A year and a half ago I got a really cheap Cecilio violin, and for just messing around and learning a little, I've really enjoyed it! (I don't mind the sound or anything of it.) However, tonight my E-string broke. Oops.
I don't have a teacher or any musical friends, so I have to fix these things myself with the help of the internet.
Do I need to look to buy just an E-string for a 4/4 violin, or should I be buying a whole new set of strings? (for my learning: why on either count is that the case?)
What should I look for in a string?
I would like to find something durable (obviously), but if strings at all impact volume, I am now in a dorm setting and would love quiet strings to go with my coated metal mute.
If you bought a Cecilio, with Cecilio's notoriously cheap strings on it, then you would want to replace the whole set of strings. After a year, especially if they have been well used, they are probably all about ready to be replaced anyway.
For durable steel strings, that sound better than the cheap Cecilio strings, I recommend: D'Addario Prelude Violin String Set, 4/4 Scale, Medium Tension. These should last a long time and cost less than $20, depending on where you buy them from.
If you want something a bit smoother, maybe a little less volume (but still be able to get loud) you could try: Pirastro Tonica strings, or the alternate set, Pirastro Tonica/Gold Label 4/4 Violin String Set - Medium Gauge with Tonica A, D,G & Gold Label E Ball End. These will be in the $30 range, give or take a bit, depending on where you buy them. These are synthetic strings, so they probably will not last as long as the Prelude strings above... but they sound nice.
There are other brands that I have not tried yet. Some in the same price range, some a lot more expensive.
A set of strings I want to try are the: Fiddlerman Violin String Set, Synthetic Core w/ Ball-End for both 4/4 and 3/4 size. These strings are probably similar to the Tonica strings, but since I have not tested them yet, I cannot say how closely they would sound to Tonicas. The price for these is usually just under $30.
I know that some of the other members have used other strings they could recommend as well.
Lots of good advice here I agree that if your whole set of strings are a year old, that you might as well change them all. You'll notice a big difference in the sound quality.
I really like the Fiddlerman string set, and Helicore strings. I like to pair them with the Kaplan non-whistling E.
And no, no E string will be quiet. But you should be fine with your mute on while you play
World's Okayest Fiddler
I'd recommend replacing the whole set. Most people replace steel strings (which is probably what it came with) about once a year. Strings do age, and even if the others don't break anytime soon, they're probably sounding a bit dead.
Strings come in two major kinds - steel and synthetic. That refers to the core. Some of the cheaper steel strings will have just one solid wire for the E string, but all synthetic strings (and the better steel strings) will have the E string wrapped in a smaller steel wire. (The 3rd kind is "catgut" (which is really made from sheep), but those last a very short time, are hard to keep in tune, and are hideously expensive. I'd avoid them.)
Steel strings last most people about a year, synthetics rather shorter. (As little as 6 weeks in some cases, but 3-6 months would be more common.)
Since you've been happy with the tone of the ones you have, I'd suggest the D'addario Preludes, or maybe even cheaper ones. For most people, I wouldn't recommend the cheaper ones, but you've been playing with a fairly cheap set for an year and half and are happy with the sound, I can't see recommending $120/set strings for a low end violin. (That would probably be more than you paid for the violin.) The Preludes will last you a good while, and probably sound as good or better than the ones you've been using.
The volume is affected more by the violin than the strings, and violins are designed to be loud. You might want to avoid strings that brag about their "projection" or "project well", since (to the degree a string can control that, which isn't a lot) they're designed to be louder. Nobody advertises that their strings are quieter.
Since the major reason for changing the strings (except the E, obviously), you might try an experiment. Get a full set, but only use the E. See what that sounds like to you. Then change out the rest and see if you notice a difference. If you don't, then in the future, I'd replace just the E. (Although having a spare set of all four would be a good idea. The thicker ones won't break as often, but they will break eventually.)
On second thought, it might be a good idea to replace them all, for safety reasons. If a string breaks and hits you in the eye, that is Not Good. The bigger the string, the more damage it could potentially do.