Why do famous professionals rarely use Obligatos?

January 3, 2014 at 02:15 PM · I had an epiphany the other day that rarely any famous performance professional uses Obligatos, whether violin or viola. I notice an abundance of Evahs and Dominants, but not many venture off that. Visions and their solo counterpart are also beginning to see some more use, but the red and black stripes continue to lay untouched.

I personally am quite satisfied with the dark and rather chocolaty sound on my viola, with the plus that they are long lasting. Is this always forgone for the projection of other high brand strings? Or am I missing something else?

Replies (26)

January 3, 2014 at 02:38 PM ·

January 3, 2014 at 03:12 PM ·

January 3, 2014 at 03:38 PM · Dark and warm sounds nice under ear, but isn't the best to project over an orchestra. Also, obligatos are lower tension so cannot be pushed as hard as a higher tension string such as Evah. That is why Evah's are so popular for soloists.

January 3, 2014 at 04:21 PM · I use C,G,& D Obligatos on my slightly nasal viola. Their chrome-wound steel A is excellent, but I replace it with Eudoxa-Aricore, which gives me clear singing tones right to the end of the fingerboard. Fine for ensemble work (and my ears!)

If I were to play a concerto on this viola, I might try Zyex, Tonica, (or Evah if I can afford them!); or I might go back to my pre-Perlon days and use all 4 Spirocores with a lower bridge - and a different bowing style.

I note that many violin soloists use Dominants on their Strads etc. Most of us lesser mortals need a different strings to compensate for the uneven-ness and shortcomings of our modest fiddles..

January 3, 2014 at 06:17 PM · I think a lot of people simply use Dominants by habit -- for a long time, they were really the only decent synthetic string. They sound pretty good on most instruments, they're of good quality, and they're an economical choice. Lots of people never feel the urge to switch from what they're used to.

When Evah Pirazzis came on the market, they had such punch and brilliance that it was pretty clear that they made most violins sound better. Gradually, violin shops began setting up higher-end instruments that way by default. It's taken about a dozen years for the shift to really happen, though. It's not just that you see soloists using them -- you see pretty much everyone who can afford them (and who hasn't experimented to find other things they like better), using the EPs.

January 3, 2014 at 07:44 PM · Greetings,

personally I think Dominants tend(ed) to be the default setting because they are usually close to the best option in a lot of cases. For the best players price is not that much of an issues

Personally I don't think pirazzi make all instruments sound better by any means. indeed, I feel they have to some extent had a detrimental effect on our idea of what a rich complex sound actually is. They actually choke the sound of a lt of instruments I have tried. another reason I think they are generally to be avoided , especially for less advanced players is the extra energy required . given the sheer stress of playing the violin such things area in my opinions to be avoided.



January 4, 2014 at 12:35 AM · Obligatos aren't used much by soloists because they aren't good at projection, or "cutting" through other instruments.

On the Evah/Dominant discussion -- they are both great strings and can sound good on the appropriate violin. We are lucky to have some great choices in strings right now.

Doms are still used by Perlman, Shaham, Hahn -- I'm sure they could afford whatever string they want :-)

January 4, 2014 at 12:44 AM · I wonder how much soloists really ever experiment with strings, though. They tend to be on the go constantly, with the kind of performance schedule that encourages not fooling unnecessarily with an instrument that is doing well enough with the strings it's got.

January 4, 2014 at 02:11 AM · im pretty sure others hit the nail on the head: they dont cut through the mix of an orchestra and dont project well - something soloist strive for.

For my .02 cents - I love obligatos on mine for two reasons: my instrument is bit overly bright so obligatos tone it down and I love darkness & overtones. I play for fun and probably always will so i have no need to project to fill a symphony hall. I want to take it in for a soundpost adjustment to take some of the edge off and hopefully darken it a bit so if i want, i can use other strings. dominants are bright under the ear so I stick with obligatos for my own pleasure and for my ears sake.

January 4, 2014 at 04:12 AM · Some Baroque performers, like Julia Wedman, the member of Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra, use Obligato G and D with pure gut A and E.

I can only assume that the reason behind this odd combo is in their stability, warmth and somewhat good blend with pure gut.

Perhaps they also can better withstand all the brutality of scordatura tuning!

Personally, I have found them too artificial; they change the sound of my violin a lot into a strange direction. Unless one has a fiddle which is extremely on the bright and brassy side, there is no reason to mask the natural timbre of one's instrument.

Why on Earth would anyone want to put them on a Strad or Guad?

January 4, 2014 at 10:15 AM · I found them excellent for taming wolf notes because of the low tension - and they had a nice sound on my modern violin. But the new modern Italian seems very happy with Evah golds - and since I want a big sound I'm not sure I'm going to experiment much.

January 4, 2014 at 05:23 PM · "Personally I don't think pirazzi make all instruments sound better by any means. indeed, I feel they have to some extent had a detrimental effect on our idea of what a rich complex sound actually is. They actually choke the sound of a lt of instruments I have tried…"

What he said.

January 4, 2014 at 07:20 PM ·

January 4, 2014 at 09:02 PM · I used to be a user of Obligatos, which were better than Dominants on the two instruments that I owned (a nice contemporary American by Rafael Carrabba, and a 'modern' late-19th-century Italian by Enrico Marchetti) -- more complexity, more projection. The tension is about the same as Dominants, I believe.

