Famous soloists' string combos

Edited: November 15, 2020, 8:19 AM · I've put together a list of string combos of famous violinists. I'm fully aware this is not the first time this has been discussed (https://www.violinist.com/discussion/archive/6294/ and others). I wanted something more up to date. 

The list below is from an afternoon of Googling for quotes and looking at images. I've deliberately excluded players who are no longer alive such as Heifetz and Milstein because the strings available back then were very different. 

Here are a few of my observations:
- Dominants and Evah Pirazzis are very popular: 15 out of the 20 soloists in this list use either Dominants or Evah Pirazzis as part of their combo
- I added their year of birth to see if there were any patterns. I can't see any apparent patterns in string choice with the age of a player
- Most soloists (16 out of 20 in this list) stick to the same brand for A, D and G

I hope you find this interesting. Any additions or corrections welcome.

Violinist, Year born, E, A, D, G
Itzhak Perlman, 1945, Gold label, Dominant/PI, Dominant/PI, Dominant/PI
Pinchas Zukerman, 1948, Westminster 27.5(?), Vision Solo, Vision Solo, Vision Solo
Nigel Kennedy, 1956, Westminster 27.5(?), Dominant, Dominant, Dominant
Anne-Sophie Mutter, 1963, Kaplan Golden Spiral/Gold label, (?), Dominant, Dominant
Joshua Bell, 1967, Jargar Superior/Goldbrokat extra heavy, Jargar Superior/Evah Pirazzi, Jargar Superior/Evah Pirazzi, Jargar Superior/Evah Pirazzi
Anne Akiko Meyers, 1970, Peter Infeld Platinum, Evah Pirazzi Gold, Evah Pirazzi Gold, Evah Pirazzi Gold
Midori, 1971, Gold label, Dominant, Dominant, Dominant
Gil Shaham, 1971, Jargar Forte, Dominant, Dominant, Dominant
Maxim Vengerov, 1974, Evah Pirazzi Green Gold, Evah Pirazzi, Evah Pirazzi, Evah Pirazzi
Rachel Barton Pine, 1974, Gold label, Vision Titanium Solo, Vision Titanium Solo, Vision Titanium Solo
Julian Rachlin, 1974, Rondo, Peter Infeld Viola Steel Core, Rondo, Rondo
James Ehnes, 1976, Gold label, Peter Infeld, Peter Infeld, Peter Infeld
Janine Jansen, 1978, Evah Pirazzi Green Gold, Evah Pirazzi, Evah Pirazzi, Evah Pirazzi
Hilary Hahn, 1979, Gold label, Dominant, Dominant Silver, Dominant
Sarah Chang, 1980, Gold label, Dominant/Vision Solo, Dominant/Vision Solo, Dominant/Vision Solo
Julia Fischer, 1983, Jargar Forte, Evah Pirazzi, Passione, Passione
Augustin Hadelich, 1984, Gold label heavy, Evah Pirazzi, Evah Pirazzi, Evah Pirazzi
Stefan Jackiw 1985, Jargar Forte, Dominant, Dominant, Dominant
Nicola Benedetti, 1987, Jargar Forte, Evah Pirazzi, Evah Pirazzi, Evah Pirazzi
Ray Chen, 1989, Peter Infeld Tin, Dominant Medium/Peter Infeld, Dominant Silver Light/Peter Infeld, Peter Infeld

Update. Additions/corrections made based on the comments from Raymond and Christian

Replies (31)

Edited: November 14, 2020, 1:35 PM · Per the Thomastik website...

Julian Rachlin, 1974, Rondo, Peter Infeld Viola Steel Core A, Rondo, Rondo

November 14, 2020, 11:28 PM · I’ve seen Perlman sometimes use PIs on A, D and G.

Based on some pictures it looks like Anne Sophie Mutter is using a gold label E string and the A string is some sort of darker blue. So I don’t think it’s a dominant since that’s more of a light blue. The peg end isn’t orange so it isn’t a rondo A. The pictures aren’t very high res once you zoom in a bunch so I can’t see the darker colors like I would be able to for a lighter color like the rondo orange.
The infeld blue A is a more vibrant blue at the ball end and is also blue at the peg end so that’s a possibility.

