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Choosing Strings for Electric Instruments

The type of strings you want to choose for your amplified violin, viola, cello, or bass depends on the type of pickup installed on the instrument. There are many different types of pickups, but your string choice is most critical when using magnetic pickups.

Magnetic pickups for bowed string instruments are similar to those used in an electric guitar. Because they require a specific kind of string, however, they are used less frequently for bowed string instruments. These pickups utilize a magnetic pole positioned below each string, and require a ferrous metal string to be able to read the vibrations. Most strings have metal windings, but many of the metals used in the windings are non-ferrous metals and can't be read by the magnetic pickup because they lack strong magnetic properties. If you have a magnetic pickup, you need steel core strings, such as D'Addario Helicore or NS Electric strings.

Many pickups for bowed string instruments are piezo pickups. Examples are the Fishman, Realist, Schertler, and L.R. Baggs lines of pickups. The piezo element is a crystalline material that reads pressure changes under compression and produces an electric signal. This usually happens in or under the bridge, so the pickup is registering vibrations passing through the bridge. Because of this, any string will work with these types of pickups. The strings that sound and feel the best on your acoustic instrument will likely sound and feel the best with your pickup. This string choice also applies to other types of transducer pickups or dynamic contact mics, or even if you're choosing to amplify your instrument with a clip-on microphone or stage microphone. If the string choice sounds the best acoustic, it will most likely sound the best amplified.

If you have a solid-body electric instrument, the same guidelines for string choice apply. You may still choose to use your favorite strings depending on what is comfortable to you in terms of the feel of the string, the speed of the response, or other factors.

Popular String Choices for Electric Instruments

Chromcor by Pirastro for Violin, Viola, Cello, and Bass are attractively priced single filament steel core strings, excellent for student instruments. They are especially long-lasting with a clear and very brilliant sound. Chromcor strings are suitable for all musicians, especially for the fiddler. These are also popular for electric or electrically-amplified instruments.

Chromcor Plus by Pirastro for Viola and Cello have a single filament steel core, wound with chrome steel. These strings have an overall slightly darker sound than Chromcor. The Cello A and D strings have a slightly bright sound while the G and C strings create a warm sound with a short decay. Chromcor Plus are known for their exceptional tuning stability and immediate playability. These are also popular for electric or electrically-amplified instruments.

Dominant by Thomastik-Infeld for Violin, Viola, Cello and Bass. The original synthetic-core string, made with perlon. Dominant strings are bright and responsive, and were, at one time, the most popular strings for violin and viola. These strings are long-lasting and reliable. These strings are also popular with electric string instrument players.

Evah Pirazzi Gold Cello Strings by Pirastro are clear, full, and with character. These steel strings provide a variety of overtones with great projection, without any metallic sharpness. Evah Pirazzi Gold cello strings are extremely responsive and react quickly over the entire dynamic range, even with very gentle bow pressure. With their reduced playing-in time, the instrument achieves its full sound spectrum in no time. These strings are also very suitable for electric or electrically-amplified cellos.

Helicore by D'Addario for Violin, Viola, and Cello are multi-strand twisted steel-core strings having a relatively warm sound, for steel-core strings. The small string diameter provides for quick bow response. Helicore boasts excellent pitch stability and longevity. We use the Helicore G and C strings to make up the JSI Special Cello Set. Helicore strings are often used on electric string instruments.

NS Electric Strings by D'Addario are designed especially for use on electric stringed instruments by expert electric instrument designer Ned Steinberger and the D'Addario string company. They are available for electric Violin, Viola, and Cello, and a choice of Electric Upright Bass strings including Contemporary Bass, Omni Cello-Bass, and Traditional Bass which are the NS standard double bass string length. Since volume is unlimited for electric instruments, NS electric strings focus on tone quality and expressive nuance rather than acoustic power. These strings provide the richest tone quality for electric instruments, and have also been found to offer greater tonal subtleties for acoustic instruments as well! The strings are made from stranded steel cores wound with aluminum, brass, tungsten, nickel, and stainless steel.

Tonica by Pirastro for Violin and Viola are Pirastro's answer to Thomastik-Infeld Dominant strings. Tonicas are bright, like Dominants, but produce a fuller sound with more overtones and less edginess. The break-in time is very short and they are reported to have a long lifespan. These strings are also popular among electric string instrument players.

Zyex by D'Addario for Violin, Viola, and Bass. Brilliant, yet warm and rich-sounding composite synthetic core strings with a very focused sound. Zyex strings boast stability under changing climatic conditions with excellent projection. These strings are a good alternative to Dominants and are popular among electric string instrument players.

Next Section: Installing Strings

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!

For more information please chat live, call, or email us. We offer fast, friendly service and are here to help you with all of your string instrument needs!

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Additional Resources

Carriage House Violins

Located in Newton, Massachusetts, Carriage House Violins is the instrument sales division of Johnson String Instrument.

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Whether searching for a job, learning about the "Mozart Effect," looking for a summer music camp, or choosing the right instrument string, you need look no further.

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Johnson String Project

A charitable foundation whose goal is to provide high-quality instruments to children who live in under-served communities and who are participating in El-Sistema-inspired programs in Massachusetts.

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JSI Blog

Information and helpful articles about the music and instruments we love.

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Helpful "how to" videos and useful information about JSI and the products and services we offer.

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