Thomastik vs Pirastro: Aluminum vs Silver D contradictions

Edited: October 18, 2020, 3:01 PM · I am sure most of you have an opinion about aluminum vs silver Ds, based on experience and personal preference. That is all fair.

However, Pirastro and Thomastik/Infeld give differing sets of facts on which is the darker or brighter string based on winding. Pirastro usually states that aluminum strings sound warmer, while silver, clearer/brighter. Thomastik gives the opposite account-aluminum mixes well with darker instruments due to its brighter sound and higher bow noise, vs the more refined, "darker" tone of silver Ds, which they claim match brighter instruments better.

Most modern synthetics (and even Passione) only offer silver Ds, but I appreciate brand lines that allow the player to choose. In general, I prefer aluminum Ds because of their higher diameter feels better under the finger and bow-I can play with silver no problem, but find aluminum more appealing playability wise, whether brighter or darker. The bow also easily grips the string much more easily, and thus I find them responsive when they are not overly thick (I know silver is supposed to be more responsive... Thomastik claims the opposite, of course.)

In any case, to all of you with experience with both type of wound strings (not just silver) would you kindly elaborate on your experience, and which brand do you find to be closer to the "truth" regarding their conflicting data?

Thank you very much in advance.

Reference link:

https://www.thomastik-infeld.com/en/stringtelligence/tutorial-videos/which-d-string-should-i-choose-for-my-violin-aluminum-or-silver

For Pirastro: on their website, all their product lines with optional Ds (such as Obligato) claim the aluminum version is "much warmer".

Replies (14)

October 18, 2020, 8:38 PM · I’ve found that different instruments seem to respond differently to silver vs. aluminum versions of the same string...the impact doesn’t seem very consistent across instruments.

This probably results from not just the different materials themselves, all else being equal, but also as effects of the differences in tension and thickness (since the aluminum variants tend to be thicker In diameter and also less tense).

October 18, 2020, 11:03 PM · Adalberto, you always seem to be on the same wavelength as I about strings. I've thought quite a bit about the same thing. I think part of it may just be down to the inexactness of words when describing sound quality. The overtones that may make a sound "warm" to one person might be described as "shimmering" or "bright" to another.

In general though I'd have to agree with Thomastik's description. In my experience aluminum Ds are what I would describe as more textured and brighter in sound sound (could also be described as more bow noise). I appreciate that Thomastik has options for silver and aluminum Ds for most of their sets (although not in their Vision Titanium or Rondo range - I wonder why) and I regret that Pirastro does not seem to care for aluminum Ds, having not introduced any new ones in the past twenty years (unless one counts the Tonica reformulation). I believe only Tonica and Obligato have aluminum options out of Pirastro's synthetic catalog. I also am sad that Passione does not have an aluminum D option - for me the high tension silver D option is a dealbreaker in the Passione set, although I find that the aluminum Dominant D works very well as a replacement.

Bohdan Warchal of Warchal strings made a very on-point post about this topic here: https://www.violinist.com/discussion/thread.cfm?page=1241

He commented that silver Ds were less projecting, and had less texture/sizzle, but are more durable and preferred by the general populace due to silver being more precious than aluminum. I do enjoy the sound of the Amber D string -it still has a good amount of texture.

I would extrapolate that strings (and sound ideals) are in general trending towards ever louder, more focused and darker sounds (taken to the logical conclusion, something like a warm trumpet sound). Aluminum Ds are too lively, so silver Ds are used with cranked-up tension in order to produce enough sound. That's why I think in many older sets the D string was aluminum with lower tension than the G string, while in all newer silver D-only sets the D is higher than the G. (a big exception is the Oliv gold-aluminum D, although I don't know if it counts due to the gold content. It has immensely high tension and completely choked up my violin).

