My viola string experiences

December 3, 2013 at 02:13 PM · I finally (after over a year of non-stop traveling and trying 200+ violas) found an instrument that suits me perfectly, and went ahead and bought it!

That being said, part of my search required me to try to optimize each viola, so I've tried every string brand and combination at least 3x, some really weird ones too...but here are my thoughts regarding string choices for the ever-temperamental bratsche

DOMINANTS:

- Worked well especially on older instruments, and despite the low tension, filled the hall more often than high-tension alternatives.

A- didn't use it

D- thin, weakest of the set

G- more rich, had the sweetness reminiscent of expensive violins. Full sound

C- one of the better responding c string options! Great sound. Spirocore in style, without the overtones being stifled.

Overall great response, sweet tone, left me wanting more power in the end though. Didn't withstand attacks very well. Brilliantly easy to play.

EVAH PIRAZZI-

Most instruments came strung with them. I found them to not be as loud as people complained, but rather sluggish. The tone was intriguing at first, but in general they sound like plastic to me. People put these on religiously without actually experimenting, and this bothers me. That being said they work the best on my viola. Some instruments sound dull and choked however.

A- no

D- focused, clear,...chewy? most intriguing tone of the set

G- warm and yummy, slightly slower to respond

C- a bit tubby and nothing tone wise to write home about. Not my favorite. But certainly worth a try with your setup. I did notice it responds better with time

PASSIONE

Some of favorite strings so far. Difficult to play, response doesn't seem present until three days after they've been strung up. Simply dulcet in tone, unparalleled array of colors, just brilliant (as in I like them. Not brilliant strings like prims

A- chrome steel is warm and open. Not pinched and matches wonderfully to any set id imagine

D- heartwrenching. Crystal clear with correct attack, and just so intriguing

G- ethereal. A little harder to speak. Warm and complex like a nice cabernet

C- too mushy. I used a spiro tungsten instead which somehow matched (??)

While they are my favorite sounding, playability and stability coupled with inferior focus and volume make these strings a hobby rather than a practice/performance string

LARSEN

Great a, drastic decline with lower strings.

A- my favorite. Low or medium tension for your instrument. Complex enough, very brilliant. Just gorgeous.

D- takes some getting used to, currently my favorite d string. Seriously sounds weird at first, but it's responsive, powerful, clear and focused with a...tone I guess.

G- lol

C- they should pay you

SPIROCORE

the tungsten c is the best string for viola imo, if your viola can handle ilthe tension. Opposite of larsens as they get worse with each succeeding string upwards.

C- tungsten is magnificent, although a different rh approach is necessary. Spiccatto is hard and pp is a no go.

G- silver wound is strident and a bit stuff, very projecting, but a bit wooly and very one-dimensional in terms of timbre. More of an on/off switch.

D- bad

OBLIGATO-

Low tension, dark, long-lasting, responsive, generally not my bag o kettle chips, but yet worked the best on a gagliano I had tried. I believe they are dark because they suppress overtones in a way much like spiros. Steel strings sound very dark (albeit clear) to me.

C- noteworthy

VISION SOLO

Atrocious, easy to play, one sound, clear but not projecting, die like a supernova. My least favorite strings.

D- horrible. Skinny and thin, sounds whiny and has no color

G- silver is ok, responsive but just meh

C- tungsten is the exception, but id just go spirocore over this.

OLIV

Amazing C! Typical gut. Great colors, stability issues. Amazing response ime

JARGAR

A- nasal and French-like sonority to my ears. Matches vision solos well, is perfect with dominants

D- unremarkable. Blue winding is cool

My current setup on my viola is:

Spirocore tungsten C

Passione G

" D

Larsen A

The contact point was getting to me however- I'm finding this setup to work great:

Evah C

Evah G

Larsen D

Larsen A

I have sound clips of almost every viola with what I thought were the best sounding strings for it if you want links to clips and such.

Other successful combos were as follows:

Doms + jargar A

Evahs + Larsen A

Spiro C, olive g d, Larsen a

Spiro c g, Larsen d a

Vision solos + receipts

Tiny violas with spiros

Can't wait for Pi to come out on viola! And pirastro rejected my plea to make passione solo for viola...hope any of this helped!

