A-strings

Edited: September 29, 2022, 7:53 AM · I noticed a comment on the A-string typically being alumin(i)um-wound and therefore quick to unwind, and had noticed this myself (but it must also be the most played wound string on any violin). Also I'm not happy with the sound open A strings make on my Breton, although this may be to do with its natural resonances. It sounds thin, although it's also perhaps partly bowing technique. Stopped and vibrato'd they sound fine.
Until now I had planned just to use ootp sets, but I feel I may be ready to customise my A string choice. I know some people do that. Oistrakh used a steel A. Presumably unwound. I wonder how that would sound. No idea where to get one yet. It appeals because I'm happy with solid steel E-strings.
Anyone fancy a general discussion of A strings - which ones you like, which ones you hate. Which ones are problematic? Any other comments? I've gone off Dominants. I'm currently using Visions.

Replies (27)

September 29, 2022, 6:53 AM · I've recently switched to Tricolore plain gut A. I am very happy with the result. It is very unlike synthetic and probably steel (though I've never tried steel A). The gut has great texture and depth which I have not experienced with any synthetic. I recommend trying it.
September 29, 2022, 10:42 AM · Steel A strings are popular with players who studied in Moscow. I have several customers who use a steel A and E and a synthetic G and D. There are several options on the market.

Some players use Prim A and E strings, some use Warchal’s Russian style A, an Amber or Timbre E, and Timbre or Vintage Brilliant G and D. Thomastik developed an A string option for their Rondo set that’s carbon steel, if I recall, and Dominant Pro has options for the A as well.

I tend to find the steel A strings harsh under my ear and a bit shrill, but I have to admit that those Russian-trained players make it work on their violins and the sound is quite pleasant.

While most people prefer more of a smooth blend across the strings, the argument for steel on the upper strings is based on the idea that there should be more of a difference between the upper and lower registers in response and timbre.

Edited: September 29, 2022, 11:40 AM · I always assumed Prim were Russian. Turns out they are Swedish.
Medium tension or High tension (Orchestra)? Now I'm lost!
Or there's Larsen medium only. I prefer it when I have no choice, lol!
September 29, 2022, 12:26 PM · The Tricolore plain (varnished) A is very nice, but their wrapped A is also very fine.

Don't be afraid to try different tensions. The mid seems to work well with Guarneri-sized instruments, but I have generally moved to the light gauge.

September 29, 2022, 2:13 PM · The Oistrakh steel A was probably Thomatik. A steel A can work well for some violins, some players, some repertoire. In addition to the Warchal "Russian" A, Thomastik makes the Spirocore and Flex-core steel A. Daddario makes the Helicore A, a titanium wound A, and the Electric NS strings set, which are steel wound on steel. Some steel core strings are wound with aluminum, which might not last any longer than aluminum on nylon. For students, having a fine tuner on the A makes tuning a lot easier.
September 29, 2022, 3:57 PM · Not only students - I have seen 2 fine-tuners on Anne Sophie Mutter's violin.

I started using Bois d'Harmonie tailpieces with(with 4 integral fine tuners) in the 21st century when arthritis made peg tuning difficult (while the instrument was on my shoulder and before I installed geared pegs) - but it all started with my cellos.

September 29, 2022, 6:13 PM · Wow, what a pleasant surprise and coincidence to find this post, and at the top of the heap nonetheless!
Because I just logged in for the first time in years (?) to talk about this very subject and get feedback. :)

Basically after seeing some Russian players I admire(d) (Oistrakh, Kremer etc.) play with two fine tuners on (A & E) that inspired me to buy a second fine tuner (for my A string).

It's always a pain for me to tune the A string with the peg.

Well I need some tips and advice with this.
I play with gut strings and there's no going back for me.
I don't think I could deal with a steel A, although I never tried it.

I bought a second Hill fine tuner and installed it.
However I didn't have a loop end A string and so had to improvise to get the string to attach to it.

