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What does anyone think: is it meaningful to compare violins strung with different strings?
In favor of such a comparison, the current strings might be the ideal set for that violin, so that comparing the combinations is comparing the violins, each being its best self.
On the other hand, negating much of the value of such a comparison, many differences in sound might be due to differences between the strings, not due to differences between the violins.
Has anyone faced this dilemma--and if so, how did they proceed?
It's true that strings could significantly change the sound of the violin, but within some limits, so I don't think that an outstanding violin would sound horrid with improper strings, or a bad violin with a good string combo sound like a fine 300 year italian masterpiece. Technically the first case could be true, but who would do this to an instrument that they want to sell?
When trying new instruments I prefer them to be set up with a string set I am familiar with, and I guess that's why many luthiers and violin shops set most of their instruments up with a well known string type, like Dominant, Tonica and I have seen many instruments strung with Vision, Evah Pirazzi, PI or even Obligato. But all those are strings that we have a general idea of what they do/boost in most violins.
It could be a not so fair comparison, but if the strings are not dead and equally fresh, and the string combo was decided by a luthier or an experienced player it could mean that you are playing the instrument with a string set that makes the violin sound at its best or at least good enough for it's potential
If you are experienced with many string types you could guess of how the violin would sound with another string, or your favorite go-to set
In a violin shop or in an experienced player's "inventory" chances are that a violin is strung with a string set that the instrument works well, there should be a reason for it being away from the "norm"
If however you insist that you try certain instruments with the same string combo you could ask the luthier, and I believe it is something that can be arranged.
Also, setup could be even more important than string choise, affecting not only sound but playability as well, and that's another thing to consider as well
In any case even if you do not ask for the same string combo you could discuss it with the luthier/current owner, they might have an answer for the different choice of strings, that could tell you a lot about the instrument.
I didn't know anything about strings when I purchased my violin, it was only after I went to a teacher that replaced my E string that I knew it could sound so different. After I replaced them all it sounded like a completely different violin.
I loved it both before and after, but didn't even think about it until I had learnt to play some. With the new strings it gave it a clearer and more gentle sound, they softly ring a little after each bow stroke and seem to echo through the whole body of the violin bringing it to life.
It was the one I fell in love with at the store based on sound, and now it sounds even better...but, I seriously would not have known what to buy if he hadn't guided me, and maybe the sound I prefer would not fit everyone?
So I would have thought that violins are strung with the strings that the shop feels are the best for the individual instrument, after all, surely they can hide the price in the violin?...as I'm presuming they would they want it to sound amazing as a first impression.
Well, half a year into this, I got to visit for two weeks with 3 violins, all new, all of similar quality. Similar price, +/- 20% of each other.
So: relatively inexperienced player, none of the instruments way better or worse, AND different strings on each: Dominant, Vision, Evah Pirazzi green.
They seemed like very different instruments. Each offered different things to like and not like.
Some of my impressions changed over those two weeks. Possibly even in response to possibly brand new strings settling in? I did NOT like the one with the Evah Pirazzis at first, but I kept playing it in rotation and after about a week, I liked it a lot.
In the end, I decided that I was in no way qualified to distinguish the differences caused by the instruments from those caused by the strings (and those caused by possibly brand new strings vs. after several hours of playing?).
Because of this--AND because, while they were all quite nice, I did not love any of them--I sent them all back.
I'm back to renting, though from a different source, and a significantly better violin than the one that pushed me to the "extreme measure" of thinking maybe it was time to buy.
I'm very glad I did this--not only did it raise the string comparison issue to consciousness, but I feel like I learned a lot from my three short-term "teachers."
But probably in 6 months to a year I will be thinking of buying. I doubt that I will have much better ability to distinguish string differences from instrument differences. I think that would take experience with multiple different strings on the same violin, or same violins, which normally would be acquired over some years.
So I wondered how, if at all, others have dealt with this issue.