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jacobsaunders

Dominant Strings, 50th Birthday

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I woke up this-morning to an email from Thomastik-Infeld, celebrating the 50th birthday of Dominant strings. Having suppressed the urge to write back, and ask why a bit of nylon wound with wire is so expensive, the thought that the ubiquitous Dominants were only introduced 50 years ago, did give pause for thought. Obviously the “Tonica” strings from Pirastro must have been a panicked answer to Dominants, since the play on words is a little crude, after tonic, dominant, no string maker seems to have wanted too complete the cadence with sub-dominant.

In my first job, at the start of the 80’s, I can well remember going down to the shop to fetch/bring something, seeing 3 or 4 people behind the counter, and some 15 or so on the customer side, all stocking up with their Oliv and Eudoxa strings. Nowadays I often go months without anyone wanting to buy a string. I can remember my old boss grumbling that he had been degraded to a “Saitentandler” (string tinker), but I guess it helped pay my wages. Today, I can only think of one customer, who still uses Oliv strings (on the Fischer Regensburg that I illustrated recently).


Dear partners of Thomastik-Infeld!

Exactly 50 years ago, we were the first string manufacturer in the world to introduce music strings with a synthetic core – a material combining the advantages of gut and steel strings and thus changing the world of music. The name of the strings? Dominant

 

https://www.morethanalegend.com

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Your memories of those early days of Dominants resonate with mine, although the customers filing in and out of my father's "shop" daily were buying more Black and Gold Label Pirastros than Olivs and Eudoxas. The longevity of synthetic core strings must have had a serious effect on daily violin shop turnover, even before the mail-order and internet high volume businesses completely blitzed the brick and mortar shops for strings and accessories. It makes me think of something a bow-maker friend relayed to me while we were musing over one of my Vuillaume self-rehairing bows. According to the "ancients" (Millant et. al.) the real reason Vuillaume dropped the "self-rehairing" bows was that bow-makers from all over Europe were up in arms that he was taking away their bread-and-butter re-hairing income.

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I'm also surprised to learn they were introduced as recently as 1970. I must have made the switch from Eudoxas soon after, at whose suggestion I have no idea but I haven't felt the need to switch again.

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2 hours ago, David Burgess said:

Jacob, how are you celebrating? :)

I don’t think there will be one, but if there is, I hope sausages and beer would be involved.

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It is indeed a noteworthy birthday, but Thomastik was not "the first string manufacturer in the world to introduce music strings with a synthetic core" as it claims to be.  Wound nylon-core guitar strings were available in the 1960s or earlier.

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5 hours ago, jacobsaunders said:

Obviously the “Tonica” strings from Pirastro must have been a panicked answer to Dominants, since the play on words is a little crude, after tonic, dominant, no string maker seems to have wanted too complete the cadence with sub-dominant.

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I bought a new set of Dominants a few months back and thought I had picked a set with a changed "E" string to what they use to supply in the set of four. But after stringing up  and letting the strings settle down for a week or so the "E" still sounded awful so I either bought the wrong set or had the wrong information.

So have they upgraded the old "E" or did I get my wires crossed somewhere ?

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59 minutes ago, Delabo said:

I bought a new set of Dominants a few months back and thought I had picked a set with a changed "E" string to what they use to supply in the set of four. But after stringing up  and letting the strings settle down for a week or so the "E" still sounded awful so I either bought the wrong set or had the wrong information.

A Dominant brand E string is not a typical first choice, among high-lever players. But many continue to use the other three stings, with good resuts.

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18 minutes ago, David Burgess said:

A Dominant brand E string is not a typical first choice, among high-lever players. But many continue to use the other three stings, with good resuts.

I've always found this puzzling.  Without comparing, I would have thought wire is wire.  Does anyone know the reason for the difference?

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24 minutes ago, David Burgess said:

A Dominant brand E string is not a typical first choice, among high-lever players. But many continue to use the other three stings, with good resuts.

Puzzles me too. Apparently after 50 years Tomastik still can't produce a decent E string. I guess some players with cat-ears hear things we don't

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4 minutes ago, La Folia said:

I've always found this puzzling.  Without comparing, I would have thought wire is wire.  Does anyone know the reason for the difference?

There are many different formulations for "steel"  And their characteristics can be altered even further by various processes of work-hardening, tempering, and quenching.

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2 minutes ago, matesic said:

Puzzles me too. Apparently after 50 years Tomastik still can't produce a decent E string. I guess some players with cat-ears hear things we don't

I am far from the "ideal ilstener". Just ask my wife. :lol:

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1 hour ago, Delabo said:

I bought a new set of Dominants a few months back and thought I had picked a set with a changed "E" string to what they use to supply in the set of four. But after stringing up  and letting the strings settle down for a week or so the "E" still sounded awful so I either bought the wrong set or had the wrong information.

So have they upgraded the old "E" or did I get my wires crossed somewhere ?

 

20 minutes ago, matesic said:

Puzzles me too. Apparently after 50 years Tomastik still can't produce a decent E string. I guess some players with cat-ears hear things we don't

The Dominant set usually comes with a wound E string, which is not terribly good. As an option, they offer a plain steel E which is better, but still not great.

When using Dominants on a violin, a plain steel Pirastro Eudoxa is a much better choice. But really most other E’s are better than Dominants anyway.

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1 hour ago, matesic said:

Puzzles me too. Apparently after 50 years Tomastik still can't produce a decent E string. I guess some players with cat-ears hear things we don't

The packed set normally comes with a “wound” E String, which is IMHO crap, one may ask for the “Plain” E, which is slightly better. Strangely, if one goes round and complains that dominant E’s are junk, they come out with a bewildering selection of E strings. I find the Gold plated ones ok, and the tin plated ones very good. https://www.thomastik-infeld.com/pageflips/catalog/64/ Quite why they make you jump through so many hoops seems strange, since one can buy, for instance a Gold Brokat (Lenzner) E String for next to nothing elsewhere and bin the Dominant E with much less time and effort.

