Strings to tune down

November 10, 2019, 5:24 PM · Since one of my kids is playing the trumpet, and I got tired of transposing on the fly when helping him along with his etudes and pieces, I took one of my tinkering projects and tuned it down to B. It's not a great violin, but not bad either - even and balanced, well playable up to the higher registers, and resonant enough but nothing to rave about. Let's call it a student grade violin, and if it would be in nicer condition without dents and a repaired crack, it might be worth 1,5k, to give you an idea what I'm talking about.
Since I tuned the Tonicas down, it sounds quite cheesy, reminds me of rubber bands. Maybe high tension strings would help?
Any suggestions, be it out of experience or just maths...? But no super expensive stuff please. It's just for faking-a-trumpet :-)

Replies (13)

November 11, 2019, 7:43 AM · Strings are optimized to be played at a certain tension. When you tune down a string, you also drop its tension resulting in the tonal strangeness you noticed.

The math says start with the frequency you want to tune to, say, 494hz for a B. Multiply it by the vibrating string length of the instrument. For a 4/4 violin, that is about 328mm.

494 x 328 = 162,032

The challenge now becomes to find another string whose design frequency times its design length is equal to this same number. The problem is most strings are supplied at 5 frequencies: C, G, A, E, and at set lengths: 328 for violin, and 360mm to about 430mm in a few large steps for violas.

You need to find a string with a design frequency lower than B, and a design length higher then 328 (the vibrating length of a violin). So when you multiply the two values together you get close to 162,032. This requires you to look at viola or cello strings.

Sadly, you have no chance of getting close given the limited selection of strings.

Some suppliers of natural gut strings have calculators that let you input the frequency and length, and it gives you the thickness of the string you need. You then hope they supply a string with that thickness and sufficient length to span the violin.

Anecdotally, I found synthetic core strings can handle down tuning a half step or so and still sound decent. So you might try an inexpensive set of those. Maybe buy both high and low tension versions and see which one works better.

November 11, 2019, 8:07 AM · It's not clear (to me) what you mean by "tuned it down to B." Tuned what down to B? It might be clearer to say that you tuned it down a half tone, whole tone, or whatever it is.
November 11, 2019, 8:29 AM · Trumpets are "in B flat" (in German B becomes H, and B flat become B, for paleographic reasons) meaning that a written C will emerge a tone lower.

You need high tension versions("stark", "forte" etc.) of strings that are already high tension, e.g. Evah Pirazzi, Zyex, Spirocore, Jargar.

November 11, 2019, 10:06 AM · I'm not an expert at violin string design, but I do know that piano string gauges are chosen for how close they will be to their breaking point. The higher the tension when at pitch, the brighter the tone and the less inharmonicity there is (sounds better in tune). However, when you get closer to the breaking point, of course there's a greater possibility of breaking the string, so there's a tradeoff. If you put on a thicker string on a particular pitch, you're not really raising the tension--the percentage of breaking point will actually be lower. It'll project less, and have a warmer, fuzzier sound.

I have to think some of these basic string design principle are similar for string instruments, including a calculation of the % of breaking point, especially because we know that the farther you are from that point the warmer and mellower the tone will be. All you have to do is lower and raise the pitch to see that in action.

I could be totally wrong about this, but my prediction is that if you install higher-tension strings and tune them lower, you will actually be at a LOWER percentage of their breaking point, which will make them sound even worse. It may be that the lightest-gauge strings sound the best.

November 11, 2019, 4:06 PM · Tuned down a tone, a low tension string will be eve soggier than a high tension one!...
November 11, 2019, 4:38 PM · A normal set of Tonicas can be regarded as medium tension, right?
November 11, 2019, 4:42 PM · Improvise a violin capo.
November 11, 2019, 6:02 PM · You could also buy them a C trumpet, if they aspire to orchestral playing they will need one anyway.
November 12, 2019, 5:17 AM · You could check to see if a set of 3/4 size strings are long enough to fit your 4/4 violin.
November 12, 2019, 5:41 AM · Buying a C trumpet won't help a young trumpeter who is still in school bands because he will need to learn to transpose down a whole step to play band music. And if you don't want to do that your child may wonder why you're making him do it.

It's best simply for you to continue to transpose down a whole step on a properly tuned violin.

Edited: November 12, 2019, 8:00 AM · George, the capo would only serve to raise a Bb violin back to C!

Nuskaa, Tonicas exist in 3 tensions, but they are at the lower end of the spectrum, like Dominants and Aricores with Nylon cores.
The newer "composite" cores (e.g. Vision, Evah, Zyex) are all more tense, Some of them as tense as steel cores (Helicore, Spirocore, Jargar)

Edited: November 12, 2019, 8:18 AM · There is a very simple solution: Just pretend that you are playing on a viola and the music is written in octave bass clef. ;)
November 12, 2019, 8:39 AM · Yes, I have sometimes used my viola as a "violin in F" to sight-read cor anglais or french horn ("cor d'harmonie") parts.

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