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Experimental Violin Strings
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DanielB
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July 14, 2013 - 6:32 pm
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As most of you know, my chat nick is "MadBadDaniel".. and I DO really try to live up to the "MadBad" part, especially when it comes to experiments.

So I decided to try an experiment.  There's this type of string, where the wound strings are a thin steel core that is plated with tin to keep it from corroding from sweat and etc, wrapped in a couple layers of silk, and then covered with a copper alloy wrap that is silver plated.  Which some of you may agree, at least sounds like an interesting idea.

They are, however, not a violin string.  They happen to be a folk acoustic guitar string made by the Martin guitar company.  They are my all-time favourite type of string for my acoustic guitar, since they are warmer than steel, last longer than bronze, and feel nice on the fingers.  With my particular acoustic guitar, they have the sound I like best of the many types of strings I've used over the years.  Warm, but with a nice bright edge.  And they live through getting the crap pounded out of them with a pick and being subjected to some of the rather extreme string "bends" I do on guitar.  I don't recall ever having broken one, and I am sometimes a rather rough player on guitar.

So, on my acoustic violin, I had it strung with Overture Ultras (a synthetic core string, if you aren't familiar with them).  I like the way those sound.  But in the months they were on the violin, first the G and then the D broke.  It isn't like they broke right away, it was at least a couple of months, and Overture is a rather new string brand and etc.. So I had put on the rather beat up Overture Premiums (a steel core student set) that I had kept for backup.  That worked ok, but I wasn't really crazy about the sound of the old steels compared to the synthetics.

I happened to have a set of the Martin Silk and Steels for my 12 string (that I still haven't gotten around to repairing) and had noted that a violin medium gauge set could be taken from the gauges available.

I went ahead and did it.

It actually doesn't sound bad.  The strings feel a little lower tension.  But they tuned up and stretched in very fast.  It was holding tune inside of a few minutes with a couple of stretches.  And a couple hours later, they are still holding tune.  They are roundwound rather than flatwound, but the wrap is a fine enough gauge that I really don't notice a difference in roughness or string noise from fingers.  

The sound is quite strong.  The warm low end is there, but it has a nice bit of brightness.  A more complex tone, more like the sound of synthetics than steels.  They seem to respond pretty quick.  Definitely can hear a good degree of difference in tone between soft and firm fingering.  Quite a lot of ring/sustain.

They are definitely a bit more powerful than either type of Overture strings.  But that may be because the Overture strings I'm comparing them to may have gone pretty dead.  I don't know for sure. 

Other info of possible interest, the particular set I took them from can be gotten on Amazon for around 8$ and some of the vendors will ship it free.  It would be possible to put together some sort of a full medium violin set from the 12 string guitar set using:

.028 - G (wound)

.023 - D (wound)

.014 - A (silver plated steel)

.010 or .0115 - E (silver plated steel)

http://www.amazon.com/Martin-M.....+and+steel

 I'll *try* to get some sort of a sample recording made on Monday morning, if I can, since I reckon some folks will want to hear this little experiment.  I'm thinking about replacing the A and E with the Martin strings as well, to see how they balance for volume and how they sound.

I have to say though, so far, I am liking what I hear.

"This young wine may have a lot of tannins now, but in 5 or 10 years it is going to be spectacular, despite the fact that right now it tastes like crude oil. You know this is how it is supposed to taste at this stage of development." ~ Itzhak Perlman

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DanielB
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July 15, 2013 - 12:09 am
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Not video, just audio.

I went ahead and also put on the .014 as an A string and the .010 as an E string.  I think the sound is a little bright on the high strings, but it may mellow out over the next few days as they break in a bit. 

feature=youtu.be

 

"This young wine may have a lot of tannins now, but in 5 or 10 years it is going to be spectacular, despite the fact that right now it tastes like crude oil. You know this is how it is supposed to taste at this stage of development." ~ Itzhak Perlman

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pky
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July 15, 2013 - 3:04 am
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DanielB,

I like the sound! It's clean and pure! I have thought about if we could use guitar strings on violin or Erhu but never tried it, plus I don't own a 12 string guitar and I don't know much about guitar strings.

Great experiment!

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Fiddlestix
Michigan, USA
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July 15, 2013 - 4:42 am
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Totally not what I expected, not bad, not bad at all. 

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Fiddlerman
Fort Lauderdale
July 15, 2013 - 9:17 am
Member Since: September 26, 2010
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There is great potential for saving money too. LOL
Can you get two strings out of one?

"The richest person is not the one who has the most,
but the one who needs the least."

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Kevin M.
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July 15, 2013 - 9:19 am
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To me they sound hollow it may be the recording but it is definately a different sound. Keep experimenting.

