The choice of violin strings can significantly improve or deteriorate the sound your instrument produces. That is why you need to carefully choose the strings when the time comes to replace the old ones. Nowadays, various brands have overwhelmed the market with offers, so you can even find strings plated in platinum, gold, and silver.
There are 8 tips to choose the violin strings that will help you find your way among the many offers. Among other things, you need to find out about the best core material and the type of strings that suit your level of play.
1. The Right Moment to Change Strings
On average, the violin strings last from three and six months. However, their durability depends on how much time you spend practicing, how good they are, and how much you sweat. It is not uncommon for novice violinists to change strings after just a few days.
Clumsy movements during the violin tuning, wrong stringing ways, or tightening them too much can ruin the perfectly preserved strings. Some signs can show you it is time to change them:
- Violin sound has changed
- You have noticed its discoloration
- Playing in tune becomes difficult
- The strings start unwinding, and the core becomes visible
- Tuning the violin becomes tricky
Plus, you need to change the strings more often than other violinists if you sweat a lot, perform in a smoky place, or play aggressively. In such cases, always keep an extra set of strings in the box if you need them in the middle of performing.
2. Core Material
Ideally, violin strings should be of the same type. Nevertheless, most musicians prefer to experiment and combine different models to get the best sound quality.
According to the core material, you can find three basic string types, including the gut, steel, and synthetic ones. All of them have their pluses and minuses, and you should always maintain them in a particular manner.
According to mythology, the Greek god Apollo was the first to make and use gut strings to play his lyre. In reality, violinists started to use them in the early 19th century. This string type is the only one made of organic material, most often from sheep intestines.
Unfortunately, they last shorter than strings made of other materials because guts are sensitive to moisture and outside temperature. Since this is the best material for this purpose, these strings are the most expensive set you can get. The price can reach several hundred dollars.
Due to high prices and low durability, this is not a recommended option for beginners. Besides, it is challenging to play on these strings because they are more sensitive under the fingers, have a slower response, and need frequent tuning.
Still, many virtuoso violinists prefer the gut strings since they provide the rich and warm overtones. For that reason, even the musicians that use other materials, often use this one for two lower strings while performing.
The steel strings are a common choice for those who start learning the violin. They are easy to keep up, don’t need frequent tuning, and are affordable. You can buy the complete set for only $20.
An additional plus is that the steel core is resistant to changes in temperature and humidity. Therefore, these strings last a very long time. They provide clear, bright sound and high pitch, which is very popular among fiddlers, country, and jazz violinists.
At the beginning of the 20th century, the steel E string appeared and was quickly accepted among musicians. There were three variations available, including plain steel, plated steel, and wrapped steel.
The plain steel is still the most common choice. However, musicians sometimes choose plated steel with gold, platinum, or silver because these metals give the violin pure, more quality sound.
The creator of famous brand Dominant Strings, Dr. Thomastik, introduced the synthetic core strings on the market in the 1960s. They featured Perlon nylon in the core, which gave them the full quality of tone and the resistance to different weather conditions.
This violin string type combines the benefits of gut and steel. When you stretch them on the violin, they stay in tune for a long time and give you a stable pitch.
That means the synthetic strings are useful to all violinists, from students to professionals. The only downside is their affordability since you need to pay about $100 per set. If you change the strings relatively often, they will affect your budget negatively.
3. String Gauge and Tension
You need to understand the differences in the strings’ gauge and pick out the right type representing their width. If you choose the wider strings, the sound your violin produces will become fuller, and the string response will decrease.
The slower response means you have to apply more pressure on the strings to produce a sound while fingering and making heavier bowing movements. Therefore, you need to define what gauge suits you best.
The sales rep can offer you three gauges of the same strings, including thin, medium, and thick. The thinner strings are better known as weich or dolce, while the thick ones are known as stark or forte models.
If you compare the dolce and medium ones, you can quickly spot the difference. The dolce string has a lower volume but a brighter tone. Contrary, the stark string is loud and gives you full sound but a lower response.
Therefore, you need to find a combination of the core material and gauge the strings that produce the sound you want. For example, those made of gut need to be thicker than steel or synthetic strings if you wish to tune them at the same pitch.
The string tension determines the differences between the tone production of various string types. The experts define it as the pressure on the fine tuner’s strings or the tailpiece and the tuning peg.
