When it comes to violin strings, some violinists stick with the tried and true while others constantly seek new strings in the hopes of improving the sound of their instrument. Many musicians, students, and parents are amazed by the sheer amount of selection available and, since trying every type of string available on the market is unrealistic, we’ll help explain each of the characteristics a bit further. From core material and string gauge to brand and string tension, read on for advice on how to find the violin strings that will best match your violin and playing style.
What are the Different Core Materials?
There are three types of violin strings: steel core, gut core, and synthetic core. Typically used by beginners, steel core strings are the simplest strings available on the market. They’re made by wrapping strands of wire in thin, metallic winding and are the least expensive option. Unfortunately, they also produce the weakest sound of the three options. Gut core strings were the first type of violin string to hit the market, and have been used since the 19th century. They’re made from sheep gut or intestines and, since they’re the most difficult to play, are typically reserved for advanced or professional violinists. Finally, synthetic core strings are the most popular choice, as they’re the perfect combination of the two other types: they’re more affordable than gut core strings, but they produce a better sound than steel core violin strings.
How Do I Choose the Right String Gauge?
Almost all violin strings are available in different thicknesses, often referred to as gauges. With a thicker string you’ll get more volume and more center to the tone, and thinner strings will produce a brighter sound with less carrying power. Most players stick with a gauge in the middle because it offers the best of both worlds: the volume of the thicker gauge without the extra tension, and the precision of a thin gauge without its limited projection. Which gauge you should choose is ultimately a matter of preference. For example, if your violin has a hard time projecting sound, you should opt for a thicker string, and vice versa. Your violin instructor should be able to provide more guidance about which gauge is right for you after they’ve had a chance to hear and/or play your violin.
What’s String Tension?
Although it’s one of the biggest differentiating factors between strings, string tension is often confused with string gauge. Within certain types of strings, tension and gauge are related, but they’re not the same thing. Virtually every set of violin strings, even the inexpensive beginner types, are available in different tensions: weich (or light), medium, and stark (or heavy). Strings with a lower tension have an increased pliability under the fingers,while strings with a higher tension produce a darker, warmer sound. If you’re interested in tuning up to a higher tension, steel core strings do this better than either of the other types. When experimenting with different strings, it’s usually best to begin with medium tension strings first and then go with a different tension depending on your experience. On some instruments, using strings with a higher tension can actually choke the sound.
How Long Do Strings Last?
Given the price of violin strings, this is a reasonable question. Some brands may claim that their line of violin strings last longer than others, but there’s no concrete evidence that supports this claim either way. What seems to be the most important factors in how often you should change your strings are how often you play and how your body chemistry affects the strings. Those who have a higher acidic content in their sweat may find that they have to replace strings more often than those with a lower acidic content, while those who play the violin a few times a month will replace their strings less often than a daily player. Once your strings start sounding dull or dead, it’s in your best interest to purchase a replacement pair.
Where Should I Buy Violin Strings?
You can buy violin strings pretty much anywhere you can buy a violin- online, in a brick and mortar store, or from a third-party source. Although violin shops sell violin strings as a convenience to their customers and may even offer to install them for you, shop prices can be as high as 100% more than what you’d find online. This is, in part, due to the stress of keeping up inventory in a brick-and-mortar store; therefore, purchasing your violin strings online is usually your best bet. Violin strings sold by online shops, such as Music & Arts, are usually steeply discounted and often come with free shipping. If you already have a certain brand or string type in mind, purchasing online is even easier.
Other Tips & Advice
It may be time for a string change if:
- getting in tune and staying in tune are more challenging than usual,
- your tone sounds especially flat,
- you’re noticing rust, discoloration, or unwinding of your strings,
- you can’t remember the last time you changed your strings,
- string wraps are unwinding exposing the core.
When it comes to violin strings, some individuals may need to replace their strings more often than others. Here’s some factors that can shorten the life of your strings:
- you sweat a lot while playing,
- you play more aggressively than most,
- you play frequently and/or change tunings frequently,
- you smoke or play in smoky environments, such as bars or clubs.
If you’re new to the world of violin strings, here are some general string care and maintenance tips:
- keep a clean cloth handy and wipe down your strings after each use,
- wash your hands before playing- it’ll help prevent oxidation,
- note the date you changed strings on the package,
- keep an extra set or a few single strings handy in case of an emergency
If you’re purchasing violin strings, you might need a case, too. Learn more about Choosing the Best Violin Case.