fiddle strings for irish/scottish trad

fiddle strings for irish/scottish trad

Having played with a variety of steel strings on my fiddle over the past couple of years I thought I might try a set of synthetic core strings like dominants. The interesting thing is that when I started playing, a lot of the fiddle players round here insisted that steel was the only thing to use.

How have people found dominants or any other synthetic cores - or is steel the only true way to go 🙂

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Re: fiddle strings for irish/scottish trad

I like Helicores. They say synthetics are slower, and in my experience that seemed true… that said, I know Liz Carroll used Obligatos at some point, so with enough talent I’m sure anything works.

A lot of it is dependent on the fiddle as well. Evah Pirrazi’s sound great on my friend’s fiddle, but not so much mine. I went through Obligatos, Evah Pirazzi’s and Tonicas and eventually settled back on heavy tension helicores.

Re: fiddle strings for irish/scottish trad

Been using Thomastic’s Präsizion strings for years, never been dissapointed. Tough, long-lasting and relatively cheap, with good tone and a response time (short) that I’ve not come across yet.
That’s my story and I’m stickin’ to it. My recomendation.

Re: fiddle strings for irish/scottish trad

I use Evah Pirazzis, with a gold E string. They sound fantastic! Very smooth, yet powerful and rich tone. They sound good both to my ear and to other people, which is a hard balance to find in strings. The gold E really eliminates that harsh, metallic sound that you tend to get with many steel or metal-wound E strings.

However, I’ve gone through 3 sets in the past year, because they go dull after a while and don’t hold their tune. They sound like new for about 2 months, then are mediocre for about another month, and then there’s a few weeks where they’re no better than many cheap strings. Also, they’re expensive ($60-70 US). If you can afford even one set, they’re worth a try, but it’s hard to wait to change them for very long once they get old. I’ve found, though, that I don’t need to rehair my bow as often when using Pirazzis. I only really need new hair once the hair starts breaking off, so I’ve saved a lot of money in that respect since I now only need to rehair my bow about every 1 1/2 to 2 years. Something about them doesn’t require as much bow friction. I think they’re meant to play more smoothly, which may or may not appeal to some people.

But overall, I love these strings. I think it really depends on your instrument. It really doesn’t make any sense that steel strings would be better suited to fiddle music than any other type of music. I’ve tried just about every variety of string available, and it really comes down to what you like the sound of best. Dominants are probably the most common, reliable, affordable string out there, so if you like the sound of them, I say go for it. I used them for about 5 years, and decided to upgrade once I started playing on better fiddles.

Re: fiddle strings for irish/scottish trad

If you do some searching of the site, you’ll find lots of discussion and opinion on fiddle strings.

Re: fiddle strings for irish/scottish trad

I’ve never been able to get into steel strings myself; I used red labels as a student and I learned to loathe the sound of steel strings in those days. I still don’t like the harsh, thin sound of steel, plus they’re hard on old fiddles.

I’ve heard it mentioned that some Scottish fiddlers use gut strings, but I don’t know anything more about it than that.

I just recently switched to Passiones, a new gut-core string from Pirastro. Excellent string all around, well worth a look if you like synthetics but don’t want the hassles of gut. They break in like synthetic, and–more importantly–they have a very fast response for gut strings, similar to synthetics.

And they sound fantastic 🙂

And they cost a lot :(

Re: fiddle strings for irish/scottish trad

I know a couple Scottish players (Shetlands, really) that have CDs out, and they use Dominants and sound fantastic. I’m mostly playing Irish and some Scottish fiddle and my teacher has always suggested synthetic strings or gut. My budget keeps me in the synthetics, and I kinda like the Helicore Zyex’s. The price is right ($27 usd) and they sound pretty good.

Re: fiddle strings for irish/scottish trad

I like Evah Pirazzi’s on my new fiddle, but my old fiddle did well with the Thomastik Visons- about $20 cheaper than the Evah Pirazzi’s.

A lot of old-time players like the steel strings because you can retune them frequently without as many problems- but using alternate tunings is less common (in my experience) in Irish music.

Re: fiddle strings for irish/scottish trad

I tend to like harder strings, with a quicker response, because I find it makes some rapid finger ornamentation easier to do. For years I played on Thomastik Präsizion metal strings. They probably have the quickest response of any string I’ve played, but they’re a bit unforgiving and can sound harsh if you’re not 100% in control of the bow. For the past few years I’ve been playing on Thomastik Superflexible metal strings. They’ve got a very good response and can give a very warm, mellow tone when you’re used to them. For quick finger ornamentation and nifty bowing I find these the best. I’ve tried out various synthetic strings; on Dominant strings I found myself totally unable to do the finger ornamentation because of the different response.