In general I've found that aluminum synthetic D strings do the best job out of all synthetic strings of imitating the sound of gut - I think the original Dominant D for example was clearly formulated to replicate the special bright and fuzzy sound of gut Ds and does a good job as a drop-in replacement for wound gut Ds. Tastes have changed though, and I think now people expect perfectly blended strings that don't have distinct personalities - for better or for worse. The most recent sets - Perpetual and Rondo - I think both evidence this trend, as they are focused, very high tension and not too bright.

October 18, 2020, 11:08 PM · I don’t ever use aluminum D strings. They seem to me to be mostly a way to make sets cheaper for bargain hunters. I have yet to find an aluminum D that I preferred. Top quality sets use silver for a good reason. Aluminum wound strings are more prone to breakage anyway.
Edited: October 19, 2020, 1:10 AM · When I was still young and at the Conservatory, I "discovered" the Dominant Silver D, and kept using it for a while until I experimented with other synthetics. Once I experienced aluminum Ds once again via Eudoxa about ten years ago, I realized such a string was what I was looking for, and started preferring aluminum Ds as well whenever using synthetics and there was an option.

It is not about budget/bargain hunting... I sometimes use gold plated Es, which are much more expensive than Goldbrokats, so I am just not looking for a cheap buy. The price difference is not that much regardless, with the exception of the expensive Gold/Aluminum wound Oliv D, which is also a very unique string on its own (in that particular case, the Silver Oliv D makes more sense for many players.) I just like the aluminum Ds in terms of sound, response, and feel.

Mr. Kruer, I finally got to experiment with Dominant light GDA strings since six days ago, and they are working quite well so far, being bright but not tinny sounding-still retaining a deep tone to them. Of course the sound is not "gut like", but it is very beautiful and musical-a classic violin tone (perhaps I am used to that nylon-core sound due to so many great recordings being played on Dominant strings). And they do feel "almost" like Eudoxa under bow and fingers, much more than any other medium synthetic I have ever played on. A plus is that they were not too expensive as a "custom set" with another E ($49.99 US dollars.) The Dominant Aluminum D is quite lovely and "lively", as you mentioned above. And on my violin, they are very even from G to A. Makes practicing and playing a pure joy.

I do still prefer gut, but I love these low tension strings. May experiment later with a medium A instead of light, but at least the tone is not breaking despite the low tension (4.6 kp is quite low!) I have no problems with bowing pressure as I am used to playing other gut strings. The G string resists heavy bow attacks in high positions quite well-no crushed tones whatsoever. I also like the easier, more noticeable bow bite of light Dominants; similar to playing gut strings.

So yes, while adjusting to these strings, I was thinking the same-Dominant light are the most Eudoxa like strings under fingers and bow, and perhaps their light tension variant was meant to mimic the gut feel back in the 70s.

As for Oliv Gold/Aluminum D-for me they are playable only on lower tensions. I did have a similar experience with an stiff D of that kind... the response was pretty slow. This was the string I was addressing when I mentioned above that aluminum strings for me have an easier response unless they are too "thick"-in other words, unless they are the Oliv Gold/Aluminum D.

Many players that use Dominant do prefer the silver D option (Hilary Hahn and a host of other players), but I frankly like the lower tension and "meatiness" of the aluminum D.

I must add that aluminum durability is not a problem for me, as I have no perspiration problems, so I do not kill aluminum Ds or As ahead of time. I imagine players with these issues may almost always prefer silver wound Ds.

I still like Pirastro... it just seems that their marketing/business decisions have been a bit too driven by profits and choosing "what works" for players, rather than giving the musician more options. To be fair, most other string companies are following suit with that "high tension is best" for a dark, powerful tone approach. Even though Thomastik still offers aluminum Ds for sets such as the expensive Pi, they have no desire to provide several tension choices-not helped by youtube string reviewers almost always telling players to go for medium tension anyway the few times there is a choice.

Credit to Mr. Warchal in resisting the temptation to blindly follow the high tension trend in the majority of his sets. Oddly enough, the Timbre strings I did not love because they felt a tad "medium+" for me. Otherwise, most of his sets besides Brilliant and Timbre have pretty nice tensions.

