MARIO'S VIOLA STRINGS REVIEW

May 30, 2015 at 11:31 AM ·

To find the right strings for your viola is a difficult task, I will like to share my experience in the subject, hopefully that will help you to find the right strings for your Viola.

First you have to decide what you want from your strings, or what you dont want.

Some violists want a warm viola sound, or/and a focus sound, a sound like velvet.

Other people look for strings who are easier to play, strings that respond quick to the bow.

If you are a student I recommend strings that will make you every day playing easier, like choosing a string because it gives your viola good bow response or clarity or projection.

Personally I dont try to make my viola sound a certain way, but I prefer to try to find what suits better for the natural sound of my viola.

With my old small viola I went for a beautiful direct sound, and specially good bow response.

With the big modern viola I go for a warm sound with projection and the good bow response.

If you are a beginner you have to realize that may be your technical problems with bow speed and control may be the problem and not the strings choice.

Important to know that the size of your viola is very important, because the smaller the viola, the more tension feeling you may have.

The ticker the string, the more sound you get, but you need energy to make the string vibrate. Thats why strings like Pirazzi dont work well is a small viola, because they are thick and have a high tension. Helicore is I think, the ideal string for smaller violas, not only because the lower tension, but also because they are thin strings. Thin strings in a small viola will help you to find quick bow response.

(If you have a small viola you can go to the end of this review where I write a bit about strings for small viola.)

For my new made in 2014 French viola ( 41.5cm body) with warm natural sound:

A Larsen: The standard string for viola, work well in most violas, but notice that the choice of the other strings may do this string to sound very metallic. With Pirazzi re, not a good combination. With Helicore D, good combination, because Helicore is a thin string with low tension and the combination works well.

A Larsen dolce feels very thin if the fingers and the volume is a bit less, so if your viola sounds too loud, try this one.

A Kaplan Solutions: This string have a velvet like sound, if your Larsen A sounds aggressive or metallic try this one. is slightly thicker than Larsen.

A Pirazzi. First I tried the aluminum one, is much thicker, and gives a great sound ( IF together with a Pirazzi re) but the string is not responsive, if you play slow music, is amazing, but fast music, you will need to change something in your bow speed to make it sound. For me was too complicated. Then I tried the Pirazzi steel (normal one) did not liked it, very aggressive metallic sound in my viola.

A Helicore: No for me, sound silky, not focused, is thicker than Larsen, the bow does not respond easy with this string.

A Jargar, the string is extremely thin. Gives a thin elegant sound but more like a violin sound. Your fast vibrato will come out easier, the string respond very quick.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

D Larsen: Tried very shortly and it sounded very laud in my viola. But many friends play with Larsen D, and they say the string have to be replaced every two months.

D Helicore/ I love this string if in combination with a high tension G string. or with a Helicore G string. The string is extremely thin and gives a nice sound. Feels good in the fingers. Good bow response.

D Pirazzi: yes, Pirazzi are great strings to make a normal viola sound better, but you will not get the low warm viola sound. But if your viola have a natural warm viola sound, the string will work very well. many people use this string nowadays in Orchestras.

D Obligato: I hoped this string will bring more warm sound to my viola, but I was disappointed. read somewhere this was a great string, may be in other viola, not in mine. The sound feels like "Aluminium" sound, a bit like the famous D Dominant. I did not get the solid sound from Pirazzi, or the warm sound from a gut string. Waste of money for me.

D Vision Solo: Is a good string, the tension is not as high as the Pirazzi, the volume is less. But the sound is a good sound. This string is thin also.

D Superflexible: This strings are great for advanced students because the tuning becomes very evident. Flawless quints ( as advertised in the brand website) are really true. M. Kugel the famous viola teacher demanded all his students in Belgium to use this strings. You get a big honest sound. But not a warm sound. This strings are very flexible and thin.

++++++++++++++++++++

G Larsen, for me loud but only volume. In my viola did not sound right.

G Helicore, great string, and the soft version also a great string. You get a warm sound, and the string is responsive to the bow.

G Pirazzi, good string, louder than Helicore, yet gives good body. A solid string. Only it feels very thick in the fingers, thats why may be difficult to play, but hey, you can not have everything.

G Pirazzi Gold: my favorite string, th sound is direct and warm. And the volume of the normal Pirazzi. Just put it on yesterday, so we will see how it will sound in a week...

The tensiàn of this string is a bit higher than the normal pirazzi G. I read this in their website.

The warm tone comes with a price, you have to have a solid contact between the string and the bow to get a great sound,in the frog and in the point, in other words, you have to work hard to get such a sound. It feels hard i the fingers, but the sound you get ( at least I get in my viola) is worth the effort.

G Vision solo; also a good string. Less loud than Pirazzi, same as D string.

