Wednesday, January 21, 2015

These Are A Few of Our Favorite Strings! Part II, Violas

By Andy Fein, Luthier at  Fein Violins
and staff

Following up our previous entry talking about violin strings, here is Our Favorite Strings Episode II The Viola.

MacDonald Stradivari viola, 1719

Viola tone quality is a bit of a difficult subject because there exists such a tremendously wide range of tastes. For one, full size violas vary in body length from 15 inches to more than 17 inches - and there are players that play everything in between! This means that there are many variables to take into account when choosing strings. Smaller instruments tend to sound nasal with not much power on the C string, while larger instruments are slower to respond. It is important to choose strings with the size of your instrument in mind because it will have a great impact on the success of your strings.

Close up of a synthetic core string

Now with all of that in mind, here's a tutorial on 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.

Project- 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. One string isn't louder than another, and you don't need to change your bowing technique for each string. Balance can also mean not too mellow and not too bright.
Andrea Amati Viola, ca. 1560

And now, the strings:

Evah Pirazzi Made in Germany by Pirastro
The A and D string will truly bring out the brightness of your instrument. The lower strings (G & C) can sound a bit weak. We do not recommended these synthetic core strings for violas under 16".

Obligato Made in Germany by Pirastro
These synthetic core strings are rich and mellow, and respond with great nuance like gut strings. They sound great on all strings, but are especially nice for adding warmth and fullness to an overly bright viola.

Helicore Made in the USA by D'Addario

These steel core strings are warm, crisp and clear with a fast response. They also feel surprisingly soft and comfortable under your fingers. Available in short, medium and long scale to fit 14-15", 15-16", and 16-17" violas.

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 III - Cello Strings.

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


  1. Do you guys have an opinion on the more recent carry-overs from the violin strings lineup? e.g. Peter Infeld, EP Golds, Kaplan Amo-Vivo...

  2. Yonsung,
    This is still our opinion on viola strings. We have some new favorites for violin and cello, including the Kaplan strings. We'll update those blogs soon.
    Andy Fein