The Complete Buyer’s Guide to Fiddle Strings
There are many factors which can determine the quality of a violin. One that is often overlooked is the strings.
New strings can breathe a new lease of life into any string instrument. Whether you play a vintage fiddle or a brand new violin, replacing the strings could make a huge difference to the quality of the sound.
So how do you choose the right violin or fiddle strings?
There are many different options available when shopping for violin strings nowadays, which is both a blessing and a curse. Violin and fiddles players face a multitude of choices when it comes to picking strings.
Testing every available string on the market to find the perfect one is probably not a realistic option, especially when shopping online. With the right information however, you’ll be able to make an educated decision that you’ll be happy with.
Read on and I’ll help you understand the most important qualities of violin or fiddle strings. You’ll learn about core, gauge and tension – the three defining factors that will help you choose the best fiddle strings for you.
By the time you’ve finished you’ll understand all the jargon and will be able to confidently assess the characteristics of any violin string.
So let’s get started.
The Best Violin Strings For Beginners
As a new player, you won’t need to worry about strings straight away. Any reputable trader will provide high quality violin or fiddle strings with their instrument. If not, don’t worry, they’re easy to replace.
I always advise beginner violin players to start with medium gauge, synthetic strings.
Medium gauge strings are the most popular because the tension has been engineered by the manufacturer to result in an even, balanced tone that will give good responsiveness on most instruments. In other words, they’re easy to play.
Synthetic strings are also slightly easier on the fingers.
Infeld Dominant strings are an excellent option for a beginner or student violin player. These highly flexible synthetic strings offer a clear, rich, warm tone. They tune well and are durable and long lasting. They would serve any player well, but are particularly user friendly for those just starting out.
If you’d like to equip yourself with the knowledge to make your own educated decisions in the future, then read on.
The Best Strings for Traditional Irish Music
Irish traditional musicians tend to play using steel or synthetic strings (or a combination of both).
These strings are more resistant to changes in climate and retain their tuning well. They also create a bright, warm sound, ideal for playing traditional Irish music.
I highly recommend Infeld Spirocore Violin Strings. This is one of the best steel string sets on the market right now.
Spirocore are designed to give fiddle players greater flexibility in their strings. They deliver a bright tone and a fast response, with a quick attack and plenty of volume. They’re ideal for session playing!
Another firm favourite of Irish fiddle players are Helicore strings. These steel fiddle strings are soft under the fingers and fantastically responsive. They produce a bright, warm, long lasting tone. Again, you’ll have no problem being heard when playing these strings!
Keep reading to learn more about the qualities that make these strings so popular.
What Strings Are Right For You?
Three helpful questions to keep in mind as you begin your search are:
– What’s your instrument’s characteristic sound?
– What sound do you want to hear?
– What strings are you using now?
If your violin or fiddle produces a tone that’s too bright for example, you might consider strings with darker, warmer characteristics.
Infeld Red Violin Strings are a wonderful midway point between bright and dark. They will offer a more neutral tone while still delivering a clean sound. If you want a darker sound still, then I’d recommend Obligato Strings.
If the sound from your current strings is too heavy or dark however, your instrument might benefit from brighter strings, such as Infeld Blue, Dominant or Helicore strings.
What makes the tone of a string bright or dark? Let me explain.
Choosing New Strings: Where to begin?
When assessing the strings on your instrument, it’s important that the sound is balanced across all four strings. Each string should achieve the same volume. All the notes on each string should also achieve the same volume and quality.
While new strings can indeed revive a tired old instrument, bear in mind that they need to be played in, the same way you’d break in a new pair of shoes.
It’s also important to know which type of strings are suitable for your instrument and the style of music you play.
There are three main types of strings – gut, steel and synthetic – and each variety comes in different gauges and tensions. But what does this mean?
Core Material: What Are Violin Strings Made Of?
Each type of core impacts the tonal quality of the string. The three core types – gut, steel and synthetic each have different characteristics and offer a different sound.
Gut strings produce rich, mellow, warm tones with rich overtones and are typically used by classical musicians to play Baroque or chamber music.
These were the original violin strings and their design goes back several centuries. Though sometimes referred to as cat gut, gut strings are actually made from sheep intestines.
Gut core strings are particularly susceptible to changes in temperature and humidity and therefore require more frequent tuning.
In addition to being less durable, they are also more expensive than other string types.
