Violin Information

STRINGS & ACCESSORIES

On This Page:

 Links   Detailed Colored String Chart - provided by Lashof Violins

 Sound Reference Comparison Chart for String Brands

General String Information 

Detailed Descriptions about most String Brands

Brief String Descriptions

Installing Strings

Why Strings Break

Accessories - Information only

Shoulder Rests     Chin Rests     Rosin     General Rosin Info    Cases

Keep in mind that the information on different sound characteristics from accessories like rosin and strings are my opinions as a professional player and professional violin maker with over 40 years in the business and 35 years owning a retail violin shop working with many thousands of customers and their instruments. Obviously your results on your instrument with the way you play may be different and different people "hear" sounds differently

 

General String Information


 Today there more kinds of strings than there were 40 years ago. More than a dozen synthetic-core strings, many steel-core and rope core strings and some gut core strings. Many of these strings have come onto the market since 1995. The major string manufacturers are always researching and are continually introducing new products, which can be confusing to musicians. A little information will help you through the string maze.

There is no perfect string for everyone or every instrument, different strings respond differently on different instruments. You may also find that you need to mix and match to make the best set for your instrument. Also, one style of string cannot be fit into a mold, they all have their own characteristics, in other words, all synthetics are not created equal.  When looking you need to find a string that complements both the instruments qualities and your playing style. Below is a guide to the basic qualities of each type of string—gut, synthetic, and steel. 

Most students start with a "student" quality instrument outfit, frequently these are set up with a no name steel string or low quality beginner string. To help improve the sound of these instruments, a better set of strings like Dominants or Tonicas can be used. To also help the sound, a better rosin such as Hill or AB is recommended.

Strings are usually available in different thicknesses marked Weich, Mittel and Stark (low, medium, and high tension). Most people use Medium unless an individual string needs some help.

The strings apply a considerable force onto the top of the instrument. These are the tensions in pounds from a Medium gage string set by D'Addario in their Helicore strings.

Violin - 53            Viola - 56             Cello - 125             Bass - 267

How often you change your strings depends on how much you play. Students should change their strings at least once every year; professionals, every three to six months. Always change a string if it begins to sound dull or begins to unravel. Unless a string breaks prematurely, change all four strings together, but do one at a time so the sound post doesn't move.

 Ball-end and loop-end strings:

· Ball-end strings can work in a tailpiece slot or with a fine tuner (either add on or built into the tailpiece).  Synthetic core strings can be used without a fine-tuner but many people use them with a tuner.  Metal-core strings are designed to be used with a tuner. With synthetic core strings that have a ball end with a hole through the center, to protect the string from being cut by the tuner you can pass the string end through the ball making a lasso which can be looped around both prongs of the tuner. 

· Loop-end E-strings work best with a tuner that has a single prong. Ball-end E-strings work with tuners with a double prong.

· Gut core strings end in a knot and a loop of gut and are not designed to be used with a fine tuner.

Steel strings are typically used on student instruments, and also by "fiddle" players. Some brands of steel-core strings that have a steel rope or similar soft core have less of the bright "steel" sound. They are also commonly used on viola and cello. They are also very popular for electric instruments along with plain-steel strings. The better sounding strings are wound aluminum or other metal over Perlon, which is a synthetic material like nylon which replaces the old gut strings originally used in baroque instruments and are still used on many high end instruments by professional players.

Sound Reference Comparison Chart for String Brands - This is a good starting point for comparison, however different instrument will react differently to the same string. My own experience is a little different but for the most part I don't see any blaring problems with this chart. 


For Baroque instruments, plain gut strings are still available.

There are a number of strings for alternate tuning. One manufacturer - D'Addario, has a number of options in their Helicore line. These are a few options that are available:

 

  • violin C string for a 5 string violin (Helicore H315).
  • viola E string for a 5 string viola (Helicore H415)
  • Cello strings tuned the same as the String Bass/Electric Bass - EADG (Helicore cello 4th tuning - set H550) 
  • High Cello E - 5th above the cello A string (Helicore H515)

 

GUT-CORE STRINGS

Musical instrument strings have been made of sheep or lamb intestine (gut) since the first stringed instruments were invented. Until the late 1800's, gut strings were the only strings that were available. Today, musicians that specialize in early music are the few that still use plain gut strings. Those who use gut-core strings use those that are wrapped with silver or aluminum.

Gut-core strings have a special sound, which is very complex with lots of overtones. These strings often have the slowest response, there is a slight resistance, an effect that is more pronounced on some instruments than others. Because they are lower in tension, gut strings tend to feel softer and more pliable under the finger. On very good instruments gut core strings can pull a sound unlike any others, with unique overtones. 

