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KB_Smith

Can String Selection Change a Violin's Tone?

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I'm not sure if this question is better placed in the Fingerboard or the Pegbox forum, but it seems to be more of a hardware question to me, so I'll place it on the Pegbox.

I see violins described as having a "bright" tone, or having a "rich" or "warm" tone.  I don't think I've seen them described as having a "dark" tone, which in my mind would be the opposite of a "bright" tone.  Anyway, I'm wondering how much a violin's tone depends on the string selection, as opposed to the instrument's actual design, the qualities of the woods used its construction, and setup (tailpiece, bridge, etc.).  without making changes to the setup, can one significantly change the tone of the instrument simply by putting on a different set of strings?  If the violin sounds too "bright," can you "darken" the tone just by changing the strings?

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Absolutely. 

String selection will not affect tone to the degree that setup (soundpost, bridge etc) will, but can make enough of a difference that the players will notice in a blind test. 

 

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I find that different strings can make a noticable difference.  I am about to try another version of my favorite viola C string.  If you could give some ideas about your present set up we could give some ideas.  The good news is compared to tears ago there are lots and lots of good strings available now.

 

DLB

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Strings and set-up can change the tone quite a bit, but it won't make a fundamentally bright violin dark and vice versa.

In my shop, if it is too bright, to me, I put darker leaning strings on it and if it is too dark-bordering on hollow sounding-it gets brighter(EVAH ir perhaps TI) strings.

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My usual advice based more upon my own instruments is as follows:

Too Bright - Pirastro Obligatos

Too Dark - Pirastro Evah Perazzi

My usual choice - Pirastro Evah Perazzi Gold (Powerful but not to bright)

(Both Violin and Viola BTW)

 

There are a zillion other choices and I admit to being a hopeless Pirastro FanBoy.

DLB

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5 hours ago, KB_Smith said:

I see violins described as having a "bright" tone, or having a "rich" or "warm" tone.  I don't think I've seen them described as having a "dark" tone, which in my mind would be the opposite of a "bright" tone. 

Sometime, I may also attribute the tonal character as "full" or "thin", besides "dark" or "bright", for both violin and string. Moreover, I think "rich", "warm", and "full" are similar tonal properties, as opposed to "hollow", "direct", and "thin". While used interchangeably between "dark" and "warm", I may think some strings are more warmish than darkish, and vice versa.

For instance, Vision Solo, one of my favorites, to me is full, round, and warm, but not necessarily dark; I could clearly differentiate the tonal characters between Vision Solo and the very dark Obligato.

 

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My current setup is Dominant G, D, and A strings with Pirastro Wondertone Gold E.  It was set up at my local violin shop with a new sound post and an Aubert Luxe bridge.  I think it sounds bright, although I must admit it sounds beautiful when my instructor (a professional violinist) plays it for me.  I can't seem to get a full, rich tone out of it, but I just started learning a few months ago and my bowing is not very good yet, so I imagine it is more the violinist than the violin.  But would you say Dominant with the Pirastro Gold E is a bright set of strings?  I'm just looking for advice for the next set of strings, maybe a year from now.  Thanks.

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4 hours ago, KB_Smith said:

If the violin sounds too "bright," can you "darken" the tone just by changing the strings?

 

4 hours ago, J Corry said:

Absolutely. 

String selection will not affect tone to the degree that setup (soundpost, bridge etc) will, but can make enough of a difference that the players will notice in a blind test. 

 

Agree fully; change of string would modify/mitigate the tonal character of an instrument, however would not be able to change the core of tone. Setup, soundpost and bridge in particular, is more impactful on the tone. However, the core is intrinsic to each instrument. One would not be able to convert a student instrument to a Strad by changing strings and/or setup.

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4 hours ago, KB_Smith said:

I'm not sure.............but it seems to be more of a hardware question to me, so I'll place it on the Pegbox...........................without making changes to the setup, can one significantly change the tone of the instrument simply by putting on a different set of strings?

Yup, and yup.  While this question usually takes for granted that you're discussing professionally acceptable strings such as Warchal, Pirastro, or Infeld, using off-brand (particularly Chinese) bargain strings can turn the finest setup into crap instantly.  Given the current trend toward string faking, I consider it imperative to remove any questionable strings when you receive a fiddle, and pay the premium to get "name" strings from a reliable supplier.  I've been having the best luck lately with Warchal's various lines, and recommend them.  :)

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I went with Dominant G, D, and A and Pirastro Gold E because that is what my instructor recommended I start with.  He said we can try something else next time if I wan to "fiddle" around with different strings (my words, not his).  I actually started learning on a 16 inch viola and I loved the deep, rich tone, but my hand and fingers are too short to comfortably reach the 4th finger on C and G.  I had quite a bit of strain and pain in wrist tendons, and invariably my other three fingers would creep forward on the fingerboard whenever I had to reach for that 4th finger.  So my instructor suggested I try violin. So I rented a violin for a month to try it and it was instantly easier for me to reach all the finger positions.  So I went all in and bought a violin.  I kept my viola and hope that after I get reasonably good at violin, I'll give the viola another shot.  I love the deeper, richer tone of the viola.  I know the violin is not going to sound like a viola, but I'd still like to get that full rich sound from it.  I'm quite sure my bowing is the real culprit right now.