G superfelxible: same as D string.

++++++++++++++++++++

C Tungsten Spirocuore: Very loud,but the sound is not bad, I like it in combination with Pirazzi G. Not good with Helicore G as you will feel the difference between G and C, because G Helicore is a thin string with low tension, and C tungstein is a heavy string and very thick.

But this string sound good in many violas. Very popular. The string is very heavy!

C Vision solo, is a great string, less loud than Pirazzi but gives a good warm sound.

C Pirazzi: No, did not liked it. Agressive and very thick string, difficul to play after th position.

C Pirazzi gold. Yes I loved, this string together with G Pirazzi gold sounds big and warm. Finally .. The tension of this string is a bit less than the Pirazzi normal, I read this in their website. The sound is warm and not metallic.

C Superflexible, very thick and not responsive... next...

C Obligato: Did not try yet

In the end the tension between the strings is very important. Your D Helicore may sound great with a G helicore, but the same string in combination with a Vision solo G may sound unfocused in some notes. because the tensions are in conflict.

Personally I prefer:

the A and C lower tension, and the D and G higher tensions.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

For a small viola:

You can not force an instrument to sound in other way other than the one he was made for. A small viola will never give the same sound of a viola with a big body. For me the ideal viola is 41-42cm.

For my 1771 French viola, small ( 40cm body.

The sound of this viola is not really a warm viola sound because the body is not big, strings can not do miracles. So I did not go for a warm sound, but for a beautiful focus sound.

in this viola this is the selection of strings I tried.

LA Larsen: One of the best if not the best La string for viola. In a small viola Larsen medium and forte may sound aggressive in the first position, if is the case, try the Larsen soft gauge. The Larsen soft feels very thin in the fingers.

LA Kaplan Solutions: This string goes well with Helicores, feels like less tense in the fingers than Larsen. The sound is a bit less brilliant, but have a different color.

This string is a bit thicker than Larsen.

LA Pirazzi: Too metallic for a small viola. I found the sound aggressive specially in the first position.

-----------------------------

D, G, and C: Helicore. the best strings for a small viola because they are thin, so very responsive to the bow. They suppose to last long, but in my experience they have to be replaced often. Sometimes they broke.. or may be I am just unlucky.

D, G and C Pirazzi: The tension is too big and the string dont respond easy to the bow in fast passages because this string is thick. Specially difficult to play in higher positions.

D, G and C Vision solo, good strings, they feel a bit stiff in a small viola, but they give a focused sound. They last forever.

D, G C Superflexible, good choice for a small viola because they dont feel as tense as other strings, they are very flexible. But the C string is thick! and not very responsive.

Things in this review may or not be logic, but thats my personal experience.

Replies (26)

May 30, 2015 at 01:11 PM · You may prefer the sound of a lighter string on a smaller instrument. But the physics says that the longer the string, the higher the tension required to get it into tune. Thus, if you use heavier gauge on a larger instrument you will be loading up tremendous tension into the top plate.

Manufacturers recommend heavier gauge strings for smaller instruments (generally under 375mm vibrating string length), and light gauge for longer than average string length.

Thanks for the review!

May 30, 2015 at 01:32 PM · Nice review, but why no Zyex?

Well, you have to spend another $60 and try them out!

I agree with Seraphim - also, body size does not always correlate with vibrating string length. You may have a small and a bigger viola with exactly the same vsl of 370mm, when the same gauge must be used for comparison.

May 30, 2015 at 02:25 PM · Mario, you are correct about the string choice depends on the sound and playability you are looking for.

Rocky is correct, body length size does not always correlate with string length. In the violas I make, for instance, I use a 375 mm string length to make violas from 15.5 to 17 inches, following Renè Morel ideas.

The string choice will always depend on the viola, the player's technique and personal taste.

Some say that Evah Pirazzis are too bright but they sound dark and focused in the violas I make.

There is a trend towards too bright strings today.

May 30, 2015 at 09:46 PM · Luis, do you use the same neck stop for 15" and 17" violas?

May 30, 2015 at 09:55 PM · Well as I said I write about my personal experience.

Totally agree about the fact that the longer the string the more tension.

But for me thin strings had always give me a more focused, projecting sound in a small viola, and I try all kind pf strings in the last 10 years that I played with a 40cm viola,

And more important a small viola with thick strings will be harder to play. The vibrato is also clearer with a thin string.

When I was talking about the smaller the viola , more tension, I meant the tension feeling that you get playing thick strings.

Sometimes things are not logic, like the new Pirazzi gold G string is quite thick, but for some reason is also very responsive.

In all this there is a lot of mathematics involved, but in the end the choice of a string is a very personal thing because it depends a lot in your personal skills as player, and the sound you want to achieve.

