Strings and violin coupling

Edited: February 27, 2023, 7:18 AM · After a tumultuous period in which in three months I began practicing the violin on my own, took first lessons, chose new violin to rent, chose violin to buy, chose new strings, found new teacher, I think I am heading with my wife into a very prolonged period of study and growth with an experienced, good and methodical teacher and two violins we now own.

On my Gliga Gems 1 violin were mounted very old Evah Pirazzi, replaced with new Pirastro Tonica. I have achieved the desired better playability (softer and certainly more even instead of stiff and frayed strings after three years of non-use), but the sound has changed for the worse since it is much less rich and seems shrilling.

I don't need to change them since to learn they are fine, but I was interested to understand for human and musical curiosity why the sound has deteriorated so much. I don't know if the three-year-old Evah Pirazzi were still to be considered "real" EPs, but assuming so they are considered bright and focused.
The Tonicas should be somewhat like the Dominants, neutral, maybe slightly brighter.

My doubt is that in reading the various "quadrants" in which strings are categorized I also found that this ... ing-guide/

In which the Tonicas are on the contrary indicated as warmer (thus darker sounding if I understand the concept) , with the comment that coupled with a violin that is itself warm sounding may produce a musky sound, which seems to me what happened. Not a drama be clear, but the difference from before is obvious.

In the end, how do I know what the "intrinsic" character of my violin is, if the sound change so much as the strings change?

If I will in the future return it to a sound similar to what it gave with EPs but without such exaggerated tension and a lower cost what would be the right choice? Some Larsen Aurora strings, which are supposed to be brighter than the Tonica, or some warmer D'Addario Zyex strings, or some even brighter Vision Solo strings to give an example?

But aside from examples, is there a reliable categorization of strings? Are all categories given by ear by a manufacturer or distributor, or there is an objective, quantifiable test.

Replies (32)

Edited: February 27, 2023, 8:23 AM · There are too many variables to be completely sure what strings will do best with your violin. Probably your first step should be to make sure your instrument is not out of adjustment. If the bridge is even a fraction of a millimeter off optimum, you will have a devil of a time getting good response or even playing in tune. Similarly, tailgut length, soundpost position, etc., can all make a difference. So get a checkup.

If it still sounds bad after this, talk to your luthier. If he/she has no useful input, see what your teacher thinks.

Then come back here (or Maestronet). You will find no shortage of advice. ;)

Edited: February 27, 2023, 9:16 AM · Tonicas are great strings, and fantastic value for money. I use them all the time, a lot of the sound is to do with you personally, it takes a fair while to start getting a good sound from a fiddle. I wouldn’t bother with string guides either, like I said a lot of the sound is down to the player.

The Tonicas will seem bright or shrill as you say because your old strings had lost their tone, Tonicas also need to bed in for a few weeks at least, and will constantly need retuning in this period as do most new strings. You can check the angle of your bridge with a credit card by the way, it will almost certainly have moved forward as you tuned the new strings, by moving I mean the angle. Be careful if it does need moving back as if you don’t hold the bridge correctly you could snap it, better ask your teacher to do it for you.

February 27, 2023, 9:48 AM · Good advice from both prior contributors.

If you remain dissatisfied with your violin's sound after the Tonicas settle in I recommend taking your violin to a good, experienced luthier for advice. By hearing and playing your violin with well-known strings (Tonicas and Dominants have been around for the longest time of all synthetic-core strings) you should be able to get good advice about improvements that might be had with each of your strings. It's the way I came to the current string mix on my viola after owning it for 20 years.

I recall that some decades ago, when SHAR still distributed a printed annual catalogue, they included information on the strings used by various employees on their own instruments. Mixed sets were very common and there was not much commonality among the various choices. It was also probably a clever gimmick for selling more strings.

February 27, 2023, 2:07 PM · I do think that, even with a well-adjusted instrument, many people will find Tonicas less 'rich' sounding than Evahs (mediums), across a variety of violins.

Edited: February 27, 2023, 3:25 PM · Just to be sure: I'm not complaining about Tonica at all nor I want to change them in a short period.

