Review of Strings...
Since I have joined this site, I have seen a lot of talk and inquiries about strings. Over the last few years, I have made it a point to try out many if not most brands of strings available on the market and I have always wanted to do a review of strings, and I thought this might be a good and useful avenue. I thought that I would write a personal review based on my experience (and try to maintain some measure of objectivity). For those who may be interested in exploring, this might be a good place to start. Bear in mind that this is based on personal experience and is therefore not definitive by any means.
Everyone knows the categories : plain gut, wound gut, synthetic and steel. Here is the list of what I have tried and my reviews.
PLAIN GUT : There are several companies that make plain gut strings. The top three are Pirastro Chorda, Kürschner and Dlugolecki. I have personally only tried the Kürschner and found them to be excellent strings and the price is great (much less than Chorda or Dlugolecki). The quality is somewhere between the two others. I think that anyone who hopes to understand the classic sound of violinists like Heifetz and Milstein needs to try these. They are excellent strings although pitch stability and durability are an issue for sure.
WOUND GUT : Of these I have tried only the three Pirastro brands. Here is my review.
Pirastro Gold : Comes in only one gauge. The quality control is not as great as Eudoxa and that is immediately evident in both the pitch stability and tone quality. They are good strings, a little brighter than Eudoxa, but too unreliable for me to use. The E seems to be a favorite for Dominant users or Olive or Eudoxa users who want a plain steel Pirastro E.
Eudoxa : The standard before Dominants. Eudoxas are a great string and in my experience the most reliable of the Pirastro wound gut strings. The sound is warm with a huge range of dynamics and colours. The wound E is a little dull. I find that like the violinists from the 50’s and 60’s the Goldbrokat E is a good match as is the Kaplan Golden Spiral. In my opinion the best overall string for orchestral playing.
Olive : At the risk of offending people, I did not like them as much as the Eudoxa, as they are less reliable pitch-wise. They are more powerful and tight than the Eudoxa and will take more bow pressure. Great range of colors and huge range of dynamics. The Gold E is very powerful but whistles a lot and tends to break very easily. I find again that a plain steel E is better. The A is a problem. No matter what gauge it is very unstable pitch-wise. A thinner gauge is better, but the sound cracks. I think that using something else for the A is better, though the D and G are very good. Excellent range of colors in these strings, but very unstable, much more so than the Eudoxa. The best soloist gut core string.
SYNTHETIC : In recent years the market has been flooded with new products claiming to be the next great thing. I am not convinced. Here are my impressions of the strings that I have tried.
Dominant : The first and the standard for synthetic strings. They are the most popular by far. Dominants can sound metallic at first but settle after a day or two. They are meant to reproduce the feel of gut, but without the pitch instability. They are excellent strings and affordable. In my opinion, the E is not as good. The best match seems to be the Jargar Forte E, which reduces the metallic quality of the Dominants making them more « gut-like » while keeping the rest of the qualities intact. Not the longest lasting synthetic but an excellent one.
Infeld : Comes in Red and Blue. The Blue is brighter and more powerful, the Red darker. They were designed as an improvement over Dominants but fail in my opinion. They are longer lasting, but the tension is a killer and there is a loss in range of dynamics and colours over the Dominants.
Vision : I have little experience so far. They seem very thin for synthetic strings. The regular Vision seem similar to Dominants to me, but break in quicker. The Titanium are powerful but harsh and were designed to compete with the Evah Pirazzi. The Titanium E is very thin and expensive and not worth the price as the difference over a steel E is not significant. Reported to have a long life.
Evah Pirazzi : It’s becoming one of the most popular synthetics, and many soloists are switching there from Dominants. Personally, I don’t like them. They are loud with a limited range of colour. I do appreciate the power and edge, and if you are playing concertos it’s great, but otherwise, I find them inflexible. The high tension requires one to press more, and they don’t blend all that well in ensemble. If your instrument needs brightening up or if you are playing a concerto and need power and edge, they are good. The life-span is not that much longer and the price high.
Obligato : The new core type predecessor of Pirazzi in the Pirastro line. They were designed to be longer lasting synthetics, and they have a close to the Eudoxa. They emulate the Eudoxa well, and they are probably the longest lasting synthetics that I have tried. They blend well in ensemble playing. They are more tense than Perlon core strings, but not overly so. The gold E is the best of the two, and the aluminium D seems to work better as well than the Silver D. The draw-back : They lack power and projection. Great for playing in orchestra though.
