Frequent String Change v.s. High Quality Strings

April 25, 2016 at 02:36 AM · Hello, I just wanted to start a debate regarding frequently changing strings, using less-expensive sets such as Tonicas v.s. Getting more expensive strings and not changing the strings as often, such as a set of Obligato.

I've noticed that everytime I put a new set of strings on my violin, except two sets, the violin sounded amazingly better.

I used to use Infeld Red as a mainstay, changing them every 5 months. It costed me $35 Cdn 2 years ago, now they cost me about $100 Cdn. I've decided to take the opportunity to try all Warchal sample sets.

I am debating if I should try Tonicas in between to see if they are enjoyable such that I will have a permanent less expensive strings. My colleague who plays in quartets told me he regularly uses Tonicas, but changes them every 3 or 4 months. The cost is about as equivalent to one set of Obligato. I know from experience, I love Obligato, but they last me for less than 2 months. They just went 'flat' after the 2 months.

I have a VERY low tolerance to 'bad' sound quality. The analogy I use is soda going flat. Strings get "flat" after a weeks or months.

So, do you have a standard set of strings that you change frequently, or do you always go from one high quality to another high quality string sets?

Replies (38)

April 25, 2016 at 03:28 AM · Personally I always found that one particular set of expensive "high quality" strings (Evah Pirazzi) lasted much shorter time than Tonicas or Dominants, which used to be my default go-to strings.

I'm currently using the moderately priced Zyex and I love them! They work great for all my 4 violins! Started using them in January and haven't had to change strings yet, and you should be able to easily find them for under $50/set. Maybe give them a try! :)

April 25, 2016 at 03:41 AM · There's a difference between "strings that sound significantly worse than they did when new, but are still acceptable" and "strings that are now unplayable".

String life is somewhere around the order of 100 hours for optimal sound. After that, it's really a trade-off in cost to replace versus how long you want to tolerate sound that's not optimal but is still plenty good enough.

I prefer better-quality strings but given how much the prices have increased over the last decade, I don't change anywhere near as frequently now. I used to change every 6 weeks to 3 months, and now I'm more likely to go closer to 6 months without changing, unless there's a significant concert coming up and I really want fresh strings for it.

April 25, 2016 at 04:18 AM · That's the thing about Obligato and Infeld Reds, they seemed to have very short "break in" time them, about a week or two of VERY GOOD, then acceptable for a few months, then intolerable.

Infeld reds in particular stayed acceptable for 4~5 months, with 2 weeks of best sound. Obligato had 3 weeks of best sound and a month of acceptable sound then I had to switch.

I am actually looking try a lower costing strings and stockpile them this summer.

I know a source that's selling Tonica sets for $30 Cdn. I am tempted to try a set and if I like it, order myself 20 sets.

April 25, 2016 at 07:01 AM · I'd suggest giving Passiones a try. They are a wound gut string with a small amount of synthetic fibre to give them more stability. I like their true gut sound better than the Vision Titanium Solo I'd been using for several years. Rich and warm, with lots of power. Break-in time is short, a day or two. Although they need fairly frequent tuning for the first few weeks, like all gut strings, they eventually become very stable. Furthermore they last about twice as long as a synthetic before they start to sound bad. So although the initial cost of a set is about $110 (Cdn), it's actually very economical over the long term.

April 25, 2016 at 08:36 AM · Chez mon luthier, the list price for viola Obligatos has gone from €120 to €180, and Tonicas from €70 to €110!! (the so-called New Tonicas, a little brighter than before)

Some folk order the "stark" Tonicas for an instrument that favours the medium Obligatos.

April 25, 2016 at 10:55 AM · I suggest you shop around, it sounds like your luthier just wants an excuse not to carry a lot of not so high profit strings, so he prices them high enough that it'll be worth his while if he sells a set. I can buy these strings really cheap, but I hardly make any profit selling to customers if I try to compete with whats available online. The internet has destroyed a lot of the accessories market for dealers. Time was wholesale was 50% of retail and you could make money on stuff, now the margins on accessories are so low, they aren't profitable for a dealer to carry(because of all the inventory he needs to hold), but he has to because every customer expects the dealer to sell them, sort of a catch 22 for many shops.

