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Saturday, 26 July 2008

Fiddle strings...and starting the fiddle

Do they matter?
I have several sets here, ranging from some cheapies to the full monty: Dominants, and these are my string of choice for my beautiful vintage fiddle. Am I a string snob? Possibly, but I really DID notice the difference when I string my fiddle with Dominants, and although they are expensive, I will never use another string.

Scouting about the web I found a lot of mixed opinion on the types of string used... here are a few:

Strings can be compared to car tyres. Strings directly influence the performance of your instrument. They must "adhere" and vibrate well - be tough and very responsive. Like car tyres they must work as a whole and they must match each other, so that when passing from one string to another, no difference should be noted in string tension and tone. Don't try one make for the G, another for the D, A, and E - a totally different kind for each string in most cases leads to a mismatch in feel and performance. Cheap Violins come with the worst tyres. These are used simply in order to say that the instrument is complete and functions ( albeit with a screech !) . Cheap Chinese strings are also far too thin - just rip these off and buy some new strings. Anything will sound twice as good. If you buy Dominants or better, your Chinese violin will sound at least three times as good ! ( Good tyres will make the car drive better and feel better ! ). Strings wear out and need replacing well before they burst. If you keep them clean they last longer, though.

The full article is HERE

A bit about Dominant strings:

Thomastik : Dominant - These are warm sounding strings with good general characteristics. I usually insist all students start out with these strings, because they have a much warmer and rounder sound than metal strings. They are not the most expensive string either. I also think more dynamics can be obtained with these strings, and a much broader tonal range is also possible. These strings will not sound as loud as metal strings, but they do cost 2 times the price. However, as they sound 3 times better, and can be obtained in small sizes ( for half size violins, for example ) I tell my young students to invest in these high quality professional strings. I think even Perlman uses these on his Stradivarius !
These strings lose their tension and become flat for quite a few hours after putting them on, but aft
er 3 days they are quite stable, and keep well in tune. They are made of a sort of nylon called Perlon ( a name used only by Thomastik ), and the core of the string is made up a many filaments or strands of Perlon. The exterior is aluminum winding, which is quite susceptible to corrosion through sweat and perspiration. If not cleaned ( as all strings should be - except Chromcore ) within 6 months or less the surface smoothness will be lost, as tiny holes eat into the aluminum surface of the string. Alcohol is a good substance to clean the string with, but take care not to spill any onto the belly of your violin. My impression is that the many independent filaments of Perlon give the sound a broadness and fullness which is very satisfying. The strings are thick, full of bass tone and round in sound, and not too tense. These are very popular strings, and sale statistics say more of these strings are purchased than any other type. FINAL MARK 9/10

The biggest issue for me as a fiddle player ( apart from quality of sound an
d warmth ) is that the strings are Vegan. Some of the well known expensive brands will use animal gut and that is a no-no for me. Good strings can make even a basic cheaper fiddle sound great.

STRINGS MAGAZINE have an informative article on 30 different strings

Each violin reacts differently to strings, the fiddle is am awkward bugger, but htat of course is part of its appeal. I have tried Larson and Dominant on cheaper new fiddles and on my main fiddle which is about 170 yrs old and dominants have won each time. But then I prefer the heavier warm rich sound of the dominant... your mileage may vary...

If you are starting out on the fiddle I would recommend a cheap one to start with and don't worry too much about the strings until you know that the instrument is for you. T
hen invest in some decent strings and be sure that your fiddle is set up properly ( ie bridge is fitted properly and that the soundpost is correctly situated. ) A luthier or music shop will set up a fiddle for you quite cheaply and it is worth investing 20-30 quid in.
A good starter fiddle can be grabbed for as little as 50-70 quid now. Amazon have a full size fiddle starter set with bow and case for £ 59.99 by Antoni which is quite ridiculous when you think about it:

Antoni 'Debut' ACV30 Full Size Violin Outfit



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