fiddle string preferences

fiddle string preferences

I am a beginner fiddle player. I am wondering if people here would be willing to share which type (steel, synthetic or gut) and which brand(s) of strings they use for their fiddles, and why. I have read previous discussions, but many of them are several years old. I would also appreciate a discussion of why people choose to use a different type/brand for their E string. Thanks!

Re: fiddle string preferences

I use Eudoxa gut strings. And even when i played on steel strings, i used a eudoxa top E.
I tried every string over a afew years untill i found what i was looking for. Yes it was espensive, but worth every penny. Yes Eudoxa are expensive but thay are worth it for me.
I will use other gut strings at a pinch even the occasional synthetic if im stuck , but i try to keep good selection of spares. Cheers

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I would suggest using Dominants, not because I use them, but because they are a - Go To - standard - reasonably priced - readily available - string and used by all abilities including "professional" players. Whilst you are at an early stage concentrate on your playing not on string choice, that comes 10-40 years later when you’re too lazy to practice any more and want to improve by just spending money 😉

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…and strings haven’t changed much in the last few decades, so even old comments and threads will still be mostly as accurate now as when they were written.

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I have been using Dominants for years on my fiddle and my viola. Every so often I get carried away and try something else, but I always go back. I do, howevere, use a Pirastro Olive E to give a slightly less shrill tone at the top.

This might be of interest: a chart someone put together indicating the sound of different strings:

https://www.sharmusic.com/Pages/How-To/Strings/Strings-Chart/Violin-String-Chart/

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Helicore medium
Good price, good sound, last long…

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I use Pirastro Evah Pirazzi and Pirastro Tonica with an occasional Pirastro Eudoxa E.

Re: fiddle string preferences

I second the vote for Helicore.

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This is all about synthetic core strings :

I’m now using Pirastro Evah Pirazzis, having changed from Warchal Ambers - both good strings.

Dominants are good too, as Titch said above. A lot of makers are also fitting d’Addario Zyex as standard on their instruments. They’re cheaper than Dominants.

If your fiddle is bright and a bit harsh-sounding (assuming it’s properly set up), then Corelli Crystals can help to sweeten thinks up a bit.

I started a thread here on string identification : https://thesession.org/discussions/38998

There are a couple of comparison charts halfway down the page.

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I agree that Dominants are the go to standard most commonly used, however, I have switched to Pirastro Tonica strings for the last decade because 1 they sound better (on my fiddle) than Dominants and 2 they don’t require a week to come up to full resonance like Dominants do. They are also less expensive

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Thanks so far. Not many people use gut—can you tell me why? Also: why do people use a different string for the E, instead of using a whole set of GDAE? Thanks again.

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The E , for me, was the hardest string to get to sound sweet. So the mission was to find the best sounding e string on my fiddle….. I tried gold plated etc etc but the eudoxa aluminium wound really just has the quality that i was looking for.
A trick i learnt as a cellist was to bow really hard a few mm from the bridge and get this horrible scraping sound! 🙂 do that untill the string makes a note, still very harrsh , but from then on the string is loads better to play on, it really works!
I use gut strings for the tone and response, every instrument is different, so one shoe dont fit all, but for me , on my fiddles , they are by far the best sounding strings.

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It might help, since you’re just getting started, to ask an experienced luthier to play your fiddle a bit and advise what strings they think might work well. Eg obligatos if its a new too-bright instrument, Helicores or chromcores if it does well with steel but you need to turn down the high overtones, Dominants or Tonicas if it naturally has a well-rounded tone and ought to have a more neutral string (of those two, Tonicas break in a lot faster but don’t have as much power). Visions and Zyex are nice strings with a lot of power and really quick response, and both last a long time for a moderate price. Visions are more bright on the top end, and Zyex have more throat on the low end.

These are the strings I’ve experimented with on my fiddle, at least (aside from plain gut, which *is* awesome but a lot more work). Every fiddle responds differently to strings though. For example, Tonicas are thin and lame sounding on my main fiddle (newer brighter instrument), but quite nice on my backup fiddle (an older German instrument).

I’m using Zyex right now. I’d like to experiment with going back to gut, but maybe when my bank account is a bit healthier.

