Fiddle Strings

Fiddle Strings

I’m about to replace my fiddle strings for the first time since beginning to play this music.

I’ve always used Dominants, but am wondering if there is a better/more appropriate string I should be considering at this time.

Cheers, and thanks.

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Personally I started using Pirastro Obligato strings a few years ago and love them. As Carabus says, there are LOTS of discussions about strings - lots depends too on personal taste and the fiddle itself (mine’s early c19th German, which I think suits these strings).

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I’m specificlly wondering if one type of string sounds more traditional - as opposed to classical - than another? I associate Dominants with a smooth, mellow tone, good for classical, which is where I came from.

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And yes, I realize a lot depends on the individual instrument, and probably the best answer will come with experimentation, as only I know what I am looking for, but I was hoping to hear others’ thoughts before I head out to the music shop this afternoon. Thanks again.

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Here’s a useful guide to strings: http://www.stringsmagazine.com/issues/strings95/CoverStory.shtml
This article is very informative (although it was written a while ago): http://www.users.globalnet.co.uk/~leonid/violin_strings.htm
I’ve tried lots of strings and of the ones I’ve bought in the past I’d definitely go for Obligato’s again. Right now my fiddle seems pretty happy with Chromcors (and they are incredibly reliable - steel core). I think there’s a sort of rule that if your fiddle is bright-sounding then a darker string might suit it, and if it sounds a bit woody and mellow (like my one) then go for brighter. I haven’t disliked any of the strings I’ve tried (Dominant price range and above) but it’s horses for courses. Evahs are splendid but some people find the tension a little high and prefer Obligatos.

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That being said, I guess I’m looking for a bit of a dirtier, or grittier sound.
(one more post from myself, and I suppose I will have answered my own question)

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RichardB - thank you for the guide - very well done!

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For a dirtier and grittier sound without great expense try Prims! They really are a fiddler’s string. They take getting used to, but I’ve got a set on a second fiddle and you just forget to replace them.

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Strings don’t sound traditional or classical, it’s the bow that does that. The important thing is to find strings that suit you and your fiddle, and experimenting with different strings is the way to find out.

First decide if you want steel, synthetic, or gut. Steel strings are popular in fiddling but by no means the only way to go, some fiddles sound much better with synthetic or gut strings. You can get a lot of dirt and grit with synthetic or gut strings, but steel is generally brighter and thinner-sounding with a faster response.

They all feel and sound different, just keep experimenting until you find something you like. But sounding classical/traditional or clean/gritty doesn’t really come from the strings.

There are a lot of threads here and guides on the web that will give you an idea of the pros and cons of different strings you can try. But keep an open mind, there’s no "traditional" string really (remember, all fiddlers used plain gut at one time).

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All very helpful and much appreciated responses. My question stems, in part, from one of the first things my fiddle teacher (former fiddle teacher, that is-only had four lessons) told me, to flatten my bridge (which we debunked in a previous thread), and to install metal strings. I broke my a-string yesterday, so now is an opportune time to start experimenting with strings.

many thanks - I am now off to the music shop. I might go with the steel, needing all the "faster response" I can get with the gang I’m trying to keep up with these days.

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If you’re looking for speed and changing to steel strings, it might be worth getting your bridge fettled (or better still a new one cut, so that you can change back to the old one if you go back to synthetics). With steel strings you can set the action 1-1.5 mm lower than the standard synthetic/gut setup, which makes a marked difference to fingering speed. (I’m talking here about lowering the overall bridge height, not altering the arching.)

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skreech, thanks for that. I prefer a lower action, so this is good news. I am on the verge of installing my new strings - Helicore is what I came home with.

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Lots of fiddlers have the arch modified and this is purely a matter of personal preference so there’s nothing to debunk.

The Infeld blue seem to suit my fiddle best.

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I meant debunk in the context of modification of the arch being mandatory for this music.

So far, I like the Helicores. The word that comes to mind is texture.

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leoj, most fiddlers who flatten the arc of their bridges do so to "make it easier to play two strings at once," and that certainly does need debunking. Any two adjacent strings on a standard arced bridge are already on a flat plane easily covered by the bow hair.

