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Choosing and Testing Strings


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My question here is not about what is the “best string”, but how one goes about testing and deciding:

My situation: First of all, I am an “early intermediate” player – three quarters of the way through Wolfhardt Opus 45 (book I), learning third position (and not having much trouble with it), bare beginnings of vibrato, read pretty well, play some Romanian Gypsy music, and have an excellent sense of pitch based on years of learning microtonal south Indian classical music.

Strings on my old violin were easy – it sounded like cardboard pretty much regardless (an 1890s Bohemian factory Strad), so, being in the Pacific Northwest, I strung it up with Zyex and NEVER had to tune again, and later put a gold-plated E on to give me at least the shadow of a thrill.

New violin is another story: it is big-cheeked Bulgarian Guarneri style. It has huge volume, big beautiful tone both in the low and high registers, even tone throughout all strings – I’m still marveling that I own her (this is “Sophie” – I’ve told you about her before.)

She was strung up with Dominants on G, A, D, and a Pirastro Gold-Label E (not goldplated, “Gold Label” – also called “Wondertone”.) My luthier always strings up new violins like this initially, as he services many players from the Seattle Symphony, and about 90% of players string this way (as well as Perlman, Zukerman, and lots of soloists.)

Sophie is also loud under the ear. Since I play almost totally for myself (though it is fun to hear my teacher or my daughter play her), I will be willing to sacrifice some of this volume in the lower 3 strings for even more complexity (might try Obligatos), but I’m in no rush.

Now, here’s the thing: my teacher noted the need to replace the E (didn’t ring against the A anymore) – so I get to experiment with the E string first. Now the good qualities of the Pirastro Gold Label (on my violin): it is extremely clear and rings like a bell, there is a wonderful after-ring. It has great carrying power. It is exciting! But there are some negative qualities, too: there sometimes is a bit of surface noise; it is very unforgiving of pitch errors; it occasionally whistles; and sometimes I find it almost difficult to control.

So, in my violin case I have a Hill E, a Westminster, and another Gold Label, (plus some old gold-plateds, which I’m giving to my daughter, as I think they will be too much of a good thing.)

I put on the Hill (actually my wife did – my eyes are not that great for tasks like that.) And I’ve had it on for two days. It is definitely different! The sound is much “cleaner”. No whistling. It is not as loud, but matches up nicely with the other strings. It is very significantly easier to control (I wish I had a better way to express this, but I don’t), and is more forgiving. It is not “darker” in sound than the Gold Label, just less resonant. Negatives (I guess): it has much less after-ring, or ring generally speaking, and I have a feeling (I don’t know how to tell) that the other strings resonate less with it as well. It is definitely less exciting, especially in my gypsy music, but, strange as it may seem, I can play it better. (does that make any sense?)

Ah, hard choices. But that’s not really the question – I know that ultimately I will have to make that choice.

The question is: how to test? Do I just leave the Hill on for 3 months or until it wears out, and then try another? Or for two weeks? Or do I change every other day, trying the other two until I decide? Can one take off a string and put the same one back (assuming it was new when you begin?) Of course, E strings are relatively cheap, so there may be a different technique for testing E’s than for others

How do I go about doing this? And what do others do?

Opinions on strings are of course welcome (especially, others’ experiences with the Hill E), but it is how you go about deciding, and how you test the strings against each other that I am most interested in.

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My experience is that E strings generally don't "break in" -- they either sound good immediately, or they don't.

My personal preference for choosing E strings is to just go through a pile of different types until I find one that satisfies my ear.

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Well, I have been running around for a few months now, testing out different strings while trying to find the best combination for my violin. My experience has largely been similar to Lydia's --

You end up buying a lot of strings.

Some you like, some you don't. Then you have to figure out what works well together out of what you like. The worst part is that even though the opinions of others are good for how long it may last or if there is a "break in period"; these opinions are worthless when it comes to performance.

Sooo.... the best way to do this is take your time and set aside a decent amount of money for it.

AFter spending about $200 I am going to stay with Obligato GD and Infeld Blue AE, simply because I like them tolerably well, and I have other things to spend my money on. wink.gif

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I give new strings a while (sometimes a very short while) and then replace them if I don't like the the sound on my instrument. I keep the old ones around as spares for my fiddles or, students, or stand partners ---. It can be a bit hard to fit the used string into the peg hole, especially the curly end of a used E string - but with tweezers anything is possible.

I like a certain kind of sound, but I find I have different instruments strung with different kkinds of strings to get it - or at least close to it.

When I check out an instrument's strings and setup, I play the natural harmonics below the first octave harmonic. These should play and sound rapidly and easily and give you some leeway for inaccurate fingering. You should be able to find 5 - 7 natural harmonics. These are exactly the same harmonics that are also found closer to the bridge - they are very high notes. I have found that instruments that play these natural harmonics easily also seem to play the fingered (artificial) harmonics easily also with a bit more leeway than "stiffer" instruments.

