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The String Dilemma
So many varieties, so many choices... How do you select strings, especially those of us who have never changed their strings before?
Topic Rating: 5 Topic Rating: 5 Topic Rating: 5 Topic Rating: 5 Topic Rating: 5 Topic Rating: 5 (1 votes) 
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Pete_Violin
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December 20, 2018 - 6:26 pm
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Hey everyone!!

Well I am coming up to 1 year of playing very soon.  According to what I have read, it is recommended that violin strings should be changed approximately once a year (depending on how much you play, of course).

And since this is my first violin and I have never changed my strings, I will need all the advise I can find for selecting strings.

I should say that I am currently using D'Addario Helicore strings and I love them!  The warm tone they produce works so well with my violin. 

Also, I am not in dire need to change my strings right this moment.  I have not broken any and they hold their tune well.  They do not seem to have any obvious issues.  However, I have not played on any other strings so I do not have a lot to compare to.

But at some point I will need to change strings and I have no clue which to select.  The differences between brands and types of strings is mind boggling.

My first resource I went to was the luthier where I purchased my violin.  He selected the strings I am currently playing on for this violin and they are awesome!  So you would think he would be able to tell me exactly which strings to get.  This was not the case.  He did give me suggestions, but because my level of play has changed, he basically told me I will have to choose them based on what I like.  The strings I have are more or less for beginners and I am no longer a beginner so he recommended to go up one step to something a little higher quality.

Here are his suggestions in order of quality and price:

  1. Alphayue $25
  2. Tonica $36
  3. Vision (heavy) $50
  4. Obligato $100

*These prices are average based on what I could find online and what my luthier charges.

The next place I went to was Fiddlerman's Store.  And this actually left me with more questions.  Fiddlerman has even more selections and varieties of strings.  And all the prices vary from one type of string to another.  I found some Tonicas that were higher priced than Visions... and some Obligatos that were less expensive than some Tonicas.  And I really have no idea why.

On top of all this confusion for me, my luthier also explained that I won't be able to tell if I will even like the strings (regardless of price) until they are broken in, which can be up to a week after I put them on.  His method of selecting strings is to change strings, try them and if he does not like them simply change to another set. He can do this because he just resells the strings he did not use.  I am not in a position to do this.

I wonder if there is a way to make sense of this, or if anyone has any guidelines I can follow to narrow down my choices understand the differences between all these strings.

Please feel free to give any advise, experiences, tips, and help if you have some.

Thank you

- Pete -

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AndrewH
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December 20, 2018 - 6:47 pm
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Regarding prices, you might want to make sure you're comparing apples to apples. Strings are available both as full sets and as single strings. Among single strings, the lower, thicker strings are more expensive; as a general rule, the G string is almost half the price of the full set. That might explain the pricing you see. Also make sure you're looking at 4/4 size violin strings! Strings for undersized instruments will be less expensive, and viola/cello/bass strings will be more expensive.

It may be useful to consult the violin string chart that Shar publishes. This should be reasonably accurate for most violins, though an individual instrument may play differently with a particular strings.

https://www.sharmusic.com/Page.....ing-Chart/

I notice that Alphayue, Tonica, and Vision are all clustered together, so I assume your luthier believes your violin would sound best with a string in that range.

While determining your own string preferences, I would advise starting with something close to the middle (Dominant is what I usually recommend as a "default" string for a newly acquired instrument) and figuring out how you would prefer the sound to change .

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Pete_Violin
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December 20, 2018 - 7:40 pm
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@AndrewH 

Thank you... this is quite helpful.

I apologize, I did not specify.  All the prices I found are for full sets of 4 strings for a 4/4 violin.  I was under the impression that single strings were normally purchased to replace a single string and that the price was better when purchased as a set.  I did not really look at individual string prices.  That was a level of complexity I was not ready for.

