String Tech. Everything you wanted to know about strings, but were afraid to ask.
General String Information
Strings are an important factor in tone production, but they are often overemphasized as a solution to the causes of a poorly performing instrument. Have your instrument regularily examined by an experienced professional. The right strings will help maximise the quality of your instrument's tone and responsiveness, but no string will compensate for bad construction, setup, or adjustment. Please read also our Instrument Tech page to learn more.
The high cost of strings means that players are not able to try product to find the best choice for their instrument. We have designed this area of our site to help you make a choice that has the greatest chance of success. This means trying the popular brands first, and only after careful consideration of the information here. Feel free to email us if you want advice. Tell us what kind of strings you are using now, and describe the tone of your instrument using these strings. Also, tell us what changes you would like to make to your instrument's tone. If you don’t know what type of strings you are using, you can use our String ID Search to identify them. This database has color code information for each of the major string manufacturers and brands.
Subjects discussed in the text below:
String tension translates into downward force on the top of the instrument. Sometimes there is too much pressure on the instrument for a free response. As an experement, tune the low string on your instrument down almost completely. Play the upper strings. You should hear and feel a difference in how the instrument performs. For the same reason, a different string will improve, or detract from the overall quality of sound production. Unfortunately, a certain amount of experimentation is necessary to find the right strings. The soundpost, bass bar, tailpiece, bridge height, bow, bow hair, rosin, altitude and player all combine to create the resonance and response of the instrument.
They are the Steel Core, Synthetic Core, Gut Core, and the latest Composite Core strings. Of these four types, there are variations. For example Steel core strings can have a solid core, or a variety of stranded cores. Composite core strings can likewise be either solid or stranded, sometimes with metal mixed in. The core of the string has the tensile strength, and the wrapping of the string increases the mass, and achieves the desired diameter.
The Sheep Gut material is highly processed, and overwound with metal to increase the mass of the finished string. Gut strings are typically lower in tension, and have a slower response than other string types. They are also more expensive, do not stay in tune, and are less forgiving of your playing technique. Still, many players use them. Some use them because they are playing authentic ancient music, and others because their instrument works well with them. If you have never tried gut strings before and are willing to experiment, maybe you should.
Synthetic Core Strings were the first major innovation in string technology. The world's most popular string, Thomastik Dominant, has a Nylon (or Perlon) core. Nylon is good for the low cost, stable intonation, and gut like tone, but stretching causes loss of tension, and performance. This is why strings need to be replaced reglarily. String tension loss due to stretching is a factor in all strings, but Steel and Composite core strings minimize or slow the process.
Steel Core Strings are generally thinner in diameter than Gut or Synthetic core strings. This is because steel is more dense, and thinner material is all that is needed to acheive the required mass. Thinner diameter also has the benefit of quicker response from the bow. Less effort is required by the player as a result. There are different kinds of steel core. Stranded metal filaments can be made into a rope, or braided. Solid steel core strings are another type. Stranded metal core strings are more flexible. Solid core are more rigid.
Composite Core Strings are the newest, greatest innovation in string making. The term Composite is a bit misused, though. By definition, most strings are composite, since they all have a combination of materials used the construction. We use the term to describe the core material, a man made molecule that has been designed to yeild specific properties. Density, tensile strenth, resistance to temperature and humidity are all features of these materials. Composites have been used in conjunction with metal in some brands of strings. Strings with a Composite core will become the "Dominants" of the future.
Core type is one way to categorize strings. Wrapping material is another. String windings are almost always metal. The materials are chosen for their density and cost. Violin E strings are unique in that they are not wound at all. Wound Violin E strings are available, but not the norm. Aluminum Chrome-steel are the most likely wrapping material. Silver and other dense metals are used for the lower strings of an instrument, to reduce the necessary diameter of the string.
Most players use medium gauge strings. Medium is what is recommended for a good balance between, tone, volume and response. Heavy gauge strings will be louder, but the tone may not be better, and bow response can be more sluggish. Some instruments will be choked by higher tension strings. Low tension is preferable if the instrument does not lose volume as a result. Light gauge strings are often dismissed because players assume the volume will be less. A lighter string will give you more dynamic control of the tones available to you. The real benefit is that less energy is required to play, and the response is very fast. In general, higher tension strings have a less bright tone, and low tension strings have a brighter tone.
Strings fail for a few different reasons. Breakage is not common, but persistent. Strings should not break. There is usually a reason other than manufacturing defect for a string to break. The instrument is usually to blame, and it almost always the instruments nut or pegs. More information on this subject is on our Instrument Tech pages. Tension loss is the main reason strings fail. As the string stretches, the mass in the vibrating portion of the string
Wipe strings down after playing. Only if necessary. If you use any substance to break down built up dirt and rosin, be sure to avoid getting any on the varnish. Strings don’t like being tuned down, then back up repeatedly. Depending on the adjustment of the nut, frequent tuning can degrade a string almost immediately. Strings have a long shelf life. Gut strings should be stored dry. If silver wound strings tarnish, simply remove the oxidized metal with steel wool. The performance will not be affected.
String manufacturers guarantee their products against defects in workmanship or materials. If a string has a visible defect, or is “false” in tone, it can be replaced for a free replacement. We understand that you may have strings for months before installation. Just contact us as soon as you discover the problem. String breakage at the tailpiece, bridge, nut or peg area are not eligible for free replacement. Even if you have never broken strings before, there is no guarantee for this kind of failure.
Playing double stops is a good test for strings. If it’s easy, the strings are not fighting the instrument. If you feel a stiff response from the bow, or difficulty tuning the notes, adjustments need to be made to some aspect of your setup.