Flattening a bridge may be "personal preference," but that would be an uninformed and fairly thoughtless preference. Unless you really flatten it so you can play three strings at once….

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Sara, each fiddle responds to strings differently than the next. I’ve owned fiddles that sounded great with Helicores. My current main fiddle does not. I use Thomastik Vision strings and they give me a big round tone with "texture" as you say.

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Oh! The Helicores are definitely more responsive, giving me at least the illusion of being easier to play.

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Will, yes, I was only reporting on my own instrument of course.

I suspect I have only just begun exploring the world of fiddle strings. (Fiddle Strings - I seem to recall a book by that name that we had kicking around the house when my kids were small.)

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I use thomastik spirocores. Most of the fiddlers I know use them. I’ve tried others, but keep coming back to spirocore.

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Thank you. I’m making a note of these preferences for the future.

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Haha Will. you are funny!
Would you tell a really good fiddler that they ought not use a bridge that is modified slightly—not talking anything radical. Like strings and many other aspects of this music, there’s a lot of room for preferences. I mean, there are so many differences among fiddles already, it’s just is what you become accustomed to.

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Here I going taking things literally. Joel, Will Harmon’s comment, about being able to bow 2 strings, seems obvious. But, then I don’t play fiddle. :-D

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Exactly Ben, and it’s intended to be provocative.
Of course, I made no mention of a "flattened bridge" which is obviously a stupid thing to do!

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I’ve flattened my bridge plenty of times, usually while trying to adjust the angle. Don’t drink and tune.

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So what did Will say that was funny?

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I’ve been using Super-Sensitive Sensicore strings and have been happy with them. I use Dominants on my viola d’amore—easier to find and cheaper than gut! Admittedly I don’t play Irish trad on the viola d’amore, but I like its ring and resonance.

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What was meant to be provocative? :-/

Yep, leoj, I sure have talked to really good fiddlers about tossing their current bridge (with the arc flattened a bit) because they’ll get better tone and volume out of a properly fit bridge, and it isn’t any harder to play two strings at once on a standard arc.

But then I’ve done fiddle repair and set up, so it was my job to recommend that. A few didn’t take my advice, but many did, and they all thanked me for it later.

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Oops. I guess I should clarify what I mean by "standard" arc.

The arc of the bridge is cut to match the rotation of that particular fiddle’s neck and fingerboard rotation. Not everyone realizes that a properly set fiddle neck doesn’t go straight into the body like a guitar or mandolin neck. Instead, the fiddle neck is rotated slightly "clockwise" to the longitudinal axis of the fiddle itself. This is done so the fiddler doesn’t have to torque his or her elbow out of joint to reach the strings, especially the D and G strings. The arc of the bridge should match this rotation—the bridge top is cut to a cross-section of the rotated neck and fingerboard. This puts each string in the most ergonomic place for the left hand, and also ensures that the strings are an even height above the rotated fingerboard.

When you modify the arc to something that doesn’t match the neck rotation, it’s impossible to *not* end up with more stress for the left arm fingering the strings, and likely intonation problems due to uneven string height over the fingerboard.

"Personal preference" then leads to a sore elbow and a fiddle where finger placement has to change for each string to be well intonated. Not my cuppa tea.

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That’s OK with me, Will.
Go with what works for you!


What works for one may not work for another. If you have a non-standard set-up and you’re happy with it, that’s fine. If you have a fiddle set up for classical music and you like it then there’s no reason to change.

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LOL, it’s not a matter of "set up for classical music." It’s the geometry and ergonomics of the fiddle. Doesn’t matter what sort of music you play on it.

I’ve seen fiddles with bridges nearly falling over, action either so high it hurts or so low there’s no volume, fingerboards so full of divots it’s impossible to play in tune, and the owners are "happy with it" only because they don’t know any better.

When a reputable luthier points out and (easily) fixes the problems, the result is a better sounding fiddle that’s easier to play.

Sure, if people want to fight their instrument and get a lousy sound out of it, fine, that’s their option. Seems a waste of both human and instrumental potential to me. But you’re right, leoj, many players settle for that, thinking it’s what "works" for them.

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Haha.

Thank God we live in a free country because otherwise you’d have me playing a fiddle set up to your specifications, not my own.

