Sunday, January 4, 2015

These Are A Few of Our Favorite Strings! Part I, Violins

By Andy Fein, luthier at Fein Violins
and the staff at Fein Violins

Kaplan Violin Strings, Vivo on the left, Amo on the right

Strings can make or break the sound of an instrument. They can help a violin produce a sound that soars over a 120 piece orchestra, or they can make a Stradivarius sound like wet cardboard. And just because your favorite soloist uses "X" strings, doesn't mean that they will work as well with your violin. Violins are like snowflakes - no two are exactly the same (and both have dust in the middle), and as such, a particular set of strings that allows one violin to reach its full potential can inhibit another.

Finding the right strings for your instrument can seem like an uphill battle, but you don't have to do it alone. What follows are descriptions and reviews of popular string brands by and for violinists.

To have a good idea about what type of strings you should try on your violin, you first need to understand string lingo. We'll use some comparisons to help explain the jargon.

Mellow - A mellow sounding instrument will sound very focused under your ear without harsh overtones, like a French horn or a cello. People often perceive a mellow sounding instrument as being tuned lower, even though it's tuned to the same pitch as a brighter instrument.

Bright- The extreme of bright would be tinny. Piccolos are very bright instruments. Many bright instruments sound very loud when you're playing them, with a lot of sound blasting into your ear. Players will perceive this as an instrument with great projection, but that is not necessarily true. Bright sounds are made up of many higher overtones that die off quickly and do not carry very far.

Muddy- Not clear. Like a guitar with the fuzz pedal on all the time.

Clear- Sounding like a bell.

Projection- The sound carries away from the instrument. An instrument with great projection can be heard at the back of a concert hall.

Balance- All of the strings work together seamlessly as a team. One string isn't louder than another, and you don't need to change your bowing technique for each string. Balance can also refer to the quality of the tone - not too mellow and not too bright.

And now, the strings:

 Kaplan Vivo Made in the USA by D'Addario.
They are incredibly clear and pure sounding, with above-average projection. They are on the bright side, so use them to bring out the richness of a mellow instrument, add clarity to a muddy one, or really make a bright violin take center stage.

Kaplan Amo Made in the USA by D'Addario
These strings are rich, full, mellow, responsive and very easy to play, offering a beautiful blend of warmth and power with a very clear centered tone. Focus and accentuate a mellow sounding violin, or refine the tone of a violin that is too bright.  Life span (so far), is about 4 months and still going strong.

Kaplan Non-Whistling E  Made in the USA by D'Addario.
A wound E that is highly recommended for people who have difficulty with zingy, unresponsive E strings. The projection is somewhat less powerful than a plain steel E,  but the reliability, sweetness and clarity that this E string offers may be a good trade-off.

The Kaplan strings are quickly becoming the staff favorites!

Violin made by Ladislav Kaplan himself, set up with Kaplan Vivos

Evah Pirazzi Made in Germany by Pirastro.
Bright and powerfully sweet sounding, but a bit strident on a naturally bright instrument. Projection is above average. Use them for brightening up an overly mellow instrument, or for adding clarity to a muddy sounding violin.
Evah Pirazzi Gold ( Don't forget to clean your strings!)

Evah Pirazzi Gold Made in Germany by Pirastro.
Evah Golds offer a good balance between bright and mellow with average projection. A synthetic-core string that has a balanced sweetness, and can be a great fit on both bright and mellow instruments. The life span of both Evah brands is about 4-6 months.

Obligato Made in Germany by Pirastro
Synthetic-core strings that sound the most like gut.  They offer a balanced, smooth and mellow sound and are capable of great nuance. Perfect for mellowing out an overly bright instrument, or adding depth and dimension to a mellow one.  Be prepared to change them more frequently though, as they become difficult to tune after about 3 months.

Evah Pirazzi on left, Evah Pirazzi Gold on Right

Helicore Made in the USA by D'Addario
These steel-core strings sound clear and bright and last for quite a long time. They are perfect for students and budget-conscious players alike. If you don't change your strings very often, Helicores will sound consistently good for a long, long time. 

And while we're talking about longevity- Strings need to be changed regularly, regardless of the brand - once a year at the very least, depending on how much you play. You can tell if your strings need to be changed by playing an open string, picking the bow off of the string, and noticing how long the note lasts. If it dies almost immediately, then you need new strings. It is important to change strings regularly because if the open strings don't resonate the way they should, then any
notes you play won't be in tune. 

Let's say you've tried one of the recommended brands and you're still not happy with all of the strings. Check out our E string blog entry for some more advice. You don't have to use the same brand for each string, but it's a good place to start, as the gauge will be consistent.   If you choose to use a different brand for each string, I promise the string police will not appear! Use whatever combination sounds best to you.

No sheep were harmed in the making of the above mentioned brands.

Need more information on the different types of string cores and wrappings? Gut, nylon, perlon, steel, titanium, all wrapped up in one blog.

Stay tuned for Part II - Viola Strings. 

Are you a violinist or interested in becoming one? Take a look at our Fine Violins!


  1. Any particular reason you left out Dominant Thomastik? Just wondering…

    1. Ramon, Yes, there's a reason. While Dominants were a standard string for a long time, we feel the strings we chose for this blog are far better sounding.

    2. I also love Evah Pirazzi strings since they are well suited for every kind of violin. Even though they have some cons the pros outweigh.
      Thank you for this informative review