I’ve recently been trying John Pearse Artiste synthetic strings on my other fiddle. Tim Kliphuis the superb Grappelli-style jazz violinist, and loads of classical violinists, plays on these strings. Many people say they’re the best strings available for any money and that they have a more gut sound than any other synthetic string (though they’re not easy to get in Europe.) At around $25 I’d certainly check them out if you’re going for synthetic. I find them very mellow and I’m happier with the response than other synthetic, (though I can’t play the quick ornaments well on them still). Superb for jazz and for Scottish airs, but I really think steel strings allow you to do birly finger-work with less effort than the rest!

Re: fiddle strings for irish/scottish trad

Ask a luthier what he or she thinks would sound best on your fiddle, because every fiddle is different. I use a mixture: Dominant (G and A), D’addario Zyex (D) and Jargar (E) which probably seems a bit eccentric but sounds great. I don’t really hold with the steel strings are traditional thing as steel strings were probably used simply because they were cheap and all that was available.

Re: fiddle strings for irish/scottish trad

I use Hellicore Heavy tension on my fiddle and think they sound great. I am also conscious of how well they play and stay in tune. I was at a trad workshop over the weekend and the guy next to me spent the entire workshop just trying to keep his fiddle in tune to the extent that it was really annoying everybody and became a real distraction … During the break I commented that he may want to get his fiddle set up properly as he was clearly having a nightmare. His terse condescending response was that he was using ’old gut ’ strings and that was to be expected if you were using gut. My understanding is that ‘new’ gut strings like any new string may be initially more temperamental until it settles but you should (assuming that the fiddle was set up properly) be able to tune the bloody thing! Purists may of course argue about the merits of gut v steel but given my experience I am definitely sticking with the Hellicores as they do what they say on the tin.

Re: fiddle strings for irish/scottish trad

Come on Trevor what do you think?

Re: fiddle strings for irish/scottish trad

A lot of it is just whatever you get accustomed to. I’ve used Prim mediums (steel) for 30+ years. I’ve tried synthetics a few times and maybe I would’ve liked them if I’d given them longer than a couple of weeks, but I didn’t really have any motivation to do it, since I had no complaints about the Prims. I was just curious. To make the synths work, I had to modify my bowing too much.

Re: fiddle strings for irish/scottish trad

Jon, thanks. As some of you know, I’m forever swapping strings around on my fiddles. The current setup on my modern Jay Haide fiddle, which is my session instrument, is Helicore G and D, and Thomastic Spirocore A and E, which gives a clear resonant sound. The Helicore G and D have a bit more resonance and richness than their Thomastic Spirocore counterparts, and drive the harmonics on the two top strings that little bit better. I have tried Eudoxa gut on the Jay Haide, but, possibly because it’s only a few years old, the sound isn’t quite as suitable for sessions as I would wish, although the gut strings stayed in tune well and there was no response problem.

My old fiddle, which I use for everything else, works best with gut, so is strung with Eudoxas. My cello is strung with Helicore C and G, and Spirocore D and A. Note that just because a particular string brand sounds great on the violin it doesn’t necessarily imply that it’s going to work well on the cello, and vice versa.

Good substitutes for the Helicores and Spirocores that I’d happily use on my Jay Haide would be Zyex and Vision Titanium (but not the Titanium E - it sounds a little too thin for my liking). Non-gut substitutes on the old fiddle would be Obligatos, and probably nothing else. I’d also use Obligatos on my cello, as I have in the past.

Regarding comments on steel versus everything else for speed of response I believe it is more of a player thing than a string thing. In classical music there are many occasions when you’ll be required to play faster then you’ll ever be required to in Irish or Scottish folk music - and it will always be faster than English folk music 🙂. In my chamber orchestra, for instance, a handful of players use steel strings (and they’ll be Helicores); a few more use gut, and the others almost any synthetic, including Dominants, Zyex, top of the range Pirastros and similar.

A professional orchestra will typically play up to 10% faster than a good amateur orchestra. The conductor of my chamber orchestra, who also leads and directs a very busy professional chamber ensemble, is, I believe, privately dedicated to eliminating that 10% as far as we are concerned 🙂 If our players were convinced that non-steel strings were slower, I’m sure they’d have done something about it by now.

String choice is a multi-factorial problem - the instruments, the player, the type of music played, and of course, the bow. If you have more than one bow you’ll realise sooner or later that a particular bow works better with one instrument/string combination than another.

Re: fiddle strings for irish/scottish trad

“My understanding is that ‘new’ gut strings like any new string may be initially more temperamental until it settles but you should (assuming that the fiddle was set up properly) be able to tune the bloody thing!”

Absolutely. I’ve used gut strings for many years, and they are rock solid once they stretch in. That fool was probably using a new set of gut strings (don’t know what he meant by ‘old gut’) that hadn’t been broken in yet. You have to let new gut strings stretch for up to a week before doing something like attending a workshop with them.