Rachel Barton Pine uses the vision titanium solos, not regular vision for A, D, and G

I think I’ve seen Sarah Chang use visions of some sort in addition to dominants, likely the solos.

Julia Fischer’s A string is the evah pirazzi green if I’m looking at the same photograph you did along with the passione G and D. However, according to Daddario’s website she is a signed artist who use the Kaplan vivo strings

Augustin Hadelich indeed uses the gold label e string, but in heavy tension

I think Ray Chen sometimes uses A full set of PIs, in addition to some other set that I don’t recognize because the winding at the ball end appears to be black. Possibly a prototype set from thomastik.


November 15, 2020, 8:18 AM · Thanks, Raymond and Christian. Original post updated to reflect your additions.
November 15, 2020, 8:37 AM · Very interesting, thanks for your work!

Anne Akiko Meyer's string combo is the one I have found best on two of my violins - I guess I'll remove the recently installed Rondos and go back to it soon.

November 15, 2020, 10:29 AM · And still no one uses Obligato.
November 15, 2020, 10:36 AM · I used Obl1gato years ago.
I used Olive years ago.
I used Eudoxa (for many years) years ago.
I've used almost every thing.
If I were to plot a "roadmap" of my string use over the past 50 years there would be many additional stops on the route and a fair number of revisits. But generally I have always moved ahead. My planned removal of the Rondos today will recycle back to my choice of the PI-Pt-E and the EPG-A,D,G, skipping past the Ambers in the route loop.

Different strings for different fiddles (and ears).

November 15, 2020, 10:38 AM · Sure, I've also used. But I was referring to the "Famous soloists' string combos".
November 15, 2020, 4:51 PM · Very interesting chart. I suspect most, if not all, of these soloists have sponsorships with either Thomastik or Pirastro. For that reason, I wonder how accurately this chart really presents their personal preferences (as opposed to their contractual obligations).
Edited: November 16, 2020, 2:38 PM · Janine Jansen switched recently to Evah Pirazzi goldsteel, Thomastik Rondo, Thomastik Rondo, Thomastik Rondo
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MwEwpPlb_VE
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wzhk3frB1ao

Three additions:
Leonidas Kavakos, 1967, Evah Pirazzi goldsteel 0.27, Thomastik Rondo, Thomastik Rondo/Vision Solo, Thomastik Rondo on his Stradivari Willemotte seen in Bach Sonata I BWV 1001 for Verbier Virtual Festival and here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9RjyE7xtEI8
On Stradivari Abergavenny he used a full set of PI or PI with E Jargar Red.

Lisa Batiashvili, 1979, Optima-Lenzner Goldbrokat 0.27, Peter Infeld, Peter Infeld, Peter Infeld on her Guarneri del Gesù Donaldson

Vadim Repin, 1971, full set of Pirastro Perpetual on his Stradivari ex Rode

November 16, 2020, 2:51 PM · Oh my, gut is popular!
November 16, 2020, 3:07 PM · Lots of good choices (reminds me of tennis strings,almost too many to choose from). I wonder if some soloists are using strings that haven't been marketed and sold to the larger public. Prototypes perhaps?
Edited: November 16, 2020, 5:44 PM · Gut is "popular", but only relatively so, and seemingly only in these forums. (I understood the sarcasm.)

To be fair, strings such as Passione/Passione Solo are being used by some orchestral players, and a few soloists (I have no names-have read these facts without paying attention to who has used them. Remember Rosand, but also a few of the younger generation.)
Some people still use Eudoxa, and many more Oliv (including a few soloists.) Mr. Shaham used Oliv strings when recording and performing the 6 Sonatas & Partitas some years ago, though perhaps his regular set is synthetic. In one of his interviews I remember him stating that gut is more powerful than what many people thought.

(Tricolore could be used by modern players. It has all the "power" they need, and all the nuance, though I understand at least one person in this forum finds them "weak" under the ear.)

It is pointless to complain about these players' choices. It is not about team gut vs team synthetic, but what works best for each individual, their violins, and their musical applications. However (and for similar reasons), one must not blindly follow what every other famous player uses, or a popular teacher recommends. Thousands use Jargar Forte E-I just found it merely good, and never an outstanding string my violin benefited from. I also generally do not like the tension of many of the super popular strings mentioned above that most players use, famous or otherwise.

