Jump to content
Maestronet Forums

Best strings for a cheap violin?


cjstuff
 Share

Recommended Posts

About 3 years ago, I purchased a random rock-bottom priced Chinese VSO on eBay for use when I travel professionally. I figured that since this instrument would spend most of its playing time with a heavy practice mute stuck on the bridge, projection and overtones were secondary to matching the string length to my primary instrument. Plus, it would be nice to have a completely fungible instrument where it didn't matter if it got stolen or if someone sat on it.

So, after my metallic purple violin arrived (I always wanted an instrument that color coordinated with a 1971 "plum crazy" Dodge Challenger), I swapped the remarkably crooked and useless "bow" for an old-school Glasser fiberglass bow, changed the ultra-thin and blood-drawing Chinese strings for a set of Red Label Super-Sensitives, and away I went.

Here's the rub. For all of its inherent problems (hard finish, inconsistent build quality, soft wood fingerboard, etc.), it's actually not that awful an instrument. After I swapped out the plastic pegs for some scavenged ebony pegs that fit it reasonably well and added Wittner fine tuners, the violin stayed in tune very well. The setup was "close enough" accurate. And the sound was quite a bit better than many student violins I've heard/played over the years, though it's got that unmistakable "transistor radio" cheap violin sound when it's played without a mute.

I'm now looking for help figuring out how to modestly improve the sound a bit further. Already on the list: (1) change out the (plastic) tailpiece for a Wittner with integrated fine tuners that I have lying around (thus also increasing string afterlength); and (2) thin and open up the low quality bridge that's been fitted. But what about the strings? I'm leaning towards Helicores, because I'm guessing that this body needs all the brightness it can get, and I think that perlon core strings will likely provide a dull, dead sound. But what do y'all think? Remember, my goal is end up with an admittedly-modest instrument that isn't completely horrible to play.

For those who think this is a ringing endorsement for $25 violins, think again. I was satisfied enough with this violin that I purchased another one (in shiny black) when my fingers started leaving indentations in the soft fake ebony fingerboard on the purple violin. That second violin, with an identical setup and approximately the same sound post location...will make a very nice lamp someday. Yuck!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Here's how I would rank my favorite steel strings in terms of sound:

Pirastro Chromcor (warmer sounding than Prim)

Prim or Pirastro Piranito (not enough experience with Piranito yet to decide which I like better)

Helicore

Prelude

In terms of durability/useable life (in case that matters)-Prim, then either Pirastro (about equal to Red Label), Prelude, Helicore.

Helicore is a nice string, and performs more like a perlon string than the others, but even the Prelude will seem like a big step up from the Red Labels.

D'Addario may be at an advantage given the weak dollar so I'll also mention their synthetic Xyex string. These are very durable and stable. They might be a very good choice here.

The Pirastro e's are very nice (maybe same as Gold Label?). I don't have an opinion on the Prim e (need to pay more attention to it next time), but I don't care for the D'Addario e's. I think it would be worth putting on a Corelli e, or Gold Label e if you're feeling flush.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I recently tried Helicores to brighten up a violin that has a characteristic soft, monochromatic tone, and am very pleased with the result. The sound is crisp but has more color and warmth than Red Label. They have a quick response, too. For comparison, I also tried Zyex on the same fiddle and they had the "dull, dead" sound you feared from perlon cores. I also like Tonicas, which cost about $10 more per set than Helicores.

Mary

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I would also suggest a set of Helicores. I recently did some work on a VSO for a client and put a set of Helicores on it for the same reasons that have been listed above. Quick response, good power, but still some warmth and good playability. I have Helicores on my electric violin and have put Helicores on several instruments for clients. The Helicores seem to "drive" heavy or dull instruments well.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I honestly cannot quote an instance in which Red Labels were any good for me, and where any other string (including the thin Chinese ones) didn't result in improved tone.

Don't assume that the violin sounds like a "transistor radio" because of what it is - the kind of instrument you describe may very possibly require more mellow-sounding strings rather than "bright" ones. Nevertheless, I endorse the choice of Helicores as an initial attempt to improve the tone. If they sound too bright, try a decent synthetic-core type.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I added those heavy Wittner fine tuners to the "rosewood" tail piece on my violin for a good reason--Red Label strings are so sensitive to tiny tension differences that they're pretty much impossible to tune with pegs alone. Sure, I could install a set of planetary pegs onto this violin, but suddenly I'm investing a bit of actual money into my "no-budget" violin. As I mentioned, my compromise will be to go with a composite Wittner tailpiece with integrated fine tuners. I'll save a bunch of weight (I should weigh the two tail pieces and post the results), and I'll still have the functionality that I need.

It looks like a lot of folks are pleased with Helicores. Putting them on my wiplstix ultra-travel violin made an huge and positive difference on that little whiny but cool instrument, and I'm also pleased with how they've improved the sound of a viola that I occasionally use when I'm doing a "one man band"-type backup job.

FYI, my experience with ultra-slim Chinese strings vs. Red Labels has been that they sound about the same to me, at least on the bargain-basement violins that were strung with them. However, I don't end up slicing off my fingertips with Red Labels, which I think counts for something.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I have been pleased with Preludes in this situation. Much more responsive than Supersenitive's Red Labels, and don't have that "nasal" sound of Helicores. Preludes are also cheap and durable. I have seen a few pathetic, cheap VOS's that actually sound surprisingly decent when properly adjusted and strung with Preludes.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

quote:


Originally posted by:
cjstuff

I added those heavy Wittner fine tuners to the "rosewood" tail piece on my violin for a good reason--Red Label strings are so sensitive to tiny tension differences that they're pretty much impossible to tune with pegs alone. Sure, I could install a set of planetary pegs onto this violin, but suddenly I'm investing a bit of actual money into my "no-budget" violin. As I mentioned, my compromise will be to go with a composite Wittner tailpiece with integrated fine tuners. I'll save a bunch of weight (I should weigh the two tail pieces and post the results), and I'll still have the functionality that I need.

Is your Wittner tailpiece metal or the "space age composite material" (plastic). My impression is that most people now prefer the sound of the plastic version, but I'll be looking forward to hearing what you think of either. I work mostly with fiddle players and they almost universally insist on fine tuners even with Perlon strings, so this is something I've been trying to get a better handle on.

I do think that with steel strings (but not Perlon) the full set of Wittner fine tuners on an ebony tailpiece can sometimes give the best results. It may be that in some situations the mass helps damp the ringing of the strings. Or something.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I've worked on a number of low-end Chinese instruments, and they are getting better. One would have to add that given their quality a few years ago, that's the only direction they could have changed.

For strings, I'd say Preludes as well. I like Helicores, but in my experience, you won't gain much more until you get a new bridge and soundpost. The bridges on these instruments are usually some sort of white, soft-looking wood. Thinning and adjusting doesn't do much good. Something as modest as an Aubert 3-star is a tremendous improvement. The soundpost is also usually quite poor quality, and badly fit.

I also like the ultra-light Wittners. A heavy tailpiece with a short afterlength kills the tone.

I know you were asking about strings, but I think strings will get you only so far. I see many many $75 violins with $75 Dominants on them, because people believe that will help. To my ear, you get more from investing in a bridge and soundpost.

Cheers,

Ken

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I vote for anything American made. I'm pushing almost exclusively D'Addario products and charging an up charge for new violins fit with anything that involves the "Euro". Besides with the instrument you've described, it's basically a crap shoot. I would therefore say Helicore or Prelude or if you must, Zyex.

JB

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.
Note: Your post will require moderator approval before it will be visible.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

Loading...
 Share

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    • No registered users viewing this page.


×
×
  • Create New...