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UG Fiddlesmith

String Gauges

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I have mostly fit medium gauge strings to instruments and would like to know when it is appropriate to use light or heavy gauge strings; according to the package the amount of tension increases as the gauge goes from light to heavy and amounts to about 10% increase per size. Thanks

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Michael Darnton, in postings a number of years back, offered a general recommendation for trying light gauge strings.  In my experience that's a good recommendation.

 

In my experience, light gauge strings have had two effects:  They lessened the stridency of a fiddle which was somewhat on the shrill side.   They offered a more immediate tonal response to the bow.

 

I haven't had good results with heavy gauge strings.  The times I've put 4 of them on a fiddle, it choked the fiddle, increasing the response time for the tone to pop out, producing more unmusical noise before the tone popped out, while requiring more bow pressure to get any sound.  I'm no fan of heavy gauge strings.  If you want to experiment with heavy gauge, try a string or two.  All four may be too much.

 

From a structural standpoint, disregarding any tonal advantage, it makes sense to favor light gauge over heavy (or medium) since the tension on the fiddle is lower with light gauge and thus, over time, so is the accumulated stress.

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Michael Darnton, in postings a number of years back, offered a general recommendation for trying light gauge strings.  In my experience that's a good recommendation.

 

In my experience, light gauge strings have had two effects:  They lessened the stridency of a fiddle which was somewhat on the shrill side.   They offered a more immediate tonal response to the bow.

 

I haven't had good results with heavy gauge strings.  The times I've put 4 of them on a fiddle, it choked the fiddle, increasing the response time for the tone to pop out, producing more unmusical noise, while requiring more bow pressure to get any sound.  I'm no fan of heavy gauge strings.  If you want to experiment with heavy gauge, try a string or two.  All four may be too much.

 

From a structural standpoint, disregarding any tonal advantage, it makes sense to favor light gauge over heavy (or medium) since the tension on the fiddle is lower with light gauge and thus, over time, so is the accumulated stress.

I can confirm that. Especially when you move into the upper positions the instrument is more responsive and less likely to "choke". In some instances a "wolf" will shift or diminish.

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I have known shops to put full size strings on 3/4 fiddles,,

They can play surprisingly nice,, the tension is obviously lowered.

The bow contact is good and as you say the tone is immediate

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Leopold Mozart makes an interesting recommendation in his violin school: he says that smaller instruments need thinner strings (I think he is talking about smaller instruments, but the same string length, not about fractional size instruments). Quantz does the same. Personally, I like somewhat lower tension on my cello (somewhat slim Strad model), otherwise it is hard to play and sounds dull. But recently I tried a huge Montagnana model cello strung with Jargar dolce strings, and the cello improved significantly after being strung with Jargar forte a and d, spirocore medium g and Warchal c string (this is what I coincidentally had lying around). Now, this may be a coincidence, but I'm starting to wonder wether Mozart and Quanz were in fact right that there is a correlation between the size of the sound box and the gauge of the strings that work best on it. Has any of you ever noticed such a correlation?

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I don't think there are any hard-and-fast rules on the matter, but typically heavy/soloist gauge strings are thicker/heavier/stiffer and this change affects the inharmonicity of the string, i.e. the out-of-tuneness of the upper partials. According to Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inharmonicity#Mode-locking , this effect is not as pronounced with bowed instruments as compared to the piano, however I think it is still significant. A more technical summary here: http://www.21harmony.com/1/post/2012/08/illuminating-inharmonicity.html .

 

Unless you are Heifetz or Rostropovich, I'd say err on the side of "easier-to-play" thinner strings.

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