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Frequently Asked Questions about strings

Customers are often confused by the myriad range of violin, viola and cello strings now available. Here are answers to a few of the most frequent queries. Further information about individual types and brands is contained in the various product categories.

Ball or loop end... Knotted end... What's that?

Strings are finished at the tailpiece end in a number of ways according to the type of string; metal, synthetic or gut core and the type of fine tuner to be used. A loop end option is only offered for Violin E and some Viola A strings. A loop end string is designed for use in fine tuners with a single hook to fit the string commonly known as Hill or English pattern. A ball end is for adjusters with a slot to fit the string into. See fine tuners in the product pages for pictures of the two types. All metal and synthetic core violin A, D & G and viola D, G and C strings have ball ends and can be used with suitable fine tuners and tailpieces.

Gut cored strings are not recommended for use with fine tuners due to their elasticity. Older designs such as Eudoxa and Oliv are finished with a knot in the A, D, & G (D, G, & C viola). A loop is produced in this knot but this is merely the way the manufacturer finishes the string and should not be confused with the loop on E strings. The A of gut core violin and viola strings by Pirastro is finished with a plastic ball which allows their use in a fine tuner although it is really there to increase the size of the knot. This ball is also fitted to the lower strings in Passione series strings.

String tensions. How do I choose?

For the vast majority of players medium tension will be entirely satisfactory. Different tensions are usually only of consideration to players of professional standard. The actual effect of a different tension string on a particular instrument can only be ascertained by trial and error. Tension is the tightness of the string at pitch. String manufacturers use different terms to describe tension. All will use the word Medium or the word for medium in the language of the country of manufacture e.g. Mittel (German), Moyen (French). For high and low tension various terms are used both in English e.g. low, soft, light or heavy, strong, thick and other languages e.g. Dolce, Stark, Weich. For gut strings made by Pirastro the strings are identified by gauge. This is the diameter of the string in Pirastro Measurement (PM), one whole number being 0.05mm e.g gauge 14 means the string is 0.7mm in diameter. For a fixed length of string it has to be heavier to increase the tension and lighter to decrease. For this reason the strings vary in diameter according to tension although a micrometer would be required to measure. Strings are made of a variety of materials depending on instrument, note and what sound and playing characteristics the manufacturer is trying to achieve.

What are the most suitable strings for use by children?

Small instruments up to 3/4 size generally do not produce much volume or quality of sound. The original strings on basic instruments are usually of very poor quality. A change of string can make a dramatic difference in this case. For beginners try D'Addario Prelude.. Beyond grade 2 or 3 or with a better quality instrument a perlon cored string such as Dominant will give the best result. On cellos all metal strings usually give a better sound on small instruments.

What is best for an adult returning to playing?

For violin, Dominant is probably the best place to start. They give a neutral sound suitable for most types of instrument, they stay in tune and last well. The sound quality will deteriorate before the string breaks. A regular player will benefit from a new set every 6 to 12 months. For viola a multi-cored string such as Zyex is a good choice. For cello all metal strings are generally best. The long established Jargar is a good budget choice. Among the more modern strings Larsen and Evah Pirazzi are popular with professional musicians.

Can I mix different strings on my instrument?

A matched set is usually best. The tensions and materials are chosen to give a smooth transition between strings and accuracy of fifths. Experimentation is best confined to strings of the same type e.g. covered gut or synthetic cored. Cellists using synthetic cored strings often use an all metal A.

Do I need fine tuners?

All metal strings always need fine tuners. Individual fine tuners should only be used singly i.e. for violin E, viola A and cello A. The multi adjuster tailpiece is light, stable and reliable. Synthetic cored strings can be tuned with pegs alone, but these need to be well fitted. Many players like the accuracy obtained with a fine tuner when using these strings. Traditional gut strings need to tuned with pegs. They do not have suitable ends for tuners and because of their elasticity they use up all the 'travel' available on an adjuster very quickly.

How should strings be fitted?

Always fit a new set of strings one at a time, otherwise the bridge may not go back in the right place and/or the soundpost could fall down. Fit in the order G, E, D, A. (C, A, G, D). Rub soft pencil lead e.g. 2B or 3B in the groove of the bridge and top nut. If possible wind the string once round the peg shaft away from the head and then back towards the head so that the string fills the gap up to the pegbox wall. Check that the bridge remains upright whilst pulling the string slowly up to pitch. If the string comes with a bridge protector e.g. a small tube or pad, this should always be used in the absence of professional advice. Be careful not to tune all metal strings too sharp as they can snap.