(Larsen original and Tzigane also have comfortable tensions. Virtuoso and Il Cannone are seemingly more "commercial", going for that more "powerful", high tension effect-especially the latter.)

For everyone else: nothing wrong with liking silver wound Ds-please do comment on why do you think they are better (or worse) for you and your instrument. I do find those differing Pirastro vs Thomastik "facts" quite interesting.

Thanks so much for all your thoughts above.

October 19, 2020, 5:17 AM · I don't have enough experience with different types of strings to comment on the aluminum-vs-silver discussion. But I do know that people's perceptions of "bright" and "dark" or "warm" sounds varies quite a lot from person to person hearing the same violin being played at the same time. And I've also noticed in discussions with my wife (she's the real violinist in the family) that what we hear under our ear while playing and what others hear from further away while we play can be very different from each other. So I think any discussion of the brightness or darkness or warmth or coldness of a tone is difficult.

Especially when we take into account that the same string will often sound different on different instruments. So ultimately while we can certainly take the opinion of experienced players into account, it's what works best on our own instrument while we're playing it that counts.

And that requires experimentation, which can be quite costly.

October 19, 2020, 2:50 PM · I confess to being a silver wound D lover. On my violin I find that the silver wound Oliv has better response than the gold/aluminium. I also like the overtones from the silver wound D better and especially when playing high up on the string the silver gives much clearer sound.
On my viola which has a slightly nasal sound on the D string aluminium wound strings tend to enhance that nasality.
Edited: October 20, 2020, 12:18 PM · Silver is denser than aluminium, so the windings would be thinner for the same tension. But there are many factors: the core itself, the "damping" resins (which try to imitate the natural friction of gut strands) and the multiple metal windings.
And there is no reason why two rival brands should plan their strings the same way...
October 20, 2020, 9:34 PM · The “finance manager” at a shop where I once worked got very excited because he found out about a sale on Dominant sets. The boxed sets were cheaper than the strings in bulk tubes, so he bought 50 sets, thinking he’d stock the shop for a while and make a good profit when each set sold. As it turned out, the sale was on the set that has the aluminum D and the regular E. Every time I see a sale on Dominants, it’s on that same set—I know there are a lot of people who make the same mistake, thinking they’ve discovered their strings at a big discount.

That meant two of the strings in the set were completely useless. We still had to buy bulk tubes of silver D strings to set up violins or change strings (I would certainly have felt that customers were getting cheated if I’d handed them aluminum instead of silver, and the last thing I would want to do would be to knowingly hinder the instrument). The shop owner tried putting an aluminum D on a cheap violin or two but quickly decided it was a bad idea. The aluminum D strings just sat and collected dust and the E strings went onto rental violins as replacements.

Aluminum D strings are much thicker and bulkier, so they don’t respond the same way. Also, they require the grooves at the nut and bridge to be deeper, so you have to make adjustments when switching to avoid bowing issues.

Edited: October 20, 2020, 10:58 PM · Mr. Maxham,

I can accept "I like silver much more than aluminum because..." but claiming they are budget, low quality strings I cannot. They are not equivalent of the old Dominant chrome plain steel E. There are also plenty of more expensive aluminum Ds (i.e. Infeld Pi Aluminum D). The market trend is away from them, but I need evidence that they are "bad quality" other than you or your highly esteemed workplace(s) not liking them for "reasons" or them not being what you think people want or need.

If you sweat a lot, you will destroy them faster. This is not a problem with the string. You will also destroy aluminum wound As all the same, likely even faster.

Some may prefer the tonality and response of a silver D, or some violins may prefer it. On the same token, there are many accounts of the same being the opposite.

Mr. Kruer above has suggested possible theoretical reasons why string makers have mostly gone with silver Ds on their sets. Frankly doubt it was they did not want to "cheapen" their lines, but more a business decision compatible with modern trends.

