- I'm a music school student. Which strings do I need?
- What's the difference between ball and loop end strings?
- Medium tension, light tension, heavy tension: what's that?
- How often should I change strings?
- Which length should I choose for my viola strings?
I'm a music school student. Which strings do I need?
Are you a (starting) musician and unsure which strings you need in the jungle of possibilities? Don't panic!
In first place you should ask your teacher for advice. He or she will have enough experience to give you advise on a certain brand and type that is suitable for you and your instrument. Your teacher might also know which strings are currently on your instrument, so you can change them with the same type.
Even if you don't have someone in your neighbourhood to give you advise, don't panic! There are some basic types that are frequently used by (music school) students and professionals alike, and these are never a bad choice:
- Pirastro Tonica (1/32 to 4/4): a warm set of synthetic strings, very popular because of their excellent lifespan.
- Larsen Aurora: the recently released entry-level set from Larsen. These strings have a warm, brilliant tone and a very attractive price.
- Thomastik-Infeld Dominant (1/16 to 4/4): the most popular string range, from beginner to advanced and professional players. Strings with a warm sound that have good playability.
- Pirastro Evah Pirazzi (1/8 to 4/4): a set very popular with professionals and sutdents alike! A projecting sound, and good playability.
- Jargar Classic (4/4) and Young Talent (1/4 to 3/4): the most used sets for students. Chrome steel wound metal strings that have a full projecting sound without getting shrill.
- Larsen Aurora (4/4): the basic range from Larsen, with an excellent price quality ratio. Wound metal core strings with good playability.
For violin and viola you may have the choice between ball and loop end E or A string. If you're unsure which one you need, have a look at the question below. If you have the option to choose a tension, then always choose medium (standard) tension.
What's the difference between ball and loop end strings?
The E string for violins (and the A string for some violas) can use two different connecting systems: with a loop, or with a ball (as all the other strings on the instrument). You can easily check yourself on your instrument what kind of E string you have: if there's a small hook on your finetuner, then you need a loop end E string. In all other cases you need a ball end E string. Both systems can be integrated into your tailpiece, or might use an external, seperate system.
The ball end option is by far the most used one, and certainly if you have a study instrument the tailpiece will almost certainly be suited for ball end strings.
Only E strings on violins and A strings on violas can have a loop end. All other strings (A, D, G and C) always have a ball end, never a loop end.
Some manufacturers use a system where you can remove the ball of the string so it fits on a loop end system. If a string uses this system, it's always clearly indicated on the product page. In that case you don't need to select a ball or loop end option as there is only 1 type of this particular string.
Medium tension, light tension, heavy tension: what's that?
A lot of string types are available in a couple of different thicknessess, or tensions. The designation differs a little bit per brand, but their function is always the same.
- Standard tension (medium, normal, mittel...): this is the most used tension, because the manufacturer has taken it as a standard that works well for most instruments. If you're not sure which tension you need, always take medium tension. There's only point in changing tension when you encounter clear problems or disadvantages.
- Strong tension (high, heavy, stark, thick...): strings with a higher tension are slightly thicker than their normal tension brothers. Because they are thicker, they have to be wound up more in order to reach the same pitch, so they are called "high tension". A string with a higher tension will usually result in a more powerful sound (but watch out: it could also "pinch up" your instrument!), but will also be more difficult to play in terms of response as the heavier tension requires a little more effort. If you encounter the latter as a problem, it means your string could be of a tension that is too high for your instrument. Try a lower tension string.
- Low tension (low, light, leicht, thin...): low tension strings are slightly thinner than strings with normal tension. Thinner strings have to be wound up less thightly to reach the same pitch, so they have a lower tension. Thinner tension strings are used to get a more clear/open sound, however usually at cost of pure volume. Lower tension also improves responsiveness of the string, both in left and right hand. A shrill sound or "overresponsive" strings (where the sound might jump off and become crackly) could indicate a tension that is too low. Use a higher tension string to compensate for this problem.
Do note that each instrument might react differently on tension changes. There is no 100% certain outcome!
How often should I change strings?
How often you have to change your strings depends on how much you play. But a stretched string loses its flexibility and stretching power anyhow after some time.
Strings usually lose their sound colour gradually. The start to sound more dull after some time, because over- and undertones start to disappear. You might not notice the actual difference until you install new strings, at which point the difference will be blaringly obvious!
A good tip that professionals use to check if a string is at the end of its career, is to play fifths (same finger on two strings at the same time). With new, healthy strings it's much easier to play perfect fifth's than with old, dull strings.
If you practice daily for about an hour, and you want your strings to always have a good basic sound quality, following terms are a good guidance:
- Violin and viola: every 6 months
- Cello: A and D string every 6 months, G and C strings every year
- Double bass: every year
Which length should I choose for my viola strings?
In terms of string length, violas are the stranger in our midst. There have never been any standardized measures for violas, and this means that there are both small and large 4/4 violas in existence. A viola player chooses its instrument based on the sound he or she wants and the playing comfort (keeping in mind the size of hands and arm length).
We use the following indications:
- Viola 4/4: body larger than 38cm/15 inches, vibrating string length (VSL) 36cm/14 inches and up.
- Viola 3/4: body between 36cm and 38cm/14 inches and 15 inches, vibrating string length (VSL) 34,5cm/13,5 inches and up.
- Viola 1/2: body smaller than 36cm/14 inches, vibrating string length (VSL) 32,5cm/12,5 inches and up.
The vibrating string length (VSL) is the distance between the bridge and the upper side of the fingerboard (the point at which the string touches the fingerboard and continues into the headpiece). This is the easiest way to confirm the length of string you need. The body size is the largest/middle length of the resonance body.
Each string maker uses its own indications, but we always provide the suitable VSL on the string product page.