Replies

December 3, 2013 at 08:22 PM · I'm in Houston- the main reason I can't use them. Went from 90 degrees to 37 overnight with 100% humidity.

Cleveland should be fine!

December 3, 2013 at 10:19 PM · "I really want to try gut core strings but I'm afraid that the weather may make them too unstable."

I've used gut-cores for years on 2 of my instruments. I'm in north-central Alabama, where the weather is warm typically 6-7 months each year; humid April-September; coldest and driest December-February. Almost no pitch stability issues for me in any season. But then we don't get all 4 seasons in 1 day.

One thing that undoubtedly helps is strict, consistent tuning. I'm fanatical, some might say, about starting each practice session with A-440 on the tuning fork or electronic tuner -- and then re-checking periodically throughout a session. On most summer days, I use cross-ventilation and floor fans instead of the a/c system; but when I do go to a/c -- e.g., 92+ F. outdoors with humidity at 60% -- the lowest I go is 82 F.

No experience yet with Passiones -- although I've read that they are more pitch stable than other gut-cores generally. I play most often on Oliv and Eudoxa -- with the stiff D-G; won't use regular D-G -- less stable, tone more likely to break or crush.

December 4, 2013 at 01:12 AM · Zyex?

December 4, 2013 at 07:17 AM · Wanna try zyex. Are they supposed to be bright or powerful? Dark? Never even seen em

And couldn't resist getting oliv and eudoxa just to try.

December 4, 2013 at 10:42 AM · Have you seen this paper?

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

Skip to page 49 for the results and summary.

Eudoxas were analyzed as the most neutral and with the best playability.

I think the Tonicas look like a well balanced set as well (I believe that Tonicas also offer an optional tungsten C if you want some more oomph on the low end).

Thanks for taking the time to share your reviews!

I am currently using ProArtes on my viola (with a Zyex synthetic core A), and they sound smooth and mellow. Though the C is a bit weak.

December 4, 2013 at 10:59 AM · Thank you seraphim!

Are tonic as the white and black wrapped strings (by the ball end I mean).

Free set of Obligatos to anyone who wants them. String up then down lol

December 4, 2013 at 01:40 PM · The Tonicas have red and white spirals on the silks.

It's the D'Addario Kaplan set that has the black and white silkings.

And here's the Zyex:

December 4, 2013 at 01:49 PM · I have swapped out to zyex strings on all of my instruments, and they are definitely a marked improvement over pretty much any strings that come on a student instrument. I have heard some people say the E was somewhat un-remarkable to them on violin. Since the viola doesn't have an E, all of the strings would be synthetic core and might benefit even more from the zyex strings than a violin. Most sites seem to have them marked down to below the price point of dominant or obligato so I can't see it hurting to try them considering how many combinations you've already tried.

December 4, 2013 at 05:16 PM ·

December 4, 2013 at 08:38 PM · Just bought a set of kaplan-

Bright thin and not as responsive as they claimed. I like dominants better, and the spiro c is better than the fables response of the kaplan.

My spiro c seizes up, and I've been using Larsen a, d, g...any idea how to get a temperamental g string to loosen up? No luthier can figure it out....it like won't even respond!

December 4, 2013 at 08:40 PM · I wonder if it's because the strings are at too high a tension for the viola's liking?

Also, if you try Tonica/Zyex, I hope you like them - they can both work great on different violas. I've always thought Tonicas (the old formula - not the new formula, which is only out for violin) are very reminiscent of Pirastro's gut strings in their refinement.

December 5, 2013 at 05:49 AM · Have you tried Corelli's? I very much like them but not many people seem to use them.

December 5, 2013 at 08:38 PM · Strings must fit the instrument and the payer`s stye. I use Evah Pirazzis in the violas I make because most players are familiar with them and so they can judge the instrument.

December 8, 2013 at 06:42 AM · Still can't find a d string.

With an adjustment, the spiros are perfect in both response and tone (for me) as is the Larsen a. Any suggestions to match the clarity and power of those?

Larsen d was too easily crushed

Same with Dom

Passione was too different,

Evah maybe? Kaplan didn't work.

What are zyex strings btw? Nice or not worth it?

