How does string gauge affect the sound? How can I reduce the overall volume of my instrument?

October 26, 2018, 6:08 AM · How does string gauge affect the sound? That's something I have never understood.

I've been playing for a while with Dominants + Wondertone/Gold E on my cheap Yamaha student violin. At first I didn't exaclty like its sound, but with a new bow and better technique, its getting better. It's open and clear, but I still find it too loud and a bit "shouty".

Would a different gauge help me tame a bit the overall volume of the instrument? If affirmative, which one? A full set? Just the G/D/A/E string?

Thank you

Replies (17)

October 26, 2018, 6:18 AM · Thicker strings are less responsive but give a fatter, stronger, bigger sound (that is less piercing). Strings that are too heavy sound clogged.
Thinner strings are more responsive and have a brighter, weaker sound.
In terms of volume, both are similar.
It really depends more on other factors in play (afterlength on tailpiece, bridge, soundpost position). I doubt changing the string gauge on your instrument will achieve what you want, let alone much of anything.
October 26, 2018, 6:22 AM · Get a sliding wire mute and experiment with putting it close to the bridge rather than on it as intended. You can use it somewhat like an acoustic tone control. Certainly you can take the edge off by have the mute close to the bridge.
October 26, 2018, 7:08 AM · Sorry, but the headline reminded me of this approach parts of which could be used to mute a violin :-)

Edited: October 26, 2018, 7:35 AM · Thick strings are tuned to higher tension than thin strings of the same brand, therefore creating larger force vectors downward through the bridge onto the top of the instrument. While some instruments' sound output is greater with higher tension strings, some are dampened by this greater force and actually sound louder (and better overall) with thinner, lower tension strings strings.

It is not uncommon to find that some instruments do much better with a mix of strings rather than a set as commonly sold (a mix of brands as well as tensions/thicknesses). Years ago the SHAR catalogs listed the strings used by their employees and most used different mixes. It can take a long time to find the ideal (optimal??) mix of strings for a particular instrument (and unless you have free access to all strings it can cost a "small fortune"). And of course with the new s brands and styles of strings constantly appearing on the market it could be a never-ending search.

Been there,done that! (Wish I could quit it.)

October 26, 2018, 7:42 AM · Op: How does string gauge affect the sound? If you really want to delve into how tension, diameter, density and length are related to the natural frequency of a vibrating wire use this formula. String gauge is the wire diameter in the formula.

The equation for the fundamental frequency of a wire:

f = (1/Ld)*v(T/pd)


f is the frequency in hertz (Hz) or cycles per second
L is the length of the wire in centimeters (cm)
d is the diameter of the wire in cm
T is the tension on the wire in gm-cm/s²
p is the Greek letter pi = 3.14
d is the density of the wire in gm/cm³ (Greek letter small delta)
v(T/pd) is the square root of T divided by pd

October 26, 2018, 7:46 AM · Cotton Mather: Thank you for explaining it. I will end up getting a new, better and warmer violin in the long run. But while I improve my still basic technique, I'll experiment with my current one.

Christopher Payne: I have never tried one of those mutes. I'll give them a try. Thank you for the suggestion.

Eva Savelsberg: As a person whose greatest hobbies are music and tennis... what a pain!! Seriously. It gets worse each time I watch it. Though I must admit it does a good job on dampening the sound. It made me laugh... and cringe.

Andrew Victor: Thank you for your clear explanation. String brands and models are completely overwhelming.

October 26, 2018, 8:43 AM · You answered yourself: bowing technique.
Experiment with pieces you know very well (in order to put the focus on right hand, not fingerings). Experiment using the upper half of the bow. To play closer to the fingerboard and, above all, to bow without digging. Try to play phrases from ppp to fff with all steps in between.
October 26, 2018, 9:18 AM · A wire mute, used as Christopher described is being used as wolf-tone eliminator. Wolf-tone eliminators are sold for violins and violas as well as for cellos (on which they are nearly ubiquitous). The best (most effective) wolf eliminator (and tone modifier) I have ever used is made and sold by Krentz who makes them for violins, violas and cellos. They work in a completely different way than those that are mounted on the string afterlengths (as the wire mute is).
Edited: October 26, 2018, 2:58 PM · The tension of the strings is only part of the equation. The total force of the bridge to the top plate is also inversely proportional to the angle of the string to the bridge. It should be standardized (79o?) but the luthier will custom fit the bridge to the clearance angles on the fingerboard, so it is variable in practice. There is probably an optimum level of total force on the top plate of the violin. Like tuning the tension on a drum head; too much tension can dampen/crush the sound, while too little tension soaks up/kills the signal energy coming from the string. There can be surprises. I discovered by trial and error that one of my violins, that is modern and looks very solid, actually prefers low tension gut strings. Another reason to try a thin gauge E string is that the very high notes can be clearer, more responsive. If you are using medium tension strings, you can do an inexpensive experiment; tune all the strings 1/2 step lower and see how it responds (ignoring the changed resonances). The opposite experiment, tuning 1/2 step higher, might be dangerous on some instruments.
October 27, 2018, 9:57 AM · James Stevens: This is really interesting. My math and physics knowledge is limited, but I like the explanation. Thank you.

Carlos: Bowing technique is really important, and plays a vital role in the sound of an instrument. But my violin still sounds loud and uninspiring even in good hands. I usually tell my teacher to play and demonstrate me the next piece using my violin. With his good and relaxed technique he makes it sound better than I do... but the instrument still shouts a bit. Regarding my own technique, my teacher says I tend to play with a soft bow, both for the good (when intending ppp) and the bad (I'm more uncomfortable playing fff). He says my right hand is usually relaxed. With bowing, I'm starting to do "what I want" with my current pieces, instead of doing "what I can". I'll try your suggested exercises as part of technical practice. Thank you.

Andrew Victor: At the moment I'm not having problems with wolf tones. But it's good to know! Thank you.

Joel Quivey: Thank you for both your explanation and your suggestion. I'll try it.

October 27, 2018, 10:27 AM · Maybe some luthiers can weigh in, but my understanding is that a longer tailgut will tame the instrument, making it softer, less punchy. You may need a shorter tailpiece if you want to maintain the afterlength. Not too sure about the following, but if you don't need to tune the afterlength, shorter is softer, and longer is more punchy. Also, heavier tailpiece, especially where strings attach, will dampen.
Edited: November 2, 2018, 2:23 AM · weich, light, soft, dolce, thin
November 2, 2018, 6:18 AM · @Tom, when I switched from Kun to Everest there was no change in my violin's sound.
November 2, 2018, 8:44 AM · People sometimes try Obligatos in an attempt to tame an overly bright violin...but, caveat emptor, results will vary!
November 9, 2018, 8:14 PM · Paul, I thought that the mass, attachment, and materials of the everest was similar to the kun, so that doesn’t surprise me.
Miguel, if you don’t mind a fuzzier response and huskier sound, maybe have the soundpost adjusted further from the bridge. Fast, cheap, simple.
I also play with a violinist who routinely plays with a small mute on for tone adjustment in quartets.
November 10, 2018, 9:33 AM · There's a very easy solution to damping a violin without the drastic consequences of an actual mute:

Cut a strip of chamois that is a rectangle, so that it is held under by the chin on top of the rest and extends over the f-hole on the bass side.

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