Apr 12

Strung out on strings


The best thing about a broken violin string is getting to put NEW strings on. The options for strings are vast, so how do you choose which strings are the best for you? That really depends on the type of sound you are looking for and the playing situations you find yourself in, not to mention how much you want to invest.

When I started playing violin a LONG time ago, all beginners used a basic metal string, which is a string with a steel core and a variety of metals for the winding. These violin strings are extremely sturdy and will stay in tune in all sorts of conditions. Teachers love these strings because they hardly need maintenance, are extremely affordable, and last a long time. However, these basic metal strings don’t produce the greatest quality of sound. But, since then, string makers have started producing higher quality metal strings that produce a bigger, richer sound with the same dependability of all metal strings. Many professional players have started using Helicore strings by D’Addario, which have a metal core, due to their durability.

Basically, the only other option when I was a kid was to use gut strings. Gut strings are pretty much what they sound like. Gut strings are made from dried strands from the inside of cats or lamb.

These were the strings that were used centuries ago, and they can still be found in this pure form, although many string makers started winding these gut strings with metal. But, because of their fragile components, gut strings can be quite temperamental to changes in temperature and humidity, causing them to stretch and contract easily. When strings stretch and contract, they go out of tune. Also, eventually, gut strings quickly become “false” and lose their sound quality. Not only do these strings carry a high price tag, but they also need to be changed frequently. People who use gut strings are sold by the quality of sound they get from these strings, which is soulful and deep. Pirastro Eudoxa is a well-known brand of contemporary gut strings.

As the musical and technological sciences started convening, string makers started looking for new ways to make strings that would combine the best of both worlds. Strings with synthetic cores started coming to the forefront of the string players’ circles. Perlon and nylon are just some examples of the cores found in the synthetic strings. The synthetic cores combine the stability of the metal strings with the sweet and rich sound of the gut strings. Synthetic strings are also very affordable. One thing I’ve noticed is that some instruments do better with one brand or another. Not one brand is preferred across the board. It’s really up to the player and the sound qualities of each instrument. I have tried Dominant, Zyex, Evah Pirazzi, Peter Infeld PI, as well as a few others.

When I was in college, the choices of strings only caused more confusion. My “old school” teacher from my childhood was stuck on gut strings and wouldn’t fathom using any other type of string. Before I went to college, I started using synthetic core strings and was very happy with the results. But, the options kept growing, and I wasn’t sure which strings were going to be my best investment. After all, I was a college student. So, I did a little research for a science class I was taking. My teacher indulged me and let me test all three types of strings on my violin. What I found wasn’t surprising. The metal strings were strong and in tune, but they left much to be desired once the bow left the string as the sound pretty much stopped. The synthetic core strings had a richer sound quality, and the sound continued when the bow lifted from the string but diminished quickly. And, the gut strings were the sweetest sounding strings of all of them, and their resonance couldn’t be beat when the bow was on and off the string.

Someday, I’d like to try using gut strings again. But, for now, I’m trying my first set of Peter Infeld PI strings with a Platinum Plated E string from Thomastik-Infeld. I have to say I really like these strings and will probably continue to use them until someone suggests something else. When you buy your next set, try something new. You may be surprised what a difference a new set of strings can make.

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