Strings suggestions for violin with dark tone

June 8, 2016 at 04:03 AM · I'm trying out a supposed 'Leon Mougenot Gauche' violin an acquaintance is considering selling, and I love the projection and volume it has, it's masterfully set up, but the tone is quite dark, and I'm having trouble matching strings to it. It had Super Sensitive steel G, D, A, and an Oliv E gold string, which is an odd combination to me, and the sound was what I would describe as tremendously loud unpleasantness! I tried putting Zyex G, D, A and that tamed it quite a lot, but something didn't sound right, like the high end and the low end were mutually fighting eachother. I tried some Tonicas and that made it muddy and lifeless. Put Dominants on it and it got even more lifeless but less muddy (though those Dominants were old and probably not at their prime). And I don't quite like that Oliv E, it's too shrill, and either I'm getting sloppy or it likes to whistle a lot!

I like the dark tone, it's unusual, and I love the volume and projection, and the strings action and the bridge are to me perfect, but something doesn't sound right, almost like a viola trying to be a violin... or a violin trying to be a viola. Like I said above, the highs and the lows seem to be always fighting one another. It's at same time dark and bright. Darght? ;)

Anybody ever had something like this, that was fixed with the right strings? What would you suggest?

Replies (31)

June 8, 2016 at 04:34 AM · You mention trying old Dominants. Dominants don't last especially long and "muddy" sounds like a very old set. Evah Pirazzi and Infeld Blue come to mind as strings that could work on a dark violin--especially the Infields. I used to own an antique violin with a very dark sound--Infeld Blues worked very well on it. Super Sensitives are a beginners' string. If you want to stay with steel Pirastro's Flexocore Permanent are a much more refined steel string.

June 8, 2016 at 04:36 AM · Are you sure that the soundpost is optimally placed?

If set-up is fine, you're dealing with the basic character of the instrument. Strings can alter this somewhat, but not fundamentally.

If you're trying to find the right strings for it, start with the E string, as that will influence the whole instrument. But that will still be subtle tweaking.

June 8, 2016 at 04:49 AM · And are you sure the bridge and soundpost are optimally fit and carved??

June 8, 2016 at 05:16 AM ·

June 8, 2016 at 09:08 AM · I have thought of giving Infeld Blue a try. I prefer to stay away from steel strings. Didn't want to shell out the cash for Evahs because I never liked them but I have the feeling that this is the violin where they would work for me because that's how it always goes. ;)

The bridge looks properly fit and cut as far as I can tell, but I can't say anything about the soundpost other than that it's in there. The violin was /supposedly/ set up back in February by a friend of a friend type of deal, so I'm actually worried something got messed up. Gotta wait for my usual luthier to be back in town to get that checked.

Lydia, you say the E would affect the whole thing? Uhm, curious, I wouldn't be surprised if the Oliv E is throwing it out of balance, it's the one string I didn't mess with because I thought "oh, gold string, fancy! That must be good!". ;)

June 8, 2016 at 09:13 AM · A good violin should sound relatively good with a wide range of different strings IMHO

The idea that an unsatisfactory violin can be turned into a great violin with one specific set of strings seems unlikely to me.

Certainly, to your preferences one set of strings might be your favourite or best for your violin but that's like going from good to better, not bad to great.

June 8, 2016 at 01:05 PM ·

A harp style tail piece may help. Much cheaper than strings. I had a bad sounding open A string, and I tried many different ways to fix it. The only thing that worked was a harp style tail piece.

June 8, 2016 at 01:10 PM · Lyndon is right. The E affects things a bit, but not enough to impact the balance of the instrument completely. Proper soundpost placement matters a ton, but that smooths out small issues of balance. It generally does not radically alter the sound.

High probability this violin is a dud.

June 8, 2016 at 01:48 PM · I find that choice of strings makes quite a difference to the playability of a violin, and whilst they have a moderate effect on the tone, they can make a huge difference to the instruments response. With certain strings on a given violin certain notes can become false in an unreliable sort of way.

June 8, 2016 at 02:13 PM · Please read the following article and give us the score for each and every sound attribute; 0 - 10, where zero is crap, 10 is excellent

June 8, 2016 at 02:53 PM · I think you should get advice from your luthier. While you have received some good suggestions, we cannot hear the violin with its current strings and setup. You need to take it to someone who can hear it and has some expertise. What sounds good for bringing out a particular sound on my violin or anyone else's may not work on yours.

June 8, 2016 at 03:40 PM · Use a heavy or extra plain E that is on the brighter side, like goldbrokat.

This focused my viola-y instrument (which was muddy) and made it sound more like a violin. :)

June 8, 2016 at 04:45 PM · I think we all understand the difficulty of the issue, and I am just offering my two cents on the topic, based on what I would do almost by instinct, supposedly that I really liked the violin, and that everything else besides the string would be in optimal condition. And, that I have a stock of spare strings.

If I were to tame an instrument I would think about Corelli Crystals. In many cases they can be dull, but in my experience when I got my hands on a violin that was really powerful or with powerful-harsh low and high end, they did a very good job.

Otherwise, I would suppose that the violin does not like the tension of Tonicas or Dominants. I would increase it either by adding a heavy E as suggested above, or by a heavier tension set, Evah Pirazzi or Vision Titanium Solo. And I honestly cannot say which one would be better in our case.

If the tension is the issue, I doubt if it needs far less than the Dominants that you tried. What I am going to ask, is not a "scientific" method, but how does the instrument behave when tuned a full step down? If it's worse, then it could need more tension like I suspected before. If it's better...then how about gut?

June 8, 2016 at 09:40 PM · I had good luck with Larsen Tzigane strings on such a violin as the OP described. Really cleaned up the G string - all the way up!