It is better, in my opinion, to change all the strings at once, when you are trying to evaluate a different string brand, because different string brands come to tune at different tensions and that will affect the sound of the other strings on the insrument as well. Just don't take off and replace more than one string at a time - you want the bridge to stay where it is (and you don't want to relieve the force on the soundpost and risk it falling over), and use a soft pencil on the bridge and nut grooves before putting on each new string to redce friction at those points. And be sure the bridge is not leaning after you have tightened up the new strings - straighten it up if it is - and check it at least every week.

For softer, more personal and mellow playing, I've thought the Corelli Alliance, John Pearse, and Larsen strings seemed nice, although that is not the sound I go for (I need a sound that my own ear can hear "above" a full orchestra sound).

I too have seen and heard the Pirastro Gold Label brand E string recommended, and I think it is a good compromise if the gold-plated Pirastro (Olive or Obligato) or the Infeld Red tend to whistle a lot on your instrument.I have also found Zyex Es to be good for my violins, even those that don't have the stamina to tolerate the lower Zyex strings, which at least originally were relatively high-tension strings. For good strong E strings, the Evah Pirazzi and the Infeld-Blue don't have the whistle problem.

I'm not totally experienced in this, but from my own experience I would estimate that if your violin tolerates Dominants well, then you might be able to use almost any brand of string, and could select the brand by what type of sound you want.

Pirastro Obligato and Evah Pirazzi are powerful and bright. Pirastro Tonicas tend to be more mellow, but they can blend perfectly with an Obligato set, if one of those strings is too bright for the rest of the set on your fiddle. Then there are the relatively mellow Alliance, Pearse, and Larsens, I mentioned earlier. The Thomastik Infeld Red strings are powerful and mellow, while the Infeld Blue are powerful and bright, perhaps even brighter than Pirazzi. I have blended Infeld Reds and Blues with each other but I've not tried blending the Infelds with any other brand. I have found the Infeld Blues seem a little "soft" under the bow, which can change the way off-string strokes play with a given bow.

I recently made a very nice transition from Dominants that a new violin was strung with at the shop to Infeld Reds, but retaining the Dominant E. It ended up more powerful yet more mellow, and the G string sound smoothed out to better match the rest of the instrument and was easy to play all the way up.


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I recently switched to Evah Pirazzis from Obligatos, and I like them enough to keep them on my instrument (and my teacher thinks they sound fantastic), though I'm contemplating swapping the EP D string for an Obligato silver one.

Oddly, the EP D and G strings are significantly *darker* on my violin than the Obligatos. There's a growl to the G string and a mellowness to the D now; the Obligato G pulls a richer but quieter tone, and the Obligato silver D is brighter, with greater clarity and complexity.

If anyone tries out EPs, give them two weeks to break in -- the tone has changed significantly during the time I've had them on the instrument, though they appear to have finally settled in for good, in terms of tonal stability. Obligatos don't change much in sound, for whatever reason, despite the fact they're made out of the same core material.

Has anyone tried Pirastro's new Violino? Same material as the Obligatos and the EPs, but supposedly designed for students and much less expensive.

If you try out steel, the sound you hear immediately is basically the sound that you get. Synthetics all seem to have various break-in times.

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Yea, I'd be interested to hear how the new Violinos are, and additionally, what characteristics of theirs make them meant for students, according to the website.

Also- a new viola string is out by Pirastro-- Permanents, now for D, G, and C, too...

I wonder if and when Pirastro will make its Flexocore (I doubt they'll make this one for viola, since they already have the Permanent and isn't that relatively similar since they're both rope core, aside from the A?), and its Evah strings? Somehow I doubt they'll make Violino for viola, hence the name....

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Well, for what it's worth, I found the compromise I was looking for -- a Westminister E (medium). It has some of ring of the Gold Label (and much more than the Hill), but has the Hill's ease of playing and control. I am pleased (and for some reason, I think it makes my A sound even better!)

But, at least for now, I'm sticking with the Dominants for the lower strings. They are just grand, now that I've solved the E question.

I got to meet Hilary Hahn Thursday morning -- we were invited to her dress rehearsal (fantastic! and we have tickets for tomorrow night!), and had a Q and A session with her. She says she uses Dominants (silver D), with the Pirastro Gold Label E. She has been using the same strings (brand!) for the past 8 years, and hasn't even given a thought to changing. She believes the focus should be on playing, and when you are satisfied, there is just no reason to change.

I expect that eventually, when I am a better player, I may go back to the Gold Label, but for now, the Westminister suits me just fine.

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