Of course, it might have really been his set-up (slipping pegs?) and he was just blaming it on the gut strings. If gut strings were that hard to keep in tune, classical players wouldn’t be using them.

Re: fiddle strings for irish/scottish trad

“My old fiddle, which I use for everything else, works best with gut, so is strung with Eudoxas.”

Lazyhound, have you tried the Passiones yet? They’re really something to try, if you use gut.

Re: fiddle strings for irish/scottish trad

Passiones - next on the list when the Eudoxas wear out!

Re: fiddle strings for irish/scottish trad

I am a violin/fiddle maker and I use Helicores on my new instruments. My clients are mostly Bluegreass/Newgrass, Celtic players. I have a client in Dublin Ireland and he loves the Zyex stings. I think it is more important for the sound to sound “right” to your ear to assist your playing.

Re: fiddle strings for irish/scottish trad

Steel strings do have a very quick response, no denying it. There are apparent isadvantages, which is why many violinists opt for synthetic or gut. For rapid triplets and finger ornaments steel strings are very handy; for Neillie Boyle-style rolls you don’t have to take the finger off the string completely or stop the string completely to get a clear sound. Less effort!
On the quick response of metal strings, and relative merits of various kinds of strings: http://www.vivaceviolin.com/mcp/Strings.html#Metal

Re: fiddle strings for irish/scottish trad

I have dominants and have no complaints. They’re relatively cheap and I like the way they sound. I think that the best way to find strings you like, is to try them. You won’t know if you don’t try, every musician has different tastes.

Re: fiddle strings for irish/scottish trad

At the moment I am running 3 fiddles;
a set of Pirrazzi, which I do like but not as much as ;
A set of Eudoxa. lovely altogether .
A set of Jargur…. Great workhorse.
Eudoxa still take the day🙂
Going for a set of Obligato next. Decided to go for a brighter sound with the pirrazzi, but I have one obligato I bought to try and I do like it.. Just put on a Goldstehl Top E for a change, but will need time to really get familiar with it.

Re: fiddle strings for irish/scottish trad

I’ve never played an instrument with less than half steel strings; my last setup was a Spirocore G, a Helicore D, an Aricore A and a Prim e, which was not only a really satisfying sound, but worked down in Bb, up in Eb, crosstuned up, crosstuned down, and everything else. Now I’m Helicored with the Prim e, and it’s working grand as well, but I might go back next switch - not sure yet.

–DtM

Re: fiddle strings for irish/scottish trad

DtM, that’s interesting. There’s an important school of Russian classical violinists that advocates a steel E and A with gut G and D. The idea presumably is that the steel provides the power in the upper register and the tone of the gut strings, rich in harmonics, drives the tone of the whole instrument. Gut G and D are easy to tune from the pegs while playing, and the steel A would have its own adjuster.
I’ve seen an old photo of the Sligo fiddler Michael Gorman. His A string also had a micrometer tuner (so it may have been steel), and the two lower strings were obviously peg-tuned, so they were either gut or possibly Dominants which may have just been coming into use at that time.

Re: fiddle strings for irish/scottish trad

Well, that makes two people I know of who add a Prim E to another set. I’m just the opposite. I use a Prim set, but replace the E. Just goes to show…something…

Re: fiddle strings for irish/scottish trad

I use Dominants for my G/D, Jagar for my A, and the Pirasto Gold E. But it is really up each violin on which sounds the best. Also, with strings (to contradict what was said earlier) you will want to change your strings at least once a year if you only play about once a week, every six months if you are playing 3-4 times a week, and every 3 months if you play every day… (My fiddle gets new strings about every 6-9 months, and my viola (I play classically) gets new strings every 4 months). Also, bows need to be re-haired at least every two years, preferably less, depending on how much you play.

stay away from steel strings, even though they are cheaper, they make a fiddle sad!

Re: fiddle strings for irish/scottish trad

I think a Chorda plain gut A sounds and plays better than the covered Eudoxa version - and is significantly cheaper. Must try the plain D alongside it sometime.

Re: fiddle strings for irish/scottish trad

Great threads-very informative. Just ordered Dominants for
the first time (with Jarger E). Eudoxas do well on my old
Jacob Raymann (took weeks to settle & I went crazy adjusting
the bridge & post. Hung it up for a while (bringing strings to
pitch periodically)–now better than ever. Thanks for the word
on the Passiones (will try them next tme). Like Obligatos for
a stronger, newer fiddle. Interesting Russian steel A theory.
Just starting to realize how the timbre of one string type can
augment the others. Learned a lot from the article by Vachon.
Thanks loads

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Re: fiddle strings for irish/scottish trad

Flute isn’t nearly this complicated 🙂

Re: fiddle strings for irish/scottish trad

Fiddle is simple. People are complicated.

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