Why does gold E string sound the way it does?

December 14, 2020, 1:43 PM · Does anyone know the exact scientific reason why gold E strings sound warmer and have more upper overtones than plain steel (assuming you agree)? Plain steel E's ring for a longer time on the open E and have a decent bass, presumably because it's just 1 material, but of course doesn't have the same quality as the gold E. I know that people complain about the Gold E whistling more (which is true) but I don't see why you would trade whistling for a nicer tone, especially since to some degree you can control whistling, but not control the upper limit of your tone quality? It's not that much more expensive either; I bought a Lenzner gold for 5 euros at the local store. Literally a third of the price of the much more famous Olive gold E. To be fair though, haven't tried it...

Anyway enough rambling, just wondering if anyone can explain.

Replies (11)

Edited: December 14, 2020, 2:16 PM · As a chemist, I cannot explain this phenomenon, but I can speculate wildly that the warm sound has its origins in the same relativistic inner-orbital stabilization effects that are used to rationalize the characteristic yellow color of metallic gold.

Now if you believe that, I've got some even more preposterous conspiracy theories that might interest you as well.

Kidding aside, were I to approach this question from a scientific vantage, my first question would be whether the observation itself can be verified empirically. And that is not a matter of whether one "believes" it or "agrees" with the OP. First I would have to define or somehow articulate what it means for one sound to be "warmer" than another, and then I would have to conduct some kind of blind test of listeners with violins having different kinds of e-strings to see if the gold ones really do sound "warmer" to a population of listeners on a statistically valid basis, by surveying their perceptions of the sound according to the provided definition of "warmth".

Only then would I seek the advice of metallurgists and mechanical engineers who might help me delve more deeply into the unique properties of gold that might be responsible for the phenomenon, which might include qualities of the pure metal (density, hardness, modulus, etc.) or qualities of the interface that it forms with the substrate (the steel string), or still other properties that are beyond my expertise or imagination.

Gold forms an alloy very quickly with mercury. It would be interesting to soak a "gold" e string in mercury for some time to form this alloy and see if the sound has changed. Of course, mercury is toxic so you'd have to take appropriate precautions to avoid mercury exposure at every stage of that experiment, and that would be quite difficult. It's a very bad idea and I wouldn't want to try it myself, but it is an item of long-standing curiosity for me. A better idea would be to have strings prepared with a range of gold alloys of varying composition. Perhaps then the "warmth" of one's violin string might be a continuously adjustable parameter that could yield tremendous profits for the folks at Pirastro.

December 14, 2020, 3:08 PM · Ähm... In my experience the "Pirastro gold" is one of the most stable, non-whistling strings, and warm. But I don't know, is it really gold plated or just named like that...?
Kapan golden spiral is something I like, too. While Goldbrokat is easy to whistle with, if need be.
Not an answer to the original question, I know... Any physics geeks around?
Edited: December 14, 2020, 3:36 PM · The Pirastro Gold (Wondertone), which people call "Gold Label", is not an actual gold plated string, it's steel, more specifically, Tin-plated carbonsteel. The "Gold" name comes from the set to which it belongs, funny enough, the other three strings of the set also aren't gold strings, but gut strings. Gold is just the name Pirastro decided to give them.
Goldbrokat is brighter and also isn't gold plated, it's plain steel.

Gold and Platinum plated strings whistle more.

I don't know why gold makes the sound warmer, but it's the same even with rosin, gold rosin (with gold powder) makes the sound warmer. I even use a Gold loop fine tuner, I've heard it makes the sound a tiny bit warmer too x) At least it looks great.

December 14, 2020, 3:43 PM · Gold powder mixed into rosin makes the sound warmer? And all this time I thought warm sound only came from vacuum tubes.
Edited: December 14, 2020, 4:07 PM · I am not into believing whayever I am told. Indeed I question most of what string makers say unless I can corroborate it with personal experience. So please forgive me in believing there are distinct differences between gold-plated strings and other platings, for better or worse.

Similarly, many tin-plated steel Es do not sound the same. While the audience is certain to not hear the difference (it is not as obvious as with gut core vs synthetic), we do, and we also realize what effect any given E has on the string balance and "sheen" of the rest of the strings.

I have seen admittedly rare pictures of some soloists using gold plated strings, though it is not the norm. But I do not think they care about cutting costs-perhaps the "regular" Es may be less risky to play professionally (though once I was the audience of a great soloist for which the regular E string also whistled quite a few times... it just can happen even if you are an excellent player, barring one of the whistle-free steel E strings.) Some have just used Goldbrokats/Gold Labels/Larsens all their life and see little reason to stray from their own tried and true formula.

I think that scientifically some have explained in this forum and elsewhere that the minuscule plating does slow the response somewhat, which results in easier whistling under suboptimal conditions (a slight accident in bow contact/pressure, for instance.) So at least we can confirm the plating does make a difference-tin plated strings can and do whistle during live performance, but the gold plated strings offer less room for error.