But if all you want is modern and latest, then gut strings are bad quality, sound "muted", and break more quickly than synthetics-another popular, modern, and misleading "fact bit" that people hear and read everywhere.

(Nothing against modern strings or silver Ds, it must be added.)

Be well, and stay safe. Did not mean to offend.

Edited: October 21, 2020, 7:20 PM · Itzhak Perlman and James Ehnes have voiced their preference for an aluminum D, with Dominants and with Peter Infelds respectively.

I prefer the aluminum D for its projection, brilliance, and bow response.

October 21, 2020, 9:53 PM · Mr. Valle-Rivera,

If you read through my comments again, I think you’ll find that I didn’t make any claim that aluminum was bad, just that I preferred silver and my reasons for doing so. My observations are based on my own experiences and those of players and luthiers throughout the field. The silver versions generally get better results in sound and customer satisfaction, but I think it has little, if anything, to do with new technology—after all, silver was used to wrap strings for a very long time before aluminum became an option.

I don’t think aluminum D strings are necessarily cheaply made or that the materials are crude, but they cost less, which makes it easy to market them. Thomastik doesn’t do much with sales on Dominants because demand is high enough to make discounts unnecessary. For that reason, internet shoppers (and in my case, “finance managers”) who are looking to buy strings for less than the retail price in their local shops tend to get a little trigger happy when they see that there’s a sale on Dominants.

Also, you don’t know me at all if you think I don’t like gut strings! I have a great fondness for them. I don’t use them regularly for practical reasons, but I love the sound. I think I’m actually a lot more enthusiastic about early music than most of my colleagues.

Edited: October 23, 2020, 4:00 PM · I agree with Adalberto, in that I prefer the "bow-grip" and immediacy of response of the aluminum D. To me, the silver D's feel like the bow is skating across the string, rather than grabbing.

A Thomastic engineer explained to me that this is because the aluminum winding forms an oxide on the surface, forming micro-pits in the process which retain rosin. This rosin-to-rosin adhesion is greater than rosin-to-metal.

A Pirastro rep told me that they are not polishing and smoothing the surface as much on some of their silver-wound strings, as much as they (and other manufacturers) do on some other strings. The Pirastro Perpetual silver D's seem to grab pretty good. If this "grab" will hold up with extended use and wear, I don't know yet.
The surface texture on the surface of the aluminum will automatically regenerate, whereas the surface texture of a silver-wound string may not.

October 22, 2020, 6:37 PM · I've found the silver d sounds less tinny (no pun intended) than the aluminum during the initial break-in period but after a day or two I honestly can't tell any difference - so I just buy the aluminums because they're cheaper.
October 25, 2020, 3:23 PM · Mr. Kruer, thanks for sharing my post from the other debate. Nevertheless, this was written 30 months ago. It is true that I had been frustrated by about 15% projection drop of silver Ds (compared to the rest of the set), even before starting doing strings, as a professional violin player. On the other hand, aluminum Ds often sounded harsh and did not last long. This is why we have combined these two materials in Amber D string. But it turned to be a good solution only for those not having a problem with salty perspiration (and therefore facing the short lifetime of the string). This is why we started new intensive research again and we have done an interesting finding. This enabled us to design D string I was dreamed of for years. A silver wound D with gut-like quality texture and enough projection. Timbre D differs from any other Warchal D string. The description wrote by me in March 2018 does not apply for this silver wound D much in fact.

I have always tried to provide general advice to the community and keep my posts free of advertising as much as possible. This time mentioning the quality breakthrow without mentioning the particular product is not possible I am afraid. In any case, I would like to emphasize: keep using either silver or aluminum Ds (of any brand of course) in case they have been working for you. There is a real difference between these two materials and their sound picture in D string. You can adjust the balance of your particular instrument by choosing either aluminum or silver a lot. Timbre D is made for those, who would like to have the texture and projection of aluminum combined the sound refinement and durability of silver.


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