Every now and then someone will ask me what kind of strings I use. Sometimes they ask me what I recommend.
Over the course of my life with the violin I have tried a great many strings. When I was a kid back in the sixties I remember hiking downtown to the local music store to buy gut strings because that‘s what my music teacher said to get. Hard to believe, but that’s what we used back then.
When I took up fiddling in earnest in the seventies, an old time fiddler said I should get steel core strings. So I did. I didn’t like the sound of them. They sounded brash and raucous to my ear. Most likely that was me and not the strings. I tried gut again but found they wouldn’t hold their tuning. Someone suggested a string with a synthetic core. I tried those. They took a long time to settle, but at least sounded mellower. It seemed that about the time they settled (would hold their tuning) they died. The years rolled on…
I like to try different types of strings. I’m all for “New! Improved! Guaranteed to make you sound like a maestro!” Through the wonders of the internet I will experiment and pay pretty much anything for strings as long as they appear to be heavily discounted which usually they are.
Here are some of the strings I’ve tried in the past twenty years and what I think of them.
I sometimes use Super Sensitive Red. These are solid core steel strings. They hold their tuning well. It doesn’t take them long to break in. I have these on the fiddle that I use to play outside when I need to be loud and the weather might be not so nice. I also recommended these to a young student who could stand to be louder.
About twenty years ago I used Dogal Blue Lable. Steel core, steel winding. What I liked about these was that the winding is very smooth which is good for sliding on strings. They were also stable and held their tuning indoors or out, good weather or bad.
At a point I wanted my fiddle to sound more buttery, mellower, more old fashioned. I tried gut again but broke the E right away while trying to tune it and couldn’t keep them in tune. I hated them. I took them right off the fiddle and tried what is usually recommended for the “serious musician” and that was Dominant by Thomastik. They sound harsh when first put on. A lot of strings sound harsh when first put on. They usually settle and loose the metallic sound after a week or so of heavy playing. Although these eventually broke in with the changing conditions I play in, they didn’t work out. They were too touchy and about the time they held their tuning - they died. I don’t use these anymore but a lot of classical violin teachers recommend them to their students and they are available locally. They’re not good for sliding.
I used Helicore by D’Addario for a while and they worked well. They hold their tuning, have a nice smooth winding but other strings came along so I tried some more.
I read a good review on the net about Obligato by Pirastro. Someone said that they could make even a bad fiddle sound good not that I had a bad fiddle, but who wouldn’t want to sound great? These were great! The difference in tone over what I was using was remarkable. The drawback? I wore out three A strings for every set. For whatever reason they couldn’t handle the sliding and the winding wore out.
I tried Zyex by D‘Addario. They settled in quickly, held their tuning in changing conditions, felt smooth to the touch. The trouble with these strings was that I had to send a set back once on account of it was made wrong. Defective. The winding on the A string was not even. It had bumps in it. I got a good replacement, but the next set had a defective string as well. So much for Zyex. I’m currently using Vision (Orchestra) by Thomastik. Now hear this. When shopping for a set of strings you may be asked to chose which tension you prefer: low, medium or high. Tension makes a big difference in how playable the strings feel to you. I was satisfied with the “Orchestra” type. At the time I bought the first set “Solo” wasn’t available. These were medium tension. You will sacrifice volume when you go for strings that are easy to press down. The second time around I bought “Solo - for the demanding musician.” I hated them. I all but needed two hands to press the strings down and this does not work out for quick little notes (for me and the way I play.) This was the first time ever I called up the place where I ordered them from and asked if I could use their “Satisfaction Guaranteed” option. The lady said, “But not for strings… but we’ll make you a once in a lifetime exception because you‘re such a good customer.” They sent me the “Orchestra” set which sound good, have a smooth winding and are easy to press down. They also have decent volume though not quite as loud as the Solo type.
I did wear out the A string within six months, though, so soon enough I will be out shopping and experimenting with other brands and types. To me the ideal string would be one that sounds as buttery as a gut string but has good volume, holds its pitch within 24 hours as well as during temperature and humidity changes, has a smooth winding for easy sliding and also less chance of wearing out the winding, and is easy to press down. I really don’t care what the inside is made of because they’re always coming up with something “New! Improved! Guaranteed to make you sound like a Maestro!” as long as they don’t give me trouble.
The fiddler who fiddles with this blog
- Beverley Conrad
- Selinsgrove, PA, United States
- Beverley Conrad is a writer, musician, and artist who lives in central Pennsylvania. She's played the fiddle most of her life and has published books and once went on a book tour with her dog. She's currently working on a series of one hundred works of art of a dead fly to see where it goes, how it progresses.