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17 minutes ago, jacobsaunders said:

The packed set normally comes with a “wound” E String, which is IMHO crap, one may ask for the “Plain” E, which is slightly better. Strangely, if one goes round and complains that dominant E’s are junk, they come out with a bewildering selection of E strings. I find the Gold plated ones ok, and the tin plated ones very good. https://www.thomastik-infeld.com/pageflips/catalog/64/ Quite why they make you jump through so many hoops seems strange, since one can buy, for instance a Gold Brokat (Lenzner) E String for next to nothing elsewhere and bin the Dominant E with much less time and effort.

I do wonder how much the difference is due to the initial impression and whether their E's sound equally unsatisfactory after playing in? But I wouldn't discount variation in human hearing capabilities either. Maybe people like me who can't perceive any important difference are also those who can't distinguish between mp3's and CD's? I'm sure it isn't down to anything as simple as a person's pure-tone audiogram, but there's a great deal about human hearing that isn't revealed by the standard tests

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36 minutes ago, jacobsaunders said:

 Quite why they make you jump through so many hoops seems strange, since one can buy, for instance a Gold Brokat (Lenzner) E String for next to nothing elsewhere and bin the Dominant E with much less time and effort.

Yup.  Infeld isn't helping themselves with this, but perhaps they don't care.

6 minutes ago, matesic said:

I do wonder how much the difference is due to the initial impression and whether their E's sound equally unsatisfactory after playing in? But I wouldn't discount variation in human hearing capabilities either. Maybe people like me who can't perceive any important difference are also those who can't distinguish between mp3's and CD's? I'm sure it isn't down to anything as simple as a person's pure-tone audiogram, but there's a great deal about human hearing that isn't revealed by the standard tests

IMHO, it goes beyond the sounded note, to bowing "feel", which is better with the Lenzner.

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I recently, for fun, to "see what people used to play" (I'm not old enough to know) got a set of heavy Dominant strings for cello. They were not great (particularly a and d), but not terrible either (particularly g and c), and there was indeed something reminiscent of gut, though not enough. On an 18th century cello that I do not own, the dominant heavy g and c strings worked much better that Spirocore and Magnacore (which sursprised me a lot), so I donated them to the owner of that instrument. I wonder why no good string manufacturer nowadays tries to make a string with a synthetic core for cello anymore. I consider the Warchal experiments for cello to be a faillure, and the last ones before that were Obligato g and c strings. Those work well on some cellos, but definately do not have much in common with gut. I think the Dominant formula with a higher tension would be a great starting point for developing a new, gut like synthetic cello string. The low tension the set currently is very much a drawback.

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I first tried Dominant violin strings 50 years ago when they were first introduced but they were crap on the violin I had been playing since 1952. I had been using Pirastro Eudoxas. However, when Pirastro introduced Tonicas shortly after that they were quite satisfactory on that violin.

Since then I have obtained and used additional violins that were quite satisfactory with Dominants. And I use Dominant-weicht A and C on my main viola that balance perfectly the Pirastro Permanent D & G.

Thomastik does produce a really superior E string (Peter Infeld Platinum plated) in my opinion for those willing to play the price. However, it can be overpowering when mixed with some other sets, such as Tricolore gut. It is really great with Pirastro Evah Pirazzi Gold medium.

For a player it can be hard to tell if one should blame the strings or the instrument for string rankings. In the past 50 years I have probably tried most of the new string offerings - in fact I have even gone back to my earlier Eudoxa and Olive choices and even gave Tricolore/Goldbrokat a shot. (It's been an expensive proposition since I also searched for optimum strings for my violas and cellos.)

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14 hours ago, Brad Dorsey said:

It is indeed a noteworthy birthday, but Thomastik was not "the first string manufacturer in the world to introduce music strings with a synthetic core" as it claims to be.  Wound nylon-core guitar strings were available in the 1960s or earlier.

Augustine nylon guitar strings were on the market from about 1948.  They were endorsed by Segovia, and almost overnight no guitarist was using gut strings.  The plain (unwound) nylon strings had taken longer to develop than the wound basses.  But so far as I know no synthetic E-string has ever been been available for violin, so that synthetic-core sets still use a plain steel E, or a metal-on-metal wound string.

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16 hours ago, David Burgess said:

There are many different formulations for "steel"  And their characteristics can be altered even further by various processes of work-hardening, tempering, and quenching.

They're different because they're different, I guess.  But that doesn't tell us much, and I still find it puzzling.

By the way, I usually find the sets packaged with a wire E, with the wound E sets being a little less common.

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17 hours ago, baroquecello said:

I recently, for fun, to "see what people used to play" (I'm not old enough to know) got a set of heavy Dominant strings for cello. They were not great (particularly a and d), but not terrible either (particularly g and c), and there was indeed something reminiscent of gut, though not enough. On an 18th century cello that I do not own, the dominant heavy g and c strings worked much better that Spirocore and Magnacore (which sursprised me a lot), so I donated them to the owner of that instrument. I wonder why no good string manufacturer nowadays tries to make a string with a synthetic core for cello anymore. I consider the Warchal experiments for cello to be a faillure, and the last ones before that were Obligato g and c strings. Those work well on some cellos, but definately do not have much in common with gut. I think the Dominant formula with a higher tension would be a great starting point for developing a new, gut like synthetic cello string. The low tension the set currently is very much a drawback.

Cello players deserve something much better than steel core. Bohdan is right, they do sound... umm, what word am I looking for?

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