Moving strings between 2 instruments

Edited: December 22, 2022, 9:04 AM · My violin experience has been almost exclusively with gut strings, tuned to A=415, which I committed to when I decided to focus on early music, soon after I started playing 7.5 years ago. I have 2 violins set up that way, with no chinrest or shoulder rest. These 2 violins are "nice enough" by my standards (budget and skill level), one being a 1924 "Cremona" workshop violin, by Gustav Fassauer Ferron in Chicago, the other a 2018 "Deluxe baroque" violin from the Charlie Ogle workshop in China.

But a few weeks ago a new dimension emerged in my violin-playing. The organist at church where I sing in the choir invited me to accompany the organ and choir in some hymns. So, not wanting to disturb my pair of "baroque" violins, I went out to the local Sam Ash store and, after tuning all 8 of their used violins, selected a Scott Cao student violin that I judged to sound the best in the store. I paid $310 plus tax, and added a set of Tonica strings and tuned them to A=440, which is how I've been playing my "church violin" since the first day, about 6 weeks now. This is the first time I've played for a real audience, a challenge I've needed to take me into new growth as a musician, but also requiring I rethink my practice and goals to focus on best possible tone and intonation of simpler music, rather than privately hacking away at "harder" music in my lonely room.

Although my experience so far tells me gut strings sound best, I intend to stay with synthetics on my church violin because I need stability when I take my violin out of my house and open the case in the new temperature and humidity of the church on Sunday mornings. I do not want to blame my instrument or strings for my own weaknesses in technique, but still I of course do want the best set-up I can afford from which to execute my slowly-improving skills. And since I've been dissatisfied with my sound on the church violin so far, and under the inspiration of a review published on this website in the blog section, I gambled over $100 on a set of Evah Pirazzi strings, to be delivered in the next few days. My first set of premium synthetic strings!

That's the background from which I finally launch my discussion question: might there be any degradation of those Evah Pirazzi strings if I move them back and forth between 2 different violins? I want to compare the sound effects from swapping them out from the Tonicas on my church violin AND from the guts on my Chicago violin. I will do the experiment at 440 on both instruments. My purpose is to discern whether my Chicago violin produces a noticeably better sound than my Cao church violin with the Evah Pirazzis. If so, I am willing to lose a baroque violin and convert it to a 440 church violin in order to present the best sound possible for the only audience I've ever had. But if not, I will want to put the Evahs back on the Cao violin to thereby be confirmed as my "church violin," and put on my Chicago violin a nice new set of Italian gut strings imported directly from the very small maker by a dealer I met at the Viola da Gamba Society 2022 Conclave. Very fine gut strings!

And if all that happens, will my Evah Pirazzi strings sound just as good back on my Cao church violin as they did the first time I put them there? Will moving the strings back and forth between 2 instruments do anything bad to them?

Replies (13)

December 22, 2022, 9:33 AM · I am not sure it will create problems to switch out the strings, although others may have more experience and a different view. One thing to remember with synthetic strings is that they are like to project better than gut, which may be particularly important to you in the church setting. Good luck!
Edited: December 22, 2022, 9:55 AM · Hmm. All strings need "playing in". And the violin too, after temporary removal and replace ment of strings. It would help to record the various combinations at the same distance.

Also, in transferring a string from one fiddle to another, the bending & gripping at the nut and the bridge may not kink the string at the same places.

December 22, 2022, 8:14 PM · Switching a set of strings over from one violin to another will not harm the strings except for the inevitable wear-and-tear at the end where they wind around the pegs. You'll be fine.

That's quite the transition from gut to Evah Pirazzi. I'd love to hear more of your impressions of the difference!

December 22, 2022, 9:57 PM · We have a niece who was a splendidly talented violinist in her teens and later in the 1970s and '80s. She had two violins and used one of them mostly to pre-stretch strings for her concert violin.

I think it is important to be sure that the VSLs of both violins are identical so the strings fit both instruments the same to avoid damage that might otherwise occur.

December 22, 2022, 11:23 PM · IMHO, I don't really see how any wear and tear around the pegs could be more damaging than the contact points of the bridge and at the nut. That seems to be where most of the winding damage and stretching occurs most often.
Also, the more often you move strings around you accelerate the decline of the string life.
December 23, 2022, 9:00 AM · I have violins set up with Tricolore wound gut G and D, plain gut A and steel E. I have changed to and from synthetics such as EP and PI without any problems. I love the incomparable sound and feel of gut. But for maximum power and projection EPs seem to the strongest and most reliable. Although they do loose their luster much faster than gut. I currently have one instrument set up with PI G and D, plain gut A and steel E. It blends very well. Surprisingly, Tricolore's plain gut A is powerful and stable with the most beautiful sound of any string I've tried.
December 23, 2022, 6:11 PM · Jeff that's true.
Edited: December 23, 2022, 8:49 PM · I would anticipate that moving the strings would materially fatigue the windings and the core, and therefore significantly shorten their lives.

