Helicores for Viola?

July 10, 2021, 1:26 PM · I'm curious to hear people's experiences using Helicores on their violas. There's not a lot of talk about them in this forum and what there is usually ranges from "hated them" to "they're not as good as x-y-z strings."

Why? They have a rope core and similar windings to Forza, Spirocore and Pirastro Permanent. They come in three gauges and they're like half the price. Why are they not more loved?

Replies (26)

Edited: July 10, 2021, 4:08 PM · I have had a lot of experience with them on a number of instruments (mostly violas, but a few violins) over the years.

I think what makes them unique is that they tend to respond very quickly - even in heavier gauges. They tend to be unusually thin in diameter, as users will see. At the same time, they are warm sounding, enough to allow them to be very suitable for classical playing.

However, I don’t think they have a terribly complex sound, even compared to other rope core strings. People wanting complexity should probably look elsewhere.

I definitely think they’re worth a try for those wanting a fast response, and they are definitely a good value.

I have also found them reasonably long lasting, and longer than the (to me) less focused but more complex-sounding Forzas.

July 10, 2021, 2:24 PM · Thanks, Andrew.

Have you used the light gauge? Since Helicores are thin in diameter to begin with, might the light gauge feel too narrow or sound too thin?

July 10, 2021, 2:28 PM · Good to know, Andrew. I've got tone to burn but I need a little more responsiveness. I have Obligatos on my viola now. I was considering Rondos but might consider trying Helicore if they're that cheap.
Edited: July 10, 2021, 4:15 PM · I just got a viola a couple of years ago, but I have fiddled around with various strings on my cello and violin since 1980. My viola (a regraduated 1930's nothing special) came with a new set of Helicores, and I like the sound so much that I have never wanted to change brands...had the impression from the forums that Helicores were the usual string for a viola.
July 10, 2021, 2:50 PM · In my individual experience which is like nobody else's because I have a different instrument and play differently, the Helicores give good response and tone though I have had the core of the G string snap on two occasions while the other strings sounded fine still. Both times it appeared that the core had corroded. Once the string broke in the silk at the bottom and the other time in the pegbox. I am satisfied with these strings and haven't tried any others. Perhaps if viola were my primary instrument I would feel differently. But I stay with them as they are good enough as the Dominants are good enough on the violin. I am not at the stage where my sound is much affected by strings. I do prefer lower tension. Decades ago, the Super Sensitive red label E string on my production Roth was like playing a cheese slicer. Ow!
July 10, 2021, 4:07 PM · Hi Amrita, I did try a light-gauge G on viola once, out of curiosity. I also tried the light-gauge violin strings a long time ago.

I had no surprises. I don’t think they sounded too thin or otherwise had issues with the diameter. It just depends on your / your instrument’s particular needs.

July 10, 2021, 6:26 PM · I used to recommend Helicore strings to my beginning cello students (with cheap cellos) because they were inexpensive, responded easily and produced a nice "uncomplicated" sound. For my own instruments I generally want strings that will produce big sound and all the overtones my instruments can amplify.

At one time I had a 5-string 14-inch violin/viola (but it was cheap and had poor response and poor sound). Helicore sold strings that worked specifically for such an instrument (a set of 14-inch viola strings and a violin E string) - but they were not magical enough for me to keep the instrument. Even though it came from a "reputable" violin shop in the Boston area, I really could not expect much for $300 (an "on-sale price") in this century. The bridge that came with it was too bulky even for a full size viola. Things did improve when I repurposed a 4/4 violin bridge, but not enough - I never blamed Helicore!

July 10, 2021, 8:17 PM · I have Vision solos with Larsen A on my viola, but I’ve been itching to try the rondo viola strings since I love the violin ones so much. According to Rich Maxham on another thread (String Changing) they are amazing strings and professionals who have tried them love them. He also said he thinks they are the best viola set available right now and that the whole set is good so you don’t have to change the A string. I might take his word for it and not even order a Larsen A like I was originally going to when I buy the Rondos.

Anyone ever tried a Jargar Forte Viola A string? I use the Jargar Forte E with Rondos for violin and I’m curious.

July 10, 2021, 10:04 PM · I’ve always found Helicore to be tinny. They’re commonly used on rentals or school instruments because they’re cheap. They do have a decent lifespan and aren’t as awful as Prelude or Red Label, two other sets that are often chosen for their price, not their sound.
July 11, 2021, 12:07 PM · Helicores aren't cheap.
Edited: July 11, 2021, 12:41 PM · It depends what you mean by "cheap."

Compared to a set of Evah Pirazzi Gold ($128.65), Peter Infeld ($171), or Larsen ($135), a set of Helicore for viola ($51.10) is substantially less.

(today's prices from Concord Music)

July 11, 2021, 12:52 PM · "Less" doesn't mean "cheap." Some of the strings you mention are overpriced out of hype.
July 11, 2021, 3:21 PM · 50 bucks is pretty cheap for a set of viola strings these days. The Rondos for viola are $159.95 for the set which is quite expensive, but if they last as long as the violin ones do (or longer since they’re viola strings) I think depending on the person it might be worth it. It certainly sounds worth it for me. The rondos on my violin are 3 months old now and they still have a nice edge to them where other sets would have been significantly more tame by now. I haven’t lost any response either. They still respond the same way as when I first put them on. At this rate I might get 5-6 months out of rondos when I normally have to change strings every 3-4.
July 11, 2021, 9:24 PM · It’s not always the case, but you do generally get what you pay for with strings. Compared with other common viola string sets like Evahs, Evah Golds, Obligatos, or Rondos, Helicores are on the low end of the price spectrum. Yes, they’re more than the bottom-tier steel strings or the fake sets on Amazon, but those aren’t really a fair comparison.
July 11, 2021, 9:50 PM · One possible reason why D'Addario strings are less expensive, at least in the U.S., is because they're made here. They're not imported.