I did look at the chart on Shar and it basically confirms what you said about the recommendations of my luthier.  He was recommending strings comparable to what I already have, or perhaps at a little higher quality, but not at professional level.  My confusion comes when, for example, I tried comparing Tonica.  Even one maker has such a variety of strings.  And it is about as complex with other makers.

I do like how Shar seems to group strings into the sounds they can produce.  I am partial to the warm tones and my violin reacts very well to that type of string.

I see your point regarding starting in a mid-range string, however I believe this will be a one time purchase. I do not have the money to "experiment" with strings, unfortunately, and so I do not have the luxury to try out a few.  So if I go with Dominant, for example, I hope I like it because I won't be able to change it.  For whatever reason, my luthier did not include Dominant strings in his recommendation.  I don't really know exactly why. I hope to find the right strings the first time.  I realize this will basically be luck, but I am also looking for a guide to increase my luck of finding a good set of strings.

I understand what you mean about a thicker gauge string is more expensive, however I do not know if this is good or bad, or will even be a factor in my selection.  It seems to me that the sound the string is intended to produce (warm vs brilliant) would be more critical.

Thank you again.  You have given me more of an idea how to narrow this down which is what I am trying to do.

- Pete -

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Mark
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December 20, 2018 - 7:42 pm
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Might check this out.

Mark

 

https://www.violinstringreview.com

Master the Frog and you have mastered the bow.

Albert Sammons

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Pete_Violin
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December 20, 2018 - 7:59 pm
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@Mark 

So the review on Vision has a great description of exactly what I want to find in a string...

The Titanium Orchestra strings are by far my favorite for my violin. They were rich and warm without feeling muddy. If you are looking for something a bit darker than Dominants but do not like the sometimes dull sound of the Infeld Reds or the extreme warmth of Obligato these are the perfect string for you. They were balanced across all four strings and felt the closest to a "neutral" string of this line.

- Pete -

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AndrewH
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December 20, 2018 - 8:35 pm
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pchoppin said
@AndrewH 

Thank you... this is quite helpful.

I apologize, I did not specify.  All the prices I found are for full sets of 4 strings for a 4/4 violin.  I was under the impression that single strings were normally purchased to replace a single string and that the price was better when purchased as a set.  I did not really look at individual string prices.  That was a level of complexity I was not ready for.

I did look at the chart on Shar and it basically confirms what you said about the recommendations of my luthier.  He was recommending strings comparable to what I already have, or perhaps at a little higher quality, but not at professional level.  My confusion comes when, for example, I tried comparing Tonica.  Even one maker has such a variety of strings.  And it is about as complex with other makers.

I do like how Shar seems to group strings into the sounds they can produce.  I am partial to the warm tones and my violin reacts very well to that type of string.

I see your point regarding starting in a mid-range string, however I believe this will be a one time purchase. I do not have the money to "experiment" with strings, unfortunately, and so I do not have the luxury to try out a few.  So if I go with Dominant, for example, I hope I like it because I won't be able to change it.  For whatever reason, my luthier did not include Dominant strings in his recommendation.  I don't really know exactly why. I hope to find the right strings the first time.  I realize this will basically be luck, but I am also looking for a guide to increase my luck of finding a good set of strings.

I understand what you mean about a thicker gauge string is more expensive, however I do not know if this is good or bad, or will even be a factor in my selection.  It seems to me that the sound the string is intended to produce (warm vs brilliant) would be more critical.

Thank you again.  You have given me more of an idea how to narrow this down which is what I am trying to do.  

I don't mean trying a few immediately. I mean you might consider buying a different brand for your next set a year down the road. I've tried several string brands, but when I'm considering changing brands, I always wait until my next string change. That might mean taking two or three years to find the string you like best, but it means you're not spending any extra money.

Also, I'm not sure where you get the idea that the strings your luthier recommended aren't "professional level" -- Pinchas Zukerman uses Vision strings, and Obligatos, while not as popular on violin, are probably the most-used string by American professional violists. (I currently use Vision strings myself on both violin and viola.)