For sure need to wait more they will settle, need adjustment almost every day. I didn't like the sound respect the old setting with EP, but due the fact I have performed the change myself - total beginner in violin, first time changing a string set, resetting myself the bridge after was slightly bended in a corner - maybe I'm the one to be blamed for the result. Still even in this status there is nothing wrong, the teacher never complained about the sound (he didn't hear how was with the EP), is right in tone and very playable.

What I didn't understand is - having as example the change in my violin sound - how is evaluated and to be chosen a couple violin+string set.

If will be only by ear I'll be condemned to purchase and try strings, not a bad way to use money, but very inefficient.

I was thinking there are some rule+tool+chart to
- evaluate your violin (bright, clear, warm, etc)
- define what kind of sound you want to evolve into
- choose your strings based on your goal, depending from the fact the different strings have different properties

I have a MSc degree and also an EMBA, maybe I spent too much time looking at Gartner-like quadrants and charts and I'm just missing the point how the whole thing need to be approached :D. Our teacher seems to didn't care at all and probably there are much more important things. But I'm overly curious and always want to understand...

Edited: February 27, 2023, 3:30 PM · If I were you, personally, for what its worth I would give it about a year, and see how your sound changes. At the moment it will be nearly impossible for you to decide on the different sound of strings, and which you need, your ear has to develope first, it takes a while, but what you may think sounds bad now, will probably in a year or so time sound completely different to you, theres no rush enjoy learning. Why not get your teacher to play your fiddle while you listen, if he or she hasnt already, this will give you a much better idea of what your strings sound like and also how they can sound different depending on whom is playing them
Edited: February 27, 2023, 3:54 PM · DZ

I don 't think those "quadrant charts" are much use. They may apply for violins of a certain range of "types" but I think knowing the effect of string tensions and how to set a soundpost for different responses from a particular instrument is much more relevant.

Also, the "status" (i.e., audiograph) of a player's hearing has a large effect on how a specific violin sounds to the player.

February 27, 2023, 3:54 PM · Summing up :), let's say there is much more art than science.
I will stop pretening too much schematic questions and answers and try learning the secrets out of it.
This is not my work, so a beautiful way to get a new mindset.
Thanks a lot as always for the incredible ideas and information.
February 27, 2023, 4:06 PM · Prepare to become addicted.
February 27, 2023, 5:51 PM · Have an experienced player play your violin and offer suggestions. It's up to you what sound you want -- if you have a darker sounding violin you can make it brighter, but sometimes people who do that miss all the dark overtones. Some people who play primarily in orchestra sections like to blend; others play more chamber music and want to stand out a little. If Vision Solos are too forward-sounding, consider Vision -- they're a little softer, a little more like Dominants.

Evahs are notoriously short-lived so if you're playing on 3-year-old Evahs who knows what you're getting. People shouldn't play Evahs unless they have the resources to change them a lot.

February 27, 2023, 6:34 PM · Having a good luthier is crucial. Charts get you a good first approximation of how strings might sound on your violin, but no more than that. Violins are all different, and your luthier is in the best position to listen to your violin with its current strings and setup and make suggestions about what strings and/or adjustments will help you achieve the sound you seek. Good luck!
Edited: February 28, 2023, 3:24 AM · @Tom - I guess (not for the first time) things are very different over here! In my experience luthiers really aren't the people to go to with small sound issues that are essentially a matter of personal perception and taste. Of course they're important when something is really wrong with the setup but none of the luthiers I know have much truck with the absurd proliferation of string brands that has occurred in recent years.
February 28, 2023, 5:26 AM · I think luthiers are generally familiar with the strings brands they stock and nothing more.
February 28, 2023, 7:38 AM · @John @Steve - my luthier stocks a significant number of different strings. However, my point is that whatever your luthier stocks, s/he can at least point you in the right direction by suggesting you try whatever strings s/he has that are more likely to achieve the sound you seek than your current strings. S/he can also make adjustments to your setup which can help.
February 28, 2023, 8:15 AM · One thing a post-MBA consultant should have learned (if from a good school and an honest employer) is the actual value of 2x2 charts.
February 28, 2023, 8:20 AM · @ Tom, Yes I agree. An experienced luthier should be well qualified to pair an instrument with an appropriate string set based on player preference.
February 28, 2023, 3:40 PM · 2x2 charts are beautiful, simple representations. (I work for Gartner, where I've generated plenty of them over the years.)