November 16, 2020, 7:46 PM · Do gut strings have the same projection/volume as other strings ?
Edited: November 17, 2020, 1:11 PM · No, and it's a nightmare to tune.

@Tuco But do you actually know some non-famous people who use strings other than those two brands?
Most people use Dominants, some use Evah Pirazzi, then a smaller portion use some other Thoamstik or Pirastro variation. There are so many strings from those two biggest brands, for every style and taste, I haven't tried them all. Except for the E-String, I doubt it makes much sense buying from any other.

November 17, 2020, 7:08 AM · If I were going to perform the first two movements of the Brahms D-minor again, on my violin as it was then, I'd fit Eudoxa or Olive, for at least the G-string. But the issues between synthetics and gut are, I think, much smaller than between steel and gut, and I'm not sure that gut really is better.
November 17, 2020, 8:01 AM · I think its about purpose. Soloists need reliability as much as projection and perhaps less nuance than, say, a chamber musician.

Can someone do a similar reveal for top chamber violinists? There the need is (IMO) higher for nuance and of course blending is essential. The fact is, not many of us are destined to have careers or vocations as soloists - but most of us will have for chamber music.

November 17, 2020, 11:49 AM · I think it's more about a trend, with reliability as a secondary reason. Teachers who grow up on synthetics let students know how "safe" these are, and usually steer their students towards their preference. Few of these still teach on gut and promote them, and many previously gut string-using teachers also switched to a synthetic at some point. I grew up on Dominant, tested lots of other synthetic trings, then later was taught again to use regular EP with goldbrokat E. Only started using gut strings much later, and even then still respect Dominant, EP, et. al. not because of reliability, but because of being used to them and knowing the type of sound they are likely to produce.

(I really do not agree that the sound is similar to gut-just a good, alternate tone to choose from that is not as nuanced, and also lacks some-to-a-lot of pliability under bow and fingers depending on the technology used.)

In short, when I use synthetics I do not use them to avoid tuning. I have good working pegs. It's just about a type of sound. As soon as I switch to gut, the violin has a better voice with a more natural and coherent frequency response accross all registers, plus it feels better and easier to play. While I am using Dominant right now, I know that I prefer gut 100%, but still enjoy the Dominant edge and brilliance combined with some welcome depth (and are also relatively easy to play.) I still tune them (synthetics) as I play... I do not think "never having to tune" is a major factor for me.

As of late, Pirastro's wound string options have been very stable (Gold Label, Oliv, Eudoxa, etc.), and the Passione can be almost as pitch stable as a synthetic. They are not taking forever to stretch. Tricolore are very pitch stable as well.

As for "power", the science and some luthiers that do tests tends to favor synthetics, but some synthetics are weak or too dark-voiced (in a failed effort to emulate gut "warmth", IMHO), and often have durability issues tonally-wise. Since many great sounding players have used even the "humble" Eudoxa to sound big and wonderful, I do not feel so attached to the "loudness wars" I was into when I was young. I still love "loud" strings deep down, but have found that I do not have problems with "power" by using gut strings-proper bowing does the work.

I thus heartily disagree with the assessment that gut strings are terrible to tune, are not concert hall worthy due to "low projection", do not last long, and most other cons frequently cited. Many of people that complain about their "cons" have not used them, or were heavily biased against them after their synthetic "conversion", not giving them a chance (players not used to them must often adapt their bowing, especially more for non-Passione strings.)

Synthetics have their cons too-a "dead" (synthetic) core that tends to go duller faster, a tendency towards more tension per mass/diameter, lack of certain frequencies (the frequency losses depends on string make and violin match), and generally more resistance to the bow, especially on the more modern and "powerful" sets.

Having said all of that, yes the Dominant and other "classics" are "old reliable" to thousands of players, and "old reliable" is something these soloists go often for. I was just questioning reliability as a primary reason only concerning pitch. For some players, though, even Eudoxa are/were "old reliable".

