Viola A string suggestions?
I've been playing the viola for about 2 years now. I recently upgraded to a nice workshop instrument. I really like the tone of it in general. The harmonics speak clearly and chords resonate very well.
However, it was set up with a Jargar A string, which at first I didn't mind, but it sounds a bit too metallic for me. The rest of the strings are Dominants and really fit nicely with my instrument. I'm not really a huge fan of Dominant As however.
Do you have any suggestions for A strings that might suit my instrument? I know that strings can be a personal thing, but at the same time, I don't have money to blow on trial and error, so if I can narrow it down to just a handful, that would be great.
I would love a string with a tonal quality that sounds more on the smooth side rather than piercing, if that makes any sense.
Thank you for any advice.
I tend to use a Jargar A with Dominant viola strings, but I don’t put that set on most violas. I really like the Larsen A, which I use with Obligatos or Evah Golds most often.
Larsen. Larsen. Larsen. Larsen. Larsen.
Thanks Andrew and Rich. I will definitely look into Larsen. I doubt there is a soundpost issue because it was checked by the luthier when they set it up, but you never know. I guess I'll have to bring it in if. changing the string doesn't help.
I do think that a Larsen A string might help to achieve the sound you are looking for.
I had a similar experience with my William Harris Lee workshop viola that came fitted with a Larsen A and the rest Dominant. I was told that this combination is a popular one but I found the sound of the Larsen obtruded uncomfortably in Bach and chamber music so back to Dominant I went.
Larsen is a very good steel-cored A; you can also try a synthetic-cored A.
I'd be interested to know why nobody has a good word for Dominant's A string? Maybe my last two violas haven't been typical, but when multitracking myself in string chamber music I usually have to attenuate the viola by at least 3dB in order to achieve a balance and the last thing I need is more penetration up top. Don't you think Thomastik may know their business?
I have used all 4 Dominants, and their A sounded well with the other 3.
From my own experience I know it is foolish to make string suggestions for an unseen, unheard viola. I can only tell you of my experience.
Ida - I would suggest you consult your luthier. S/he can hear your instrument with its current strings and propose an A which might better achieve the sound you seek. Larsen may well be the answer, but none of us can hear your viola with its current strings, and different strings sound different on different instruments. So, I suggest you take your viola to the expert who can hear it and make recommendations based on the best evidence. While we may all have significant experience with our violas and the string combinations that work, we have no experience with your viola.
I'm playing obligatos on my viola and the A string is fine.
Thanks for all the responses so far. It's a difficult at the moment to see my luthier as I'm still under quarantine, but I will certainly bring it in after things start to open up again in my area.
Another vote for Larsen, also the Warchal Amber A is a nice string to try.
Have you considered Kaplan? I got a set at a convention and have been happy with them. Otherwise, for A I have liked Corelli, Jarger Red, Vision Solo.
Nobody has yet given a reason why they think it's desirable to have a non-matching A-string, as seems to be the current trend. It's as if the viola's A-string sound is an embarrassment that we're trying to cover up cosmetically.
Steve, count me in on your campaign!
Changing the top string has been a common practice for so long that I would consider it a part of the “old sound.” Heifetz used a Goldbrokat E with his Tricolores.
If I were a Thomastik executive I'd be asking "what are we still doing wrong?" and "what exactly do players want from the A string that ours don't deliver?" They wouldn't be getting many clues from this discussion. Is it too dull? Does it tend to whistle? Rich's description is the most specific on offer; the top strings of many sets "don't work as well". As compared with Larsen the Obligato A entails a "tonal penalty". If you particularly like the Larsen A, why not go for the full set?
I like to test complete sets, assuming (naïvely?) that the makers know what they are doing..
For me it's a specific thing. When I first switched to Larsen A, I was using Dominant strings. The Dominant A string sounded very nasal, at least on my viola. The Larsen A does not sound even slightly nasal.
The Evah (plain steel) e-string is actually made from a different material than the Gold Label e-string, per Pirastro's website.
Ida, I think we don't know enough about your instrument to give solid advice. Is its sound even across all strings, or is it (as too many of her sisters) out of balance and nasal on the D and A? Is it a large or smallish exemplary? What's the vibrating string length?
@Steve if you look at sites like SHAR and JSI they now offer string "sets" that contain various popular non-matching E strings. Marketing imitates life.
@Nuuska The sound is actually fairly even across the strings with the exception of the A. The C string I especially like and would probably not change unless I tried something stellar. I have yet to discover any obnoxious wolfs even in the highest positions. (I actually prefer the sound in the higher positions). It's a 15.5 size viola. I'm not quite sure the exact vibrating string length but I believe it's about 360-370 mm?
Pirastro makes gold-steel, chrome steel, and carbon steel E strings. They just put different thread windings on the bottoms of the strings so that the colors will match for various sets. That means that the Evah, Obligato, and Gold Label are all the same chrome steel string. In the same way the Obligato and Evah gold-steel E are the same string. Fan Tao at D’Addario has said many times that there is really no need for the colored thread at the bottom of the strings, just that it has been the tradition to use thread for such a long time, and that players have an expectation that the colors at the bottom will match aesthetically.
Rich, as I mentioned, the Evah plain steel E actually does have a different core material from the Gold Label E.
I’m well aware of what the website says....
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