However, beautiful, simple representations, while great for conveying high-level ideas, are terrible at capturing nuance.

There's a lot more to the way strings sound than those four-quadrant charts capture, even before you get to the way that individual strings respond to individual instruments. Strings also feel different under the left-hand fingers and beneath the bow, and some strings feel more or less tense in a way that doesn't necessarily correspond to their actual measured tension.

While we can generalize broadly about certain strings, I don't think that there's a substitute for actually trying them out on your specific violin. For a beginner, I'd say that the smart thing to do is get Dominants or Tonicas (or maybe Visions) -- decently long-lasting, fairly neutral, high-quality strings that are reasonably priced -- and stick with them until you are able to produce a nice enough sound, and play on a decent enough violin, that it's worth buying higher-end strings (and being pickier in their selection) rather than putting the money towards a future violin upgrade.

February 28, 2023, 3:43 PM · @Lydia - Amen. You have put the matter quite well. thanks.
Edited: March 1, 2023, 5:34 AM · I was worried about the same things when I had been playing for three months. But the truth is that if someone who has been playing the violin for three months is dissatisfied with their sound, it is because they have been playing the violin for three months.

Put Tonicas on your Gliga, practise for 3 years, then have another look at the question. By that time you will probably have upgraded anyway.

But also, if you keep your hardware constant you will hear how you change, which is important.

Sounding brilliant or warm or broad or focussed is a skill that has to be learnt by the student. It's only after they've learnt it that these things will become the hardware's responsibility.

A Strad will sound like a Strad and a Guarneri will sound like a Guarneri when they are played by someone who knows how. They will both sound like Stentors when they are played by someone who has been learning for three months.

March 1, 2023, 4:19 AM · hi D Z, just to echo what has already been said. if you are a beginner, and have a decent student violin (which you have), which normal decent strings (which you have), you should be practicing instead of worrying about your gear. you can replace your strings (by the same brand) every year at the luthier's shop, and they can have a quick check-up of your violin. but the main message is: practice, practice, practice! enjoy the violin journey!
March 5, 2023, 4:21 AM · I'm sorry, but it is not just practice!
Our playing is affected by the instrument response, which in turn is affected by string response, and the bow's weight, balance, and elasticity.

But I agree that a Gigla violin with Tonica strings should allow pleasure and progress. Tonicas need careful choice of contact point, bow pressure and speed.

And let us remember that brand new synthetic-cored strings sound horribly harsh when new. And horribly grotty when old.

March 5, 2023, 8:54 AM · Context, Adrian. If you tell a beginner it's not just about practice, they'll spend money on gear and not practise.
Edited: March 7, 2023, 2:57 AM · I don't really understand the criticisms of the quadrant charts. They are not pseudo-science, because they are not presented as science - it's obvious they are purely subjective; and as for nuance, the charts don't quantify. Also Shar differs from Fiddlerman and the nuances are up to you and your violin and your ears.
If each quadrant features a dozen string types and your violin is warm and broad you can then focus your search on the dozen strings in the bright focussed quadrant. It's easier than trying out 4 dozen string types, which might take you 24 years unless you want to throw money away.
My advice is for a beginner to buy Tonicas then play for a few years then maybe decide which quadrant their sound is in and which direction they'd like to take it.
March 6, 2023, 1:42 AM · Thanks all its incredible the amount of valuable hints I can get just posting here.

Of course will be practicing, today with the teacher.

The reason for my post was just understanding more general rules about instrument and strings coupling, not since I will rush in purchasing new one (for practicing the current one are fine as written), but just if possible to get back at the next strings change the sound I loved more when I purchased the instrument.

I read countless times the personal feeling in having a nice sounding instrument it's a powerful motivating factor in progressing, what I can humbly say is even as beginner after pushing all the options to get - in the budget - the best sounding instrument I can, I was slightly deluded in how the sound changed with the new strings.

That said for next year or so I will have this string set and practicing practicing practicing.

March 6, 2023, 6:14 PM · Agreed that messing about with strings isn't generally worthwhile for a beginner. However, the OP seems to be looking ahead, and practice is always more rewarding when one's instrument has an optimal set up.

Most of my loaner instruments (mostly stentor and similar) have tonica strings, but I do have a couple of gligas. These violins sound rather dull with tonicas and do seem to prefer strings from the brighter side of the chart.

