March 9, 2019, 7:43 AM · Yesterday I received an email from STRINGS magazine that included this article about 6 string players and their instruments,setups, bows - even rosins:

This got me wondering about strings since I have spent a lot of time and money trying to optimize the strings on my instruments. How many kinds of strings are there? I looked up "string tensions"on line and found charts with up to 50 brands of strings organized in 2 dimensions according to volume and tone - and this did not appear to include the Warchal brands - but let's say there are 50 brands that respectable shops sell (a nice round number, we know there are more) and that each brand comes in light, medium, and heavy gauges (actually there are more for some gut-core strings). That makes 150 accessible string brands - and there are 4 strings in a set so our sample comprises about 600 strings. How many potential string mixtures are there? Unless I'm wrong, the number is close to 13 billion. How do you pick the ideal strings for your fiddle?

If other players are similar to me, they have a rather specific sound (range) they want from a specific instrument and will try to get that by setup and string changes. I wonder - what does the strings that work best (and worst) on a specific instrument indicate about the quality and value of that instrument, if anything? Is an instrument that sounds and plays 100% with a very limited number of strings a lesser instrument than one that plays 100% with almost any strings? (what does 100% mean anyway?)

When I got into this awareness of strings I'd already been playing for 10 years and was in my early teen years living in a small city shortly after WW-II and the local string choices I was aware of were Pirastro gut-core, "off-brand" gut core, or Super-sensitive Red Label steel core. My "foreign travels" into the STRINGS world really started when Dominant strings hit the market around 1970. Mail order and credit cards became "real" and I had a decent job. SHAR became my "go-to store" and I was delighted when their catalog for a few years featured the string choices of the SHAR employees. Many of them were doing the same thing I had discovered - "mixing strings." When I moved to the bay area almost 24 years ago I discovered Ifshin Violins and their employee, Richard Ward, who has published a number of articles about strings in STRINGS magazine. You can figure that a person in his position as a violinist and a person who works in a major string-instrument shop has as much in-depth experience with various strings as an MD does with illnesses. And he does! I would call or visit for his advice from time to time.

What in depth string experience do our discussion participants at have with strings?

Just some early morning wonderings upon waking before 4 am to another California rain.

Replies (21)

March 9, 2019, 7:49 AM · A quick, back-of-the-envelope calculations shows that if you have 50 brands of strings plus the Warchal brands, and you allow yourself up to four different brands at a time on your violin, that's a total of 2,353,572,801,918 different combinations.
March 9, 2019, 8:36 AM · Big envelope - how many brands does Warchal have anyway - I just ignored them and calculated "600 to the 4th power"

But either way, I'm not even going to start to try them all.

After buying and trying my Warchal Timbres I may be finished (HA! HA!). As my British friends might say, "not bloody likely."

March 9, 2019, 8:37 AM · Thank you Paul for doing the math. Now, shall we take Paul's total times say $60 as average price per set?
March 9, 2019, 9:45 AM · “You can figure that a person in his position as a violinist and a person who works in a major string-instrument shop has as much in-depth experience with various strings as an MD does with illnesses. ”

The double entendres here is great. Trying out different strings is indeed unto itself a particular kind of illness!

March 9, 2019, 10:12 AM · Perhaps it is! And like other illnesses, sometimes you find a cure.
March 9, 2019, 10:41 AM · The problem comes when you want to use a different rosin on each string.
March 9, 2019, 10:47 AM · "another California rain", are you serious? you guys in California should be grateful that it rains!
March 9, 2019, 12:24 PM · Mr. Victor,

Which were the brands and variations of Pirastro back then? Eudoxa, Black Label, Gold Label, Chorda? And when was "stiff" introduced?

Also, was Eudoxa always wound gut, or did they have pure gut options back in the day?

I am old enough to remember Black Label still existing in 1995, but it was soon discontinued. Right now Pirastro is also discontinuing many less popular lines gauge options (Tonica & Obligato, for example, come now only in "Mittel".)

I wish there was a repository of old string advertising from the middle of the 20th century up until now, so we could better understand the evolution of string making, for better or worse. Pirastro stops advertising their older brands, and generally only cares to show-off their latest products. Pirastro used to call Eudoxa the "Queen of...-I forgot-" sound/strings" and now just calls them "the traditional gut core string". Guess they do not have much respect for their past. Marketing, marketing...

Interestingly, it seems the Wondertone Solo (synthetic) never caught on much, and didn't get heavy advertising either (compared to Passione and P Solo, EP Gold, Platinum E, and Perpetual.) I like the low tension of that set, but have never tried it + that "special steel E" I've also never used.

Best Wishes.

