Like a lot of musicians who play string instruments, I was one of those who found a set of strings that I liked and stuck with them. Not always a good idea to do that. In some cases, you could be missing out on a lot of sound and playability. It might therefore be useful for Violinists to have a Guide to Choosing the Right Violin Strings.
Talk to Others
Listening to what others have to say about their strings can be useful. But you must remember, that is the sound and playability of their instrument. Yours might not be the same at all. Each instrument is different. A set of strings can sound great on one Violin. Not the same on another.
So many choices
There probably aren’t enough days in the year to try all the options available. But you can narrow it down a bit. Getting to grips with an understanding of the windings and the core materials inside will help. As will appreciating the tonal differences between brands.
Having that basic understanding of what those options give you will allow you to make an educated guess about what to expect. So, let’s take a look at what goes into the string.
The Core Material
The best place to begin A Guide to Choosing the Right Violin Strings is the core material that understandably has an impact. You have three options. Gut, Steel, and Synthetic.
The original violin strings and still preferred by many, especially the Pros. They are made from animal intestines, usually sheep.
They have a unique, complex tone that is layered with overtones. A rich, warm sound that, when mastered, most agree, are the best sounding violin strings you can get. They have a lower tension than steel or synthetic require and therefore are softer and more pliable under the fingers.
However, the response from the string from the bow is slower. So you will need to work a little harder to create your sound. They will also need to be tuned more often. They have a habit of detuning in changes of temperature. This can be a problem for those playing under stage lighting.
Some players like them, some don’t. They were first manufactured in the early 1900s for the ‘E’ string. Soon after, the steel core was applied to all the strings. They have a very quick response time from bow to string and create a very focused tone. It is bright and can be quite sharp. Some Cellists prefer the steel core as it adds a bit of extra “top” to their sound.
What you won’t get from them is a great deal of warmth and depth from the sound. The tones are straightforward and have no complexities to add to what you are hearing. Those playing classical music might prefer less brightness. Whereas those who play country or bluegrass or other types of folk music like the steel core.
Three types of steel…
There are three different kinds of steel violin strings. The original plain steel, wrapped steel, and plated steel. Likewise, some variants have tin, platinum, and gold plating.
They all have their own tonal vagaries. Some can have less brilliance depending on whether they are wrapped. They tend to be less responsive. But generally, they are all quite bright with their sound.
It could be argued that the invention of the synthetic violin string by an Austrian company in 1970 changed Violin playing. Thomastik-Infeld introduced the “Dominant” string in an attempt to simulate the gut sound. They came close and, over the years, have got closer.
When they arrived, they were immediately a success. They had a core made of nylon called Perlon. That gives them great stability and provides a very focused tone. Although they resembled the tones of gut strings, they didn’t have some of the problems that went along with them.
The development of synthetic strings has increased, and there are now some interesting alternatives. In some strings, different core synthetic materials are used combined. These are known as “composite” synthetic strings. This has given them extra characteristics in the tones they produce.
Just as with all stringed instruments, you will need to know the importance of violin string gauges. The thickness of the string can have a big effect not only on the sound but on playability. There are three different gauges.
The medium gauge string is the most commonly used violin string gauge. That is a good place to start in the early stages of playing. If you try a thinner or “dolce” string, you will sense a lower tension and a very bright sound. It will probably also not be as loud.
The string thicker than medium, known as “forte,” has exactly the opposite characteristics of the thinner string. Tension will be higher, and it will have a much darker sound. It will probably also have more volume.
Going to a wider string…
If you choose to go with a gut string, you will find it has more width. That can cause its own set of problems with the physical structure of the violin. Some of the more budget ranges may have been designed without much thought to using gut strings.
You may need to check the slots on both the bridge and the nut to ensure they will fit comfortably. If not, you will have to get a Luthier to widen the slots on both to accommodate the extra width.
It has become interesting that in the last few years, some string manufacturers have experimented with different windings. Steel-core strings especially are now offered with a range of different options.
This has the effect of changing the tension of the string and, therefore, the response. As an example, Tungsten is one such metal that is used.
A Tungsten winding…
Tungsten is by nature a heavier material than silver or aluminum. But because it can be thinner than the alternatives, it will weigh less. It can also be strung at a higher tension without fear of breaking.
While we are talking a little about tensions, let’s consider that subject a bit further. Tensions and Gauges are often spoken about together. But there are differences between violin string tension and gauge.
They do affect each other, but there are no hard and fast rules. The gauge of the string might influence the tension, but it will not define it.
You will find that most strings, from budget to expensive, will come in light, medium, or heavy tensions. Synthetic and Steel-core strings will have a higher average tension than Gut. And you will find that Steel-core strings will tune to higher tensions better than the alternatives.