Tonica : Pirastro’s third and most successful Perlon-core string designed to compete with Dominants. Close to Dominants although darker and less powerful. In my opinion they don’t measure up to the Dominants, and seem to die out quickly. However, they do blend well. The short life span and lack of projection needs to be factored in. However, the price is good.
Aricore and Synoxa : The first answers of Pirastro to Dominants. The Aricore is dark with little edge and kind of dull. There is an Aricore/Eudoxa A designed to go with the Eudoxa, but it’s not all that great a match. The Synoxa is better and brighter. The E is identical to the Pirastro Gold (different color). The A is good and blends well with Gut core strings, especially the Olives, but the D and G aren’t on the same level quality wise.
Corelli Crystal : Dark and warm strings, that can be dull. They take a few days to open up. Very cheap and OK overall. A good budget Perlon-core string and they are not too bright making them good ensemble playing strings.
Corelli Alliance : Recently reformulated into the Alliance Vivace, which is a totally different string. The old Alliance were similar to the Obligato although a little brighter and somewhat less tense. The new ones are much more tense and flat sounding but very good in terms of pitch and clarity of intonation. Personally, I could not get used to the high tension of these strings. The E isn’t as good, but I found that the Goldbrokat E works well.
D’Addario Zyex : With a core made of a material designed to replace gut in tennis rackets, these strings were first promoted as being the best replacement for gut strings. That is not the case. They have the advantage of being quickly tuned and highly pitch stable, probably the most pitch stable synthetic. The draw-backs : The dynamic range is from loud to louder. Also they are extremely tense (I had pains in my hands after only 30 minutes of playing on them). If you want a lound long lasting string that never goes out of tune, that is a good bet.
Larsen : Perlon core strings that are overall excellent. They are more powerful and punchy than Dominants but not as warm. A very good string that is not too tense and that goes well when playing concertos as the sound carries well and they are very stable. The draw-backs : Less range of colour than Dominants and the D and G have a very short life span (no more than 4 weeks with anyone I have met). They are also expensive.
STEEL : I have little experience with these, and will give comments on the few brands that I know.
D’Addario Helicore : Currently the best steel string on the market. Surprisingly warm and very pitch stable. The sound is on the clear side. The range of color is limited but the pitch stability is excellent. They seem ideal for viola, and a lot of violists have switched to them as they bring clarity to that instrument. Long lasting strings.
Piranito and Chromecore : Bright strings that I would recommend for small student instruments. Long lasting and very bright. Better in my opinion the Standard Red Labels that most people use.
Jargar : I have tried only the A and E. In my opinion the Jargar Forte E is probably the best on the market and the best match for Dominants. A favorite of current soloists. I have tried the thin A. Good warm string overall. Blends well with gut or synthetic D and G. Should be used with a fine tuner.
E strings : Why the special category? Because most people use them with other strings. In my personal opinion some E strings work better than others depending on what you use for the G, D and A. The E does affect the overall sound of the instrument as it highlights different overtones for better or for worse. This said, here are some recommendations based on personal experience...
Goldbrokat and Golden Spiral : Similar although the Goldbrokat has more punch and edge. In my experience these two are the best match for gut-core strings and they seems to add some brilliance and edge and are quite flexible strings.
Gold E strings : Various by various companies. Good and brilliant, but they tend to whistle a lot and in my opinion do not have the round sound of steel E’s. However the power can be amazing, especially in high positions.
Westiminster : One of the most powerful E’s out there. Favoured by many, especially the heavy gauge. In my experience it is a good, but brash string.
Hill : Not as powerful as others but very sweet sounding. I used it with Olives and it seemed to be a good match.
Jargar : Many soloists have switched to this E, especially the heavy gauge. Seems to possess the qualities of the gold and metal E’s without the evils. It doesn’t rust or tarnish, is very round in sound, and powerful but not harsh. My favorite in a set with Dominants and Larsen’s. Really helps to round out the Dominants, making them less metallic and more gut-like.
I hope that this will be helpful to some. Please bear in mind that this is based on personal experience with my instrument (and the experiences with my students), and on my style of playing and bowing. Some may find otherwise. But, I think that overall it’s a good start. I have a few combinations and favorites that I personally prefer. If anyone is interested, please let me know.
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