Mr. Dong, we must also consider that also, just like Gold Label and Hill does not sound the same as other "regular" plain steel Es, Oliv, Larsen, EP gold plated have their own sound. In my subjective experience, the Larsen whistles more the first few hours, then it hardly does ever again. The Oliv E doesn't whistle much for me. I have not used the EP Gold plated E in a while, but it is different than the Oliv (unlike the Obligato, which is the very same string as the Oliv: both chrome steel with gold plating.)

All I wanted to say is that the gold plated Goldbrokat may be excellent, but may not sound the same as Oliv. So for some people, the $12-$16 dollar range may be acceptable, if they prefer it over the Goldbrokat gold-plated E. That said if the latter sounds better to you, it is indeed a great value for your own situation. I have not tried it, so am unable to provide an opinion.

(Some people are happy to pay for super expensive Pi platinum Es and that is OK if they can afford it and love what it does for their instruments. I do find it excessive, but to each their own.)

A few years back, I noticed the Oliv E was a nicer match with gut strings, but I still liked (and like) the Larsen gold plated E. It is even more brilliant, while retaining body. The Oliv is also brilliant, but gentler in mittel, having a bit more warmth. I definitely love the effect gold plated Es have on the instrument's whole overtone spectrum, regardless of brand.

To the "warmth" point of Mr. Deck, it is indeed subjective, as some people's warmth is not warm enough for others. Regular Goldbrokats are great enough for any soloist and other professionals in the world. Some hate them, some love the cheapness/affordability ratio. Others really love the sound despite the low price (I think the medium sounds pretty fine.) So one could go cheap with regular Goldbrokats and "win". But I must still admit that I find gold plated strings attractive tonally wise, especially as since in my case, the whistling factor is not huge concern at all. The effect it has on the whole violin is just beautiful. I do not even use them for "warmth" that much, but for that very subjective "sheen" (another subjective term) they give to my instrument.

December 14, 2020, 5:02 PM · I suppose by warmth, I'm referring to more middle substance in the note? Lenzner plain E sounds like it has great bass and some high overtones, but very empty in the middle, which for me makes the thin upper overtones stick out with a shrilly sound. The 'warmth' of the middle overtones helps to support the upper overtones of the note, to give it a more cohesive sound, even if it means sacrificing some of the bottom and top to give to the middle. I could be talking out of my ass though lol... I have no idea. But it's really what I believe, also the same for good violins. The really great old projecting Italian violins have a vocal sound closer to EEEE as opposed to AAAH. If you just sing a note with those 2 sounds, the shape of your mouth will produce more higher overtones with the E sound.
Edited: December 14, 2020, 7:50 PM · Can you make the same distinctions in recordings of yourself? I find most of the differences between violins that I'm intensely aware of while playing become pretty insignificant in recordings made just a few feet away, which is not to say they aren't important to me! As for "science", if you have Audacity or similar software you could compare the frequency spectra and see if any differences stand out.
December 15, 2020, 7:26 AM · I can believe that the surface of a string can have an influence on the adherence of the bow. And steel is not just "steel": it blends iron an carbon in varying proportions. Ane string is not just wire, it is "spring" steel, like a a piano string.

Yes, Audacity is useful. I have played four octave chromatic scaled on violin and viola, and Audacity can make a Long Term Average Spectrum (each frequency counted once only). These very fine differences we speak of here are hard to interpret, though. And different strings will make us play differently...

Edited: December 15, 2020, 7:28 AM · I can believe that the surface of a string can have an influence on the adherence of the bow. And steel is not just "steel": it blends iron an carbon in varying proportions. And an E string is not just wire, it is "spring" steel, like a a piano string.

Yes, Audacity is useful. I have played four octave chromatic scaled on violin and viola, and Audacity can make a Long Term Average Spectrum (each frequency counted once only). These very fine differences we speak of here are hard to interpret, though. And different strings will make us play differently...

Edited: December 17, 2020, 1:57 PM · Speaking of...I have switched out my EL34s for Genalex Gold Lion KT77s.The soundstage is much more open resulting in greater detail and depth.Not only vacuume tubes but dont forget the tonearms Paul.Never mind the sonic differences in power cords (i.e copper wire vs.silver, rhodium plated plugs which gives a warmer sound as opposed to chromium).
BTW I use Infeld gold plated Es for their lovely adherence with the bowhair.
Edited: December 15, 2020, 10:28 AM · Aha! There's the trick: they imbue the strings with the power of vacuum tube amplifiers during the manufacturing process to get that raw, natural sound. The gold plating is just a marketing gimmick to divert attention from the true secret.

Gold is dense. Maybe on the relatively tiny scale of an E string that has some minuscule effect? Maybe how it interacts with rosin? Maybe the status of gold as a royal metal makes your violin more confident and to sing in a lower register? Who knows?

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