Choosing Strings For Your Instrument
Achieving Optimal Sound
Finding the ideal string combination on your violin, viola, cello, or upright double bass can help maximize the quality of tone, response, and projection, but only after the instrument has been adjusted to its optimal set-up. Taking your instrument to a trusted violin shop for a check on the set-up...soundpost placement, bridge height, string height, fingerboard scoop, non-vibrating string length, etc...is an important first step before setting out to try new strings. JSI's Repair and Restoration Workshop
Some stringed instruments may need adjustments several times a year (especially if you live in a climate where humidity levels vary greatly throughout the year, like New England!) Some instruments remain fairly stable throughout the changes of seasons, however, so you'll have to listen regularly for how your instrument is sounding and responding, and decide when it's time to bring it in.
Once your luthier has set up your instrument to its optimal set-up, how do you decide which are the best strings to use? Your luthier may suggest a string brand or type for your particular instrument, you can read reviews and comments by other string players on websites like Violinist.com, and you can learn about strings in articles in printed and online magazines for bowed strings, like Strings and The Strad. There is no single ideal string; a match must be made between the player and the instrument, so finding the right strings for you may require some experimentation. However, since some strings are fairly expensive, you may like to follow a few guidelines below to help you avoid purchasing strings that may not be right for you or your instrument. We hope this information helps you find the best violin, viola, cello, or bass strings to make your instrument sing, respond, and project to its highest capability!
- Determine the tone quality of your instrument. You might describe the sound as bright, loud, rich, resonant, warm, sweet, etc.— or any of the opposites of those qualities, such as dark, quiet, thin, dull, harsh, etc.
- Determine the playability of your instrument, after it has been adjusted by your luthier. Does it have a quick response? Or, does it resist the bow pressure a bit before producing a sound? Is the tone quality even across the strings? Or, does the sound of one string pop out while other strings are dull and less responsive? Some strings can help quicken an instrument's response which can make playing feel freer and easier. Some instruments need the response slowed down a bit; the right strings can help subdue an overly sensitive response as well as soften a harsh or overly brilliant tone quality.
- Determine what sound you'd like to have. After your instrument has been properly adjusted by a qualified luthier, you can read about the general characteristics of the many different brands listed below and decide which ones to try on your instrument to achieve your desired sound. You may be looking for the most volume and projection possible from your instrument, or the most warmth, the easiest response, or the richest and most resonant sound. Usually, players want all of the above! You may end up with one brand for all four of your strings, or you may find that your instrument prefers one brand or type for the A string, and another brand for the D, etc. In some cases, a player learns that it may not be possible to find the desired sound on the current instrument, and it may be time to shop for another.
Next Section: Gauges & Tension
Notes About Strings
- The most popular strings are the mid-priced synthetic-core strings.
- Using gut-core strings can warm up an instrument instantly; the Passione brand stabilize in pitch very quickly compared to other gut-core strings.
- Players often start with the medium gauge or tension of strings (when offered a choice) to see how their instrument responds to the manufacturer's generally balanced tension, before experimenting with different gauges and tensions.
- If you have remaining questions about which strings might be best for your instrument, please contact us and we will be happy to help!
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