So, I am free to play a lousy sounding fiddle with a modified arch that will inevitably lead to a sore elbow and then…. the gangrene sets in leading to a painful death.

Come to think of it, I do have a tinge of pain in my elbow…could it be…..
just kidding…

I have an excellent luthier, by the way

I must say I find you rather doctrinaire, Will. Perhaps that’s an understatement.

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Doctrinaire, or dogmatic maybe? Well leoj, you’re the one insisting on playing a poorly set up fiddle…. ;-)

So is your bridge arc flatter than or at odds to the cross-section of your neck rotation? If so, why? What do you gain from that? I’m genuinely curious.

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P.S. Again, it’s not "my specifications." Bridges are fit to each individual fiddle. But any rational, skilled luthier does so within a fairly narrow set of parameters for proper action, good intonation, and tone. Clueless luthiers are, of course, free to disregard all that.

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You know, it was set up by my luthier, a guy trained at the violin making school in Salt Lake City -so he’s the expert. Mind you, the changes are slight, not drastic, having played on a standard set up before. You don’t need to climb the finger board to play in higher positions in this music, occasionally second or third position. So, it feels right to me and the action is low.

I’m sure if you tried it you’d make the same changes to your own fiddle. lol
Of course, i wouldn’t insist.

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Yeah, I know Peter Prier in SLC. More of a cello specialist, but a super nice gentleman and very generous with his knowledge.

No, my bridge is set up for my fiddle. And I do occasionally go beyond 3rd position when playing other styles of music. So I doubt I’d like your bridge much.

But you haven’t said what you gain from the way your bridge is cut and fit. Low action? In itself, not necessarily a good thing. You lose volume and clarity of articulation (important in this music for cuts and rolls) if your action is too low.

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Sorry. Seriously leoj, I’m just curious. Do you find that your bridge arc helps with bowing or fingering in some way? Is it possible that your luthier cut the bridge to match your neck rotation and just didn’t explain it to you?

Also, setting the action evenly is a matter of bridge (and nut) height. We’ve been talking about the cut of the arc, which if flattened, can result in *uneven* action, even if the bridge is otherwise at the height the player wants for his/her desired action.

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The action is low but i don’t get any buzzing. playability is subjective. Again, it’s all how it feels. I’m having a new fiddle made and the maker offered an old-time fiddle set up, but I think i’ll probably make a tracing of my bridge and send it to him. Not sure what he has in mind.

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Yep, tracing the bridge is a good idea. Sometimes you can keep the general arc, just rotate it a bit (relative to the feet on the top) to match the arc of the neck/fingerboard set. And the spacing of the strings (one to the next) is important.

Who’s making your new fiddle? Jim Wimmer by any chance?

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not a bad guess. i happen to know him.

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Wimmer is quite an old-time player, too

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Yep, good crack and good tunes. And nice fiddles….. Jim’s a joy to play with.

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i don’t play old- time music myself, but he’s a lot of fun to listen to. good crack for sure.

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RichardB’s link to the guide to strings is useful, and as he points out, written a while ago. There are quite a few new and very good ones on the market, including Warchal strings. I have to declare a commercial interest as we’ve stocked these for a while, but they are really good and we wouldn’t have done this if they weren’t worth buying. They were tested out by a lot of players, and all the discussions were held online, so everyone got to put in their 2 euro before the strings went to market.

I’ve seen quite a few products developed this way, particularly things like high-end video cameras and the like, where the community of users gets to test out pre-production models and stick in their feedback.

Shame the breweries don’t do this!

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just to confirm that every violin has its own peculiarities , i ‘ve found the best sound with a set of different strings: E- pirastro Obligato gold / A- pirastro flexocore / D d’addario Zyex medium / G -pirastro Obligato. (2 steel, 2 synyhetic) . on my main fiddle sound and response of this set are fantastic. I’ve put same set on another fiddle and result is defenetely worse.

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leoj, Mr. Wimmer plays a fair amount of Irish trad, too. Give it a go the next time you see him. And ask him for the Mousetrap Concerto….


fiddlemax, my understanding is that the Obligato and Zyex strings are all synthetic core, not steel. Not familiar with the flexocore. So at most it sounds like you have only one steel-core string.