April 25, 2016 at 02:29 PM · I've had two very different experiences with Passiones. My current violin loves them; they sounded great initially and the perceptible sound decline over a four-month period has been pretty minimal (I'm sure there's been some but I don't feel like the sound is inadequate). My previous violin, they sounded awesome for about a week and then they sucked and were kind of flabby and slow.

April 25, 2016 at 03:32 PM · I hear what Lyndon is saying. While we still had a local violin shop (the proprietor recently retired), I often bought my strings there, even if he had to order them for me, and even if his price was higher than the online price (and you can always find someplace having a big sale). That's the thing about the local violin shop. If you want the shop to be there, then you have to do business there. Nowadays, though, especially for the large suburban populations, I think online shopping is more about convenience than price.

April 25, 2016 at 04:53 PM · I'll have to admit, I've only bought strings from the cheapest source available, almost always online.

I'm on a student budget, I'd love to support local stores, but that is, after I can stand on my own a little better.

April 25, 2016 at 07:44 PM · One difficulty comes from usually comparing a used set of one type of string with a brand new site of another. I must try my recently acquired New Formula Tonica with the spare set of Old Tonica on the same viola.

April 25, 2016 at 10:15 PM · I find Dominant's with a good E to sound excellent on a fine and well setup violin. I've also tried an liked Passione Solos and Vision Solo's.

A lot of modern strings try so hard to create a certain sound or texture that they being to lose their manipulative effect quite quickly.

April 25, 2016 at 10:56 PM · In line with what Paul said, I like to get my strings at my luthier and have him/her change them for me. That permits the luthier to take a look twice a year at my instruments (one violin and one viola) and make sure that there are no crack/seam issues, as well as other problems. The last time I was in, they told me the bridge on one instrument was too high and lowered it for me when they changed the strings. So, I would rather pay the freight for the strings at the luthier twice a year for the other benefits I get, including keeping my luthier in business.

April 26, 2016 at 03:08 AM · This is the first summer I get to have disposable income in the past 4 years.

I am basically putting away a sum of money for my violin. At least, for the next few years. As for strings, considering Canada's economy has been spiraling down for the past 2 years, I'm considering stocking up on strings before exchange rates plummet again.

April 26, 2016 at 09:57 AM · The other thing you have to be careful about buying the "cheapest" strings is that Chinese counterfeits worth a fraction of their asking price are on the market, especially on ebay, never buy German strings from China, would be very good advice, I just had a customer come in with what appeared to be counterfeit Dominants and he had bought them from the Guitar Center, so be careful, sometimes paying just a little bit extra to be sure you have the genuine article is worth it!!

April 26, 2016 at 02:26 PM · Strings deteriorate slowly in the package, so you don't want to stockpile more than a year or two's worth of changes.

April 26, 2016 at 02:43 PM · That's not what I've heard, what are your sources??

April 26, 2016 at 03:15 PM · I was in contact with Mr. Warchal regarding that, because I was ordering his sample sets almost all at once and I wanted to be sure if they'll go bad by the time I get to try them all.

He at least warranted that at least the Warchal strings shouldn't go bad as far as they remain in their package.

April 27, 2016 at 12:11 PM · I suppose that in theopen air the windings can oxidize, and the inner resins, like all plastics, deteriorate with time?

April 27, 2016 at 01:11 PM · Adrian, not only that, but synthetic strings are complex multilayer structures. For its dimensions a violin string has to put up with large energy and momentum changes during playing. It is accordingly no surprise to me that the interfaces between the layers will start to break down, and then the tone starts to go south. The more complex (and expensive!) the structure the quicker this is likely to happen.