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Okay, I'll talk with my luthier about the soundpost.  He told me to let him know if I needed any adjustments.  I also have problems bowing the D string cleanly.  Seams like I almost always catch the G or the A string with it.  I'm wondering if he puts a little more curve on the bridge for me if that will help.  But my instructor does not have that problem on my violin at all.  He says it is a good setup and I just need to learn the correct bow angle to play that D string cleanly.  I don't have that problem on any of the other strings.

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36 minutes ago, KB_Smith said:

But would you say Dominant with the Pirastro Gold E is a bright set of strings?  I'm just looking for advice for the next set of strings, maybe a year from now.  Thanks.

It is a great question.

The bright tone appears to be intrinsic to your violin with current setup. Dominant is well-known neutral strings, right in the middle of road between bright and dark, as well as between direct and complex. That said it may sound bright in some instruments, and sound dark in some others, depending on the tonal character of the instruments.

30 minutes ago, Violadamore said:

 I've been having the best luck lately with Warchal's various lines, and recommend them.  :)

I like some of Warchal's as well, particularly Brilliant Vintage, Amber, and Ametyst. However, I did not have the luck with the most popular Warchal Brilliant and Amber E. In my experience, Brilliant Vintages (A,D,G) are quite full, yet still brilliant and colorful; while Ambers (A,D,G) are round and warm sounding, although not as dark as Obligato. Ametyst sounds pleasant and pure, but bright.

Besides Vision Solo and Warchal Amber, Kaplan AMO and Passione are likely suitable on your instrument. In fact, Passiones are the most round and full sounding strings (but very expansive).

Among the Es I have used, the Pirastro Universal No.1 E is very warm (and "dark") and sweet, while Larsen Tzigane E is full, pleasant and brilliant.

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2 hours ago, KB_Smith said:

I actually started learning on a 16 inch viola and I loved the deep, rich tone, but my hand and fingers are too short to comfortably reach the 4th finger on C and G.  I had quite a bit of strain and pain in wrist tendons, and invariably my other three fingers would creep forward on the fingerboard whenever I had to reach for that 4th finger.  So my instructor suggested I try violin. So I rented a violin for a month to try it and it was instantly easier for me to reach all the finger positions.  So I went all in and bought a violin.  I kept my viola and hope that after I get reasonably good at violin, I'll give the viola another shot.  I love the deeper, richer tone of the viola.  I know the violin is not going to sound like a viola, but I'd still like to get that full rich sound from it.  I'm quite sure my bowing is the real culprit right now.

If you like viola you should stick with viola! Not everyone likes e-string whiners :)

I too have a 16" that I aspire to able to reach :( just checked, nope still can't. 

Whilst that sits in its case, I tinker with others I *can* reach... either a violin strung as viola or an actual 14" factory built as a viola (it's slightly taller than a 14" violin). 

Definitely not as mellow growly shake-the-windows as the 16" (think its on Dominants) but the 14" is about 3/4 way there...! :ph34r::lol:

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My instructor told me not to bother with a viola smaller than 15 1/2 inch.  It just won't have the powerful sound.  Besides, I love bluegrass and Celtic fiddling - and that's violin.  It might be a while before I can do that.  Maybe a year from now I might be able to do some simple fiddling, but good to have an objective to work towards. And one day I'll get back to my 16 inch viola.  I might just have to learn to shift to second position to cover for my short fingers!   But now we're moving this discussion to something more for the Fingerboard forum - sorry about that.

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14 minutes ago, KB_Smith said:

My instructor told me not to bother with a viola smaller than 15 1/2 inch.  It just won't have the powerful sound. 

Maybe, maybe not... it's a half truth, sorta. Smaller box & you can't argue against physics. But IMHO the real limitation is, for violin you've got 1000s of different strings available, for std viola you've got 100s... for kiddy viola there's even less choice, barely a dozen? I like mellow perlon.

Bow can also affect sound. Heavier stiffer sounds better on larger instruments but then I lose agility. 

