What’s in a String? Choosing New Strings for Your Instrument

As the school year approaches, now is a GREAT time to think about re-stringing your instrument for the upcoming school year. If you start now, those strings can be fully adjusted and raring to go on the first day of orchestra. So you browse on over to an online string seller, or visit your local music store, and you find yourself accosted with all manner of pricing and variety of strings. In order to help you navigate your OWN way through choosing a set of strings, here are a few helpful articles for your edification. Note: several of these articles reference violin strings, but the same principles apply when choosing viola strings, so don’t miss out on the wealth of information here!
Ultimately, choosing your own strings based on what qualities you want to enhance in your own instrument takes a large step toward developing your own unique sound.

1. Fein Violins: Choosing Strings to Improve Your Sound

“There is a lot of confusion about strings, since there are no universal gauge or tension standards for manufacturers to follow, so let’s clear up some of the mystery and take the fear out of experimenting with strings by explaining some terms. Hopefully this will allow you to make confident and informed string choices which will improve the sound of your instrument.”

This article has quite an extensive explanation of the construction of a string, including some amazing microscopic close-ups of different strings. They cover gauge, tension, core, and winding- and even debunk a commonly-held myth about the earliest strings. Don’t miss this one!

2. Ifshin Violins: Guide to Choosing and Using Strings

“Each different type of string has its own special characteristics, which can change the sound of your instrument. These characteristics can make subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) changes in the quality, playability, volume and responsiveness of the instrument. In some cases, changing one or more strings can improve a weakness in a specific part of the range of the instrument. “

This article has similar information about gauge and core qualities in strings, and also includes good examples of different varieties. They also have a short explanation of how to change strings, and the tips here will be beneficial in ensuring even wear and quality sound over the life of the string.

3. Johnson String Instrument: Choosing Strings for Your Instrument

“Notes about strings:

  • The most popular strings are the mid-priced synthetic-core strings.
  • Using gut-core strings can warm up an instrument instantly; the Passione brand stabilize in pitch very quickly compared to other gut-core strings.
  • Players often start with the medium gauge or tension of strings (when offered a choice) to see how their instrument responds to the manufacturer’s generally balanced tension, before experimenting with different gauges and tensions.”

This article helps identify particular characteristics of your instrument, before delving into the characteristics of strings, perhaps to best give you an idea of things for which to look as you’re learning. They include as well information on strings for electric instruments! The section on string installation includes a helpful video, and I recommend reading over this section thoroughly before installing your first string: the advice about peg problems is exactly how I handle sticky pegs on my students’ instruments.

4. Shar Music: Choosing the Right Set of Strings

An interesting approach to helping players choose the right type of strings, Shar presents a graphic interpretation of the general qualities of each string brand and variety- a graph! Here’s their explanation of how the graph can be read, but I recommend visiting the website to get the full effect of this creative guide to strings.

“Projection: Next to each string set there’s a graphic that indicates that set’s level of projection. The levels of projection range from “Mild” to “Aggressive.”

Smooth/Textured: 
The X axis (horizontal) depicts the continuum between smooth and textured string sets. Textured sets are complex sounding with many colors and rich, resonating overtones. Smooth sets are very clear and focused. The tone is clean and straight. 

Direct/Subtle: The Y axis (vertical) depicts the continuum between direct and subtle string sets. A direct string set has a brilliant, distinct tone designed for soloists to cut through piano or orchestral textures. A subtle set doesn’t overpower. They blend well and often have a dark undertone.”

5. Violin Music School: How to Choose Violin Strings

“Violin strings, just like any other string, do result in wear and tear. But unlike other strings, you do not have to wait for it to break before you replace them. You should replace your violin strings on a constant basis, depending on the frequency you play your violin.”

This article, along with basic explanations of the benefits of each type of string, also details the disadvantages of each variety- which I always appreciate in a review! Changing strings, a handy string identification guide, and links to reviews of specific brands/ varieties of strings are included as well.

 

Have fun with all your new-found knowledge as you choose new strings, and best of luck as well as you prepare for another school year!

 

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