Though gut strings are the best sounding strings out there, they can be fussy and take some experimenting. As a beginner, I’d recommend waiting until you’re getting decent tone and intonation without having to think about it too much. More of a convienience thing though really… 200yrs ago everyone learned on gut strings, of course! 🙂

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Another vote for Helicores. They sound good on my fiddle and they tune up and break in right away. I try others but always come back.

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I have used Infeld Red and Blue on a couple of fiddles for a while now (just checked my current set has been on for a year!). The only downside is the E string doesn’t match the rest of the set (and any suggestions for a replacement candidate would be very welcome). Other than that they are great strings, miles better for me than Dominants which I didn’t like much at all to be honest.

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FFS don’t get Dominants….way too expensive for what you get and have problems settling in, with that metallic-sounding A string. IMO Warchal Karneol and Pirastro Tonicas are much better value. Karneols might just be the best bang for your buck possible.

Note: tonicas run light tension. Their heavies are equivalent to most other mediums. Maybe try heavies if you want to truly compare to Dominants.

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Re: fiddle string preferences

Dominants may not be the final answer in any particular case, but if you don’t know what you want they are the best starting point, because they are a known quantity in the middle of the range and give you a reference point to work from. If you start with Dominants then if, due to personal taste or the response of your particular fiddle, you decide you need something brighter or darker then you can work out what is most likely to work for you.

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I couldnt stand the dominants, they wore out way too soon and sounded dull at their best ! I used Jagur steel strings for a while, im regularily amazed that doms get any rep at all, what do you rate about them?

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On my fiddle - Helicores work well, soft to feel and warm sound. Prims medium are a good steel string - lots of volume and very responsive and not expensive. Spirocore medium also nice feel, warm sound, responsive. I always find Dominants a bit too bendy for my liking. More than likely because of my lack of skill. My intonation is always much better with steel strings for some reason. I find it much easier to play in tune with other musicians, especially at speed.

Re: fiddle string preferences

Oh Carole! (I am but a fool…) 🙂

Answering the last part of your question, as to why do people use different brands of E string, obviously price and tone are important factors, but there’s also the ‘whistling’ problems with some E strings.

Sometimes it’s down to dodgy bowing, but other times the string is to blame. The Warchal Amber E string is designed to be non-whistling. It’s got a curl at the tailpiece end - looks like a spring - but it straightens out (although not completely) when you fit it and bring it up to pitch.

I had a set of the Ambers on mine, and the E sounded pretty good.

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Will: "im regularily amazed that doms get any rep at all, what do you rate about them?"

I didn’t say I rate them, I said they are a good starting point. They’re a good starting point because they are very average. Every fiddle and every ear is different. If you start off with a known quantity like Dominants, then you can assess what way you need to change the sound to suit yourself and choose your next set accordingly. That said, I wouldn’t knock Dominants - they do seem to suit a lot of people and a lot of fiddles.

As for E strings, unles you go for something unusual like the Warchal Amber (which I haven’t tried yet) or Thomastik’s wound E string (which sounds great, but lasts about 3 days and costs a fortune to replace) all the rest are just a piece of steel wire, and it doesn’t really matter whose name is on the packet. If you want to tame a steel E string, just throw away the little plastic sleeve that it probably came with, and put a small slip of thin leather between the string and bridge.

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Regarding the e strings your simply mistaken , the Eudoxa E I use is steel core wound with aluminium . They last a long time, surely you know that as a violin repairman?!
Pirastro also use gold plating on one make , cant say the sound was any better!

Re: fiddle string preferences

I discovered Corelli Crystal (G, D, A) with Goldbrokat E to be a good combination and under $27. For metal I like Pirastro Chromocor with Gold E.

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I had always put Dominants on my instruments, because my teachers suggested them and they were cheapish and sounded fine. However, I recently started playing a set of Pirastro Eudoxas with a goldbrokat E. I took an educated guess on this string choice, and lucked out with a beautiful setup for my fiddle. The gut strings sound and feel beautiful; clear and rich and smooth (and will deliver grit when asked ;). The goldbrokat E is absolutely angelic, but of course is limited by the nut holding up the fiddle.