Plain gut strings have nothing like this problem; in my experience plain gut A's and D's go on for well over a year before I even start to think about changing them. And they almost never fray. A plain gut E gets changed rather more often, mainly because the micro fraying characteristic of this thin string can get to be a distraction under the fingers, and looks untidy, even though there is no obvious change in tone or output.

A gut string (or any string) should never break at the nut or bridge; if it does then there is something wrong with the geometry and surface of the groove. Long finger nails and "hammering" the string down onto the fingerboard are not good for the longevity of any kind of string, either.

A covered gut G will, in my experience, start to lose its tone after 6-8 months (say) because the interface between the gut and the winding is deteriorating.

April 27, 2016 at 01:49 PM · Agree with Trevor on longetivity of gut, though the more standard for the gut A to start going false seems to be about 3 months for me, the E is about 6 weeks, D about 6 months, while G lasts about 4-5 months. :)

April 27, 2016 at 04:28 PM · I use Evah Pirazzi strings. I once bought a set from the local shop that the proprietor admitted that he had them so long he forgot they were there. They were in the original packaging and they worked as good as any other brand new set that I've purchased.

I do not accept the notion, which I inferred from previous posts in this thread, that just because something may be complex (i.e., made up of several different materials, etc.) that it is therefore intrinsically unstable.

I suspect that rumors about shelf life probably started with either vendors or manufacturers who wants to sell you new sets of strings (or new cakes of rosin).

April 27, 2016 at 06:20 PM · Paul, although I somewhat agree with you that the shelf-life is an effort the vendors to sell you new materials. I must inform you that some rosins, and strings do go bad on the shelf after a long period of time.

I personally dislike the sound of Dominants on my violins greatly, and once I decided to give it a shot, this was with somewhat of a dishonest luthier who I used to see. He sold me a set of dominants that were at over a decade old (the packaging changed over time), and basically D broke in one week, A in two weeks, G in a month and E I just took out because I didn't like.

Also, I've had bad experiences with Hill rosin, the "grainy" sound was always there. I tried someone else's cake of rosin, which he was certain was made recently, it sounded pretty good. I ended up microwave cooking my hill rosin and the grainy noise went away. The rosin however fell apart in weeks and I switched to another brand.

April 27, 2016 at 09:29 PM · Steven - I have the same issue - tight finances but an intolerance of the poor sound as my strings fall away.

Something you might want to try is the John Pearse Artiste. I think they'd cost around $45 Cdn. That's my personal fallback when I'm skint.

Because he's primarily a guitar string maker, the Artiste is not very well known. But they have a nice, dark dark sound on my fiddle, and last pretty well. A number of pros use them from choice, so it's one of the most affordable professional strings.

Here's the sales pitch:

April 27, 2016 at 10:27 PM · Steven, I don't have a standard set but three custom sets for my instruments. I've used Lenzner's Goldbrokat medium E on all three fiddles for a long time. For A-D-G, Infeld Reds respond very well on one, while a split Thomastik combo works better on a second: A - Vision Solo; D - Peter Infeld aluminum; G - Infeld Red.

The third fiddle does better with wound-gut lower strings: currently A - Eudoxa; D - Oliv stiff; G - Eudoxa stiff.

I play each instrument 45-60 minutes a day and can get 4-5 months of very good sound from each combo at this rate -- though I can extend this to 6 months and still get reliable sound.

Strings do lose traction over time where the bow hairs contact them day after day; so, even if they haven't otherwise deteriorated, I still notice an improvement when I put a new set after 6 months -- once they've stabilized -- due to better traction. The combos I mentioned are neither cheapest nor most expensive. No firsthand experience yet with Tonica or Obligato or Warchals.

I tried the Dominants once -- A-D-G only. They were serviceable on the one instrument I used for the tryout; but later on, I got better response from Infeld Red and Peter Infeld, especially on the G, where I could now get more consistent, dependable response in high positions. Never tried Dominant E -- I've read plenty of unhappy stories about it -- including yours.