The major disadvantage is that most are affected more easily by temperature and humidity changes and tend to go out of tune more frequently. When they are first installed, gut-core strings need several days to a week to stretch out and some musicians get tired of the constant tuning. The sound of these strings, however, can be very beautiful. Gut core strings tend to make the best instruments sound even better, but on lower priced instruments they can make for a muddy sound.  I don't generally like them in humid climates as they tend to sound like rubber band.

 

SYNTHETIC-CORE STRINGS

In the early 1970s, the Thomastik-Infeld company revolutionized violin strings by introducing Dominant perlon-core strings. These strings use a core of perlon (a type of nylon) wrapped with silver or aluminum. They are stable within a day or two of installing the strings. The Perlon core isn't affected by changes in temperature and humidity any where as much as gut, and as such these strings stay in tune much better. They also have a quicker response. Since the introduction of Dominant strings, other manufacturers have introduced other synthetic-core strings using not only perlon, but also high-tech composites such as Kevlar.  Each string has its own particular sound quality.

STEEL-CORE STRINGS

Steel strings began in the late 19th century with the steel E string. The A, D, and G strings use a core of fine strands of steel covered with a variety of metals, including chrome steel, silver, tungsten, titanium, and others.

Most steel-core strings tend to be bright. The sound is usually clear, with few overtones. Steel-core strings have the fastest response of any string. They tend to be higher in tension and thinner than other types of strings. The cheap ones tend to be tinny and rough. The better ones are of a much higher quality and have a warmer sound.

With steel cores, there is very little change during temperature and humidity changes, and they tend to stay in tune better than synthetic-core strings. This is why they are a good choice for beginning students.

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Major Violin String Brands on the Market Today

 

 

 

Sound Reference Comparison Chart for String Brands - This is a good starting point for comparison, however different instrument will react differently to the same string. My own experience has often been different from the manufacturers sound description and so I have added my own opinion when needed.

Note: As I am now retired, I don't get a chance to "audition" new brands of strings very often, I will update the list as I can.

Dominant - Comparable in sound to gut, without gut's disadvantages.  These strings have a highly flexible, multi-strand nylon core and cater for artists who feel uncomfortable with steel strings. The resounding success of  Dominant string owes a lot to its similarity in tone and response to gut strings, without gut's attendant drawbacks.  The sound of the Dominant string is full and mellow, yet rich in overtones. Its radiance, its ability to project sound without being metallic, comes to the fore both in arco and pizzicato. Other advantages are Dominant's effortless response to intricate fingering and its tuning stability even under extreme atmospheric conditions.

These time-tested synthetic core strings are a great choice for students or anyone wanting a quality string at a reasonable price. Dominant strings are probably the most popular strings in the world.  These strings, like all perlon core strings, have a highly flexible, multi-strand nylon core. They come in 3 Gauges: Stiff, Medium and Soft. Pick according to your instrument or mix and match. (Note: you will need to play them in for a few days to get rid of any metallic edge that they often have fresh out of the package). They have to be changed at regular intervals to keep the sound.  Good average quality that is bass line to measure against. I find Dominants to be generally more harsh and nasal to many of the other synthetics, at one time they were often the best choice, now not so much.

 

Evah Pirazzi – Evah Pirazzi synthetic core strings have a powerful sound and range.  Full, round sound and stability with easy response and playability. Available in thick, medium, and thin. They have a warm and brilliant sound, but must be changed often. Some players find the strings over-rated, and the higher tension may be too high for some instrument. Brighter than Obligato and brings out some of the best that an instrument has to offer. Also great for 3/4 instruments.

The new Gold version

They enjoy the brilliant golden tone one would normally associate with gut strings, while the tuning stability and extremely short breaking-in period equal the high standard set by our Evah Pirazzi and Obligato strings.

The sound of the Evah Pirazzi GOLD is full-bodied from the very bottom to the top of the register and the design of the individual strings has been so carefully matched to one another allowing for effortlessly smooth transitions from string to string. This gives the strings both a marked presence and clarity and outstanding pedal-like resonance which is the secret of its seductive powers.

The Evah Pirazzi GOLD strings allow the violinist to explore the finest nuances of the quietest passages or to play close to the finger-board with confidence. At the same time our strings respond immediately to high bow pressure, translating the violinist's energy into powerful sonorities.