The Eudoxa E just didn’t balance properly with the rest of the set, at least to my ear. Every fiddle will be a bit different, but for mine the Goldbrokat sits very well with the gut lower strings, both in terms of volume and tone color. The Eudoxa E may have been fine if I had left it on long enough for a proper break-in period, but the Goldbrokat is just so good that I’m not going to take it off until it snaps.

This setup may seem a bit expensive for a new player, but at about $95 USD it really is a lot of bang for the buck considering the tonal quality and longevity of gut strings. In my opinion, this set would be entirely appropriate for a motivated player of any skill level.

I would suggest going to a good luthier to have the bridge fit and the soundpost set. This will maximize the potential of any string choice. When you’re there, ask them what strings they think would suit your instrument. A good luthier will be able to point you in the right direction, and then experimentation is the fun part.

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i am always searching for the "perfect" strings but end up coming back to Infeld Red though i prefer a wound e string. it depends on your fiddle and the sound you are looking for - i like dark and warm.

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Generally, as long as you don’t get Chinese £10 strings, they all work and you more-or-less get what you pay for. Someone here said Dominants, for instance, wear out - but my experience is that they last a year of medium use - but by the end of the year they are much quieter than they were at the beginning. Would that matter to you?

Mostly I think the difference made to the sound by expensive strings is more apparent to the player than it is to a listener, but if you play mainly for your own pleasure then how you hear the music yourself matters a lot.

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Everyones fingers are different, some rough, some smooth. My skin turns silver black and ate through the dominant A in a few weeks.
Tone wise anyone can hear the difference, but only the player can feel the difference…..

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Will Evans: "the Eudoxa E I use is steel core wound with aluminium . They last a long time, surely you know that as a violin repairman?! "

No, as a violin repair man I don’t know that. What I do know as a violin repairman is that if you put an aluminium winding on an E string the aluminium has to be so thin it lasts no time at all, regardless of who makes the string.

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Thats not true at all either! The eudoxa last me really well, i got weeks our of dominant and i get months and months out of
If your not even familiar with the strings in question then making comments on how long they will last is hardly informed speculation.

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I don’t really need to try the string to understand the problem, I can just use common sense and a little knowledge of metallurgy. Or I could just go and look at Pirastro’s web site - they themselves acknowledge that there is a lifespan issue for some people, which is why they offer plain steel and chrome wound alternatives.

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Yes good points, but your wrong…… I accept that for some people this could be the case. For me it is not.
As i posted above we all have different skin acidity. I have no problems with Aluminium string windings but silver on the other hand does react badly for me.
Chrome wound top E Eudoxa Thats worth trying sometime. But they are not expensive strings and i have a large stash of them. The G and C are expensive but the E not.
Anyhow, what i meant was that the Eudoxa top E is wound, I was surprised you were not familiar with that string, not that they last long .my apologies for an unclear post .

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" I accept that for some people this could be the case. For me it is not. "

Yes, but this thread isn’t about you. It’s a beginner asking which strings would be best for them to start on.

On that basis you can throw out all the steel cores - you might come back to them laster when your life revolves around blisteringly fast jigs and reels, and you are willing to sacrifice tone for fast response, but for a beginner they don’t make things sound good. And you can throw out gut and gut cores - the extra expense and tuning difficulties aren’t worth the effort for a beginner, even though they do sound great. That just leaves the middle ground - synthetics, and the middle of the middle, and representing good value for money, is Dominants, so that, for most people, is the most sensible starting point.

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Good thread for OP.
Lots of feedback.
On that last post, one would expect the "Dominants" issue has been put to bed.

Alas, I predict/ fear someone’s axe needs more grinding.

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https://thesession.org/discussions/16603
https://thesession.org/discussions/3897
https://thesession.org/discussions/5627. I note exactly the issue i had with dominants being expressed here! So it was not just me.!!
https://thesession.org/discussions/5542
Mark, you made a statement ,that was factually wrong, several of them actually, nothing more than that , I just happened to know from decades of trying out strings that you were wrong, merely correcting a mistake.
.I was just quite surprised that you were not familiar with pirastro strings as they are the best mark ive found. You even go so far as to give examples later down the thread of something you suggested didnt exist earlier, so Im glad to have helped . Your welcome…

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*you’re

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[*On that basis you can throw out all the steel cores - you might come back to them later when your life revolves around blisteringly fast jigs and reels, and you are willing to sacrifice tone for fast response*]

Mark, I don’t actually disagree with that statement, but I don’t understand what you mean about fast response with steel core strings - it’s the ‘fast response’ bit I don’t get. There is music much faster than fast jigs and reels being played using synthetics - do you mean that you think synthetics are easier for a beginner to handle, in terms of getting a decent tone?