(Also, Warchal and other brands make great synthetics-be wary not to pigeon hole the whole "good string" market between only Pirastro and Thomastik. Be well-no offense is intended, and disagreement must not be unwelcome.)

November 17, 2020, 2:47 PM · Further "gut" updates:

Viktorija Mullova, 1959, Westminster 0.26, Dominant mittel, Pirastro Oliv silver, Pirastro Oliv stiff on her Stradivari Julius Falk.

Frank-Peter Zimmermann, 1965, Hill 0.26, Dominant mittel, Pirastro Oliv silver, Pirastro Oliv stiff on his Stradivari Lady Inchiquin.

Gut is not still surpassed by sinthetic.

November 17, 2020, 3:07 PM · "Gut is not still surpassed by sinthetic."
What?! Have you counted how many of them use synthetic?
Edited: November 17, 2020, 6:17 PM · IME, even the "humble" Pirastro Gold Label set is better than ALL synthetics I have tried, all things considered. It is not very popular, but it does sound and play better for me and my violin. Note that there *are* virtues for synthetics, but I agree gut core strings have not been surpassed-there are only good sounding synthetic core compromises out there.

(Read all my previous comments on this site-I do not hate on anyone using synthetics, and am currently using a "popular" nylon core string choice. Still believe gut is special, and "better" than my favorite synthetics.)

The only thing in which I cared about popular opinion being right was the 2020 USA elections.

November 18, 2020, 2:26 AM · David, have you tried using gut strings (especially modern ones like Passione or Oliv rigid?). I don't mean to be offensive here - there's definitely reasons why most soloists today don't use gut core strings - but I think you are overstating the tuning difficulty and especially projection issues. A set of Passione Solo could easily match a set of Dominants, for instance, and I think a set of Olivs could as well, albeit with different bowing technique. I asked one of my old teachers which violinist had the strongest sound in the hall - and he said without hesitation Francescatti, who played on Eudoxa (and Golden Spiral D), but with huge bows glued right next to the bridge and a very pronated bow arm. I think the biggest difference between gut strings and synthetics is in the response curve of the contact points - Pirazzis for example can give you most of their sound in the middle contact point, and will give a bit more closer to the bridge. Eudoxas will only be maybe a mezzo piano or mezzo forte in the middle point, however are easier to play very close to the bridge and the sound difference is huge. Not saying that their maximums are similar - I'm sure Pirazzis will be louder at their maximum. In a way Eudoxas are a luxury string for orchestra playing - it's very easy to play different shades of piano and mezzo forte without needing to lighten the bow (which is more tiring than digging in for me). For a modern soloist, the opposite is more valuable and I'm sure they value the easy to get loudness of synthetic strings, since they rarely have to play a true orchestral P or PP but constantly need to worry about projecting their maximum.

I won't pretend that tuning isn't worse than with synthetic strings, although since both my home and the concert halls where I work are climate controlled it's not a huge issue as long as I give 10 minutes of warm up time before rehearsing or performing starts. Where I live is tropical so everything is air conditioned - it actually keeps humidity more consistent than in more varying climates. Since the A string is the most sensitive, a compromise is to use a synthetic (or steel, as in the old days) A. With a Eudoxa D and G and an Aricore-Eudoxa A my violin remained perfectly in tune after a performance of Beethoven 5.

For what it's worth, the concertmaster of my (salaried) orchestra plays on Passione, and says he gets over a year's work out of one set! I also know other orchestral musicians who use gut strings, mainly Passione.

Edited: November 18, 2020, 8:23 AM · David, for me gut strings rest unsurpassed for quality and color of sound. And playing experience is different and more satisfying, as described by Adalberto and John.
F. P. Zimmermann said that he got the best from his Strad only with Oliv strings, as Salvatore Accardo suggested him.
I played for many years before with Eudoxa stiff, very fast response strings, and after with Oliv, more powerful and deep in sound especially in the G string, until I switched to Dominant and Jargar Superior only for cost and reliability, surely not for sound or tuning.
If you are lucky, a gut string can play for 9 months or more, but often you can break it after two weeks...
A Dominant set last for 3 or 4 months, a bit more for Jargar, with no breaking accident.
Unfortunately Passiones are too much different for response and sound from Olivs, especially Solo version, with a very slow response ie a very long attack transient for me.
Recently I rediscovered two VERY OLD but unused G and D Eudoxa in the tube of a my old case, and now they work flawlessly on my Lanaro 1972 violin, without tuning troubles.
The real question is the quality of the gut core.
The gut was much better many years ago...
Edited: November 18, 2020, 8:01 PM · @John, Symphonic orchestra?

