Individual string tension relation to volume

March 3, 2020, 1:55 PM · I've been experimenting with different tensions for individual strings and I was curious how it relates to the overall volume of the violin. Would you think the volume of the instrument is determined by the net tension on the instrument or by that of the individual strings? In other words, if you use heavy gauge G and D strings with lighter gauge A and E strings with the total combination equalling around the same tension as a medium gauge set, would the instrument as a whole sound about as loud as the medium gauge set across all strings, or would the G and D be louder and the A and E quieter? Or a bit of both?

Replies (12)

March 3, 2020, 2:58 PM · I am inclined to think the change should be tonal more than volume.
March 3, 2020, 3:11 PM ·
I had a decent violin, but it had a weak G, I put on a heavy gauge G and the volume increased sufficiently, so I would think gauge would tend to increase volume with heavier gauge, but if the instrument is in any way weak, it may backfire and overload the violin so there is no increase in volume.
Edited: March 3, 2020, 3:46 PM · I agree with Michael, more tonal and response. Higher tension equals less response.
I would advise agains't using anyting other than Medium. Inside the medium category, you have many different strings with higher or lower tension, that difference already makes a very noticeable change to your violin.
Light and heavy types are basically for "weird violinis" or violins that some kind of problem, like poorly fixed cracks, etc.
Edited: March 3, 2020, 6:25 PM · As someone who plays on gut strings, I've had plenty of fun playing with this idea.

As strings get heavier, they start to bring many desirable qualities—a loud, boomy sound, more volume, more dynamic range. But too heavy and the strings will become much too resistant to your bow. More tension = more energetic vibration, but past a certain point the string becomes unusable. So what I do is look the maximum possible tension for each string that still leaves the string responsive enough to be played on.

But there are some quirks, too. I personally like to keep my G string a bit lighter than the other strings because it seems to free up the rest of the instrument. That's in a tonal sense, though—the actual dB level of the strings is mostly individual to each string based on tension and a myriad of other properties.

March 3, 2020, 7:00 PM · Heavier gauges as Cotton notes work great for gut strings. Wieniawski and Paganini used A strings that measured to 17PM. I’ve never seen a review of one of their performances criticizing their lack of ‘response.’ It takes a lot of experimentation to see what works for you and your violin.
March 3, 2020, 7:21 PM · I have an interesting data point. I met Aaron Rosand in South Korea a long time ago and he said he usually liked gut (Eudoxas or Olive) but that on the road in weird weather zones he used light gauge Dominants, which he said behaved about the same and were equally loud.

Something to think about....

Edited: March 4, 2020, 12:18 PM · My experience over many years on a number of instruments has informed me that it depends on the instrument.

Higher tension strings have choked the sound of some of my instruments while lower tension strings have released their sound and tone. Some strings that other people rave about have sounded "dead" on one violin while being outstanding on another and vice versa; Tricolore/Goldbrokat and Warchal Timbre are outstanding examples of such strings in my experience. The best overall setup I have found for the 4 violins I still have has ended up being Evah Pirazzi Gold (EPG) A, D, G topped with Peter Infeld Platinum E - but two of them are even better with Warchal Timbre sets - to my ears.

On my #1 viola, I finally settled on Pirastro Permanent D & G strings and Dominant Weich (low tension) A & C after 20 years of experimenting. My other viola seems to be tolerant of all strings I have had on it over the 47 years I have had it. It is great under a full set of EPG, while viola #1 can't tolerate them.

I fully understand what Rosand meant - in fact, it was reading years ago what he said (quoted above by Danton) that first led me to try lighter gauge strings.

March 4, 2020, 10:35 AM · I think that it is more about balance. More tension is not always "better". Something like a Stainer or Amati might not react to the higher tension with more of anything. A heavier built instrument might like/want more tension. How tight the post is and what sort of bass bar would also figure in.
I am generally not in favor of stark/heavy tension strings. Too many pull-ups and neck resets...
March 4, 2020, 10:36 AM · Rosand used a light gauge plain unwound gut A-string (approximately 14PM) by Damian Dlugolecki. He had a very light touch and I remember he specifically told me how he hardly used any bow pressure, unlike someone such as Michael Rabin who used a lot of downward pressure to get that big golden tone. For someone like Rabin, a heavier gauge would probably be more ideal.

A few summers ago when I went over to Mr. Rosand’s house for cigars, scotch, and watching the Yankees/Redsox game, he had his J.B. Vuillaume sitting out next to the window. It was strung with Pirastro Passione G, and D, a plain gut A by Damian Dlugolecki and a Pirastro Gold Label E. He did use the the Dominants mainly in hotter weather. I do notice a big difference in tonal characteristics when gut is used - especially plain unwound gut.

Edited: March 4, 2020, 12:12 PM · Rosand used this ... Perlman uses that ...

Of course, those are all good things to know and interesting and potentially relevant to the discussion. So I'm not dissing those remarks at all. They are wholesome contributions to the discussion.

Sometimes I do wonder though. Let's say a violinist like Rosand discovers that he can get a gorgeous playable sound using some weird combination of weich strings or whatever. Next step would be to have the manufacturer wind them with custom silks so they look like Dominants. Then, whenever he is asked, instead of having to explain himself for an hour (and potentially revealing a trade secret), he can just point to his silks and say, "They look like Dominants to me."

March 4, 2020, 1:08 PM · When I started viola in the '60s there was only gut vs steel. I chose steel for reasons of budget and adjusted the viola accordingly. The arrival of Dominants changed all that, although for a recording session I went back to gut cores.

I found higher tension strings give an immediate boost in terms of sheer volume, but the finer timbre is crushed in a week or so.

Edited: March 9, 2020, 10:10 AM · I am not an expert, so this will be subjective. Of equal importance to the tension of individual strings is the total force of the set on the top plate. I think it is something like tuning a drum or banjo head. Not enough tension sounds slow and flabby, not enough response. Too tight chokes,crushes the sound, is prevented from optimum vibrating. (I also play in a drum corps!) The total force is also dependent on the angle that the strings have with the bridge (vector trigonometry!). In practice that angle is not standardized, each bridge is custom fitted to the arch of the top and the angle of the fingerboard. I have one cheap violin with a bridge/fingerboard that is too low. I use high tension strings to help compensate. Another of my violins is modern, solidly constructed, and it surprised me by preferring low tension or gut strings. My larger Viola prefers a low tension C-string. We experiment, which costs money. Or your experienced Luthier will have some intuitive insight.

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