Long story short, the tuner isn't working right now (not doing its job) and so I need to use the peg to tune.

Questions:
1. Can a Hill fine tuner be used with a wound gut string?
2. If so, would I need a loop end string (with Hill tuner)?
3. If not, would I have to bite the bullet and experiment with
steel A's to find one that sounded similar to my wound gut?
4. Or will some of the strings mentioned above (wound) be able to work
with a Hill fine tuner?

Any other tips?

September 29, 2022, 6:29 PM · I seem to recall that d'Addario sells an adapter to link a ball--end string to a standard type Hill fine tuner.

Check it out with a Google search.

If I were going to use a Hill tuner with a gut-core string I would be sure to protect the string's loop from any sharp or narrow metal of the tuner in contact with it under tension.

September 29, 2022, 6:29 PM · @ Mark, I'm not sure if any gut A strings are available with loop ends. Hill tuners may not have enough range for tuning gut strings. I have found it much easier to tune my A string by "clocking" the peg to about 90 degrees of the fingerboard. For me the peg feels far more ergonomic and easy to turn.
September 29, 2022, 8:29 PM · Warchal Timbre steel A strings are the bomb. Great strings, huge sound
September 29, 2022, 8:40 PM · Thanks John and Andrew.
I checked out the d'Addario adapter but don't think I would like it.
I think when it's attached it will look very similar to another fine tuner I have (which I don't like). It will shorten the length of the string.

Something very disconcerting just happened now as I took out my second violin to play (and look at its tuner).
It's A string broke (gut) while I was playing.

I rarely break strings and this is the second A string I've broken on two different violins in less than a week. :(
And before that I broke a gut G string about a month ago.
VERY COSTLY!

In your experience what could be causing this?
I find this very strange.


September 30, 2022, 4:35 AM · The construction of wound A strings is a compromise. You want the core to be as thick as possible for strength, but must reduce the thickness to allow for the winding while keeping the same mass per length. At the same time you want the winding to be as thick as possible - again for strength - but still keep the core strong enough. Aluminium is often used because it is light, but it is also softer than steel and in the wound gut A strings we see the effect of using very thin aluminium winding; it is very fragile. I have received gut A strings with the winding already damaged right out of the envelope.
The plain gut A strings off course do no have this problem, but instead lack the protection the winding provides (but I suspect that they last at least as long as the wound gut A).
Some synthetic A strings are available with a chromesteel winding (Pirastro Aricore, Obligato) and off course some steel core strings as well. The steel winding is stronger than the aluminium, but also heavier so the core must be thinner. I am not aware of any gut A strings with other winding material than aluminium.
I find that the gut core D, G and C strings generally last a long time. I have had a few occations where an instrument was left unused for several weeks and a string had snapped in the case when it was opened again. And the other strings were all too high. I suspect the humidity slowly changed and stretched the strings.
For gut strings the fine tuners move too little to be useful.
September 30, 2022, 6:02 AM · @ Mark, If your violin is going to be sitting un-played for an extended time you may want to detune a half step to reduce the tension. I'm curious what brand of gut string are you using and how old are they?
September 30, 2022, 12:39 PM · Mark,

I would recommend checking the string grooves at the nut and bridge. Any sharp edges or pinch points can cause a winding to unravel in short order. Put a little graphite from a pencil in the grooves so that they slide smoothly and don’t catch during tuning.

September 30, 2022, 8:32 PM · Thanks Bo, John and Rich!
I will take your advice John about detuning a half step.
There are often times when I don't play for quite a while.

The humidity in my place has been off the charts for much of the summer,
~60 and sometimes even higher. Could that have played a role in the string
breakage?

I will also check the grooves at nut and bridge and use graphite.

September 30, 2022, 9:31 PM · Mark, I would not torture my brain about the pattern of breaking strings. Strings break at random and a pattern like this generally means nothing.

This is like cancer clusters. Random events cluster sometimes; it is part of what "random" means.

