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Choosing the Right Strings

Posted by Elizabeth Marsh on

Here are a few tips to help you decide which strings to use:

Size: 4/41/81/2?

First of all, be sure that the strings you select match the size of your instrument (you can generally find the size of your instrument on the label inside the F-hole/sound hole).  For example, if you play on a 3/4-size violin, make sure that somewhere in the string's title or description it is labeled "3/4."  The product pictures may not always specify, so be sure to read the item description.


Thickness/Gauge: Soft? Medium? Heavy?

The gauge of a string is a measure of the string's thickness.  The thickness of the string determines the tension that the string puts on your instrument's tailpiece bridge, nut, and pegs.  It will also determine how much sound you can get out of the string, and the difficulty or ease with which you can make that sound.  Note: If you are unsure of which gauge of string to buy, medium/mezzo/mittel is generally a good starting point.

Most full-sized strings come in 3 different gauges:

  • Soft / Light / Weich / Dolce:  This the thinnest gauge, and the easiest for beginners to start on.  Because it is a thin gauge of string, it produces a gentle sound, and puts less strain on the instrument.  If your instrument does not resonate well with heavier strings, you may want to try a thinner gauge.
  • Medium / Mezzo / Mittel:  If you have been playing for a while and want a little bit more sound than you can pull out of a soft string, try medium.  These strings are a good balance between ease of playing and sound projection.
  • Strong / Heavy / Thick / Forte / Stark:  If you are a confident musician and want some power, go for a strong or heavy string.  Remember, though, that this gauge is intended for power and projection, so be careful not to overpower other musicians you may be playing with!

You may notice that strings for smaller-sized instruments generally only come in medium/mezzo/mittel.  It is generally assumed that younger musicians will want the best boost they can get without putting too much strain on their growing muscles.

Ends: Ball end? Loop end?

When you are looking for violin strings, you'll find that the E-string comes with either a ball end or a loop end.  If your fine-tuner has one prong, get a loop end.  If it has two prongs, buy a ball end.  

Brands: Which brand do I buy?

Here at TheClassyMusician.com, we want to provide the best brands of strings for each instrument.  We talk to great teachers and performers to find out what brands work best for which instruments.  If you have a brand of string you prefer for your instrument, we'd love to hear from you.  If there is a brand of string that you would like to see on our website that isn't here, please let us know about it so that we can make it available to our customers.  

If you're not sure what brand to get, here are some of our instrument-specific suggestions:

Winding: Gold? Silver? Chrome?

If you sweat a lot when you play, or you have certain skin sensitivities, you may want to focus on this question. You may decide that Gold or silver wrapping is the best for your fingers. Keep in mind that the gold wears off quickly, so you may have to replace your strings more frequently. You may also prefer to use chromesteel winding, but you may not get the same silken sound you would get from silver or gold. Ultimately, you will find your preferences as you experiment.

Core: Gut? Steel? Synthetic?

  • Synthetic - Synthetic cores are made of Perlon, a special type of nylon.  They offer quick response, and give you a wide range of sound and expression.
  • Steel - Steel cores give a quicker response than synthetic.  While they are not quite as versatile as synthetic strings, they are very easy to make sound on.
  • Gut - For skilled players, gut strings can be useful in performing Baroque music.  They have a unique depth of sound, and feel smooth to the fingers.  Gut strings can be rather temperamental in tuning, and don't adjust well to weather changes.  If you are interested in trying them for a Baroque performance, make sure to try out the strings well in advance.

Experiment!

You don't need to buy every kind of string all at once to experiment. Try one brand or type at a time, and pay attention to what you hear, feel, etc.  If you really want to get an edge on the learning curve, keep a little diary in your case and make a note each time you change your strings about how you like this particular brand, core, winding, etc. 

As you may have guessed, a lot of the factors are up to you, the performer! Nobody can tell you which strings will work the best for you, because they don't know your playing and preferences as well as you do. Keeping a record of which strings you used and when you used them is a great way to help you know what your next string should be.  Maybe you won a concerto competition when you used that Strong Larsen A, or had a great musical experience trying out some new gut strings for your Baroque Interpretation class. Really, it's more about how you play than what strings you use.  But strings can give you a boost, so enjoy getting to know your instrument better as you try out new brands and styles!  

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