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DanielB
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July 15, 2013 - 6:55 pm
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The strings don't feel like they're higher tension than regular violin strings.  I'm checking the fingerboard with a straightedge every day to watch for any possible troubles.

 

@fiddlerguy: What is left of the guitar string would be too short to get 2 sets for a 4/4.  But I'm pretty sure one could manage a 4/4 and some size of fractional violin.  I think one could probably still string a 6 string guitar out of the leftover strings though, and still have a spare string or two left.'

@kevin: I'm not sure as I'm 100% fond of the sound.  I usually think of myself as liking a warmer darker sort of sound, with more subtlety.  It is certainly usable, and I'm sure there are worse.  I was kind of surprised that it really isn't too bad, though.  They might settle, or I might get used to it.  Either way, I reckon it will be good experience to work with them for a couple weeks at least.

@Fiddlestix: Yeah, not I'm kind of wondering what some other guitar strings, especially some of the specialty types, might sound like on violin.  

@pky: I recall having seen some erhu projects that used two plain unwound steel guitar strings.  As I recall, the erhu was originally strung with silk thread, way back when.  Have to wonder what that sounded like. 

 

"This young wine may have a lot of tannins now, but in 5 or 10 years it is going to be spectacular, despite the fact that right now it tastes like crude oil. You know this is how it is supposed to taste at this stage of development." ~ Itzhak Perlman

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coolpinkone
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July 16, 2013 - 2:53 pm
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Dan ... I liked the sound and your playing.  Nice experiment. 

Your mind, and hands are seldom idle my friend.

:)

Vibrato Desperato.... Desperately seeking vibrato

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DanielB
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July 16, 2013 - 8:36 pm
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Thanks Toni!

I am finding that for some songs, this set does sound really pretty darn good.  And it being a bit bright makes it actually maybe even sound pretty good with the smaller mute on.  Without a mute, these strings do sustain/ring a lot.. which I like, since ti sounds almost like on has a slight reverb on, and it makes some notes just sing.. But that might be part of the hollow sounding quality Kevin noted.

 

Neck is checking out as staying nice and straight so far.  String height is a tiny bit lower, by about .5 mm on the E and almost a full mm on the G.. So I think the tension is actually a little less than what I had on before.  No buzzing, even when playing very strong, though, so I'm liking it.  It seems to make doublestops and chords easier to get sounding right.

The brightness makes it seem harsh to me, but people hearing it at a distance say it is sounding very good.  So I'll go with their opinion on it. LOL

So far so good.

 

"This young wine may have a lot of tannins now, but in 5 or 10 years it is going to be spectacular, despite the fact that right now it tastes like crude oil. You know this is how it is supposed to taste at this stage of development." ~ Itzhak Perlman

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DanielB
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October 15, 2013 - 11:41 am
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Good experiments come to a conclusion, so I decided to dig this up and finish it off with what I learned from it.

 

These strings did work, and actually sounded pretty good, for the most part. I had them on my violin for about 3 months, and they got daily play.  So far as I can tell, in that time they did no damage to the violin or the bow.

Not only did they not break, but cleaning them up and examining them after 3 months of play, I can't see any sign of wear on them at all.  Even the silver plating is still bright and shows no signs of wearing off.  The windings are still good and tight, and they still have a good bit of bounce to the metal.  They haven't become limp or stiff.  So they are a looooong way from actually being "dead". 

They held tune very well, and the tone was very stable after they had settled in for a few days. 

They were by far the strongest and brightest sounding set of strings I've played on to date.  Lots of volume, plenty of high end harmonic content.  A lot of "edge" or "cut" that would work well if one wants to be able stand out when playing in a group with other musicians.  You can use your playing dynamics when you want soft, but there is a lot of strength here when you reach for it.

At the price (looking on amazon at the moment of this writing, and they can be found for under 8$ *with* free shipping) these are just insane. LOL

Possibly my personal favourite acoustic violin string, to date.

I've changed strings now (currently using Pro Artes, which are also very nice), not because these were really "done", but because it was a reasonable amount of time to try them and it was time to try something else.  I feel that especially in the first couple years of playing an instrument, it is good to change string brands and typed regularly, to learn by firsthand experience what works for *you*.

A mistake that I think a lot of beginners make is that they don't change things like strings near often enough.  It is hard enough being a noob, without playing on strings that have slowly gone "dead" on you, just because they haven't broken yet.  Strings have a lifespan.  Over time, they become more dull and their sound becomes weaker and less rich/complex.  That makes it even harder to learn to sound good, since you are trying for that sound/tone that you hear good players getting on recordings or videos, and the strings you are using have just lost the ability to give it to you.  But you will usually assume it is your playing technique that is making your music come out sounding kind of dull and just lacking.