March 9, 2019, 12:30 PM · Yet another reason to prefer plain gut. Find the tension you like and away you go!
March 9, 2019, 3:00 PM · Not so, cotton. Haven't you seen the arguments of gamut vs pirastro vs etc...? Although there are indeed less brands that make gut.
March 9, 2019, 4:02 PM · I have a violin made by Duncan Macdonald, Isle of Eigg in the hebrides. It has seen a few sets of strings including Dominant,Obligato, Zyex,Violono (electric period), and now today I wanted to up the volume and stay acoustic with it. I rummaged around the pack of random strings that I’m sure every violinist has tucked away somewhere. I managed to make a set out of Obligato G,D. Zyex A and Warchal Amber E. I would not have chosen these as they seem a bit random. The violin seemed to like them though and was sprung into life.

So maybe it’s not always an exact science and there is some reward in using what we have instead of looking for the ‘perfect’ set of strings.

Edited: March 9, 2019, 4:57 PM · Hmm. I've been fairly conservative about changing strings, but haven't ever had a bad experience with strings. My progression on my viola has been from a full set of Dominants, to Dominant CGD + Larsen A, to Vision CGD + Larsen A. The switch to Visions was prompted by someone recommending Visions for smaller violas, and my viola loved them almost immediately, so I haven't really felt the need to switch again. Several people in my orchestras seem much more adventurous with string choices, seemingly changing their set with every string change and often mixing 3 brands of strings at a time.

"I wonder - what does the strings that work best (and worst) on a specific instrument indicate about the quality and value of that instrument, if anything?"

I recall seeing a post here by Bohdan Warchal in which he mentioned trying synthetic strings on cheap student violins in China, and finding that he could only get a sound out of those instruments at all with steel strings. Maybe that's indicative? I wouldn't know more.

March 9, 2019, 9:09 PM · At my last lesson my teacher suggested I try Vision Solo. Presently I have Evahs (with Goldbrokat E).
March 9, 2019, 11:38 PM · I too would like to experiment with strings, but as I'm still on a $400 violin and will likely buy a new one soon, there's no point in wasting money on strings for me right now. Maybe once I get my holy grail violin I can experiment.
March 11, 2019, 8:23 AM · Pirastro Tonica is discontinued? I did not see the note about. I find them now and I like them (good price vs quality).
March 11, 2019, 8:47 AM · Mr. Podhola,

Only Weich and Stark have been discontinued. If you always used Mittel-as thousands do-it won't affect you, though it is a pity for those who wanted a lower tension Tonica option.

Its normal tension is moderate+, but not too heavy.

March 11, 2019, 10:47 AM · I have Tonicas on my violin now. They seem ok for my use. I'll probably go to gut as an experiment after these start to wear out. I haven't played for long and I've already been through like 6 brands of strings. Whether intentional or consequential, I'm not sure on the subject of what 100% really is on a violin. If we can make the sound a little better then we aren't at 100%. We don't know that unless we try.Even violins at 100% need new strings. People like to try different things even when everything is ok. How many here are still playing on the strings they had when they started out? I would venture to guess it's near zero.How many have taken a pair of strings off immediately if they don't like them? I tend to let them grow on me for awhile because I know I can't take them back. If I'm not particularly fond of them I try to get some use from them but I might be changing them out much sooner. Usually my first impressions stay the same thought the trial. Unlike demoing a product it's as if we are trying a set out while we play on them sometimes for 6 months of more.

I had a very experienced player recommend me a type of strings. I trust him in pretty much anything violin. I bought a set of the strings he said he used and I was very disappointed in the outcome on my violin. This goes to show that what worked for someone else might not necessarily work for you. Other than generalized statements on specific traits of any string type, we are left with our own violins and experiences. This isn't to say I won't try something a more experienced player recommends because who knows? It might do the same for me. If it doesn't they can't be blamed for bad info. It worked for them.
I imagine the choices were few and far in between back in the 1700's or even the 1800's. Now we are inundated with choices. Good players managed to play well on the available strings back then. I don't know what that says about the present situation but it says something.

March 11, 2019, 11:13 AM · I'm now loyal to Pi strings (but the platinum E is overpriced, and whistles, so Goldbrokat E it is for now).

Tried Kaplan Amo (they were on my violin a week before I took them off), Dominant, Zyex, Warchal (mix Russian A, Ambers predominantly, and other Warchals that I'm forgetting - I really wanted to like Warchal's strings!), Larsen Tzigane, and a few others. Not enough to participate in Andrew's experiment!

March 13, 2019, 2:26 AM · @Adalberto Valle-Rivera

Thank You for info Mr. Valle-Rivera, I am using mittel, yes, but I was thinking about trying light ones. So sad :(

March 13, 2019, 6:58 PM · Do you have a link for that string tension site, Andrew? I found Violin String Review which has charts including Warchal strings. I think I prefer the sound of lower tension strings, but the feel of higher tension. Maybe that's my guitar influence.
March 13, 2019, 8:30 PM · Russell, I googled "violin string comparison chart" and found several charts that plotted string pkg covers according to tone and power and just counted the number of brands.

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