15-inch 5-string instrument strings
I have a nice 15" 5-string violin/viola whose setup I'm looking to optimise. The playing length is 14". Initially, I had it setup with the C string wound on the lowest peg on the left side (so the D ends up right at the top of the pegbox). The first strings I put on it were the Helicore viola E string (long scale because I had no choice, but it works fine), Zyex medium-scale viola A, D and G, and a medium-scale Helicore viola C. The E and A strings sounded great, but the D and G strings were a little muddy and felt flabby under the fingers, and the C string lacked a little punch.
Now, I have it set up such that the C string is wound on the top peg and the other four strings are wound as a violin would be wound (so the C is the extra string). I swapped out the G and D strings for some old Pirastro Wondertone Solo violin strings I had lying around and it sounds much better, but the C is still missing its punch.
I now have two related concerns:
1) I'm worried that in general violin strings are just a bit too short for this instrument, so they're being stretched more than they should and might wear out quickly. The violin G and D I put on are old so I'm not that worried about them, but when I replace them I'm guessing I should use something designed specifically for violas. So short-scale viola strings would probably be better for the G and D with the current setup. However...
2) The C string is now wound really high up in the peg box, so it basically requires a medium-scale string otherwise it likely won't stay in place. I'm worried, though, that medium-scale strings are generally not best optimised for an instrument with a 14" playing length. That said, if I rewind everything back to how it was, with the C string at the lowest peg, then certainly the D string and possibly the G have to be medium-scale to accommodate for where they are in the pegbox. But tone-wise that didn't work so well for me. I get that different strings have different tensions, but I'd have thought that it would be better to optimise for string length first before messing around with tension.
Any thoughts on what a good solution might be? For what it's worth, I was thinking of putting a Kaplan Forza C string on the instrument, maybe a G too, but I'm having a hard time finding a short-scale version of the string (there are plenty of mediums).
It depends somewhat on the type of playing you’re doing. If it’s Bluegrass or Jazz, many players use Helicore for their twang. They don’t have much tone color, but they’re quick when playing with a mic.
Hi Rich, I mainly just play on it for myself (trying to learn Bach 6th Cello suite) but I've been using it for classical chamber music, where I switch between violin and viola. The Helicore/Zyex combination 1) was cheaper than Pirastro strings, 2) has served me well on my regular viola in the past and 3) will probably last a while based on prior experience.
Quinn seems to have short scale Forzas.
I don’t think marketing has anything to do with the fact that certain strings work well for certain settings. As an example, Helicore strings aren’t marketed specifically to bluegrass players. They show up in music stores a lot because they’re made by D’Addario, the manufacturer that makes the majority of strings you find on entry level string instruments. This means they might be used for any number of styles of playing. However, among professional players, Helicores are more commonly used for bluegrass and jazz. This is a player preference, not the market.
Andrew, thanks for the suggestion to check out Quinn Violins.
One way to aid oneself in determining which direction to proceed to improve the performance of a particular string is to vary its pitch slightly in both directions and see if the quality of the sound is improved or degraded in each direction: higher pitch=tighter and lower=looser. If loosening improves the pitch then trying a lower tension string might help. There are two ways to select a lower tension string: (1)either get one of the same length but rated "weaker" or lower tensio or (2) select a longer string rated for the same tension because when installed with your instrument's vibrating string length it will have to be loosened to correct the pitch.
Andrew, I have a 14" Karl Meisel viola from the 1950's that sounds great (to me) with Helicores. The luthier recommended the Helicores because he reasons that a small instrument needs to power of the all steel strings. I had Wittner pegs installed and it has the original tailpiece with no fine tuners at all which opened up the sound a lot. However, I may experiment with other strings, just for fun. It's the scientist in me!
Steel strings aren’t really more powerful than synthetics. They can sound a bit louder under the ear, but they’re not louder at a distance.
Basic loudness of a string is a function of how much bow speed and pressure can be applied before it starts to choke.