Dull-Sounding Viola A-string
I've been playing my Stefan Petrov 16.5" viola for awhile now. It's a Strad pattern. I'd describe the sound as sweet, clear, not too dark or bright. Not nasal at all. It came with Warchal Brilliants and a tailpiece that was too large and had the ugly brass fine tuners on it. The afterlength was way too short.
The C-G-D strings sound very good. The G-string in particular really rings and has great sustain. But the A string has NO ring or sustain, like it's too tense. Not too quiet, just too dark. The other strings ring; the A just sort of goes Thud.
I got a Wittner Ultra tailpiece, a set of Kaplan Forzas and took it to my luthier. He examined it carefully and said it's a "very good viola." But the setup left much to be desired. He carved a new bridge, put on the new tailpiece, trimmed and moved the soundpost and put on the new set of strings.
It still sounds sweet and clear, only now it projects better. The G string still rings the best. But the A-string still has no ring or sustain.
He re-adjusted the soundpost and tailpiece and got a little bit more sustain from the A, but not much. As an experiment, we tuned the viola down to A=415 to see if lower tension suited it. No go. The A still sounded dull and the whole viola sounded worse.
After a new setup and with different strings, both the G and the A still behave the same way in relation to the other strings, i.e. nice C and D, great G and dead-ish A. Perhaps this is just the way my viola is built?
Any suggestions for an A-string with more ring to it, or even a (moderately priced) different set to try? I'm looking for shimmer, overtones, sustain on all the strings.
You should be so lucky! Or play the violin?
Adrian wouldn't like this suggestion, but most viola players would:
Thanks for your input. I was hoping you guys would chime in.
That's the same vibrating string length as my two 16" violas and I have found that the "long" viola strings work best for me even though their posted tensions are for a longer vibrating length.
That's interesting, Andrew. How do they feel to play? Do they feel at all flabby?
Amrita, there is nothing flabby about any of my viola strings - and there never has been. In my initial ignorance I have always bought the longer strings because of the length of my violas' bodies.
Thanks, Andrew. I think you're on to something.
Have you tried the Larsen A? That tends to be the best string to use with many sets.
OK, I'm apparently alone in wanting a warm A, but I must experiment with Trevor's solution of low-tension synthetic C & A, and metal-cored G & D.
Adrian, re your post of January 9, 2021, 5:12 AM, I think it was Andrew Victor's suggestion, not mine, for mixing types of string, as he said in his post of January 8, 2021, 4:59 PM. It appears it was a suggestion emanating from Ifshin Violins anyway - a good one, in the past I've used variations of it on the violin.
Adrian- you're not alone in wanting a warm A-string. I don't play violin because of the piercing shrillness (to my ear) of the E-string, and don't like it when the A-string sounds like that.
OK. My viola's VSL is 14.75". My current Kaplan Forza set is "Long scale" in Medium gauge. It's for a VSL of 15".
Anita, you are right, "dull" is not the same as "warm".
My A-string rings like a wooden bell. That's what I mean by dull.
Amrita, my opinion is that reducing tension is the way to go. Both lower-tension strings and using a string designed for greater vibrating length will do the trick.
You're right, Andrew. It's simply too much tension. As an experiment I tuned the A string down to G, whereupon it had decent sustain. Then I tuned the other 3 strings down a note. They all had a little more sustain except for the G which was already great. That string seemed a little happier as it is.
I have the same problem in one of my violins, but I suspect that it's because the soundpost moved and the bridge is warped on the E-string side, because I used to have two fine tuners which I tuned for a really long time without touching the pegs much. I get low sustain with a high tension E but also the same with a 0.26 Goldbrokat E that is low tension in comparison. The violin is waiting for a new bridge and for a setup checkup.
Amrita, I really don't know which approach to getting a better A string is preferable. You might try down-tuning your A less than you did and see what pitch begins to give you the "sustain" you are looking for.
Just to say that lowering any string by one semitone lowers its tension by about 9%.
Some players,including me, will Prefer a Viola A string sound that is nasal, edgy, melancholy. When some composers give an A-string solo to the Viola instead of the Violin, it is because they want that distinctive sound. A similar thing happens on the Viola C string, which sounds thick, fuzzy, heavy, compared to the same notes on the Cello. Going back to the earliest Baroque string orchestra scores (1550-1700) we sometimes see 2 Viola parts, small and very large; doubling the vocal alto and tenor parts. Less expensive than the already mentioned Jargar or Larson A would be the two titanium wrapped Viola A strings from D'Addario, Helicore and Kaplan.
Joel, it's a Kaplan Forza A that's giving me trouble. The Warchal Brilliant A was too tense as well.
I use Tonica sets (with their synthetic A...) on both my violas, one narrow and nasal (viola mezzo?), the other tubby and wide (viola contralto?) with the same VSL (14"). If my dear friends really want a trumpet-like A, I keep a Jargar in reserve.
I ordered two Warchal Amber A's in the metal helix design- one in small and one in large. Hopefully one of them will do the trick and lessen tension across the board.
Adrian, I'm not aware of a Tonica steel-core A. Could you please direct me to where you are able to buy one?
Andrew, I fear I am mistaken.
No one has mentioned, and it might be useful, that what you are experiencing is most likely a wolf note. A wolf affects a set of notes surrounding it, making them all strange. On a viola, depending on size, this can happen on or near that A and to some extent all of the first position notes on that string.
I tried your suggestion, Michael, and played all the strings up to their highest positions to hear how the A sounded. It never sounded like a mess, still just dull on the low C. My luthier didn't find any wolf notes when he adjusted it, but who knows? Maybe you're on to something. (I hope you're wrong, though)
Amrita, Sorry I can't picture the problem you describe.
Hi, Andrew! Here's what the D'Addario rep said:
No! I have never had this experience. How did the rep explain it?
Thank you, Andrew. Makes sense.
Amrita, is it humid where you live? Like I said, I have one violin in the same situation, the humidity level here is usually between 80% and 100%. I've put the violin in a room that has a dehumidifier, so in this room, the humidity is around 65%. After letting the violin there for 24h, the sustain and brightness of the E-string increased.
Thank you, David. To answer your question, I live in a desert with very low humidity. The humidity in my case is usually around 30%. Today is a rare rainy day and the outdoor humidity is only 66%.
What do you mean which size?
By "size" I'm referring to the discussion above with Andrew.
I don't use that chart anymore, it's not correct. I check the official website of the maker.