Does string tension relate to sound quality

October 29, 2019, 4:49 PM · Given the same brand or type of strings, and disregarding a players ability to play or not play them-
Is there a trend in the difference of tone between, say, medium tension strings and heavy tension? Or medium tension and light tension. Do heavier strings sound better?

Replies (19)

October 29, 2019, 5:21 PM · Heavy strings: louder, stronger tone and slower / stiffer response.

Soft strings: softer, sweeter tone and quicker response.

Too heavy and you choke the instrument, too light and the instrument becomes too weak and sensitive.

October 29, 2019, 7:40 PM · thank you
Edited: October 30, 2019, 7:01 PM · Different tensions for different fiddles. In fact even different string tension relationships between the strings on each fiddle for different fiddles.

Just like "different strokes for different folks."

I've been trying to optimize strings for each of my 4 violins, 3 cellos and 2 violas starting about 50 years ago so I know somethings about this - but definitely not everything.

October 30, 2019, 10:26 AM · I would like to add to Cotton's description of heavy strings sound: "louder, stronger tone and slower / stiffer response". It does sound louder mainly close to ones ear, since the basic frequency do manifest louder. On the other hand, there are less overtones, so the sound may turn even to dull and choked side with tension increase. This is why such strings may be even less present from the distance or if played with orchestra etc.

We always try to keep the tension as low as possible when designing strings and also keeping the formula constant during the production. (Yes, there are quite a significant deviations with some strings, since there is no any obligatory standard stringmaters should keep). This is why refering the package does not help much in some cases.

In any case, the "tension needs" of each particular instrument is different and relates to its plates mass and stifness. So in general, you can expect working light instruments with light strings and vice versa. But you can hardly define the ideal match without somme level of experimenting, I am afraid.

October 30, 2019, 4:03 PM · I tried light gauge strings once, they felt like rubber bands. I suspect the bridge needed to be raised to increase the tension and volume. Maybe the bridge height needs to correlate with string tension.?
October 30, 2019, 4:28 PM · Every single detail on instrument ant its setup does correlate with others of course. However, your violin may be simply to stiff and heavy for light gauge strings. In such case there is no much sense to try adjusting the bridge to light tension strings. The strings tension will be not affected by increasing the bridge height in fact. The force the bridge does press against the top plate will be affacted only. String tension is simply a mass (weight) in motion. If it is not enough to move the plates, you are out of luck. If you will be looking for a new violin one day, I recommend trying those, working with light(er) gauge of strings. They will be much closer to old Italians in general.
October 30, 2019, 10:49 PM · In my violin's case, light tension works the best, even with synthetics. Barring a few outliers, I do not feel compeled to try modern synthetics, as the general standard is "medium" being "medium heavy", and my violin doesn't sound as airy and free with them. For some gut strings, I use heavier gauges when the "regular" tension is a bit low, even for me.

I commend Mr. Warchal for being one of the few string makers who sees value in developing synthetics that aren't too heavy, even before his latest string products.

October 30, 2019, 11:57 PM · Interesting how the light gauge felt much looser ( like rubber bands ) than the heavy gauge on the same bridge.? And heavy gauge on a very low bridge resonate much more than on a very high bridge.?
October 31, 2019, 2:02 AM · I don't want to hack the thread, but I wander how you all seek for the right string combination. I really like the strings I have now, but I can only hear how they sound under my ear. I don't now how they sound from a distance (and if there is an effect like mr Warchal explained)
I don't play in a regular orchestra but mostly in a folk/pop band and in musicals where I am the only string player. If I ask the brass section or the brand players to listen to something so in detail like different strings, I don't think I get the answers I am looking for (but that is my own assumption now I think about it)
What do you do to know how it sounds from a distance: record it, or ask someone else to play your violin for you, or only listening from under the ear, or other tactics?
October 31, 2019, 11:20 AM · if you have a pro mic with a pro spectrum meter, for me whenever i'm deciding on strings i have my tutor playing it while i take couple steps back and listen.
Edited: October 31, 2019, 1:02 PM · I have frequently checked my violin and viola sound by playing the instruments in cello position (vibrato is lots easier that way too - and not just because I am also a cellist). This puts the sound source further from my ears and in an orientation closer to that of the typical listener. I know it is too close to my ears for a full evaluation, but the result tells me more than from under the chin.