Both my best loaner violin (Gliga 2) and my own gliga 1 viola love Brilliant, but they are among the more expensive warchal strings. When you get up to needing new strings, check whether warchal are still offering a trial price on their sets.

It might be worth checking whether their ametyst strings (I think that's their entry level set) sound good. They didn't work at all for my stentors (sounded garish) but we're nice on the beginner home brand range from one of the music shops here in Sydney.

Edited: March 7, 2023, 3:02 AM · all beginners look ahead.
it's a temptation to be resisted.
as is practising in your head,
because you always sound like perlman there!
uGH,and capslock too
back to reading and coffee
March 7, 2023, 4:13 AM · There's a lot of it about. I just learned that my neighbour who plays in a brass band recently had Covid and passed it on to two band members. Someone should do a study of Covid morbidity amongst orchestral players. I'll try not to breathe too much during tonight's rehearsal.
March 7, 2023, 4:32 AM · My own bout with Covid last spring very likely derived from a chamber orchestra concert/ reception. I think I was wearing a mask for much of the necessary time, but risks certainly go up when around others.
Edited: March 7, 2023, 5:01 AM · I'm still wearing a mask for all indoor rehearsals and concerts.

After dodging COVID for two and a half years, I am about 99% sure I caught it playing in the orchestra at an outdoor event last summer; at least three other members of the orchestra also tested positive within a few days afterward, and it was the only place I was around people without wearing a N95 mask all week. Although outdoor events are still much safer than indoor events, Omicron is so much more contagious that the chance of catching it outdoors is no longer negligible.

Long COVID is, unfortunately, a thing. I had mild acute symptoms (I only felt really bad for about half a day) but 7 months later I still have severe brain fog and get winded walking to the Starbucks around the corner from my apartment. A year ago I was finishing a postgraduate law degree and playing in two orchestras; right now I'm playing in a single community orchestra and not working at all, and that amount of activity already pushes my mental and physical endurance.

March 7, 2023, 5:18 AM · Roughly the same with mine. I had almost no symptoms, and nothing an ER doctor wouldn't have sneered at. But I had massive fatigue for weeks (18 hours of sleep at the beginning) and brain fog for months. I thought I was past all that, but am finding that writing my PhD thesis is even more of an exhausting chore than I would have expected. At least I can do some of it now, but even the simple stuff is exhausting and slightly terrifying.
March 7, 2023, 6:54 AM · @Andrew - Sorry to hear about your bout with Covid. I am interested in your comment about catching Covid outdoors. I would bet that the likelihood of doing so is probably less than the likelihood of catching it indoors while wearing a mask. Masks, even N95s, are not perfect and sometimes people use ones that do not quite fit perfectly or expose themselves while adjusting or moving the mask. Also, in an orch, not everyone is wearing a mask all the time, so you are potentially exposed to whatever wind and brass players have Covid. Anyhow, an interesting question.
Edited: March 7, 2023, 11:06 AM · I have found that on a dark, warm-toned violin, bright strings can add "bloom" to the tone, while on a dull toned instrument the same strings will just screech, being unable to vibrate the wood so quickly.

This discussion has been archived and is no longer accepting responses.

Facebook Twitter YouTube Instagram Email is made possible by...

Shar Music
Shar Music: Check out our selection of Celtic music

Pirastro Strings
Pirastro Strings

JR Judd Violins
JR Judd Violins

Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases
Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases

Thomastik-Infeld's Dynamo Strings
Thomastik-Infeld's Dynamo Strings

National Symphony Orchestra
National Symphony Orchestra

Violins of Hope
Violins of Hope Summer Music Programs Directory
Find a Summer Music Program Shopping Guide Shopping Guide

Colburn School

Metzler Violin Shop

Southwest Strings

Bobelock Cases

Johnson String Instrument/Carriage House Violins

Jargar Strings

Bay Fine Strings Violin Shop


Los Angeles Violin Shop


String Masters

Nazareth Gevorkian Violins

Laurie's Books

Discover the best of in these collections of editor Laurie Niles' exclusive interviews. Interviews Volume 1 Interviews Volume 1, with introduction by Hilary Hahn Interviews Volume 2 Interviews Volume 2, with introduction by Rachel Barton Pine