October 1, 2022, 4:47 AM · Windings can be damaged by
- fingernails,
- nut and bridge grooves that are too tight, V-shaped, or rough-edged.
October 1, 2022, 1:13 PM · Thanks Albrecht and Adrian!

John had asked about the brand of strings.
I use Eudoxas.

October 1, 2022, 1:56 PM · "Random events cluster" = Poisson distribution
October 1, 2022, 2:40 PM · The chocolate-chip cookie mystery?
October 1, 2022, 9:47 PM · I've had issues with A strings unwinding, even with a good coat of graphite on the nut and bridge. I also used to have that problem with aluminum D strings, but I've come to prefer the sound of silver-wound Ds, and I use those instead.

I've only ever played on one steel-core A: a Larsen Original, medium gauge. Before installation, I expected the sound to be overly bright, but the tone turned out to be quite pleasant, even if a little plain and "shallow." It was much easier to play in high positions than any aluminum A; the sound wasn't nearly so prone to cracking. I'm also someone who suffers from black fingers after playing on aluminum strings, so using a steel A was convenient. However, I still prefer the sound of aluminum, even if it is more finicky. There seems to be a wider palette of tone colors available with aluminum.

The steel A string was quite nice, but aluminum A strings are more satisfying for me to play. I'm using an aluminum A string currently and don't plan to switch back to steel, even if that means black fingers and greater demand on my bow technique.

October 1, 2022, 10:56 PM · I'm using Peter Infeld Pi strings all the way across. (G, D, A, E.) They are really terrific. These are wound synthetic strings.

In particular, the A string sounds quite nice and rarely needs much in the way of tuning. One day to the next, it often needs no tuning.

Edited: October 3, 2022, 3:25 AM · Gordon, on the matter of the open string sounding "thin", have you compared it to the same note on the D-string, and the notes either side of this.
Viola wood resonances are about a third lower than those of a violin, and on both my violas, it's C sharp which sounds "pinched".

Ouch, my logic is faulty! My pinched C sharp would correspond to open E on a violin, not open A. Back to the drawing board.

October 3, 2022, 7:52 PM · Well I just had an unfortunate experience that I feel I must reveal.
I ordered a bunch of Eudoxas last week (2 A's and 2 D's) from a well-known Toronto violin store.

They arrived today in a small package. Inside the package were two pieces of cardboard sandwiching and protecting the strings.

I opened the sandwich and found a large Pirastro envelope.
At first I thought they had sent me the wrong strings (viola or cello) as the envelope was much larger than violin envelopes.

The envelope was sealed well. I took a pair of scissors and cut less than 1/16" from the top (center). I took out the strings which were all coiled together and immediately saw that one of the A strings had been cut and was unusable now. :(

This had never occurred in my life before with any violin strings or guitar strings.

Have any of you made this mistake before?

October 4, 2022, 3:42 AM · Cutting open the very tough plastic bubble on a USB wifi thingie, I found I had cut the little installation CD....
October 4, 2022, 6:14 PM · After giving this a lot of thought, I think both the company and I must share the blame.
I was certainly foolish in retrospect for taking a pair of scissors to cut the very top of the envelope.

What was I thinking?
I was thinking that the envelope contained smaller violin-sized envelopes.
The same envelopes as with all my previous purchases, either online or in-store. Even when stores kept their strings in long tubes, they would wrap them into violin-sized envelopes at the time of purchase for me.

I never previously had bulk strings wrapped together and not enclosed in their own individual envelope.

At the very least, given the high cost of gut strings, it would be prudent
for the store to write on the envelope 'DO NOT CUT', if they prefer to ship the strings in this fashion. :)


October 4, 2022, 10:22 PM · I buy Eudoxa strings from SHAR. They have been shipped in the factory envelopes and straight in tubes. I agree it’s a bit strange to ship them loose in a random envelope with no labeling or warning. I think most reputable retailers would be happy to send a new string given the situation.

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