Any strings to tame a cheap violin?

August 25, 2019, 6:06 AM · Hi. I own a Yamaha violín worth less than €400. It doesn’t sound bad for what it is, but I find the sound shrill, loud and not really pleasant. I’m very prone to get headaches, and the shrillness of the violin triggers them more often than I’d like. I know I should upgrade the violin, but I want to achieve some base technique before doing so (I’m currently studying double stops and 2nd position).

I’ve tried different sets of strings on that violin: the prelude strings that the violín came with were just unbearable. I changed them for dominants, which were harsh and really improved their sound with a pirastro wondertone E instead of their original E string. I also tried Tziganes, which hace left me with mixed feelings: On one side, I like their G and D strings and they ring beautifully. But the violin has been loud with them (even louder than before) and the A and D strings broke. The A strong got unwinded and the D strong broke in a strange way.

So I need some suggestions on what strings could I try next to achieve a calmer sound. I’ve read Violinos can be a good option for cheap violins like mine and I’m inclined to try them. What can you recommend me?

Thank you very much.

Replies (24)

August 25, 2019, 6:20 AM · Preludes came on my Viola and I hate them. I'm trying the Zyex next before I sample anything more expensive.
August 25, 2019, 6:25 AM · You could try obligatos, they’re not that loud and cut down on some of the shrill brightness. I personally don’t like them that much, but they meet you conditions. Infield reds are supposed to do something similar, but I’ve yet to try them.
August 25, 2019, 6:30 AM · If practicing the violin is giving you headaches, you need earplugs or you need to switch to the piano.
August 25, 2019, 7:02 AM · I found this video review of different strings useful. If the larger strings like D and A are breaking it could be worth looking at the finish of the wood at the nut, to check its not damaging the strings.

Edited: August 25, 2019, 7:06 AM · Jeffrey: I’m glad to know I’m not the only one who hates them! The preludes are the worst strings I’ve ever tried.

Christopher: I’m also intrigued by the Obligatos. But I can get the violinos for half the price of Obligatos, which are expensive, and I’m not completely sure if they’re worth on my violin.

Paul: I love the piano!! In fact, I play the piano way more than the violin (the comparison is not fair: I can play some serious Bach at the piano, while I’m still learning the basics of the violin). I use to play the violin with my left ear plugged, and I can stand it if I have no sign of incoming headache. But if I have a bare sign, the violin definitely makes it start or worsen. In such situations the piano is a better instrument to play.

Janice: I’ll have a look at it. Thank you.

August 25, 2019, 8:10 AM · maybe its not the strings, was the bridge and soundpost setup professionally, since you dropping all that money on different strings getting a luthier to check the setup for 50 bucks shouldn't be too hard.
August 25, 2019, 8:14 AM · Second call for the Obligatos. They are lower tension and one of the few string types that reduce wolf notes on many violins.

Else you could try garden twine and cheese wire... oh, and unravel an old printer cable for the G string...

August 25, 2019, 8:26 AM · I agree with Kai. A slightly thicker bridge and with more wood left at certain parts could be a better solution. Keep the Dominants on during setup. Keep in mind that problem might be interested impossible to solve.
August 25, 2019, 10:43 AM · I agree that Violinos or Obligatos help to mellow an instrument, and Violinos are probably better for your case since they are cheaper and long lasting. I also second that you should probably get a musician's earplug or use a good practice mute some of the time since the instrument is giving you headaches.
August 25, 2019, 11:12 AM · I'd recommend Warchal Karneol. They're only ~$30 a set and I've put them on a number of the Yamaha student-line stringed instruments.

Also, which kind of tailpiece did your Yamaha come with? The wood tailpiece with the metal lever fine tuners, or the Wittner-style composite with built-in fine tuners?

August 25, 2019, 11:46 AM · Kai Lu and Rocky: My violin is probably not professionally set up. It was a gift, and I know it was purchased at a Yamaha retailer. I don’t have a near luthier, but whenever I have the opportunity I’ll take it to one.

Thierno Diallo: I use a musicians earplug when I play the unmuted violin. It helps a bit. Practicing with a mute is almost my only option. Under recommendation of my teacher I got a very nice practice mute called wmute that is expensive but produces a much more pleasant sound.

Gene Wie: I’ll have a look at these strings. I didn’t really know about them. My violin is a Yamaha v5 with gray metallic finetuners.

August 25, 2019, 4:03 PM · Pirastro's Aricore: sweet and warm!
August 25, 2019, 4:17 PM · Putting expensive strings on a cheap violin is money half-wasted.
I agree with the others about the less expensive nylon or synthetic core strings. Pirastro Aricore or Violino, Warchal Karneol, also Corelli Crystal, D'Addario Pro-Arte. If you want steel strings (for amplified or folk fiddling) try the D'Addario Helicore or the more mellow, all-steel version; NS-Electric. Also buy all three gauges of the very cheap Goldbrokat E, and see which one your violin prefers. I also do most of my practicing with either a mute or an ear-plug.
August 25, 2019, 4:54 PM · I have a bunch of cheap violins I loan to students at my high school. They nearly all have tonica strings which I found to be a good neutral option (way better sounding than dominant). I also tried violino and amythyst which were ok.

