String Responsiveness

July 21, 2021, 5:34 PM · Without going into too much detail, I have been trying several sets of strings since I starting playing again in January. I started with Dominants then moved to Obligatos, Passione and last Tricolore.

At first I was on a search for warm sounding strings (thus the obvious progression).But, in the process I have been experiencing some things that I am unable to fully explain. Two phenomenon I have experienced. When playing the harmonic notes in Meditation, some strings enable me to play it clearly and then release it so I can play the open A. Other strings seem to hold the harmonic for a longer time period than is called for.

When playing Mozart’s Third Violin Concerto third movement, some of the short runs seem more difficult with certain strings. It’s as if my right and left hands aren’t “in sync” as well with some strings.

Question, are these examples of differences in string responsiveness? Is this something else? Could someone provide me a real life example of string responsiveness when playing?

As usual, thanks!

Replies (25)

July 21, 2021, 8:36 PM · Well, the easiest thing to rule out first is if your right and left hands are out of sync. You can use dotted rhythms (dotted eighth sixteenth and then sixteenth dotted eighth) to troubleshoot left and right-hand being out of snyc. Once you do those a couple of times play the passage like normal. If the problem is gone then you know it was your right and left hands being out of sync. If the problem persists then perhaps it could indeed be your strings.

Some strings have a slower response than others. You have to find the balance between focus/clarity and complexity that suits you and your violin. I like warmth just like you, but I still like a little bit of brilliance and clarity so that my violin doesn't become too unrespnsive. If you want warmth but more response you might like vision solo. In my own experience, the vision solo were a little too warm and I ended up with Rondo, but you have a different violin than I do. Although you are looking for warmth so the vision solo might suit you

July 21, 2021, 9:39 PM · Christian- Thanks for the response. I’m asking about more about comparing this issue with two different sets of strings and whether the strings are causing the issue. I can play the pieces better with Obligato strings. Next best is Passione strings and the worse is with the Tricolore. What I’m trying to understand is whether this is a what is called string “responsiveness” and whether my experience with these different types (brands) are typical.

So far I have liked the Passione strings the best (both warmth and playability considered). That said, I haven’t had the Tricolore strings on long enough to see if they will settle in to a point where my opinion about them will change).

Edited: July 21, 2021, 9:42 PM · I can't speak to the harmonics issue, but the second is a matter of adjustment vs humidity and this time of summer is a bad time in that regard. Unless you are in Australia. So bear in mind that the changing strings aren't the only variable involved.

The problem with harmonics could well be adjustment, but I have never had a client put that problem-solving to me, perhaps because adjustment doesn't occur to them.

This violin, one of mine, was adjusted just prior to the recording session, speedy bits at the start, harmonics at 1:48:
https://youtube.com/watch?v=tnGLTU5Qxr8

July 21, 2021, 9:49 PM · Perhaps try a narrower gauge of string (when choices within a brand permit)?
July 21, 2021, 10:44 PM · Stephen, what would that do for me? I’ve seen all the gauge choices. I’ve never been very clear on why.
July 22, 2021, 12:20 AM · In that case, yes I'd say it's a response thing if you can already play the passage better with the obligatos. Part of the reason is that Passiones and Tricolore are gut strings. More accurately gut/synthetic hybrid and plain gut respectively. Gut strings can be known to have a slower response than their steel and synthetic counterparts. You're probably experiencing that the obligatos are the easiest to play because they are synthetic core. The passiones are second because they are a hybrid. They have the sound characteristics of normal gut strings but are more stable in pitch due to having modern materials found in synthetic strings. You could figure out how to play on gut strings if you like the sound enough because there are plenty of people who play or have played on gut strings professionally and don't seem to have problems with response. One that comes to mind is the very well know Heifetz. he used plain gut strings with a goldbrokat E.

Obligatos have been known to be a great replacement for people who like the sound of gut strings but want a faster response and better tuning stability. Obligatos are made by the same manufacturer of Passiones, Pirastro, so it's not a problem of brand or manufacturer, it's just the materials used to make the strings. If you like the sound of the gut strings you could try a higher gauge of them to try and bring them closer to the tension of obligatos and other synthetics. Lots of people like using the stiff gauge of gut strings for this very reason. They find they get more sound and response is often better. A popular set is Eudoxa stiff. You could also try a higher gauge of passione and you might get better results.

The obligato G string tension is 4.5 kg so you could try the 16 1/4 gauge of the passione since they have the same tension. Honestly, you could probably go to Pirastro's website and look at the tensions of all the obligato strings and try and match a set of passiones as best you can and buy that set and see if you like it. Of course, it's really only worth it if you like the sound of passiones more than the obligato. If you don't then of course just stay with the obligato.

I don't really have an answer for the harmonic issue though I have experienced that as well. Some sets let the harmonic ring longer than others. I'm sure there's some science behind it.