Someone please correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe that once upon a time, Tonica's were introduced as Pirastro's answer to Dominants. Dominant raised their prices, Tonica did not. To this day, most people using Dominants probably assume that Dominants are superior to Tonicas because Dominants cost more and more people use them, because they cost more and more people use them... This despite Dominant's metallic edge when new and their E string that most everyone complains about.

From what I've read, John Pearse strings are, for all intents and purposes, identical to Dominants, yet hardly anyone uses them because they're "cheap."

Helicores have similar rope-core construction to Spirocore and Pirastro Permanent. If D'Addario charged $100 per set for them, would they be more popular? Or are they really inferior in sound or quality to the more expensive Permanents and Spirocores?

Edited: July 11, 2021, 10:15 PM · $50 is very inexpensive for viola strings, keeping in mind that a set of viola strings typically costs about twice as much as the same brand of violin strings. A set of Tonica viola strings runs about $70.

BTW, D'Addario strings were very expensive for a while last year because of supply chain issues. But I finally checked and found their Kaplan Amos back at pre-pandemic prices about two months ago. For months, most D'Addario strings seemed to be selling at 30-50% above normal prices.

July 11, 2021, 10:15 PM · But Tonica makes good viola strings!!
July 12, 2021, 2:47 AM · I've never tried the tonica viola strings. I've used the violin ones before, and they were quite good for the price. On one violin I had, I preferred them to dominants. And I was able to use the entire set because they had a good E string, although I usually still substituted it for a gold label E. At less than $40 a set, I certainly didn't mind changing them whenever this got old.
Edited: July 12, 2021, 9:17 AM · We shouldn't confuse tension and guage: the latter depends on the materials used.
Helicore mediums are less tense than Corelli synthetic strings, and much less than medium Spirocores.

I wish someone could find the tensions of Jargar viola strings..

I note that amongst A-strings, all steel cores, and most synthetics, are much tenser than good old Dominant, Tonica and Warchal, which need skillful bowing (longer and lighter)...

Edit: The Jargar site now has partial tension information; the "Classic" (steel core) medium set has similar (high) total tension as Corelli's synthetic brands, so a little less than Forza or Spirocore.
Curiously their D strings are as tense as their A's, the lower strings less so.

I can see the point of a tense A when playing loud double stops high up on D & A strings.

July 12, 2021, 7:36 PM · Adrian- thank you for explaining the difference between tension and gauge. Makes sense that gauge is dependent on materials used.

My viola does not like tense steel A-strings at all. Warchal's Amber A and Forza's steel A, while great quality, just basically choked the life out of my viola.

There was no making the Forzas work, even with a light Forza A. The set as a whole was just too heavy. With the Warchal Brilliants, the whole viola came alive and resonated like crazy when I replaced the Amber A with the synthetic A. Apparently my viola likes lower tension and a light touch.

So back to Helicores. Have you (or anyone here) played both Spirocore's and Helicores? If so, how did they compare?

Edited: July 12, 2021, 8:15 PM · Hi Amrita, I have played both on a few different instruments.

Comparing the medium-tension versions:

Helicores are less powerful, and to me, have a less interesting sound, but are far easier to play than Spirocore (regardless of Spirocore windings - each of the Spirocore viola strings is available with different metal windings).

Helicores quite lack the hardness of Spirocores, both in feel and sound.

That's not always what players want - I think that some viola players (and definitely cello players) like the edge that Spirocores bring. One caveat - the silver-wrapped Spirocore G and C have had less edge, for me, but were equally challenging to play versus the other winding choices.

July 12, 2021, 8:16 PM · Thank you, Andrew!
Edited: July 12, 2021, 8:34 PM · I'm not including Red Label, For-Tune, or any of the ones that are generally only used on student or rental instruments. Considering that the cheapest sets of viola strings are approximately:

D'Addario Ascente - $39.99
Thomastik Alphayue - $49.95
Warchal Karneol - $44.20
Pirastro Tonica - $59.50

I'd say that Helicore at $51.10 is part of this group of "cheap" sets but has qualities (like longevity and clarity) that make them preferable over Ascente and Alphayue. And I really like Helicore! On violas smaller than 15.5" they are often my "go to" set, precisely for those qualities.

It's not 1980, and Dominants aren't $20 a set anymore--and given inflation in the US, a $20 set of strings from 1980 is equivalent to about $65.34 these days, given a cumulative rate of inflation between 1980-2021 of about 226.7%.

Edited: July 14, 2021, 2:03 PM · My luthier sold me my viola with Helicores, and I keep them in reserve.
I use Tonicas now, with a soft Jargar A in reserve in case folks want that sort of noise..
July 13, 2021, 10:54 AM · "given a cumulative rate of inflation between 1980-2021 of about 226.7%"

Good to know it's only "transitory."

Adrian, how does that soft Jargar A compare to Helicore's A?

July 13, 2021, 5:37 PM · I find it rounder, less "tinny". Still tense, though.

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