Dominants were around for quite a while years ago, but their sales really perked up when artists like Itzak Perlman started using them. They did get a bit of a bad rep later on, because the winding on the A string kept breaking at the D note. Thomastik kept telling people to clip their nails … then when they realised it only happened with their Dominant A string, and no-one else’s brand, they must have realised that there was a design / QC problem, as they as certainly OK in that respect now.

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Since this seems to be a ‘what does everybody think’ kind of thread, I’ll put in that I use Dominants, with the aluminum wound E because I find for me that the plain steel wire whistles.

I don’t know anything about the aluminum wearing off issue Mark mentioned above. It is entirely possible that the issue is psychological, but I know from years of playing and occasionally ordering the wrong string (or having the luthier unintentionally put the wrong one on) that the aluminum E never whistles for me, even after a year and a half of use, and the all-steel one sometimes does. (I tried the tin-plated one that nobody’s mentioned yet once too, and didn’t like it. Same whistling issue.)

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Jim: "Mark, I don’t actually disagree with that statement, but I don’t understand what you mean about fast response with steel core strings - it’s the ‘fast response’ bit I don’t get."

It’s the reason quite a lot of Irish fiddlers use steel strings. It’s actually about string tension rather than the material they are made from, but steel strings are, by their nature, high tension strings, (and synthetics are medium, gut are low). When you energise a string (by bowing or plucking) it takes a few milliseconds for the standing wave to set up and the string to start sounding. The slacker the string the longer it takes, so if you are playing fast on low tension strings you can find yourself in the situation where you’re onto the next note before the previous one has built up to its full amplitude. It’s not an either/or thing, you don’t need a steel strung fiddle for jigs and a gut strung one for airs, but it is a matter of compromise and trade offs - if you play mainly jigs and reels you might want to sacrifice a bit of tone for the speed of steel, if you play mainly airs you would probably look for the best tone possible and accept the slower response of either synthetic or gut. There was an old thread on the subject (which I can’t find at the moment) where Trevor Jennings described playing on plain gut strings (the slackest of all) and how you have to ‘anticipate the note’ in order to get the string vibrating when you need it. And in another old thread you yourself said "I would not recommend gut strings, as the response tends to be slack and sloppy," So you obviously do appreciate what the difference is, but you maybe just hadn’t appreciated that the difference you see between synthetic and gut happens again between steel and synthetic.

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Thanks for that, Mark - that all makes good sense.

I haven’t noticed any difference in response between synthetic core and steel core, in the way you mentioned, but I’ve no doubt other players do. What I have noticed is a difference in tone, tension and stability (steel core being more stable, taking a shorter time to settle in and stay on pitch). Are they louder too? They seem louder under the ear.

Also, there’s not as much ‘give’ in the steel cores - so striking a chord (eg) open D + B + G is a lot hard work in that you really need to ‘dig in’ a lot more with the bow. Accessing three strings, eg with a shuffle is harder work too. I know some players like to have the bridge flatter for that reason.

I do remember saying that gut strings had a very different response, and I also remember Trevor Jennings talking about that as well. My personal view on that is that the improved tone is simply not worth the bowing sacrifices you need to make. The string should be the slave to the player, not the other way round. Again, my own personal view 🙂

Re: fiddle string preferences

I tried many synthetic strings (pirastro, dominant, etc) . Main problem was the short working life due to their fast unwinding ( particularly the A) and quick loss of brightness. Now i’m very happy with a set of metal Pirastro Flexocor (Silver winding G, Titanium D, Aluminium A) + the Gold Pirastro Obligato E.
This is the most brilliant, consistent and reliable set I ‘ve ever tried. (a bit expensive but its long life repays that)
cheers
Massimo