At various times I tried my used but not dead obligatos and warchals (which did tone them down sounded dull and somewhat lifeless). I've come to the conclusion that cheap violins are not made to pick up the over tones of good strings.

If the violin came (new?) from a standard music shop, it absolutely needs settling up. Do you have a teacher? They should be able to check (and fix) things like whether the bridge and pegs fit and if the nut is too high. Fine tuning sound, though needs a luthier.

One other thing, is it the e-string mostly giving you headaches? Are you (pause for dramatic horrified face!) really a viola player?

August 25, 2019, 5:04 PM · The Yamaha violins need a set-up first. Bridge, post, and basic adjustment. That should come first. After that, you can put 600 buck tires on your 1k rims, but you will still be driving a hopped up Yugo.

I vote for Dominants and save for the next fiddle. The set-up and the strings go hand in hand and you shouldn't expect a great change with just one or the other.

Edited: August 26, 2019, 7:16 PM · Actually, quality strings on a cheap violin in many cases is an excellent investment, and can make a cheap violin sound pretty nice. Part of the reason student violins sound the way they do is because manufacturers put crappy strings on them.

But before investing in strings, I'd take the violin to a luthier to look at bridge and soundpost. A good luthier can often fine-tune a setup to take some of the edge off the high and and give you a stronger low end if that's what you desire.

Choose your strings in consultation with the luthier who is making the adjustment -- he/she will probably have some ideas. If you have the setup changed to favor a darker sound, maybe the right strings are brighter higher-projection strings -- like Vision Solos.

For a generally decent sound for a little less money you can't go wrong with Dominants or Pirastro Tonicas. The Fiddlershop in Florida sells a cheap private label string "Fiddlerman" strings -- for $25 a set that has been well reviewed -- maybe comparable to Dominants.

August 26, 2019, 8:19 PM · Adrian: getting hard to find Aricore in the states.It would have been my first choice. That said, I have used Corelli Crystal forte for a clean sound to break in instruments. Liking Warchal Amber’s full set on my backup Chinese violin. Also Larsen Tzigane for playability and complexity.
September 10, 2019, 8:44 PM · Try Thomastik Alphayues! They're great. Better than Dominants at half the price! They made one of my kiddos'violin sound tons better.

Also I agree with getting the setup looked at.

September 12, 2019, 2:35 PM · My cheap violin gets along well with Tonicas.
September 12, 2019, 3:10 PM · I've been working on my adult grandson's Skylark Brand MV006 violin ("Made in China"). I can't be sure what the strings are, but the only match I can find on line are Prim A, D, G. What I can tell you is that the sound and response of this cheapo fiddle blow me away. I can play a 2-octave scale up the G string with no problems. The pegs turn smoothly and hold quite well. The volume across the strings is fairly even and the tone a pretty good match.

I think he has had the violin for 5 years but never played it. He is a pro musician - song writer, vocal, plucked instruments and keyboard. At least he spent 5 years between 2 stretches of college earning his living as a performing and recording musician. His acoustic guitars typically cost about 100 times what you would expect to pay for a Skylark violin. I suspect the violinist from his former band (violin-performance degree) helped him select this fiddle, because violins of this genre don't typically come with these qualities.

September 16, 2019, 12:05 PM · Hi,there,
Perhaps its worth working out how much money youve spent
trying different (sets) of strings,and maybe consider upgrading to
a used older violin.There are thousands out there to try.I have found that even if a violin has not been played for many years,it will soon
start sounding better.It will take some time to get 'educated' about
buying second-hand violins,but there is plenty of expertise out there.

September 16, 2019, 5:30 PM · Oh don’t make us move to the regrets thread, Malcolm! ;-)
September 17, 2019, 7:53 AM · Hi,lol,Edward,'wisdom comes from experience""?
September 17, 2019, 4:09 PM · Hey! Thank you for your suggestions. I guess it’s a matter of trial and error. I’ll probably try the Violinos. They seem to be designed precisely to tame cheap violins.

I’ve used during this last months a set of Tziganes. They sound good, especially in the low registers, but they are excessively loud for my violin. But what has made me angry is that the A string broke just after putting it on. My teacher just made a knot at it and I’ve been able to use it. But some time after that, when I opened my case on a random day, the D string had snapped and was completely broken. Maybe I got a bad batch, but I’ve been disappointed with these strings.

Malcolm... I have no idea of old (or new) violins. I think I know the kind of “sound signature” I like. But I can’t buy another violin until I get this one to sound good. That means, I’ll keep this one until I get an intermediate technical level. Plus, it holds sentimental value, since it was a gift. That’s another reason I want to prolong its life and make it sound as good as I can, although I know it’s just an €300 instrument.

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