I'll have to give Olives a try some day then... First, I'm waiting for my PIs and Warchal Vintage to arrive, will try those first, to see if one of them can replace Titanium Solo as my current favorites.
After using Obligato for years and now Titanium Solo, I already notice a considerable difference in break in time and tuning stability when using Dominants again. That's why I think gut is "scary". Especially if you can break one after two weeks. Imagine breaking a string just before or during a performance. I never break strings, only very rarely a E-String, but I always have a Goldbrokat in my case, it's ultra cheap and has instant breai in time.

November 18, 2020, 7:25 PM · Mr. Duarte,

Scaramella's quoted situation of a gut string breaking early is very rare. In my experience, the windings *may* fail first. If you play them a lot but take good care of them, they will outlast synthetics tonally wise for sure. Organic gut is quite resilient to wear, unlike synthetic cores.

The more delicate wound gut strings tend to be the As, and the Oliv silver wound D. Luckily, for Oliv pricing standards, these are the most affordable, and thus easily replaceable strings. The aluminum wound string windings tend to also fail faster for people with sweaty hands (I am lucky that does not apply to me-they really last for long in my particular case!) The silver wound or gold/silver wound Gs last "forever". Do not be afraid a gut string will break during your Chaconne performance-these incidents are very rare. Many gut strings that do break do so while the violin is stored away in its case for a while and the strings going up in pitch due to weather changes. For people with one violin (or several violins that are used frequently) it would be very improbable that gut strings will break, barring user abuse (which is not to say Scaramella's story isn't true.)

The most frail gut strings are plain gut Es, which we are not taking into consideration in this discussion. I have never had a gut string snap on me-to be fair, nor have synthetics. Steel Es breakage is of course more common. I would not put too much stock on people's fear of gut strings having a short life span... when I change them, I do so not because of the tone dying, but due to wanting to "refresh" the sound. A year old Eudoxa/Oliv GDA will sound better than a similarly used year old famous synthetic set. No offense intended, of course.

(You can always try Passione or Passione Solo if that would be your first experience with gut, then go from there. They do not sound quite like Eudoxa/Oliv, but will open a new musical world for you-you will notice the difference.)

Edited: November 18, 2020, 8:03 PM · Interesting review, he says their tuning stability isn't that great.
he even makes the comparison to Olives, Olives seem more attractive to me.

Edited: November 18, 2020, 9:38 PM · Well, I prefer Oliv too, especially if I am going to spend so much already. But Passione were generally pitch stable strings when I used them. I have seen his review before, several times. I did test Passione Solo some 8-9 years ago-Pirastro was kind enough to send me a test set back then. I am not as concerned as Mr. Streuff with having to tune occasionally. But I feel Oliv have a "better" sound for that price. If Passione/Passione Solo were in the realm of the price of Eudoxa strings, they would be more attractive for me. But even Eudoxa have a more beautiful and nuanced tone than Passione-even if both would be priced the same, I feel going for Eudoxa would not necessarily be a lesser choice.

When I first tried gut strings, I was young and foolish-now I am no longer young. So I won't count those experiences. Barring those experiments of youth, my "first" gut strings came much later, with regular Passione, if I remember correctly, one gauge below "mittel" (do not remember exact diameters.) That brought me to gut strings forever. So for all their compromises, I feel the Passione are not bad, and am glad some professionals do use them. It was really a "wow" experience at the time.

Oliv vs Eudoxa-try Oliv first if you are used to your Titanium Solo. They do not sound alike, of course, but mostly have a medium sort of tension feel. Eudoxa have a different tone, but are not really "worse" than Oliv. Both could be used by modern players for sure (as well as Gold Label, Tricolore, etc.) Eudoxa can be made to sound more brilliant if you use a brilliant E string (not the Eudoxa wound steel E-the Goldbrokat E would help.)
I also love a brilliant sort of violin tone, and do not find gut strings dull (Obligato can be a bit dull after their initial, more exciting tone-they do not sound like gut, for all their warmth.)