It may not be practical or necessary to eliminate wolf tones completely. All that is required is the ability to “play around” the wolf. If you are trying to solve a wolf problem with strings, consider this as a last resort. Read more about wolf tones HERE.
Generally, professional strings for violin or viola are about $30-50 for a set. For cello, the range is higher, $100-175. Bassists can get by for as little as $125, but many professional sets are in excess of $300.
Change strings one at a time. Follow this procedure for each string you replace.
Step 1 Remove the old or broken string. Rotate the peg in the hole feeling for loose spots and tight spots. With time, the wood in the peg and the violin changes shape. The peg and the hole become oval instead of perfectly round. This condition worsens and eventually the peg will need to be replaced. Only a professional can determine if your pegs need to be replaced. Apply peg compound if the peg does not turn smoothly.
Step 2 If needed, clean the fingerboard. Using a cloth with small amounts of Isopropol Alcohol, even caked on grime can be removed from the fingerboard. Don't use too much Alcohol as this can dry out the wood of the fingerboard. Some fingerboards are stained to look blacker. Some color might come off on your cloth. Avoid touching the varnish.
Step 3 Lubricate the grooves of the nut and the bridge. A sharp No. 2 pencil crumbles into graphite powder. In most cases, this will eliminate string breakage near the nut, peg, or between the peg and the nut. String manufacturers do not warranty string failure in these areas because it is almost always the instrument's fault. Also check the depth of the nut. The string should not be more than 1/2 it's diameter into the nut. 1/3 is ideal. The string should bend smoothly as it crosses the nut toward the peg. The various string types (gut, steel, synthetic) differ in thickness from each other. Often when switching string types, breakage occurs more often because the groove of the nut has worn to the size of the old string. If the new string is thicker, friction can aggrivate its wrapping or cause the string to break. Whenever strings break repeatedly, bring your instrument to a professional repair person.
Step 4 Wrap the new string on the peg. Make a smooth pattern and avoid wrapping over another part of the string. Also avoid the inside of the peg box. Push inward on the peg as you turn. Keep tension on the string with your other hand to prevent the string from unraveling as you wind. Affix the tail end of the string. (For loop end violin e strings, a protector is available.) Bring the string up to pitch slowly and do not over tune. Repeat these steps for each string you change.
Step 5 Check the bridge alignment. Bridges get pulled forward as strings stretch. The back side of the bridge should be perpendicular to the top of the instrument. We don't encourage everybody to adjust the bridge. If you are comfortable with doing it, or have done this in the past, slide the top end of the bridge backward. Bridges will warp if left in a crooked position for too long. A badly warped bridge can snap.
Our most popular selling professional string brands are (not in any particular order), Pirastro Evah Pirazzi, Thomastik Dominant, Thomastik Infeld Red and Blue, Thomastik Vision, Corelli Alliance, Pirastro Obligato.
It is important to consider a variety of E strings. Your favorite E string will blend well with your choice of A, D and G. Popular E strings are Pirastro Gold Label, Westminster, Goldbrokat, Thomastik Vision Titanium, Kaplan Golden Spiral Solo
Usually, A strings are wound with Aluminum. Some brands offer an optional Chrome A, which will be brighter in tone.
Violin D strings are either Aluminum, Silver or Chrome wound. Silver D strings are thinner, which gives them a faster response and more complex tone. Chrome Violin D strings are rare, but if offered, will be brighter.
Violin G strings are Usually Silver, which is why they are thinner than the D.
Loop or Ball end. E strings are usually available either way. Loop end is for a fine tuner that has a single prong. The string protector is recommended, to ensure against breakage. Ball end is for a tailpieces with built in tuners, or for a single, double prong tuner. If an E string is not offered in a choice of end type, it means the Ball can be removed, for use as a loop end string. A, D and G strings are always a Ball end.
For Violin, steel core strings are not popular, but for Cello, steel is the standard. We have specific instrument related string advice
Popular selling professional string brands are (not in any particular order). Pirastro Obligato, Pirastro Evah Pirazzi, Thomastik Dominant, D’Addario Helicore, and Larsen.
Often, Viola A strings are substituted with another choice of D, G and C. Popular A strings are Larsen, Jargar or Pirastro Permanent. Viola A strings are either Aluminum or Chromesteel wound. Chrome strings are brighter.
D strings are either Aluminum, Silver or Chromesteel wound. Silver D strings are thinner, which gives them a quicker response and more complex tone. Steel wound strings are the brightest.
G strings are typically Silver, but may also be Chromesteel wound. Chrome makes for a brighter string.
C strings are either Silver, Tungsten, Chromesteel or a mixture of these. Alloys are used for the lower viola strings to increase the mass of the wrapping material, which results in a thinner diameter of the string.
Popular Professional cello strings are Larsen, Jargar and Spirocore.
Steel core is preferred for cello. Modern cellists demand a focused, powerful tone that can cut through an ensemble.
Cello A and D strings are either Aluminum, Nickel or Chromesteel wound. Aluminum is warmer, and Chrome is brighter. Nickel strings are in between.
Cello G and C strings are either Silver, Chromesteel, or Tungsten wound. Tungsten alloy strings are the most popular for professionals.
Our most popular selling professional bass strings are Pirastro Obligato, D'Addario Helicore, Corelli Tungsten, and Thomastik Spirocore.
The selection of bass strings is complicated due to the range of playing styles of bass players. Increasingly, bassists are asking for a string that can do it all, pizz and arco. It is true that no hybrid string is better at pizz than a pizzicato specific string, but you can still get close enough.
Another aspect of bass strings is the diameter. Thickness varies widely between brands. Some pizzicato players prefer a thick string because of the feel. These strings usually require adjustments to the grooves in the nut and bridge. If this is not done, the strings may unravel or break.