July 22, 2021, 12:41 AM · Okay, I couldn't resist and looked further into the difference in tensions between obligato and passione.

Obligato:

G: 4.5kg
D: 4.7kg
A: 5.4kg
E: 8.0kg(goldsteel) or 7.7 (steel)

Passione:

G: 16 1/4 (4.5kg)
D: 13 1/4 (4.7kg)
A: 13 3/4 (5.3kg) or 14 (5.5kg)
E: 26 (7.8kg)

It looks like the G and D strings that come in the normal set (13 1/2 and 16 1/2) of passiones are higher tension than the ones in the obligato set with tensions of 4.6 and 4.9 respectively compared to the tensions of the obligato G and D strings listed above. However, the A string in the normal passione set (13 1/2) has a lower tension than the A string in the obligato set with a tension of 5.0kg to the obligato's 5.4kg. The normal E strings in both sets (steel in the case of obligato) are pretty similar in tension. 7.7kg for obligato and 7.8kg for passione.

July 22, 2021, 12:57 AM · Christian- Thank you so much for your very well thought out response. I have been wanting to try pure gut since January because that is what I played when I was younger in the 60s and early 70s. But after having the gut on for only 3-4 days, I’m finding that I’m fighting them. I don’t just mean the constant tuning. That will go away. I spoke to my violin teacher this morning and told him I feel like I’m playing the Mozart worse than I was when I first started it. He assured me that I wasn’t, that I am gaining a more critical ear. I’d like to think that. After I got off the phone I realized that I tried three sets of strings in the last month (generally not a good idea) and that some of the difficulty is based on string responsiveness. The gut are far worse, I’m surprised. When I was a teenager I never worried much about any of this. You broke a string? Go down to the music store and buy another. If I had gone to my parents telling them that I need a new set of super duper strings I would have been met with, “You want to sound better? Practice more!” And of course, they would have been right!
Edited: July 22, 2021, 1:45 AM · Stick with the Tricolore, they are great strings with lots of colour. Depends of course on what you like, the Passione are more like synthetic strings. Ultimately strings matter little if you can't bring out your best playing with them.

edit: Rob, it will take longer than 3-4 days to stabilize/"play in" in most cases, maybe even weeks. Depends on how much you are playing.

July 22, 2021, 3:13 AM · JI- The Tricolore are the only strings that I had on for only 3-4 days. I went through two sets of Obligato. Then switched to Passione for 3-4 weeks Then this week tried the Tricolore. Tonight I put the last set of Obligatos back on and played for 10-15 minutes. All of a sudden the problems seemed lessened. I think I’m finally understanding response time. I’m not saying I will stick with Obligatos, I think I will test these a few more days-week and then decide whether to buy a new set of Obligatos (I was only saving this old set for emergency purposes) or go back to the fairly new Passione.

I don’t plan to keep this process up forever. I’d like to settle on one brand of strings. But I’m glad my wife is tolerating my string spending adventure!

July 22, 2021, 8:48 AM · Dear Rob,
You have my sympathy. You seem to have embarked upon the same route I started on in 1970 when composite strings first appeared. I have been on this path for 4 violins, 2 violas and 3 cellos. I could certainly have purchased a decent used automobile with the money spent on it so far. Every time I thought I reached my goal some new strings with advertised advantages were available and I found it hard to resist.

At least I think I have completed my searches for viola and cello strings and violin strings for 2 of my violins.

50 years OMG!

July 22, 2021, 9:43 AM · String responsiveness to the bow is a complex function of the string mass (basically thickness), and string damping (basically core material (steel, synthetic, gut) and construction (solid, filament, wound cladding)).

A thicker string with higher damping may require a little more bow pressure and/or initial rapid bow movement to get it to reach full vibration.

If you are rapidly changing strings in order to make comparisons, you may not be adjusting your bow stroke to what the strings need to reach their full potential.

My suspicion is comments like "the violin/string sound opened up after several hours of playing" might be more correctly phrased as "it took me awhile to figure out the combination of bow pressure and speed the violin/strings needed to be responsive".

I posit that many players do not consciously think about varying bow pressure/speed when trying a new violin or strings, but rather subconsciously vary these things when the instrument is not responding the way they want. Given sufficient time, they stumble upon the right combination.

Edited: July 22, 2021, 9:59 AM · I know what you mean about the harmonic "continuing" after you lift your finger. I guess it could be string-dependent, but I don't know. You'd need to have pretty good control of your bow to test that systematically.

Try this: As you release the harmonic, change bow weight (downward pressure) or sound point very slightly. I have experimented with this and found that any change in the disposition of the bow "knocks down" the harmonic. The timing is critical, though, and it's hard to do this without introducing a little fart in your tone. Tone farts are bad. I think in most melodic playing you'll be forgiven if your harmonic overstays its welcome by a smidge. If I were performing "Meditation," that harmonic would not be my first concern.

