When you first start playing violin, you’ll soon realize that strings are consumables, and they worn out faster than you thought. These days, string players face a multitude of choices when it comes to picking violin strings, including a cavalcade of E strings that come plated in platinum, gold, and silver, among other materials. If you ask which string is the best, there is no one-fit-all answer, each violin reacts differently to different brands of strings. One type of string may sound amazing on one instruments but sour, dull or too bright on another violin. Each instrument is different, and the unique needs of the violinist are important. So, the purpose of this article is to give you as detailed and categorized information as possible, to help you choose the string that right for you.
To start with, we need to know there are Three basic string types, gut core strings are the original strings that were ever used, they are regarded as having the best tone, but they need to be tuned more often and react to changes in the weather. Steel core strings are very stable in pitch, and they are popular among for non-classical players. Synthetic core strings are a great invention by Thomastik-Infeld and they are by far the most popular type of strings, as they have most of the tonal colors of gut strings but much stable than gut strings.
- Gut Core: For centuries, all musical strings were made of pure sheep gut. In the 16th century, the lower strings (which were the thickest) were wrapped with silver wire to increase mass. Gut strings provide warm, rich tone quality, and complex, colorful sound with the plentiful overtones produced when played. Gut strings come in either plain (pure) unwound gut, or as a gut-core string wound with metals. They come in various gauges and can vary greatly in volume and response, depending on the instrument they are strung on. The response is a bit slower than synthetic core strings, and has a lower tension, giving them a pliable feel under the fingers. Gut-core strings also need more frequent tuning, especially if there is a rapid change in room temperature, like stepping under hot stage lights.
- Steel Core: Steel core strings came into existence partially because of the drawbacks of gut strings and as a concession to beginning students. Soon, steel strings became more popular than gut among non-classical players. Steel core strings are very stable in pitch, even when first installed. The volume they produce depends on the instrument they are installed on. In general, they will give a well-adjusted instrument an edgy, thin, and cutting-through quality of sound. Normally, non-classical players such as fiddlers, tend to prefer steel-core strings. They’re also widely used on fractional-size instruments, and they are the least expensive strings on the market.
- Synthetic Core: The famous string making company Thomastik-Infeld introduced Dominant strings with a core made of Perlon (a type of nylon). Over the last 25 years more and more musicians have switched from gut to synthetic core strings. These strings share many of the tonal characteristics of gut strings but are much more stable in pitch and generally have a faster response. Though “gut-like,” they tend to have a more focused tone with fewer complex overtones.
There can be some confusion surrounding string gauge and tension for bowed stringed instruments. The gauge of a string is the measurement of its diameter; in other words, its thickness. Most strings are available in different thicknesses and tensions. With a thick string, you will get more volume and more center to the tone. With a thin string, you will get a ‘brighter’ sound with less carrying power.
The tension of a string is the horizontal stretching force in the string. Same as Gauge, almost all strings, even the least expensive student strings, are available in different tensions: light, medium, and heavy. However, tensions of strings vary from brand to brand. One brand’s middle gauge may be significantly different than another brand’s middle gauge. Gut-core strings tend to have a lower average tension than either synthetic- or steel-core strings, synthetic-core strings have a higher tension than gut-core strings, and steel-core strings tune up to a higher tension better than any other types.
A Brief comparison of Most popular string brand
When to change strings?
The amount of time you spend playing your violin can give you a good estimate of when your strings need replacement. If you practice and play about one hour each day, you should replace your violin or viola strings every 4 to 6 months, and cello or double bass strings every 6 months to 1 year. Extended hours of performances and practice times can lower the time frame to around every 1 to 3 months for violin and viola, or 3-6 months for Cello, depending on the string condition.
There are many variables that influence the longevity of a string, such as the acidity of your sweat, the string’s composition, and the environment in which you play (whether it is hot, humid, etc.). Over time, strings will naturally lose some of their resonance and ability to hold pitch.
None of the advice above is to be taken as a guarantee that the strings will perform in the manner described on YOUR instrument. The best practical advice you can follow is from your luthier, who is well acquainted with the particular characteristics of YOUR instrument.