I used a slightly mixed set myself. Thomastik Vision Soloists on the G D and A, and a Thomastik Superflexible No. 8 for the E. The Es came highly recommended by Calvin Vollrath, a Canadian national champ on fiddle and all-around amazing player. And I think these Superflexible No. 8s (*not* the No. 9s) are the best E strings I’ve ever used. They’re wound, but the wrapping is so fine that you don’t really notice it until you lay the bow on the string. Very responsive, sweet, warm tone (on an E string!), and very responsive. The nice thing about being wound is that there’s less of a difference in traction (compared to a straight steel strin) when bowing from any other string over to the E.

Through the grape vine I’ve heard that Randall Bays is big on Tonica strings. The Kane sisters use Dominants, last I heard.

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Will, how is the No. 8 identified? I can’t tell from online descriptions.

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Oh, I see. It’s the chrome wound, instead of aluminum.

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Indeed Jim does play irish music but I think the old time stuff is his passion

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Bob, that’s the only difference I can find, too. The No. 9 sounded too bright and brittle. The No. 8 sounds terrific and the string holds up very well—no drop in tone, and the wrapping doesn’t seem to wear out.

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Will. the 2 steel strings are the E (obligato gold)and the A (Pirastro Flexocore). This last one is the best A i have ever tried. Beside that it lasts much longer than syntetic strings (i.e. Dominant) where the wrapping breaks after a short while

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the oblgato set , like most of syntetic strings, has the steel or gold E

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I’ve had a couple of days on my new Helicore (mediums). I love them. I’ve fallen back in love with the tone of my fiddle, and I’m amazed at how much easier they are to play than the Dominants - like a hot knife through butter. I knew the sound would be different, but was not expecting the side benefit of ease in playing.

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fiddlemax, thanks, that’s obvious about the E, now that you say it (d’oh!). :-)

Sara, Helicores settle in pretty quickly, but I bet you’ll like them even more in another week. They’re great strings, for players who prefer steel core.

Bob, the packaging on the Superflexible E strings does say either No 8 or No 9. I usually spend a fair amount of time on the phone when ordering these strings making sure the salesperson on the other end really has the No 8s in hand.

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If you have the opportunity, the Infeld Blue are worth a try. the blue label are a little brighter than the red label and both kinds are excellent. Unfortunately they are twice the price of the helicore. I played on helicores for several years and found the Infeld a real step up, providing more resonance. ymmv.

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Great discussion. Thank you.

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This probably has much more to do with differences among individual fiddles, but my main fiddle did not like either Infeld reds or blues. They were unfocused and edgy, not unlike Dominants. But I know other players who swear by them. It really does seem to come down to what string best suits your fiddle and your playing style. Although I have yet to hear a Dominant E string sound good on any fiddle. :-) Of course, that’s also true of the $13 titanium E that comes with the Vision Soloist sets. Which I why I buy the G D and A Soloists, and a different E string.

Sara, other good steel-core strings worth trying include Prim and Jargar. But the Helicore are a very good string, if they suit your fiddle and playing style. Canadian fiddler April Vertch likes them for their big sound and warmth, while holding up to heavy use and a fair bit of bow pressure.

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If the Infeld blue or red don’t suit you then don’t use them. Are they worth a try: yes!

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LOL, leoj, earlier on this thread sara said she was interested in trying steel core strings for a faster response. Infelds (red and blue) are synthetic core, made to blend with Dominants (which sara has been using and is looking for something better). So I’m stumped why you think it’s "worth a try" for sara (or anyone else) to shell out $50 USD for strings very similar to what she’s already using and not entirely happy with.

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That’s OK Will. It’s not hard to figure out.

Sara can try them or not. She appears to have found strings she likes. Helicores are decent strings, not putting them down. However, as you said some folks like the Infeld and some swear by them. I find them better then the Dominants. So, take it easy Will.

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They are not inexpensive strings but I think they are worth it. I just wish they lasted longer as the sound deteriorates after a month or so. And I rarely get as much as 2 months before the A starts shredding. But, I have had the same experience with other high end strings —Obligatos , Visions, etc.

I am curious about the new peter Infeld strings but spending $100. seems unnecessary.