Best of luck. All of those sets you have already ordered are good synthetic strings. Warchal Brilliant Vintage are underrated-were really good when I used them.

November 20, 2020, 8:59 AM · Hello David, yes - well, technically the name is Hong Kong Sinfonietta - we are still a (smaller sized) symphonic orchestra.

I have to say I've never broken a gut string, although I have mainly used synthetics so maybe it's not a fair comparison. I did have a Dominant G string snap while the violin was in the case once, though. To be honest, I've probably restrung my Oliv rigid G around 20 times (!) on my violin, and it's still going strong. Although what I'm currently using is an Eudoxa rigid G and D with Passione A - all lightest gauge (with my violin less seems more).

Pitch is another issue of course, I would say that G and D strings aren't as bad as the A strings - so if you want to try Oliv, I would suggest Oliv rigid G and D and Passione A string (probably regular type). The Oliv A has a bad rep and I've found it not so great myself.

In terms of break in time also, guts are not great, although in my experience they are fairly reliable in terms of tuning within a day. Gut A strings however can take longer to break in playing wise - they can make some truly strange sounds when first mounted.

All in all I doubt you be swayed to gut strings forever and forever, but I think it is educational to try them! Olivs are expensive though, so for a starter set I would recommend Eudoxa rigid G and D with Passione A (medium to start out) and your choice of E string (I'm using Oliv medium). You'll get the sense of what tuning and playing is like without breaking the bank. Oliv will be much higher tension (specifically the D string) and a bit louder, but are very expensive (you want to stick to the Rigid versions of both). I actually prefer the sound of the light gauge Eudoxas on mine - more bright and responsive. Ssomeday I'll have to try the light gauge Oliv rigids, but they are bloody expensive.

They will seem very strange at first if you've never tried playing on them before, so don't give up on them immediately - you'll have to use more bow and a closer contact point (which is a bit easier than with synthetics in my experience). I'm not going to pretend that you will likely choose them permanently, but I think trying modern gut strings once (especially the non-Passione) is an educational and eye opening experience. You'll understand a bit more about the bowing styles of the old violinists.

November 24, 2020, 4:54 AM · Another thing to consider about gut strings; something that helps with stability and life span is that some people soak their strings in oil before installing them and then also oil them frequently while the string is on the instrument. Of course, I have always done this with my unwound gut strings but recently discovered that every single viola da gamba player I know oils their WOUND GUT strings as well ! So I thought, well I can try this too and the worst that could happen is that I would have to replace a set of wound gut strings. After one year of oiling wound gut strings, I can report that I now oil all of my wound strings and wish someone had told me about this 40 years ago.
Edited: November 24, 2020, 4:01 PM · Even if I have the curiosity to try them, I don't believe they can be strings to use, but only strings to play for yourself at home, as projection seems to be a real issue and of course the tuning inconvenience.

November 24, 2020, 4:17 PM · I have had some decent results from Passione, but not Passione Solo. I found that those gave the impression of more power, but at the expense of all flexibility and variety of tone. YMMV, of course.

Guts I am using now (in various ways) are Eudoxa (with wound E) and Supersolo (with unwound A and even D now). Actually, I haven't done a full wound metal-on-gut Supersolo set, so I have no idea how that would do.

I did once try the all-wound version of the Tricolore-- sounded much better than the Heifetz menu on that violin, but never stopped stretching. Like an inch or two a day, for weeks. Anyway, if not defective, they might have been a useful find.

November 24, 2020, 8:46 PM · Nah, I am certain gut strings can be pretty powerful. It is up to the violinist. I am sure experienced modern gut strings users would shrug and smile at the prospect of their violins having weak projection due to gut, because they know how well they work in practice.

The Gamut Tricolore were very powerful last time I used them. I used wound gut G&D, plain gut A, and a goldbrokat. Never gave the impression of a weak tone.

I assume some violins may do poorly with gut, but most violins in the world, good and bad, used to be played with gut pre-Dominant era.


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