When I put EPs on my Italian, a friend of mine commented, "Sounds like a trumpet". They had a huge sound up close without much complexity, but interestingly, at a distance in a hall, the lack of complex overtones actually resulted in less projection, not more. Too much tension for that violin.

I've been using EP Golds lately (with the silver G, the gold G sounds fuzzy on my violin), which seem to be a good compromise -- moderate tension, more overtones, good projection. I don't really see other people using them yet, though.

January 5, 2014 at 05:37 AM · If the OP's "famous professionals" also pertains to orchestral players, there are plenty of Obligato users. The strings are warm, stable, and blend nicely with an ensemble. I also think they're great viola strings.

January 5, 2014 at 06:46 PM · It's possible that the OP meant orchestral players, but "famous" to me means well-known player by name.

I see mostly Evahs, Dominants, Vision, and PI on orchestral players. An Obligato sighting would be rare.

January 5, 2014 at 10:14 PM ·

January 5, 2014 at 10:43 PM · I would agree ^^^

The Obligatos are a much better viola string than violin - and I think that's partly because of our expectations for the instruments. We expect violas to be generally dark, and violins to be generally brighter. That's obviously not always the case, but I think more often than not, it's the expectation.

I used Obligatos on my viola for years until I found the Warchal karneols. They work just a bit better for my viola, and I've been hearing some very silky chocolaty tones coming from it lately, so I'm quite happy. It could just be that I'm getting better at it though. LOL Besides that, they're much more affordable.

January 5, 2014 at 10:54 PM · "Why do famous professionals rarely use Obligatos?"

Because they don't typically furnish the sound and playing qualities which famous professionals like. :-)

I could try to explain the differences, but it wouldn't have nearly as much value as discovering the differences for yourself. As a first step, try Obligatos, versus some more popular famous-professional-used strings, in a performance venue, relying on feedback from the audience.

Getting a sound you like, at a distance of eight inches from your ear, can be a vastly different thing from pleasing an audience.

January 6, 2014 at 01:16 AM · "As a first step, try Obligatos, versus some more popular famous-professional-used strings, in a performance venue, relying on feedback from the audience. "

I'm not sure about the logistical possibility of doing such a thing...

January 6, 2014 at 01:29 AM · Perhaps if you rephrased the question taking 'famous' out you would get a very different answer. The point is that Obligatos are not designed for soloistic playing (see every post above) but give a warm sound and are stable on many violins. Thus, I bet a lot of orchestra and chamber music players have gravitated to these strings.

January 9, 2014 at 02:46 PM · Reading this was really interesting! I had dominant strings for a couple years, and my teacher has had me switch to obligato...I found that, compared to what I was used to, especially my A (but also my D) is much brighter. It sounds fine in a recording or to listeners, but under my ear, I'm still getting used to how bright it is. Does brighter not necessarily mean better carrying? I came off dominants because the G strings never sounded clearly on my instrument, but would go a half step sharp when I played accented notes.

Reading about strings is captivating to me; I love reading everybody's experiences!

January 9, 2014 at 05:36 PM · Some years ago I used Obligatos on my cello for about a decade, and was very satisfied with the tone and projection. However, seeing that my most recent Obligato set needed renewing, I was easing off on my cello playing anyway (i.e. migrating to the violin), and the Obs are about 50% more expensive than Helicores, I opted to replace them with the latter for use in the long term. I'm quite satisfied with the Helicores.

I have used Obs on my #1 violin in the past, and agree that they have a rich dark tone, but on that violin that is too dark, and on #2 the Obs tone wasn't appropriate. Now I opt for plain gut on one (with a Goldbrokat E), and Visions on the other.

January 10, 2014 at 04:59 PM · Interesting discussion. My daughter's older violin loves Dominants, which is wonderful because they are so inexpensive. (Her modern violin loves Evah Pirazzis--expensive!)

She just got a viola whose maker prefers Obligatos, but her teacher suggested experimenting with other strings including Helicores. When she mentioned Helicores to the maker he winced. When she mentioned them to a luthier yesterday he leapt backwards, as if bitten by a demon. So I guess there are some strong feelings about these matters! She would like to experiment with different string combos but that will take a long time as viola strings are extremely expensive. A true controlled experiment would cost thousands!

January 10, 2014 at 07:30 PM · Violin Helicores are probably OK for a lot of orchestral playing, and certainly for folk music (I've used them in this context), and dance band playing but I'd hesitate to consider them for significant solo playing, especially over an orchestra.

The cello Helicores are a different matter; they have a reasonably good tone that suits cellos and cellists well, and really last - at any rate that has been my own experience and that of others. I've used Spirocores in the past on my cello, but Helicores have the edge.

When choosing strings the cellist has to balance quality, longevity and cost, bearing in mind current prices; for instance, a recent glance at an on-line string retailer's website in the UK revealed these prices for cello string sets:

Evah Pirazzi Soloist £165

Eudoxa £151

Obligato £156

Dominant £121

Spirocore Chromesteel £95

Helicore £110

Pirastro Chorda (gut) £100

Chromecor student(steel) £70

Larsen £156

Piranito (steel) £58 (probably the cheapest)

Aren't we violinists lucky!

And let us not even think about the eye-watering prices of double bass strings. Suffice to say that I once knew a bassist who used the same set of steel bass strings for nearly 40 years of active playing. Until he found out the cost of replacement, then I believe retirement beckoned.

January 11, 2014 at 03:10 AM ·

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