July 23, 2021, 8:38 AM · No one here EVER takes my advice to spend 25 bucks getting the instrument fixed before pouring hundreds of dollars into throwing strings at a fundamental instrument problem :-(
July 23, 2021, 9:24 AM · LOL
July 23, 2021, 12:06 PM · OK-- modified wording. See a good luthier and ask if s/he has advice on string tension, in addition to any of the obvious things to set up properly.
July 23, 2021, 1:11 PM · I can assure you the strings were ok, but you had to get used to them once again after playing the Obligatos for a while. Certainly pure gut do require more exacting bowing technique. Back then it was easier because it was all you played. However, you do not need to play pure gut if it becomes too challenging. Wound gut is still excellent, though not exactly the same tone of course as pure gut. Passione are fine, but expensive. Even Gold Label can sound good (I love Eudoxa.)

I do not dislike Pirastro, but I did stop using Obligato when I found better options elsewhere, including within their brand. For me, it fails to sound like gut as some people claim. It's warm, but lacks gut's rich upper frequency spectrum, especially after them being worn in. They could be useful and can sound good, but I suggest many other options as well. But if you love them and they suit your instrument, that is also fine.

Hope it all gets sorted out for you. Enjoy your violin once again.

July 23, 2021, 2:20 PM · I got my violin set up before diving into the never-ending cycle of trying different strings on my current violin. It was sounding a little subdued in projection. I was looking for essentially the same sound profile that it currently had, but with more projection and depth. The luthier cut a new bridge and soundpost and when I played on it it was perfect. Exactly what I was looking for. He asked if there was any adjusting I wanted to do, but I told him there was none needed. I was able to keep the same set of strings that were on there. Of course, what was on there were rondos which have worked on every violin I've tried them on, so that was a plus as I had already bought a backup set of rondos.

I'm going to get my viola set up as well, but it's not worth that much so I'll take it to another luthier I know who charges less than the one who did my violin. My violin set up was just shy of $300, a price I'm willing to pay for my main instrument but not for a violin that probably isn't worth more than $1000. It was gifted to me by a friend who had bought it as part of an outfit but recently purchased a much better viola. I wonder what strings I'll end up with after the setup is done.

Edited: July 24, 2021, 5:50 PM · In the current situation, a post tightness adjustment, by moving it outwards slightly, should go a long way, assuming a quality setup in the first place.

The first shop I worked at had the shop policy that if you couldn't get a violin to function properly (that is the category of the OP's complaints) with a normal set of Dominants you worked on the setup until it did. THEN you could move to strings to adjust the sound, not the base functionality.

August 3, 2021, 10:59 AM · I second Michael's recommendation to see a luthier, the biggest changes in response can come from adjustments to the instrument instead of the strings.

After doing that, I would offer the recommendation of trying Warchal Amber strings. Warchal says they are their most gut like sounding strings.

A violin of mine which likes gut strings has sounded fairly nice with the Ambers. Not with the same level of awesome gut sound but pretty darn good and without the need to tune it all the time. Their response is also much faster than the gut strings.

Obligatos, in my experience, are very slow strings.

Edited: August 3, 2021, 11:21 AM · I recently acquired my first set of Pirastro PERPETUAL CADENZA violin strings.

These are the strings my oldest violin (bought for me by my father from the maker 70 years ago) has been waiting for all its life! Powerful sound and strong harmonics, quick response and low enough tension that even my weak old fingers can produce an audible left hand pizz and right-hand pizz works with the ease and volume of gut strings. This is a violin that did not like Dominants when I first tried them in 1970. I've tried many, many different string combos on this violin since I left Eudoxa after switching to Tonica around 1973. The only other string combination that came close to Perpetual-Cadenza was Evah Pirazzi Gold (A, D, G) with a Peter Infeld Platinum E.

Might be worth a try!

Edited: August 3, 2021, 1:40 PM · Mr. Victor,

As a gut string lover and user, these Cadenza variation are among the few synthetics that interest me-would you be so kind to provide the seller information? They are heavily advertised on violinist.com, but it seems "no one" is carrying them, at least not officially on their websites. Glad they work for your violin; I suspect that I may at least like them, just due to the lower tension for a modern synthetic.

Much peace and health to you.

August 3, 2021, 2:15 PM · It seems that Concordmusic has them, although it says "please inquire." I guess they may be low on stock or they might be giving the strings a test drive with their customers before fully stocking on them.
August 3, 2021, 6:12 PM · I bought my Perpetual Cadenza set from concordmusic.com my usual string seller.
August 3, 2021, 6:19 PM · I just got 3 sets of Rondo for my higher end violins, really impressed, really warm sound without that obnoxious brightness of Evahs.


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