June 8, 2016 at 10:36 PM · I tried recording the sound but with my computer it sounds awful (like it's underwater) and my phone must be doing some noise-cancellation that kills it too; I should look into getting a proper microphone. What would people recommend would be a reasonably priced mic for recording violin playing? (I'm sure there's a topic about it, I shouldn't be lazy, and search for it)

I replaced the Oliv E and I want to say there's a bit of a change, but it's subtle at best. If I think really hard about it maybe the ringing is overall a bit more pleasant but might be placebo effect.

On Rocky Milankov's sound attributes list (with the Zyex strings),

Power - 8

Clarity - 8

Balance - 7 (the D isn't as loud as the others)

Evenness - 7

Warmth - 4

Richness - 2 (it's too rich, sounds like has too many overtones fighting eachother!)

Depth - 8

Smoothness - 3 under the ear, 8 from across the room

Brilliance - 7

Responsiveness - 9.8 (don't want too call it a whole 10, but it's a dream to play!)

Edginess - 5

Resonance - 8

I tuned it down a full step and that helped noticeably tone down the fighting overtones. So maybe... lower tension strings? Or gut altogether; it's from 1927, so gut would likely be its natural habitat.

June 8, 2016 at 10:55 PM · Well, based on your assessment, it appears that violin has got most of the attributes of a good one. I have never heard a violinist to complain that violin's sound is too rich.... but I guess it is possible.

Thomastik has 2 dimensions on their coordinate chart of strings:

1st: Warm <------------> Brilliant

2nd: Rich <------------> Focused (harmonic content)

Infeld Blue and Vision (regular) are on "Focused" end of the 2nd dimension; supposedly less harmonic content.

(Zoom H2N digital recorder or its younger brother do amazing job in recording. )

June 8, 2016 at 11:07 PM · What phone do you have? If it's an iPhone you should not really need another microphone for ordinary recordings. Just put the phone a few feet away.

June 8, 2016 at 11:20 PM · The problem is it's not an 'organized' rich sound, it's like... a crowded room where everybody is talking at same time. Doesn't matter how nice their voices are, in the end all you hear is noise. I had never encountered one like this!

That's why I was thinking some more focused strings maybe could help. :)

I'm still with an old Galaxy S3. I'm one of those who only upgrades phones when they absolutely have to! ;)

June 9, 2016 at 12:31 AM · Warchal Brilliant was excellent for my dark(aesthetically bright amber) violin.

June 9, 2016 at 12:44 AM · If the violin needs clarity because of too many overtones and is from 1927, use plain gut with a wound gut G (and plain e if you can afford it) starting with medium gauge, and keep decreasing the gauge (or not) until the excessive overtones are gone.

Thin plain gut is also very bright, so I'm guessing that was what the maker originally strung it with (as there as nothing but steel or maybe a wound gut D in those days) to give it a non-viola-y sound. :D

June 10, 2016 at 07:15 PM · I got the 'Leon Mougenot Gauche' checked out by the luthier today. Well.... The ribs aren't original, and they aren't the right height! :P

...and the soundpost was too tall.

...and the bass bar was replaced at some point.

It's a Frankenviolin!

So we got a new soundpost for it. It's no wonder they call that little piece of wood the 'soul of the instrument', that alone properly fitted and adjusted solved 90% of the problems. Then just a Tonica E string and now it sounds like a million bucks! ...well, $4000 bucks more or less maybe. ;)

Thank you all for your input! This goes to show that when something sounds really odd, it's better to have it looked at by the experts before starting to dump money on it.

June 10, 2016 at 11:21 PM · It should still sound better with plain gut, though.

That's about all that was available when it was built...

June 12, 2016 at 11:26 AM · I have a dark, even dull, toned violin. Trying to pep it up with high octane strings just cramped its style, and I ended up with Tonica Weich which has "released" the vibrations and much improved projection.

June 14, 2016 at 04:24 PM · Warchal Strings! Try Karneol, or Amber!

June 14, 2016 at 07:36 PM · Krisztian@: I don't know if you ever experiment with strings, but they can (especially the G and E) rather markedly alter the sound and response of an instrument.

Also, pure gut was the standard string until about the 1950's, and synthetics are a simple substitute that do not last as long as gut while keeping good tone, switched to for the convenience of not having to tune as often (though there gut E does last only six weeks, it is cheap and can be changed regularly, while the others, for me last like so: Plain A- 3-4 months (sounds good, but goes false), D- 6 months, wound G- 7-8 months)

Finally, why not use the strings the instrument was made for?

Older instruments such as this are great, because you don't really have to search much to figure out the best strings for it, as only gut and steel was widely available. :)

June 15, 2016 at 06:32 AM · @Kamalakiran, never heard of those, but sounds good :)))))

June 17, 2016 at 10:28 PM · @krisztian yeah warchal strings are amazing and not too expensive either! Dogal Capriccio soloist strings are also quite amazing!

June 18, 2016 at 03:09 AM · The fact that only gut and steel were available at the time older instruments were made is largely irrelevant to choosing strings now. This is especially true for older instruments which have been modernized (almost no really old instrument has its original neck, for instance). And we are also playing a higher A than the A of earlier periods, so the strings are at a higher tension anyway. Moreover, such instruments can sound better with newer-material strings; just because some options were the only ones available once upon a time doesn't mean that they are the forever-optimal options.

June 18, 2016 at 03:39 AM ·

June 18, 2016 at 06:34 AM · Lydia's last post makes a lot of sense to me. I've been trying Eudoxas on a 1995 violin and they clearly do not work. On the other hand, PI's do.

June 18, 2016 at 06:39 AM · Um... 1995 is not old, and synthetics were commonplace by the 70's. :)

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