Choosing Strings for your Instrument
Great strings do not react equally well on all instruments. While it is good to follow advice for choosing the strings that you think will suit your playing needs, style and instrument but don’t be afraid to experiment based on what you learn. Your instrument may need to be adjusted to reach it’s maximum capability. The bridge, sound-post and strings play a very big role in sound production. Many instruments need high tension to play out while others will open up with less tension. It is a good idea to have a well recommended and trusted luthier look at your instrument.
Sound-posts need to be adjusted, moved and even replaced from time to time as the top by the f-hole rises with age. Strings need to be changed after a particular amount of usage or age because of drying, wear, and metal fatigue. Old strings loose their tone quality, power and overtones. Some say as quickly as after 300 hours of playing. Cold, heat, and humidity affect your instrument sometimes necessitate adjustments as well. Many professionals have luthiers adjust their instruments on a regular basis. While some instruments are very stable and maintain great sound throughout the seasons, others are very sensitive to the slightest weather changes.
Before testing strings make sure that your instrument is set up properly. Try to check that the sound-post is in the right location and that it is straight, not leaning in any direction. The ideal location for the sound-post is from almost against to approximately 3/16 of an inch, or one bridge thickness behind the center right bridge foot (towards the tailpiece). Too close can increase power but loose response. Try to find the sweet spot.
The bridge should be as straight as possible and preferably not warped. The feet of the bridge should be formed to fit the belly as perfectly as possible.
Selecting the best strings for you and your instrument. Listen to your other violinists opinions, discuss string types on forums such as Fiddlerman.com/forum, be observant of differences when trying a new string type.
What kind of sound do you want to get out of your instrument? Loud, bright, strong, brilliant, metallic, rich or soft, warm, sweet, dark, thin, dull….
Depending on what characteristics your instrument already has you need to either enhance, adhere to, or counteract it’s natural qualities.
Steel core strings have a tendency to sound more, be brighter, stronger more brilliant and metallic. They are more fitting for dull instruments and popular for country, and even jazz playing. They can be difficult to play in tune with because of their non-flexibility character. When pressing hard on them the tone often rises a bit.
Synthetic core strings (fiddlermans favorite) are medians between steel and gut strings and often the best all round choice for great sounding, strong yet warm sounding strings. In some cases they produce more sound than steel strings. Generally the synthetic core strings have a perlon, fancy name for plastic, core. There are however variations of materials and can be called composite, Zyex, nylon strands, and other fancy names. Great strings are being made today and well worth trying.
Gut Core Strings are the oldest and least popular choices today. They are considered to be the warmest though many synthetic core strings equal their warmth and surpass the gut core in volume and power as well. These strings can be used with bright and brilliant sounding instruments when toning down is desired or if playing baroque style music.
Strings Tensions – Which one should I get? If you don’t already know, start with the medium tension. They are designed to suit most instruments.
The thicker strings are called Stark, Forte, Heavy tension. The thicker strings require more tension to reach the correct pitch and therefor produce more tension, pressure resulting in more power. By the same token, the extra tension reduces action time and responsiveness.
The thinner strings are called weich, soft, light, or dolce tension. Because they are thinner they need less tension to reach their pitch producing less tension, pressure and resulting often in less power. However they usually will have quicker action and reponsiveness. and even brightness.
If just one or two of your strings are too bright or weak sounding, you may want to try a thicker string.
If one or two of your strings are too dark sounding or non-responsive and slow, you may want to try a thinner string.
Usually you get a set of strings with the same tension but at times it may be necessary to mix the strings to get a well balanced dynamic from bottom to top.