Effect of e string gauge on other strings

Edited: June 6, 2021, 8:04 AM · Does a stark/heavy e string increase or decrease the tension on the other strings (relative to a medium e)?

Other than changing the tension of the lower strings, are there any other effects due to e string choice on the lower strings?

Replies (7)

June 6, 2021, 10:01 AM · Tension in a string is a function of the note it is tuned to and its weight. A string's tension, at tune, is NOT affected by the tension in the other strings.

Changing to a string that requires higher or lower tension can affect the response of the bridge and the violin. So it can affect the response and tone of the other strings, but not their tension.

June 6, 2021, 12:21 PM · Each string requires a certain amount of tension to be at the proper pitch. Different e strings that are different thicknesses will require more or less tension. Changing the e will affect the tension of that string, but the other strings will still require the same amount of tension. The overall tension will change, though, which is why changing the e can improve the sound of the whole set.

Using thicker strings adds to the feeling of resistance under the bow and fingers. Players who dig in more often like the feel of a heavy gauge e. A thinner e will sing a little more easily with less bow pressure and will feel lighter under the bow and fingers. You can sometimes use a different string to adjust balance between the whole set, although most of the time an imbalance is better addressed by a soundpost adjustment.

Edited: June 6, 2021, 1:14 PM · The OP is also asking about the propensity of the E string to modify the pivoting motion of the bridge, and the resulting effect on tone / playability.

The short answer is that the differences are subtle and unpredictable. That said, many musicians can notice when their E string has been changed just by the effect on the other strings. I think generally the preference is for a heavier E (and a softer G). Soft steel Es sound awful in my opinion anyway, so I like to use medium or strong tension.

June 6, 2021, 1:27 PM · Hi all. Thanks for your responses. It appears my initial hypothesis of having effects on the tension of lower strings is wrong.

It makes sense that the tension of a string is fixed when it is tuned to the right note. So a heavy e doesn't change the tension of the other individual strings but adds to the cumulative tension of all the strings.

@Carmen @Rich, Does the change in response on lower strings after installing a heavier e string come from the higher pressure exerted on the bridge overall? I would imagine this "tightens" up the bridge-topplate-soundpost connection, which makes the violin more responsive and louder.

@Cotton, You are giving my question more credit than it deserves! I wasn't even considering the pivoting of the bridge. How would the mechanics of a heavy e string work on the pivoting? Maybe it holds in place more the treble side of the bridge so that the bass side can vibrate more freely?

Edited: June 6, 2021, 1:32 PM · Yep, that is the theory. Conversely the G string supposedly allows a bit more motion if it's not as tight.
I have no idea if this is true; I am not a physicist. But the observations seem to hold some water!
June 6, 2021, 2:17 PM · In my experience, a lighter E is not necessary awful-sounding, nor must it be worse for the rest of the strings. So dolce/thin/weich Es are not out of the question for some players.

Not a fan of stark Es in general, though they do work for scores of good violinists and precious instruments. I find that they at times darken the instrument a bit, in lieu of supposed more strength and tonal "girth". For these reasons, I prefer medium or even weich Es, depending on strings.

Edited: June 6, 2021, 8:45 PM · Going from a light to a heavy e string may increase the total tension in the e string by about 4lbs.

But only about 21% of the string tension is directed downwards into the bridge and violin top, so less than 1lb of additional force into the top.

Since the total string tension for all 4 strings is in the 50lb range, you are probably looking at an undetectable change in the violin performance due to the change in e string force on the top.

As the bridge rocks back and forth, the full tension in all the strings will restrict the rocking motion. So now you are looking at a 4lb increase out of about 50lbs, or a change of 8%. That is more likely to give a noticeable change in the violin response.

A change in string tension will also place additional stress into the plate due to the load change at the pegs and the pin. But a lot of this force is taken up by both the top and bottom plates, and the bending resistance of the ribs. So it is harder to get an intuition about what a 4lb change in e string tension will do to the violin sound from that additional load.

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