Professional/advanced players change their strings fairly often.  I think I recall seeing Pierre mention that he changes strings about once a month.  He doesn't do that just for his health, he does it because he knows that's what he needs to get the absolute best sound out of his instruments.  Sure, maybe he plays more than you do.  That *can* wear out strings quicker, of course.  But even when they are not being played, being on the instrument, they are under tension and the metal or synthetic fibre of the core will over time stretch out too much and lose it's ability to flex and bounce back.  A beginner may not need to change as often as Pierre, but still needs to change every few months to be getting the best sound possible.

How good the instrument can sound is always a limiting factor on how good *you* can sound.  Part of getting beyond being a beginner is learning what more advanced players do and understanding why, and then modifying what you do accordingly so you can progress to being more able to do the things they do.  That applies to gear and maintenance of the gear as much as it does to intonation and bowing.

The only way to actually gain experience is by trying things yourself.

"This young wine may have a lot of tannins now, but in 5 or 10 years it is going to be spectacular, despite the fact that right now it tastes like crude oil. You know this is how it is supposed to taste at this stage of development." ~ Itzhak Perlman

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ozmous
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October 24, 2013 - 4:04 am
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This is fantastic! The sound is very warm, dark, very smooth....the resonance is fantastic, it's like you are playing in a chamber room or an orchestra, I can say that the conclusion per se is a success!

cheers! - ⁰ℨ

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DanielB
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October 24, 2013 - 10:35 am
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Well, with the resonance, I think some of it is because the Martin guitar strings don't have the silk wrap most violin strings do at the tail end.  So they ring more.  Maybe more than some folks would like.  Kevin mentioned a "hollow" sound, and that may have been what it was, since with the way the strings ring and the natural resonances of the instrument, most notes sounded like there was a slight reverb running, even though there wasn't.  I liked that, but probably not everyone would.

 

To be honest, I am trying to give the Pro Artes a fair try.  But so far I don't like them as well as I liked the Martins. 

The Martins had more power.  They were probably about 30% louder when pushed hard.  I don't usually consider louder as necessarily better (hand grenades are pretty loud, but not what we usually want for music), but I miss that extra bit of dynamic range to work in.

The Martins were more responsive.  Notes could be strong from the first instant they were played.  The Pro Artes feel a bit more.. hesitant.  They sort of take a brief instant to actually come up to power on a note.  So far they do not seem to have the ability to be as "explosive" as the Martins could be.

The sound of the Martins was a bit more focussed.  The timbre of the notes was not as diffused as the Pro Artes seem in comparison.  That softer sound can be good for some things, but the guitar strings were almost as soft after one learned to play with more control on one's bowing.

 

At the risk of getting rotten tomatoes or possibly even rocks thrown.. I don't think I like the Pro Artes near as well as I liked the Martin guitar strings.

The Pro Artes aren't all bad.  I like the G quite a lot.  And I can tell they are a well made decent quality set of strings.  Definitely not junk.

Maybe on a higher quality instrument or for a player with more evolved technique, the Pro Artes might be clearly a better sounding choice.  It may just be a freak that my inexpensive violin happens to maybe sound better when strung with this particular brand of guitar strings.  I don't know.

Here's a recording of the Pro Artes, made with the same gear, same settings, same distance from the mic, and when the strings were less than a week old, like the recording of the experimental strings above.  Same bow, same rosin, etc.  Different bit of music, and the Pro Arte recording has less background noise, since we don't have fans running this time of year, but everything is about as close as two recordings made some months apart will ever be.

feature=youtu.be&hd=1

I don't feel they sound *bad*.. Just lacking some of what I was getting from the Martins.  It is possible that as a 2nd year noob, I just don't know what violins are supposed to sound like.  But the experimental Martin guitar strings had more of what I like.

Not that the Pro Artes sound awful, it could be a good sound for some music. 

 

So far, people who hear me play in person every day or fairly regularly do not like the Pro Artes as well.  Even the friend who bought me the Pro Artes has suggested I switch back. 

dunno

 

 

 

 

 

"This young wine may have a lot of tannins now, but in 5 or 10 years it is going to be spectacular, despite the fact that right now it tastes like crude oil. You know this is how it is supposed to taste at this stage of development." ~ Itzhak Perlman

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HDuaneaz
Chandler, Arizona
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October 25, 2013 - 12:57 pm
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I just ordered Zyrex strings today. It will be interesting to play on them because the strings I have now are 10 years old, and I like the sound of them.

 

A few weeks ago I got a new e-string, Pirastro gold-label. Yes, I knew as soon as I changed it that my old e-string was dead.

Duane

 

"Violin is one of the joys of my life."

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Fiddlerman
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October 25, 2013 - 8:04 pm
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LOL,

I really look forward to hearing about this. :-)

"The richest person is not the one who has the most,
but the one who needs the least."

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