December 8, 2013 at 02:03 PM · Ryan, if you have tried all the available 'd' strings, maybe time for a qualified sound-post adjustment?

December 8, 2013 at 05:41 PM · Ryan, have you tried the aluminum Spiro D? Or just the chrome? If you've just tried the chrome, you might find the aluminum more to your liking. It's not as bright and thin sounding.

Also - have you tried any of the Dominants in heavy gauge?

December 8, 2013 at 11:27 PM · Re: Zyex. I haven't liked them on my viola. Something about the tone doesn't sound real clean to me. Again, it could just be my instrument. But I also seemed to detect it in certain notes played by the violist on the Zyex video Seraphim sent.

And by the way, thanks for posting this. It's great that we can all benefit from your intensive experimentation! But before I go switching all my strings around, what kind of tone do you prefer? What tonal qualities are you after? 'Cause they might be different than my preferred tonal palette.

December 8, 2013 at 11:48 PM · Jonathan, most do, but I feel it doesn't suit a lot of instruments and it's done out of convention/never experimenting. I'm infinitely happier from all the money spent just for the spiro core c alone. People always comment on its ease of playability and tone.

Arifa, I like Lawrence powers sound. Can't use English to describe it. Empyrean? I hate whiney or one dimensional sounding instruments. I prefer a...melancholy but clear, complex sound that carries:)

December 8, 2013 at 11:48 PM · Basically color>brilliance

December 9, 2013 at 03:34 AM · Sorry if you've already answered this, but have you tried Warchal?

December 11, 2013 at 01:56 PM · Lawrence Power has a most gorgeous tone. The sweetest melancholy. Do you know what his instrument is? And which strings he uses? The way you clarified your tonal palette of choice gave me a better sense of your string preferences. Thanks.

December 11, 2013 at 06:00 PM · I think he uses Larsen A, Olive D and G, Spirocore tungsten C

December 14, 2013 at 09:53 AM · On my slightly nasal 16" viola, a set of Obligatos is perfect; although I have replaced the excellent chrome-on-steel A with an Aricore-Eudoxa synthetic A (a good match), or an Aricore standard A (sweeter).

As with wound E-strings on the violin, I don't expect the highest string to withstand the same bow-stroke as the lower ones: a longer, lighter stroke makes my A sing right to the end of the fingerboard. Like birdsong rather than a dentist's drill!

In the past, I have used all 4 Spirocores on the same viola (with a lower bridge) with success.

December 16, 2013 at 06:38 PM · Hey all,

I was on vacation, sorry for the absence.

Obligatos, one set of dominants, evahs, and the Larsen low tension a are claimed, everything else is still available I believe. Except the Pokemon game.

Email me for any other inquiries!

December 18, 2013 at 06:40 PM · Ryan,

Amazing review! Well needed. On a personal note, did you ever get the Passiones I sent two weeks back? You live so close that I'd expect to have arrived, but as of late my post office has had huge problems sending/receiving certain things. They better get their act together!

On another note, I received a trial set of viola PI strings about three weeks ago. I'll probably write a review over it, but for now here are some key points:

- Sound is similar to Dominants but much louder. There's still this raspy-ness that have become quite synonymous with Dominants, but the break in period is dramatically less - about 2 hours. No more metallic hell.

- Amongst the three strings I received (they sent no A string) the tension was quite low and the feel of the strings were very comfortable and tactile.

- I found the D in particular much more redeeming considering Thomastik's tendency to produce dental-floss-like D strings. Surprisingly, the brilliance in the upper registers decreasing only slightly, which was odd considering the low tension.

- The G string was definitely the most delicious of the bunch. Again, the string itself was very much similar to the Dominant G but with slightly more volume and loads of more response.

- The C string didn't hit home with me, but it was still very good. Unlike the other two strings, the C was comparably softer and unresponsive. The tension was almost too flimsy for me.

- Overall great set, but not my cup of tea. The set as a whole is very much an ode to the original Thomastik Dominants, and they do it very well. However, although the sound is warm and loud, it isn't necessarily "full" like what I experience with Vision Solos (sorry Ryan, I know you detest them) or Pirastro strings. This, of course, is only one man's critique.

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