Dark strings

May 9, 2019, 6:42 AM · Hello all
I was hoping to get some suggestions or information on what you’ve generally found to be dark strings. I have a viola that is bright and very clear so it can Handle all the dark fuzzy ness a string can throw and still be clear. I currently use obligato and am happy but I feel like I would enjoy trying strings now (when it’s on my parents dime) than when I’m in say college. I was thinking passiones but that may be a rotation away because I live in Georgia where 80% humidity or higher the whole summer is pretty much the norm.
Do the PIs or korneol have some of these characteristics because those are the options I’ve heard but wasn’t sure.
Thank you for any help

Replies (17)

Edited: May 9, 2019, 7:56 AM · I think it's hard to achieve a dark sound with just strings. You could darken your sound with a variety of setup adjustments, such as getting a thicker bridge made for your viola.

Of course I will recommend plain gut. For a softer sound, lower tension.

May 9, 2019, 8:59 AM · I'm pretty new to viola world, but I know lots of violists love Larsen, if only just for the A. I haven't gotten new strings for my viola since it was restored in February, so I haven't done a ton of research. Warchal doesn't sell a set of Ambers for viola, do they?

There's also a site called violinstringreview.com but I don't think they do viola... I suppose you could have a look and get a general idea of what will give you the darker tone quality you're looking for!

May 9, 2019, 10:01 AM · You can also darken your sound with your technique, you know. Less vibrato, bowing over the fingerboard.
May 9, 2019, 3:49 PM · Warchal Ambers are available for viola. I've been thinking about trying a Warchal Amber A with my next string change, in fact.

One violist I know uses Pirastro Oliv strings (wound gut). They're pricey, but then, seeing as you're already using Obligatos...

May 9, 2019, 5:02 PM · For some instruments and players a mixture of string brands/manufacturers is required to get the balance that works best for a particular player. But a different mix might work better for some audience listeners.

A real expert player or luthier might be able to make suggestions based on experience if they could hear your instrument in person. Better yet, actually play it themselves.

I have found Obligatos to be fairly dark strings on at least one of my violas and on some of my violins, but a lot of factors go into the heard sound produced by an instrument including:
1. the player
2. the instrument
3. the strings
4. the bow
5. the rosin
6. the venue
7. the listener

I don't know what the proper order of these factors is but the order I've given is not the whole story and each factor is dependent on others in the list.

Put another way, I don't think "dark strings" are going to make a bright instrument sound dark, nor will "bright strings" make a "dark instrument" sound bright. What I have experienced with these sorts of mixtures is that something is missing in the sound if the strings and instrument are not a good match - and something is missing if the bow and instrument are not a good match - and so on.

May 9, 2019, 5:08 PM · What Andrew said. The general categories of strings are bright or warm and shades in between. Shar has a table showing the general characteristics of strings they sell. You might want to have a look.


This chart only deals with strings Shar sells, but it will give you some idea of how strings are described in terms of sound. As always, different strings sound different on different instruments, so any advice given by someone who cannot hear your viola with its current strings will necessarily describe the general sound the string produces and not what it will sound like on your viola. Good luck!

Edited: May 9, 2019, 6:46 PM · Agree with previous posters -- different instruments will respond differently to the same strings. If you can get a luthier or another experienced player, maybe your teacher, to evaluate your current sound and setup, this person should be able to give you some direction on which way to go next.

I don't play viola. Still, from firsthand experience with violin, I know that overall darkness or brightness depends mainly on the instrument itself -- although make and model of strings can shade the tone one way or another.
So these aren't recommendations to you but just bits of my own personal experience.

Two of my three fiddles are dark-sounding, and I emphasize this sound by the strings I have on them. Infeld Red A-D-G + Goldbrokat medium E work well on the 1869 fiddle. The same E + Pirastro Gold A + Pirastro Eudoxa stiff D-G are better for the 1883 instrument. BTW, Pirastro recommends stiff D-G for modern players. There is also a stiff C for viola.

In both setups, I get a dark sound in the low notes but not a dullness or fuzziness. I've used PI only on my 1921 instrument -- and only the D-G. They gave me plenty of ring and resonance, but I later changed the G to Infeld Red to get a darker, less edgy sound in the low notes.

My experience with Passione is very limited -- only the regular A. After one tryout of 5 months or so, I replaced it with the Gold A, mentioned above, which had lower tension and meshed better with the neighboring strings. This opened up the instrument more and let it ring better once again.

I've also tried the above-mentioned Pirastro Oliv in stiff D-G. They gave me more power and ring than the Eudoxa stiffs.

May 10, 2019, 3:18 AM · Pirastro's Aricore are sweet and warm, and cheaper and longer lasting than Obligato. They "absorb" bumpy bowing, but lack "bite".
June 8, 2019, 1:01 PM · Well, if you can’t afford dark strings or a better viola, maybe use a small mute. Not one of those mutes that cover all the strings, but the small and passive circular mutes.

This gave me a dark sound.

June 8, 2019, 1:14 PM · Sorry but I got stuck on: 'when its on my parent's dime'??
You mean you don't spending their money on things that would be a waste of yours?

June 8, 2019, 1:54 PM · I'm with Andrew and Tom.
Having said that, I think Passiones are relatively stable even to rather high changes in humidity.
The bow matters a lot. You could try a softer stick. Owning two or three (not necessarily expensive) bows with different playing characteristics isn't the worst thing to go for anyway, and this strategy might allow you to vary your sound in a second without fiddling around with the rest of your setup. (But better not listening too much to a bow nerd like me...)
June 8, 2019, 2:26 PM · Get a life clue. This is what students do all the time. They aren't generally rich.
June 8, 2019, 3:07 PM · Interestingly, if you look at the gut strings on the Shar chart, they are all clustered in one corner in terms of characteristics (Warm/Subtle) except for Passiones, which are wound rather than pure gut, unlike the others Shar sells, and are in the middle of the chart with Dominants. I liked the Passiones on my violin until I took it to my summer house on Cape Cod and found that I was having to tune about every five minutes. So, I went back to Obligatos, which work well on both my instruments. That said, as others have pointed out, there are a number of factors which affect how your instrument sounds.
June 8, 2019, 6:11 PM · If you like Obligato, you might like Kaplan Amo very much. They are a bit cheaper, too.
June 8, 2019, 6:26 PM · Kaplan Amo (and Vivo) have an uncomfortably rough texture under the fingers, in my opinion.

In the high humidity of a Maryland summer, I found Passiones to suffer not only in stability but in quality of sound (even with the violin properly adjusted). Passione Solos are working for me right now, but the decline in tuning stability even with whole-house dehumidification is notable.

June 8, 2019, 6:29 PM · Yes I mean trying strings while my parents are willing to help pay for them also I am using obligato but am not totally satisfied but I will be using another set because I’m heading to Brevard where it’s genuinely a rainforest so they are the most stable option. But gut may be something I try for the winter.
June 8, 2019, 8:47 PM · My viola (a decent chinese workshop instrument) came with obligatos. They were terrible. I switched to obligatos (recommended by my luthier Patrick Toole) and they were much better. I don't want anything darker. If anything I'd like to find strings that might give me more playability since this is somewhat a weak point of my viola. In terms of sound it's a cannon but it's not super responsive.

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