 

I don't play music, it's more trying to get tunes out of my head. And those tunes usually sit around the C & G string range ^_^ currently eyeing a 5-string :lol: perhaps electric. (Have pity on neighbours)

 

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5 hours ago, KB_Smith said:

My instructor told me not to bother with a viola smaller than 15 1/2 inch.  It just won't have the powerful sound.  Besides, I love bluegrass and Celtic fiddling - and that's violin.  It might be a while before I can do that.  Maybe a year from now I might be able to do some simple fiddling, but good to have an objective to work towards. And one day I'll get back to my 16 inch viola.  I might just have to learn to shift to second position to cover for my short fingers!   But now we're moving this discussion to something more for the Fingerboard forum - sorry about that.

There are rare violins which have a viola-type sound. I have one which turns heads wherever it plays. I also have a 15" viola which produces the goods (and I have the pleasure of being able to compare with a couple of good 16" violas).

If you enjoy the hunt, go looking for that special violin or a small viola that works for you. Not impossible.

Set-up (in particular sound post) can have a big impact with some instruments (usually the better ones), but surprisingly little effect with other instruments (usually the not-so-good ones).

String choice, I think, is a little over-rated for most instruments. Again, a fine instrument will show a stronger reaction and make you hear what the marketing brochure for the string says. The average student instrument may just about sound the same no matter what stings are on. Also, it is difficult to actually compare strings. In most cases you compare an old (worn-out) string coming off the instrument with a fresh string going on. Then, most strings will need a couple of days before they sound their best. Over that period you will have adapted to the new string and 'forgotten' the old one.

I have seen musicians going though hundreds of dollars of strings and searching and testing for a year or two, when a little nudge to the soundpost was all they needed to be happy.

Your order of proceedings is 1. Instrument; 2. Set-up; 3. Stings.

If you must start at the wrong end, don't just sink lots of money into strings. Find a friend or two and swap strings for a few days just for fun. That'll be entertaining for all involved.

As for actual stings and for what you seem to be after I'd second the Obligatos as mentioned before.

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Just had a little girl of 8/9 years in to try an inexpensive 3/4 Violin

She has done grade 2 with distinction on a 1/2

I offered her the standard Stentor Conservatoire - one with factory string, one with Tonicas and a third used one with Obligatos. Set up was identical

Without hesitation she gravitated to the Obligatos and even the parents could clearly hear the difference

 

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Very interesting and helpful comments and advice.  I'm not in the market to buy another instrument, so I'll go to order of proceedings 2 - set-up.  A couple of you have mentioned the soundpost.  It could very well be that the set-up won't make a big difference on this instrument, an early 20th century Schoenbach trade violin, but worth discussing with the luthier. I just bought this set of strings a month ago, so I won't try another set for  while, but will likely take the collective advice here and try Obligato's when I'm ready to change them again.

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So, here's an update on this thread.  I started this 7 months ago by asking if string selection can appreciably change a violin's tone.  I think my violin sounds too bright and I wanted to warm the tone.  The answers were generally yes, strings can change the tone, but but not as much as setup can.  I was told that in priority order, tone is determined by: 1) the instrument, 2) the set-up (bridge, sound post), and 3) the strings.  I had several suggestions for warmer sounding strings, which I very much appreciated.  So, now 7 months later, I finally changed my strings.  I went with Obligato's, which several people suggested for the tone quality I want.  I just put the new strings on two days ago and they are getting settled in.  They do indeed sound better - cleaner, clearer, and just a bit warmer. 

But I think what made even a bigger difference in the sound of my violin is that I also bought a new bow when I was in the violin shop having the strings changed.  My instructor suggested I try a better bow.  I tried 8-10 different bows, eliminating some quickly, then trying again the best 2-3 bows.  I was absolutely amazed at how much better the violin sounded under these bows.  And interestingly, I tried bows ranging in price from around $1,000-$5,000.  The $1400 bow I finally selected actually sounded and felt better to me than the $5,000 bow, and I had no idea of the price of any of the bows I was trying until I made my final selection.  So, I think the price of the bow is not as significant in determining the best bow for you as is actually playing your instrument with various bows and selecting the one that works best for you and your instrument.  The sound from my violin is so much cleaner and much more clarity. I don't know if the bow helps the tone, but it sure makes the instrument sound better.

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Thanks for the update!  It's always such a 'eureka' moment when one realizes how all the variable affect each other and are then reflected in the end result.

And yes, everyone underestimates the value of the bow...until they discover that it shouldn't be underestimated! ^_^

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1 hour ago, KB_Smith said:

So, here's an update on this thread............The sound from my violin is so much cleaner and much more clarity. I don't know if the bow helps the tone, but it sure makes the instrument sound better.

Thanks very much for the update.  IMHO, the strings are the single most easily controllable thing that a player can change.  The only way to improve the situation with a bow is like you did it, as there is no rational way to predict what a bow/violin combination will do until you try it.  IMHO, soundpost adjustments and bridge replacements enter the realm of luthier "black arts" which should be approached with expertise and caution, after you've tried the more obvious stuff.  :)

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