Playability and Tone…
Both of these things will be affected by which tension you choose. Lower tensions you will feel as you play. You will need less pressure to hold the string down. You may also feel the string “roll” on the fingerboard while you play.
Your preferred sound from the instrument will affect what you choose. If you want a slightly darker, warmer sound, then you should go for slightly lower tensions. Higher tensions will usually give you a brighter sound. Again that is not a hard and fast rule, just a guideline.
As I said before, I would recommend starting with medium-gauge medium-tension strings. You can feel and hear what they offer and change them where and how you think necessary.
No Right or Wrong…
There is no right or wrong concerning gauge or tensions. It is what is best for you. What is good for one may not be good for another. How does it feel when you play? How does it sound? Do you want a brighter or a darker sound? There is bound to be a string out there that will do the job.
A Personal Consideration
When choosing which violin strings are best for you, there are some personal considerations to take into account. For A Guide to Choosing the Right Violin Strings to be of value, addressing personal aspects is a must.
If you tend to sweat a lot, then aluminum wound strings can suffer from corrosion. You may need to consider a winding that will not be affected, especially if the sweat is acidic.
Getting what you need…
I can give you a personal example of what I am going to mention here. I was quite happy as a young player with my instrument. It sounded okay to me and seemed to play fine. Then someone said to me, “have you had it set up?” No, I hadn’t. I found someone to do it. It was like a different instrument in every way.
Luthiers for all instruments are professionals. They know how to get the best from what you’ve got. Most importantly, they will know how to balance the sound of your violin.
Changing Strings to Change the Sound?
If that is what you are doing, then I would recommend having the violin set up by a Luthier first. Fine-tuning and getting the best from your instrument is more than just changing the strings. Once they have done that, then you can sit down and say, “okay, what sound do I want?”
All instruments are different, and the tonewoods play a vital part in producing your sound. It’s not possible for them all to be the same. But do you want a brighter sound? If so, then you will be looking at strings, tensions, and gauges that are going to give you that.
If it is already rather bright, you may want to add a little depth and warmth by having lower tensions. There will be those that want to achieve this on a budget. Some strings can be very expensive indeed. However, there are plenty of great budget strings from established manufacturers. I shall include an example later on.
What about Volume?
There is not a great deal of difference volume-wise between strings. A little maybe, between thin and thicker gauge strings. Noticeable perhaps but not shatteringly so. But a brighter string is perceived to be louder as it just cuts through a bit more. So if you need an extra bit of volume, a brighter string will help.
Mix and Match?
No single string will leap out as louder than the others as you play. That is the idea, but sadly sometimes not the reality. That is why some players mix and match their strings.
It is okay to do that and has been quite common over the years, especially with the ‘E’ string. They might keep the ‘G, D, and A’ strings the same but have a different ‘E.’
There have been set patterns and string formations that many players would use. But with such a variety of strings available these days, that has changed. As I said earlier, decide what sound you want and buy accordingly.
A Balanced Instrument
I have already mentioned the importance of getting a Luthier to set up and balance your violin. This is especially important before you start experimenting with strings. If it is not balanced, strings aren’t going to help that much.
Still not quite right or bright?
If, after having the necessary done, it is still not right, then try a different gauge on the string that bites you. But bear in mind a different brand or gauge of string could equal a different tension. That may affect the sound when mixed with the other strings. It will affect how the instrument feels across the strings.
How Often Do You Change?
That will depend on so many things. Pro players will change often. Some may only need to change them once a year, when they have found their chosen string, that is.
If you “play heavy,” then they will wear out or, worse, break more often. If you sweat a lot in performance, that will affect the strings. The best way to tell? Listen, and you will hear if it still sounds as good.
Looking for A Great Violin and Violin Accessories?
We have a nice selection to help you out. Check out our in-depth reviews of the Best Violin For Kids, the Best Student Violins, the Best Violin Bows, the Best Electric Violins, the Best Electric Cellos, the Best Violin Cases, and the Best Sheet Music Stands you can buy in 2023.
You may also like our helpful guides on Tips for Memorizing Music, Exercises and Tips For Better Finger Dexterity, What is Considered a String Instrument, What is a Metronome, Easiest Musical Instruments for Adults to Learn, How to Remember Guitar String Order & Names, and How to Tune a 12-String Guitar for more useful information.
A Guide to Choosing the Right Violin Strings – Final Thoughts
So, what are the best violin strings? The short answer, there isn’t one. It is what is best for you. Consider the sound you want, and find it. That is the best string for you.
Let’s take a little look at some options.
This is an excellent budget string from D’Addario, a quality manufacturer based in New York.
A bit more expensive, the famous String from Vienna in Austria.
If you are looking for a Gut Core.
A lot of information to take in but remembering one thing is important, “What is best for me?” Until next time, let the music play.