.

September 6, 2014 at 02:44 PM · I just mounted up a little leather patch under the A.

I'll be darned if it didn't work like a charm! Great tip, Adrian!

It's like the little leather pad that comes on the Warchal Russian A

November 21, 2014 at 07:12 PM · Update to add to the "viola string review' thread.

On a different viola than the one I talked about above, with the "creaky" A. I have been using the Vision Solos for the past 2 1/2 months:

I mounted the Vision Solos on my 16.25" Maggini model viola.

Fantastic strings! I had been happy with the Zyex that was on there before (a slight bit of grainyness, but fantastic for the price), and also the Kaplan set I had also tried prior to that (very resonant, but they are steel core strings, and lack a certain "depth" to the tone. They can certainly give you a BIG tone once you get them moving, but also require fine tuners). I had also had ProArtes on there, they are very domesticated and tame. Nice and easy, mellow, inexpensive strings. Their drawback is a lack of sex appeal; they are neither bold, nor brash, they simply do their job like a Toyata Corolla- dependable, economic, and get you there without fanfare.

But the VS set is a step beyond: the VS seems to me to have a very full and smooth sound. It has plenty of power, and is not harsh at all. I've often heard about "left hand feel" for strings, but had not really felt a difference for myself until I tried these strings. They definitely feel nice and pliable under my hand.

When I say "smooth", I mean also clear. No grittiness. They certainly are not what I would call bright strings. I don't know if I'd call them dark either. They seem pretty neutral, which I think is a very good thing. But as I said above, they have a very full bodied sound, nice and rich, yet also clear.

They aren't fussy strings. They can take some pressure without getting crabby, instead they just give out more and more. Response is nice and quick. The string tension for bowing feels again, very neutral. Not stiff feeling, nor flabby and loose. Just great stuff all around.

Those were my first impressions from when I first put them on.

They had started to loose some responsiveness lately, or so I had thought. So, as I await dropping some big bucks on a new set of strings (I probably will try something new just for fun, but I do love these strings, no complaints), I decided to go out and try replacing just the D with the silver D they have (the set comes with chromium wound D).

I only just put it on today for about a half hour so far. It seems to have re-invigorated the set. I've only been playing for a bit over two years, so I spend alot of my time on the D and A strings more so than the G and C, so I figured the D had the highest mileage and would benefit most from an upgrade. The A I had only put on about three weeks ago as well (previously had a Larsen A on). The A is excellent, by the way. Goes well with the set, even tone, not trying to be a turbocharged violin E, but not dull and empty the way some A's turn out on viola either. Nice, pure sound.

Hard to compare a 2+ month old chromium D with a brandy new silver D, but it seems to have brought back alot of the color of the D, as well as the whole set (maybe placebo effect, but I'll take it...).

Just sharing my impressions.

I'm contemplating either Passiones or Evah Golds for my next set. This viola doesn't seem overly particular on strings so far. It has a fairly neutral tone with alot of core to the sound. I just need to figure out what I want to spend another $100+ bucks on...

;^)

November 12, 2015 at 10:19 PM · Just saw that Warchal now has a set of Amber for viola!

I've been loving the Brilliants on my 17" & 17.5", I'm definitely trying the Ambers!

http://www.warchal.com/amber-viola.html

November 12, 2015 at 10:31 PM · Just ordered a set of the Ambers...

November 13, 2015 at 12:32 AM · Please give a review of the Ambers once you have played on them.

December 17, 2015 at 10:52 PM · I have tested the Amber set on my 14,5" but they did not steal my heart. The C is supple but it's very thick so it is a bit unresponsive. The G is too low tension, for my particular (size) viola. The D and Asynthetic are quite okay, as I like warm sounding string, especially the A. But the A has some metallic ringing when I bow the open string. All in all, I am looking for other solutions than Amber.

December 17, 2015 at 11:01 PM · Any news of the new PI for viola?

I'll try Amber first, as PI are one of the high tension category, despite what they say in the "blurb".

December 17, 2015 at 11:05 PM · @adrian Heath

I liked to follow this long thread because it seems to me that we are searching for the same holy grail , namely the Obligato synth A that does not exist... But whereas you have found it in the lovely Eudoxa-Aricore, I have not finished my search - because the E-A is a tad unresponsive on my 14,5".

December 17, 2015 at 11:37 PM · On my 16-inch viola Pirastro Permanents are probably the best strings I have used. I tried them after finding hwo good the same brand was on my 2 Strad-model cellos. Previously, Dominants gave me the best quality sound, but just a little softer. I can't remember what combinations I tried before that - but just before the Permanents I tried Evah Pirazzi Gold, and they were strident and scratchy.

When I test strings I also play the viola in cello position to a better idea of how it sounds to others.

It might be interesting to try Thomastik Peter Infelds, but only after Christmas expenses have settled.

Andy

December 20, 2015 at 11:58 PM · Aha. I have this wonderful feeling that I have hacked the system. I have slapped on a Larsen Tzigane soft gauge violin A next to my Obligato strong CGD. It's a meant-to-be combination. If your viola is small enough, I'd definitely recommend it. Just for the record, I tried the Obligato chromium violin A first, and it was pretty good, too, But the Tziganes have always been my very favorite when I played violin so I am very happy to recycle the A string.

December 21, 2015 at 02:07 AM · Another dark horse might be Lenzner supersolo A (metal). They produce GoldBrokat violin E and know how to make a darn good string.

December 22, 2015 at 10:05 AM · I really like Visions (including the a), but it's different for each viola.

December 30, 2015 at 03:03 AM · Scott!!! Loved your recording of the Bach Sonatas and Partitas

December 30, 2015 at 11:48 AM · I'm new here, but since I've been using strings I've never heard anyone else mention on this site I thought I'd share my experiences.

I've tried (as sets) Helicores, Obligatos, and Karneols, in addition to what I'm using now, and, as various individual strings, Aricores, Chromchors, Permanents, Jargars and Larsens. My viola came with Dominants on it, which sounded dire, but I don't know whether that was because they were old.

I absolutely hated the Aricores, and the Karneols made my normally warm and sultry viola sound like a sardine tin strung with chicken wire. The Chromcor was fine, but didn't live up to its advance billing and the Permanent A, like the Jargar, just wasn't anywhere near as good as the Larsen. I haven't found any A to match the Larsen.

The Obligatos were lovely, but not that much lovelier than the Helicores to justify the substantial difference in price.

What I've settled on are Corelli Cantigas. They're more expensive than Helicores, but about 25% less than Obligatos. They have a warm, but not mmurky sound, last well and are easy to play. However I didn't like the Cantiga A as much as the Larsen A, so I use Cantiga C, G and D with the Larsen A. I'm satisfied enough with the Cantigas to stick with them for the foreseeable future, though my luthier has recommended I try Tonicas or Eudoxas (she has a major animus against Evahs--you'd think they'd had an affair with her husband, or something). But if any of you wants to try something different, you might investigate Cantigas.

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