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Pete_Violin
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December 20, 2018 - 8:42 pm
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AndrewH said

Also, I'm not sure where you get the idea that the strings your luthier recommended aren't "professional level" -- Pinchas Zukerman uses Vision strings, and Obligatos, while not as popular on violin, are probably the most-used string by American professional violists. (I currently use Vision strings myself on both violin and viola.)  

I misspoke.

He did discuss these with the idea that these are higher level than what my violin has currently.  Especially the Obligatos.  He specifically said these may be beyond my current playing level.  The Obligato is quite a jump in quality compared to my D'Addarios.

I was not aware that these were indeed professional level.  I am still very new at this.  Like I mentioned, I have never purchased or changed my strings.  I have owned my violin now for 10 months.

- Pete -

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AndrewH
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December 20, 2018 - 8:46 pm
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Regarding single strings: the other reason to buy single strings is to use them in a mixed set. Many pros mix strings; it's especially common to use a different brand for the violin E or viola A. Gold Label and Goldbrokat E strings, in combination with some other brand for the other the strings, are popular among professional violinists, and neither is especially expensive. (Goldbrokat is actually one of the cheapest brands.) Almost half of professional violists use Larsen A strings, and some use Larsen D strings as well, but hardly anyone uses the Larsen C and G. Some online stores even sell mixed sets, with similar discount to full sets of one brand, in the most popular combinations. To be most accurate, my viola string combination is Vision (standard version) CGD, Larsen A, which is widely sold as a set.

This might be a bit too much effort for most intermediate-level players, though; I think it only becomes justified once you're playing enough hours to go through a set of strings every six months or less. I didn't try a mixed set until I'd been playing for 12 years.

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Pete_Violin
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December 20, 2018 - 9:05 pm
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@AndrewH 

Thank you, that clears up some questions I had regarding single strings and why to purchase them.  Like you said, it is a level of play where strings are selected to produce sound specifically on individual strings which they have developed their ear and skill for.  These players may even have 2 or 3 violins with strings selected for different purposes (i.e., performance, practice, orchestra, solo).  I am not there yet and I suspect it will be years before I am.

My main concern is finding a set of strings that produce the tone I like, work well with my violin, and which I am happy with for the next year.

- Pete -

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steveduf
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December 20, 2018 - 10:08 pm
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I believe string choice is one of the toughest things to deal with

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Gordon Shumway
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December 21, 2018 - 4:32 am
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I believe that after I've been playing for a few years and after I've bought my last ever violin and after I've played it long enough for me and it to have opened up and for me to be able to hear all its nuances and after I've joined an orchestra or a chamber group, that might be the right time for me to start to wonder about mixing and matching strings! snake1

Andrew

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Irv
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In my way of thinking, Goldbrokat just nailed the E string and if I were a string manufacture, I would simply OEM them.  I purchased all I will ever need for about $1 each.  

Research is what I’m doing when I don’t know what I’m doing.  —Werner von Braun

Without deviation from the norm, progress is not possible.         —Frank Zappa

Experience is a difficult teacher, it gives the test first and the lesson after.

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ryonass
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December 21, 2018 - 1:46 pm
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I have used Pistro Tonica, Domiant, and Obligato. My favorite is Obligato and I will only being use that from now on.

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Fiddlerman
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December 26, 2018 - 9:38 am
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@Irv - I feel the same way about Goldbrokat. It's my favorite right next to Westminster which tends to bring more darkness out of the instrument.

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

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bocaholly
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This E string - which I've raved about elsewhere on the Forum - has spared me of the open string squeeks I used to experience regularly.

https://fiddlershop.com/produc.....n-e-string

Sure, it's < $9 as opposed to the Goldbrokat at < $3 but I've had it on for over 100 days and it's still going strong. At less than 9¢/day, I'm hooked.

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mookje
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December 27, 2018 - 1:37 am
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I have the Pirastro Obligato, I’m very satisfied! I don’t think I’ll try others next time. 

 Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass. It’s about dancing in the rain!!

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