May 30, 2015 at 10:00 PM · Yes Kevin Cheung, the neck is always 15 cms., the string length always 375 milimiters. I follow the ideas exposed by Renè Morel, he gave examples of violas played by top players that followed this system.

May 30, 2015 at 10:21 PM · Just as info, my small viola and my big viola have almost the same string length, but the instruments react quite different to the same strings.

A thick string sound at its best with a Viola with bigger body

At least in my every day experience.

You may agree or not, in the end you are Violin makers, and we are players. The values we have to choose a string are different.

About pirazzi strings, I think they are amazing strings for most violins, but for viola is not the same history.

I just played the last 2 weeks, over 15 violas made by luthiers from France, Holland and Belgium (and a couple of Italians)before I chose mine.

And guess what 90% of all had Pirazzi strings on A, D and G, and Spirocuore C tungsten. Just because violin makes think that this combination of strings gives a good first impression.

But in the end many of this violas had a very similar sound.

Only when I took them home, experiment with strings according to my experience, that I found in this violas their own sound and personality.

May 31, 2015 at 06:07 AM · Thanks for this thread, Mario.

With a bad case of Viola Elbow, (hard-working pinky + extended arm) 375mm string length is far too much for my short fingers. I am now at 355mm. This automatically gives a lower tension with strings designed for 370mm or 380mm.

I find this lower tension allows more overtones to emerge from my violas, and permits playing nearer the bridge. At present, I have Tonicas on a narrow-bodied JTL, and Obligatos on a wide-bodied Sabatier 2-cornered model.

But I might try Helicores, or even light Spirocores, for a concerto.

June 1, 2015 at 08:31 PM · I'm no viola player, but that is because of sight-reading difficulties (too many decades on just violin and cello, but very little viola playing) but I did a lot of string experimenting with my two 16-inch violas in the late 1990s and ended up with 4 Spirocores on a regraduated (by California maker Henry Meissner) oldish German viola being the most powerful and rich toned.

On my 1996 viola I finally settled on a Obligato C string and Dominants for the three other strings (at least 12 years ago) - and those remained on the instrument until 2 days ago when I replaced them with a set of Evah Pirazzi Gold (I said I don't play viola much (although that has changed in the past 2 weeks)). So far I am finding the EPGs rather harsh and less responsive than the previous setup but I plan to keep them on through this week during which I have two (non-solo) away-from-home "play dates."

If they don't smooth out, I'll probably put the previous strings back on. That would be a waste of $100+.

Andy

June 1, 2015 at 10:33 PM · I find EP's harsh. They are as tense as say, Helicores (less than Spirocores), but unlike steel strings, they can offer a wider range of tone-colour.

I am rediscovering the joys of lower tension, (Dominant, Tonica, Aricore, all nylon rather than "composite"): fewer wolf-tones, clear ariculation, tonal variety. my next step may be Eudoxas....

The D is often a problem (on violin,too); someone said it was like playing on wet cardboard. I find a silver-wound D cleaner-sounding than an aluminium one, especially in the higher positions.

June 5, 2015 at 02:34 PM · Am I right in thinking that the "composites" tone deteriorates faster than with the Perlon type?

Perlon: Dominant, Aricore, Tonica, Crystal, Pro Arte...

Composite: Vision, PI, EP, Obligato, Violino, Alliance, Zyex...

As well as being bl**dy expensive!

June 5, 2015 at 04:23 PM · Zyex is cheap as chips.

June 5, 2015 at 10:53 PM · The other composites aren't, though.

But where do you buy your chips?....

June 6, 2015 at 03:07 AM · Tonica is quite cheap already. Karneol too.

June 23, 2015 at 10:33 AM · The pirazzi gold d is quite good too. it sounds smooth and silky but powerful and deep.

August 16, 2016 at 05:27 AM · A discussion of viola strings is always helpful, but there is much that is missing here and more that is confusing. First, while the writer may like the Larson A for viola, on most it sounds metallic and hard. Since it has no winding, it also has little tactile feel, making it seem slippery. Not mentioned is that the Jargar A has three tensions. The Jargar forte A is a much better choice than the Larson. I have found it also balances the C-string better. The writer wrote "the famous D Dominant." Perhaps he means it is famous for being the worst viola string ever made--this is true of both the aluminum and the silver versions. The Helicores are a poor choice due to their generic dry sound, but they may be a good choice for players of limited tonal control. The writer says the Pirazzi Gold G has higher tension but the C has lower tension. This is confusing since the Pirazzi Golds are very even. (Perhaps it is best to try all of the reviewed strings in sets.) The Pirastro rep told me these were made as an alternate choice for the more soloistic regular EP's--because there are not many viola soloists(!). In other words, it easily produces a very nice sound. Unfortunately, these strings do not hold up well. The D, especially, is subject to winding separation and breakage. The rep said the Tonica's are the most popular in Europe, but they were not mentioned here. Given their rather low cost, they are worth considering. It would be instructive if the writer could post videos of his ultimate string choices on his two violas. That would tell us a lot!