"Fatigue" defined as weakness caused by repeated variations in stress, in this case, repeatedly slackening the strings and then stretching them back to pitch.

December 24, 2022, 7:02 AM · Repeatedly stressing the strings by removing and resetting them will reduce the lifespan. But when one is experimenting for the right combination there is little choice. I tend to proactively replace my strings anyway and have not yet experienced a failure. Applying graphite to the nut and bridge grooves may help reduce wear.
December 24, 2022, 7:09 PM · @John - excuse my ignorance, but what are the "nut" grooves to which graphite should be applied? Do you mean the neck grooves?
December 24, 2022, 8:40 PM · the grooves in the nut that the strings run through into the pegbox
December 26, 2022, 8:07 AM · Thanks Lyndon. Yes, the nut is the little piece of ebony at the top of the fingerboard which hold the strings in place. Sometimes the grooves are not eased properly and may have sharp edges. I use a sharp #2 Ticonderoga and rub the pencil lead into each groove whenever replacing strings.
Edited: December 29, 2022, 10:35 AM · Thanks to all for sharing your experience and insights. Just to update the situation, I decided not to remove (cut) the gut strings from either of my "baroque" violins (defined by set-up, not age of the instrument), so I just replaced the Tonicas on my new "church" violin with the Evah Pirazzi strings.

I went through that process as stupidly as I could, starting by ordering loop-end instead of ball end. I did that out of forgetting about the fine tuners, being so used to the plain-hole tailpieces on my other 2 violins. I always tie my own knots with the gut strings so I thought of loop-end as a new convenience. I was 3/4 lucky in the sense that only the E string had a loop while the other 3 were still ball-end. There are 4 fine tuners on this violin, and they want ball-ends. When I got to the E string, I improvised by slipping the loop around one of the two upward protrusions of the fine tuner (the slot between them is where I was supposed to slip the string so the ball would catch inside). I guess it works, but I hope I'm not distorting the tuner by putting all the stress on only one side, and therefore also a little off-center too.

And speaking of that stress on the tuner, it seems to me that bringing these strings up to pitch requires they are pulled to a higher tension than I'm used to! It actually feels dangerous, I hope none ever snap apart in my face! In that sense, these strings are a little frightening ! And as I was re-tightening them in the first hour (still stretching...) I was startled when the bridge tipped over towards the fingerboard and was slammed into the top of the instrument! I am amazed the force didn't crack the wood (or drop the soundpost)! So after loosening the pegs and standing the bridge back up, I paid a lot more attention to the bridge perpendicularity and avoided any gaps under the feet of it. I was surprised at how slick the violin top felt, how much the bridge wanted to skate as I tightened the strings again.

I've only had a little playing time on the new strings, and they weren't yet stable, requiring frequent tightening to return to pitch. They are indeed loud, something which I read about in reviews. I do not like the metal E string, I got some silent and some squeeky bows across it, reminding me of something I hated about metal E strings before I switched to gut about 7 years ago when I was still in my first year. Probably the Tonica E was metal too? I never noticed in the few weeks I had them, but whatever it was I never squeeked or ghosted it like the Evah E string.

Already I learned a lot from this experience, and as I get used to these new strings I'm sure I'll form an opinion about their sound and playability. So far my lessons taken are mostly mechanical: buy ball-end strings for this violin, watch the bridge when tightening, be careful how I bow a metal E string. I think my gut strings have been much lower tension, and probably the Tonicas were too, since I hadn't even thought about that until I was bringing these strings up to pitch. I once tried light gauge gut strings on one of my other violins, but didn't like the sound. And my first time with guts, I ordered bare (no metal windings) heavy gauge, but the G string was so fat (a Gamut "pistoy" of, I think, 3 strands braided like a rope) and sounded like a sick goat (perhaps my low skills contributed to the problem). So I have otherwise always ordered medium gauge strings, and that's what these Evah's are too. Maybe they'd feel less threatening (ie, require less tension) if they were light gauge, but I won't be able to to do another $100+ string experiment very soon.

So over the next few weeks I will be getting to know these strange and exotic new strings, maybe a bit like trying new race car tires on my old compact car.

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