April 27, 2016 at 10:29 PM · Thank you Geoff, they also have so much option on gauges. Where do they ship from? Also, do you usually get hit with the import tax? My cheapest source of Tonia says $30 Cdn~ish per set.

April 27, 2016 at 10:44 PM · Steven if he had them on top of the radiator the whole time then all bets are off. :)

April 28, 2016 at 12:53 AM · Jim,

did you notice with Infeld Reds, after a month or so, the strings get slippery regardless of your bow/rosin conditions?

It still made sound, good ones, but, as the bow would very easily slip perpendicular to the way we bow.

April 28, 2016 at 01:56 AM · As far as I know, most (world-class) soloists do not, in fact, get strings free -- at least not beyond the usual samples.

Non-world-famous soloists, or other folks playing solos -- like high schoolers who have won a concerto competition -- certainly don't get their strings free either.

April 28, 2016 at 05:34 AM · What blows my mind is Dominants on Strads. All of the violins I've owned screeched and screamed at me whenever I used them.

April 28, 2016 at 06:05 AM · That hits the nail on the head: we all want strings that will make our lesser fiddles sound like Strads! The result is not only due to the player..

April 28, 2016 at 08:48 AM · ""What blows my mind is Dominants on Strads. All of the violins I've owned screeched and screamed at me whenever I used them.""

You've never owned a Strad, have you. I haven't either but I get great results with Dominant on a lot of better grade fiddles.[Flag?]

April 28, 2016 at 11:24 AM · Dominants sound good on violins with shoulder rests.

April 28, 2016 at 11:42 AM · Paul, just a suggestion - I wonder if this could be due to the SR modifying some of the upper partials generated by Dominants (apparently especially when new)? This might depend on the violin and the design and weight of the SR, in particular the way it clamps the violin. I'm saying no more because I don't use a shoulder rest or Dominants.

April 28, 2016 at 05:38 PM · Steven, no -- never had slipperiness with Infeld Reds after just 1 month.

I play on three fiddles, 45-60 minutes per instrument in a day. At this rate, as long as I don’t play over 6 months on a string set -- roughly 135-180 hours -- and as long as I get the bows re-haired every 6-9 months, I still get reliable traction. Having multiple instruments and string sets and bows helps determine whether it’s strings or bow hairs that are getting slippery.

Perspiration, especially with people who have more acid chemistry, can degrade strings. No idea if this might be a factor in your case -- it isn’t a problem with me. FWIW, I’m in the American Southeast, where we have warm weather most of the year. As heat and humidity rise, I use a small floor fan on low speed, about 10 feet away, to circulate air and keep moisture from building up on the hands.

April 28, 2016 at 11:30 PM · Steven - I get my Artistes from the UK importer's website with a nice discount. For Canada I really wouldn't know, I'm afraid.

In fact they only come in medium gauge - the other guages are for guitar strings, I think. It's a very confusing website! The company is well regarded, my guitarist friends tell me, and the string has a nice complex tone.

April 30, 2016 at 07:20 AM · Geoff, I'll still give them a go at some point.

Jim, one thing that people have suggested from this forum is that maybe I am over-cleaning the strings. Because I wipe them down with rubbing alcohol after almost everytime I play.

April 30, 2016 at 03:50 PM · Steven, from what you described -- using rubbing alcohol after almost every playing session -- you're definitely over-cleaning.

Of course, daily cleaning is crucial, because the longer the rosin dust builds up, the harder it is to get off without excessive rubbing, which isn't good for the strings. Daily use of a non-abrasive or micro-fiber cloth is my primary way. It works well for me, and the strings clean without much trouble. Hope this helps.

April 30, 2016 at 04:20 PM · I thought you wanted the strings to have rosin on them to grip the bow hair. When I string an instrument with new strings I often rub the bowed area with rosin to speed up the bonding process.

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