The strength of the violin string tension depends on the strings’ vibration, material, and gauge you choose. You can have models with light, medium and heavy tension, and it is possible to feel the difference under the fingers. It is easier to pluck the light strings since they make a darker, more warm sound.
Steel core strings have the most tension, followed by the synthetic ones. On the other hand, the ones made of guts tend to have lower tension, which affects the tonality of the sounds as you play. Therefore, steel models have the brightest, purest tone.
Still, the effect the tension has on the sound depends on the other attributes of strings. The models made of guts with the lighter tension always produce the warmer tones than the tightly tensed steel strings.
4. Your Music Preferences
You need to give a thought to a style and type of music you play when choosing your instruments’ strings. You may go with steel ones if you play a country or bluegrass but choose the synthetic models if you are a jazz band member.
If you enjoy classical music, you need to know that most chamber violinists play with the gut strings. Keep in mind that you can’t play necessary overtones on the steel strings.
However, the synthetic strings can match the tone quality that guts provide. Plus, they cost less and last longer. That is why more and more musicians replace the gut strings with the synthetic ones.
Steel core strings are the most popular choice between the fiddlers. The bright and loud sound perfectly suits the speedy, rhythmic music they play. Plus, they don’t need tuning very often, and it is not a painstaking job that takes a long time.
5. Strings Appropriate for Your Level
Assessing your violin skill is crucial for choosing the right strings. It is not a bad idea to consult your mentor or other violinists and ask them to recommend the brand they use.
For example, those made of guts are a poor choice for an amateur. The frequent tuning, which they require, can be difficult for you if you are a beginner. On the other hand, experienced, professional violinists mostly use this model.
However, you don’t need to tune strings daily if you pick out a set of high-quality synthetic ones. They are less complicated to set and last longer than the gut strings, and you can still perform with the deep and dark overtones’ quality.
The best solution is to combine the strings in a way that makes playing the violin more enjoyable for you. For instance, you can use an E string made of steel and synthetic G, D, and A ones. Consider combining a different gauge of the string and create a unique combination that enhances your violin’s sound.
6. Buy the Strings Online
If you did the research and decide about the string type you need, you can order the set by mail or buy them online. The bonus of going to the store is that you get a seller’s recommendation and the possibility of changing it for free if necessary.
However, the set price in the store is often twice as low when you shop online. The main reason for this difference is difficult maintaining the strings and time-consuming inventory.
Always pay attention to the price difference when you buy only one string and the whole set online. If you don’t use the same strings on the violin, you can expect to pay more. Still, since many sites offer free shipping and handling, you can save some money anyway.
7. Think Outside the Box
Unfortunately, the chances are low that you can make the right combination the first time you buy violin strings. However, keep in mind that they last a maximum of six months so that you can try different core materials, gauges, and brands.
As you progress as a violinist, you will be better able to understand what kind of sound you want to produce. Consequently, you will know to choose the best model of strings you need for the effect you want to achieve.
The solution is in experimentation. Many musicians choose steel core for E string, but gut or synthetic ones for others. Don’t bother if you make a mistake with a particular set since it is a way to discover what model doesn’t suit you.
8. The Major String Brands on the Market
You will likely look for cheaper strings, especially if you are a beginner. However, it is always safer to invest in strings of proven quality.
That is why most violinists recommend branded options. Some of them use the same models for decades because of their proven quality. The most famous brands with a good reputation include:
These synthetic strings are probably the most famous ones in the world. They have a Perlon nylon core and provide the full overtones similar to those made of guts without the flaws this organic material has.
They come in three-gauge choices, as a stiff, medium, and soft. You can pick the one that works best for you since the Dominant brand is an ideal option for students and amateurs. Plus, they are easy to tune, and you can purchase them at a reasonable price.
It is another type of synthetic strings that offer you a significant volume, a stable pitch, and a quick response. The primary disadvantage of this option is that you need to change them often since they wear off quickly if you play every day.
This brand manufactures modern gut strings that most professional violinists appreciate since they have a mellow and complex overtone. This model is resistant to temperature changes, unlike the traditional one made of guts. Plus, it tends to last longer.
The musicians choose this brand for both acoustic and electric violins. The manufacturer offers steel core strings with high pitch and clear tone, making them perfect for hard rock, metal, and jazz music.