Steel strings are more resistant to changes in climate and retain their tune for longer periods of time. They produce a much brighter tone than gut strings.
In general, steel strings have a quick response (they produce sound easily) and a clear tone but don’t offer quite as much depth or tonal complexity. They are however, much more stable in pitch than gut strings, meaning you’ll have to tune them less. They also last longer.
Synthetic strings combine many of the best characteristics of steel and gut strings. They’re an excellent preference for any fiddle or violin player, especially beginners, due to their playability.
Synthetic strings create a warm sound that projects well. Similar to steel strings, synthetic strings hold their tuning longer than gut and are less susceptible to environmental changes.
In more recent years, composite core strings have developed which combine different synthetic materials for a more complex sound. These newer strings have interesting and sophisticated tonal characteristics.
Gauge: How Thick Are The Strings?
Gauge refers to the thickness of the string which influences the tone it produces.
Medium gauge strings are usually the most popular due to being good ‘all rounder’ strings that offer the best qualities of both thick and thin gauge. They strike a good balance between tone, volume and response and offer a good response on most instruments.
Thicker strings deliver more volume, but are less responsive. This means that more pressure is required to press the string on the fingerboard. A heavier bow stroke is also required. They produce a darker tone than other strings.
Thin gauge violin strings will offer greater responsiveness and a brighter tone. They are lower in tension, making them easier to play, but also lower in volume.
Tension: How Tightly Are The Strings Stretched?
People frequently mix up string gauge and string tension. While the two are related, they’re not one and the same.
Tension is the stretching force of the string. It heavily influences the tone produced by the strings. Higher (heavy) tension creates brighter tones, while lower (light) tension has more warmth.
The tension of strings is determined to a large extent by the materials they are wound with:
Gut strings have a lower average tension than steel or synthetic. These strings are much easier to press down under the fingers and offer better responsiveness.
Light tension strings also produce a more clear, open sound that is lower in volume.
Steel violin strings tune up to a higher tension better than any other type.
Heavy tension strings usually produce more volume. By contrast, they offer less responsiveness however. You’ll need to apply more pressure on the fingerboard. They’ll also give your bowing arm a good workout!
Synthetic strings, due to the nature of their core materials, have a higher tension than gut but can also vary greatly.
Medium tension strings are designed intentionally to bring a balanced response and tone to just about any violin or fiddle.
If you’re in doubt as to which tension you need, always opt for medium tension strings.
A Personal Choice
Now that you know all the technical jargon, you can put your newfound knowledge to use.
Our online fiddle store offers a great range of violin and fiddle strings by D’Addario and Thomastik Infeld – two of the best manufacturers of violin strings in the market today.
Their products come highly recommended not just by me, but also by violin and fiddle players around the world.
To bring out the best in your strings you’ll also want to stock up on some fiddle rosin, which will really help your new strings shine!
[Image source: Dejan Krsmanovic, Shunichi Kouroki, Jason Hollinger, ajay_suresh, Fake Plastic Alice, CC BY 2.0]
I have an old fiddle I picked up at a yard sale. It has no strings and came with a french bow with no hair. I want to play Appalachian fiddle music and I'm a beginner. Can u suggest a good set of steel strings for it. I'm considering purchasing a bow as someone told me it would cost about $200. to have horse hair put on it.
Hi Gwendolyn, when it comes to steel strings I’m a big fan of Helicore myself as they offer a wonderfully bright tone: https://mcneelamusic.com/string/violins/violin-strings/helicore-violin-strings-set/ For a beginner however I would usually recommend starting with some medium gauge synthetic strings as they’ll be a little easier on the fingers.
Now I must also advise that I’m a little concerned about re-stringing this instrument yourself. It’s never advisable to remove all of the strings from a violin at once, and depending on how long this particular instrument has been stringless the increased tension (particularly with steel strings) on the bridge and neck could cause some issues (including snapping/breakages). As it’s an older instrument I would highly advise bringing it to an experienced luthier to get them to set it up for you – just to ensure that everything is in tip top shape.
Now when it comes to bows, you’ve been advised correctly – you could purchase a new one for a similar price to rehairing. Carbon fibres bows in particular are sturdy and reliable and we offer a range of them on the site. I must admit however that I am intrigued by this French bow you mention. It could be awful, or it could be a rare gem – depending on which materials it’s crafted from and what condition it’s currently in. Either way, it could also benefit from a trip to a luthier so that they could evaluate this for you.