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So many strings, so little time…

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leoj, I’m not worked up over this, just puzzled. Especially now that you declare the problems you’re having with the Infelds, which are the same as many people encounter with Dominants. I wouldn’t waste money on a string that lasts only a month or so. I play a lot, hours every day, long gigs and sessions (often 6 hours at a time), and I get 4 months or more out of Helicores, Visions, or Evah Pirazzis, no problems. The tone holds up well that long, as does the A wrapping, unlike Dominants.

I’ve played on Infelds and they strike me as a more expensive set of Dominants, with no noticeable advantages.


Sara, most players seem to end up favoring either steel core strings (for the fast response) or synthetic core strings (for tone and nice feel under the fingers). Once you’ve experimented enough to decide whether you’re a steel or synth gal, it’s easier to narrow down your choices. (Bearing in mind that you may never completely settle on steel over synth or vice versa.)

Since you’re in eastern MA, I’d guess that you’re already familiar with Johnson String Instruments. Great violin shop that carries a wide range of violin strings, and the staff are highly knowledgeable without being at all pushy or snooty. Online, they’re at http://www.johnsonstring.com/ On the ground you’ll find them in Newton at 11 John Street, 800-359-9351 or 617-964-0954.

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My strings last a couple of months, helicores and other strings I’ve used also loose some of their intensity after a similar amount of time in my experience. So, 2 months or 3 is good .If you get 4 months, I’d say that’s excellent. But, I play a lot. Others using Infelds and other strings will get much more life out of them,esp. if they play less.
So, I say try lots of different strings on your fiddle!

I’m still curious as to what $100. strings are like, though I won’t be buying them soon!

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Pirazzis are near $100 now, I think. I used them for a couple of years, but I got them at 10% over cost as a shop employee. They are wonderful strings. But the Visions are warmer, more complex, on my fiddle.

I know a classical player here (1st chair in the symphony) who plays on average 50 hours a week. He likes Pirazzis and Vision Soloists and gets 3 to 4 months out of each set.

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I’m curious as to why some fiddlers finger tips turn black from the strings. Sweat chemistry? corrosive oils? I’d guess this reduces the life of string quite a bit.

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"I’m curious as to why some fiddlers finger tips turn black from the strings"

Silver windings do this.

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Oh, and it’s just oxidation, it doesn’t hurt the strings any as far as I know. Aluminum windings oxidize like this as well.

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And since gut strings aren’t getting much love, I’ll say that I love them myself, thought it’s a bit of a love/hate relationship.

I keep coming back to Olivs, they are painfully expensive and a real pain in the ass to break in, but they sound like nothing else (especially on the D and G) and of all gut-core strings the Olivs seem to have the fastest response, though it’s relative, the response is still slow compared to steel and many synthetics. Nothing sounds better on my fiddle though, and they feel like butter.

Just goes to show, choice of strings is very individual.

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"Since you’re in eastern MA, I’d guess that you’re already familiar with Johnson String Instruments. Great violin shop that carries a wide range of violin strings, and the staff are highly knowledgeable without being at all pushy or snooty. Online, they’re at http://www.johnsonstring.com/ On the ground you’ll find them in Newton at 11 John Street, 800-359-9351 or 617-964-0954."

Will, not only am I familiar with the Johnsons - I worked for them, took care of all their student instruments - repairs, exchanges, returns - on the Vineyard for about ten years, and still do business with them to this day. :-) :-) :-)

I’m looking forward to trying some of the suggested strings. I can’t believe how stuck I’ve been for so many years on one brand. I really appreciate all the comments.

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Right Marklar, oxidation. It’s interesting why some people react to the strings and get black fingers while others don’t. It doen’t happen to me but I know several people who get this reaction. I suppose it’s just body chemistry. higher ph perhaps?

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Will, stick with it. Bridge curves are physics first. Anyone who can’t play a double stop on a correct bridge needs to rethink their training.

Has anybody thought about gut strings, a real pain I know, but many fiddlers are turning to them for a more trad sound. Synthetics and to some extent steel are relatively new to the fiddle scene. Passionnes are the new joy for many.

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Did someone say dogmatic?

I like the Helicores and the Prims.

Had some Visions on for a while;
not the same as H or P’s.