Having played the violin for a good number of years, I never questioned myself as to why I solely use Thomastik-Infeld’s Dominant violin strings – it was just what I was told to use. Anyway, they are reliable and sound well on almost any instrument. However, things started to change last Christmas when my student Kyong gave me a set of Pirastro’s Obligato strings (thanks!). I started to discover a world of possibilties, with mixed feelings of surprise (that the tone could be completely changed), disbelief (why didn’t I know this earlier?), and bewilderment (variety of possible combinations).
So if you are interested, here’s something to get you started: http://www.violinist.com/wiki/violin-strings/
How do we describe/compare the tonal qualities of different strings? Something useful I found from an article from Fisher Violins:
The tone produced by any particular set of violin strings varies according to the instrument, the player, the listener’s tastes, and the acoustics of the room. Explaining what one hears or likes is often difficult; nevertheless, there are a few standard terms which have come to be used by musicians to describe important tonal characteristics of violin strings and instruments:
- Dark vs. Bright/Brilliant . . . Violin strings that are described as dark tend to be stronger in the mid to lower “bass” frequencies. Brilliance or brightness is associated with strong upper frequencies (like turning up the trebble knob on your stereo) and sometimes with greater overall volume.
- Complex vs. Focused . . . Violin Strings that produce strong and varied overtones are said to produce a complex tone, whereas violin strings that have a stronger fundamental pitch and relatively simple, quiet harmonics are said to sound focused. Steel violin strings tend to give a very straightforward focused tone. Synthetic and particularly gut violin strings are more complex.
- Dynamic range . . . Some violin strings produce sound in a wide range of volume, allowing strong, emphatic playing as well as more quiet, subtle performance. These violin strings are said to have a great dynamic range. Violin strings with a poor dynamic range fail to sound when played lightly and produce a feeble or constricted tone when played with a heavier bow stroke.
- Response . . . Violin strings that produce a sound quickly with the lightest of touches are said to be responsive or to have a quick response. A string which is responsive also reacts to subtle changes in the players motions with changes in tone. Less responsive violin strings require more effort from the player and produce a less nuanced tone.
- Quality . . . All other things being equal, some violin strings just sound better than others. This has to do with resonance, frequency distribution, and a hundred other important, but hard to quantify tonal attributes. Cheap violin strings are often described as sounding “nasal”. Fine violin strings are said to “come alive”.
“Until now, all E strings have been solid pieces of wire,” he says. “If you play an open E, you hear a high-frequency whistling sound caused by the torsional properties of the string. I made a wound string on a stranded core, which lowered the frequency and eliminated the problem.”
excerpt from The Tao of Strings