Finding "the best" strings and string combinations is probably an endless process - until you finally quit. I'm 85 now and may still be involved with it. I would be so happy if the string companies would stop introducing new products (especially cello strings - they are so damn expensive)!

November 1, 2019, 4:27 PM · I'm currently using Warchal Amber D and G, Russian A and Amber E.
Lovely rich sound, and capable of a good piannissimo. Some other strings wouldn't go "soft" when required, and wouldn't vary the sound.
Same on two violins -a modern one, and 1933 English.
Thank you, Mr. Warchal. These strings show off the violins in solo and orchestral work.
November 2, 2019, 4:56 AM · Thanks :-). Have you tried Timbre already?
November 2, 2019, 7:30 AM · I have been a Warchal fan for many years and have used all of your strings except for the newest Timbre, and somewhat disappointed that I have not tried them because I am unable to purchase them conveniently through the usual sources such as Shar or Southwest Strings.

Heaven is the first month with newly installed set of Ambers or Brilliants.

November 2, 2019, 11:52 AM · Yes; why doesn't SHAR sell Warchal strings? This is nuts.
Edited: November 2, 2019, 3:51 PM · They used to sell us in the past, but we did not make a deal then. It happens in business from time to time. Nevertheless, even if we would renew our cooperation (and I hope there is still a chance to do it in the future), Timbre would be not available there. It is excluded from on-line sales except of our corporate on-line shop. So answering the question thoroughly, you can get Timbre online directly from us. In any case, I would still like to encourage you asking Timbre at your maker or restorer. You might get it even cheaper there. Our stockists are not obliged to keep the official Timbre price unlike us.
November 2, 2019, 9:31 PM · Hi Mr. Warchal,

I am trying to understand your comment about the lack of relationship between string tension and bridge height.

Does string tension simply refer to the force that the string applies to the bridge, and NOT the force that the bridge applies to the instrument?

Thank you!

Edited: November 3, 2019, 1:41 AM · The force that the string applies to the bridge equals the force that the bridge applies to the instrument exactly and always of course.

The string tension means the force that pulls the peg and tailpiece to each other. It is a simplified explanation I admit, since there is string bent on the bridge, so the peg and nut are not pulled to each other perfectly.

So try to understand it so, that the string tension is a longitudinal force, that would pull bridge and nut to each other in case the bridge would be glued on the top (as it is on guitar) and attached firmly to the bridge and nut (instead of tailpiece and peg).

Strings tensions are often described as "gauges". Then, one of them is called "heavy". There is no much sense to me. If the gauge means diameter in English, then the biggest gauge should be "thick" instead of heavy. The best description for particular string kinds would be "weights", in fact (light, medium, heavy), since the tension relates to nothing else than a (mass) weight per inch or mass per its entire vibration length.

The string is a pendulum and a spring at the same time actually. So the tension is the weight of the pendulum in fact.

You have also asked for a force that applies to the bridge or top plate. Such force is in direct proportion to both, string tension as well as bridge height. Increasing just one of these variables leads to increasing the vertical force of course. But note, that increasing the bridge height does not raise the string tension (provided the vibrating lengths will be not affected).

Edited: November 3, 2019, 10:02 PM · Wow- lots to think about- and not enough money or time here.

I teeter between the practicality of steel strings- and possibly moving beyond some very cheap synthetics to something else.

All complicated by being spread too thin on too many instruments I don't intend to stop playing- guitar, piano, harp, ukes- all with their needs and maintenance.

and then the "fun" of advancing age- almost 66 here
At least I currently have two fiddles to keep set up with different strings- which they probably will be for awhile. The synthetics I should have changed last year- the steel string violin has been pressed into service.

The thing that has always attracted me to violin or orchestral strings is the lush texture that no other instruments can convey- the pleasant and pastoral textures and overtones, as opposed to more screeching and rhythmic folk uses, although I certainly enjoy that kind of music too.

I thought I might go heavier on my strings- I guess prompted somehow by some D'Addario video examples, but on further thinking and based on responses here- I may try some more higher quality synthetics soon- but probably try not to spend more that 30-40 dollars- I've cheap ones I should put on right now- and since it's near winter probably will.

Thank you all.

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