August 16, 2016 at 07:34 AM · Well, thank you Mario! You have tried some different strings from me. And it's an expensive business; I have several sets (and thus large chunks of my pension!) in a drawer when they didn't suit my violas.

My violas are both 40cm: one narrow-bodied and slightly nasal, the other wide and deep bodied with a real contralto sound and more power. But both have a vibrating string length of only 35.5cm which suits my stubby fingers and ageing joints.. So the "standard" viola string, designed for a vibrating length of 37 or 38cm has a lower tension than the maker intended, giving me more varied tone colours.

I have only tried complete sets, (plus the usual experimentation with the A).

- Tonica (New Formula): my present choice;

- Obligato, but with an Aricore-Eudoxa A to replace the wound steel one: superb! I like the silver-wound D, less muddy than aluminium;

- Zyex: harsh, and tight;

- Pro Arte: tight and very dull;

- Crystal, Alliance, Cantiga,: tight and a little dull, curiously thick and stiff under the fingers;

- Aricore: lovely gentle, warm tone;

- Helicore: tight, supple, but only one (pleasant) tone colour;

- Jargar: my colleagues turned and said "shshsh"..the viola "boomed";

- Spirocare: between Jargar and Helicore;

- Kaplan: more varied tone than other metal-cored strings, but brash on my violas; I find all metal strings have a limited range of tone-colours.

I notice that the actual string tension does not always correspond to the player's impressions, nor to the "feel" under the bow.

And why do so many violists want a C like a trombone and an A like a trumpet?

August 16, 2016 at 10:03 AM · This thread has a fantastic amount of information for a violist to decipher... typed as well! That disproves my theory that violists only write in crayon ;-)

Cheers Carlo

August 16, 2016 at 12:24 PM · Harking back to my June 1, 2015 response, I replaced the viola EP Golds with a set of Permanents and am very happy with the results. SO happy that I tried Flexocor-Permanent violin strings on one of my violins (that needed a bit of spicing up) and they are quite fine on it too.

August 16, 2016 at 06:44 PM · @Adrian.

"And why do so many violists want a C like a trombone and an A like a trumpet?"

Could it possibly be that many violists would rather be playing trombone and trumpet? ;-)

Cheers Carlo

August 16, 2016 at 07:57 PM · I like the trombone and the trumpet! But not as string instruments..

August 16, 2016 at 08:48 PM · Perhaps I could chime about Karneol viola strings (shorter model; 360mm vsl). I put them in January this year, along with new tail piece.

Due to my elbow injury, I have not played viola most of the past 8 months and picked it up slowly a month ago. In other words, after they stretched, they have been used less than 100 hours total.

First impression was of an overwhelming resonance and a very interesting A string. "A" is not as uni-directional and piercing as some metal core strings, but has a richness of sound and therefore more "spacial" or radiating effect.

The weakest link is "D" string, especially in 1st position, where there is some kind of "dirt" accompanying the sound. (In all honesty, it could be the fault of my instrument, but this was not apparent with Zyex string.) C and G are just fine, with C sounding surprisingly warm, deep and with enough edge. The response time is quite good and strings are not too tense. A lots of resonance is still there and these strings are fun to play. Will report later, after I clock 200 hours of usage.

August 16, 2016 at 10:42 PM · Carlo, violists would like to hear themselves when they play in orchestra stuck as they are between violins in front and winds behind them. Some instruments/strings/setups blend too well and some that don't sound too unpleasant to their practitioners - and perhaps to others as well.

August 16, 2016 at 11:01 PM · Larry, the Larsen A definitely does have a winding.

I've found that on some violas, the Jargar forte A seems to have so much tension that it causes a nasty sound on the A, a muffled sound on the other 3 strings, or both. Other times, it works great.

A lot of what you wrote re: poor choices is highly personal and readers should be careful to note it as such.

August 16, 2016 at 11:17 PM · Andrew, thanks for the correction about Larson A strings. Whenever I have tried them, they feel slick. In any case, I have found them to have a higher tension than the Jargar forte and a much brighter and wiry sound.

What you describe "on some violas" sounds more like poor adjustment. Having different brands of strings on a viola may be necessary to compensate for poor construction or soundpost adjustment. This would be more apparent on violas designed to produce a dark tubby sound or with too short a soundpost. Properly set up, the Jargar forte balances the C string.

I agree that what I wrote may be highly personal, as was the original post. But, no one needs to be careful. I think the more input regarding personal preferences and experiences, the better. Thanks for giving yours.

August 17, 2016 at 01:29 AM · I like the Karneol C.

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