Two versions of the G string are offered – The gold-wound G string gives a round and full tone, while that of the silver wound G string emphasizes brightness. The E string offers excellent response and a large, noble, and smooth sound to the very top of the register. Strong, Powerful and a little bright on the Synthetic front, but an instrument that needs an extra push will often benefit greatly. 

 

Pirastro Chromcor strings are a steel string for student instruments. They are durable, easy playing, and moderately priced. They often do wonders as an upgrade from standard student strings. A warmer sounding stranded steel core string.

Pirastro Eudoxa - Pirastro Eudoxa gut strings have a wonderfully rich, warm and full sound. The response tends to be slower and they can sound dull on some new or cheaper instruments. These strings tend to be best on older and higher quality violins. Great for fine violins-really brings out the special character.

Thomastic Spirocore are a rope core steel string. This provides quick response, consistent performance and tonal power. On cello these can be very brash, but often on the G and C they can give a lot of power and are especially nice in the Titanium.

Piastro Oliv - These gut strings are more brilliant and have a quicker response than Eudoxa, but they are also more expensive. As with any gut string, they require some playing-in time to stretch the string before they will show their full potential.

Thomastik-Vision - These strings are specifically designed to fulfill the needs of advanced violinists, including those who excel in orchestral or chamber group settings. They settle in quickly and can achieve a stable tuning within a very short time and are exceptionally easy to play.  They have a short break-in period, ease of playing, and high stability. According to the maker, they have a "focused, clear, open and brilliant" tone, although some players find them to be a little bright with less overtones. Made from a strong composite synthetic core, they come in Solo (Titanium), Orchestral (Titanium) and "Regular" (Not Titanium).  The Orchestra line have similar characteristics as the Soloist but are warmer.  A new solo version of the regular Vision strings (non-titanium) has received favorable reviews from some musicians. Vision strings come in three thicknesses.

Piastro Wondertone Solo - These strings are between Evah Pirazzi and Obligato. They are remarkably stable and settle very quickly. The G can be rather edgy, and both E strings that come with the set whistle a lot on most instruments. Best for newer instruments that need more depth.

Kaplan Golden Spiral - These gut core strings produce very rich and warm sound. They are said to be excellent for solo and ensemble playing. They can be hard to play in and sluggish, although the "Solo" line is less so.

Obligato – Of all the synthetic-core strings, they seem to come the closest to sounding like a gut-core string.  However, they are more responsive and more brilliant than gut strings. The Obligato gold E string is a very nice string, less aggressive than the Eudoxa Oliv gold E string. Good to tone down overly bright instruments. Strong Warm and Gut-like sound. Great sound, powerful although not as much as Pirazzi's.  They are one of the warmest non gut strings. 

Larsen Tzigane - These new synthetic core strings have received very favorable reviews from violinists. They have rich undertones and a nice timbre range for synthetic strings, good projection with less tension than other strings, and a good responsiveness.

Pirastro Tonica - Pirastro's answer to Thomastik's Dominants. These share a lot of the same qualities of Dominants, although they tend to have a little more complexity, are warmer and do not have the metallic edge when they are first put on an instrument. A very fine, all purpose string. If you like Dominants, you should give Tonicas a try. My favorite choice when going from steel strings to synthetic on student instruments.  They are a warm sounding string that is great on the budget.

Pirastro Violino - Originally marketed as a student string, they are not really priced that way. However, of all the synthetic strings, these are probably the "sweetest."  If you have an instrument that has plenty of power but not an interesting tone, these strings are worth a try.

Pirastro Piranito - is among the least expensive violin strings on the market, but has a surprisingly good sound for its low price. I find Piranitos very useful for student instruments, they have a clear warm sound for a steel student grade string. They also, as an added bonus have a long life.  For Beginner instruments at a budget price you can't beat the Piranito.

D'Addario Zyex - They have a bright, focused quality and must be played for a few days before they reach their best sound. They don't have the overtones that some other strings offer.

D'Addario Pro Arte - A perlon core string, D'Addario Pro Arte strings sound dark and smooth, They are used best on bright, rough-sounding violins. They are a little dead in my opinion and are not as warm as they are represented to be.

D'Addario Helicore - These steel core strings are warm sounding, and like steel strings, are very responsive. They have a more interesting overtone than many metal strings due to their unique windings. A very good steel string for the budget minded. They are also very popular for the Cello, sometimes paired with Larsen strings. Heleicore for the G & C, Larsen for the A & D. They are also popular with bluegrass players.

Prim - Strings are the popular choice for folk style music. Quick response, low cost, and high durability are features of this string. Solid Steel core, wound with Chromesteel. Orchestra gauge is louder, but less bright. Sometimes paired with Jargars on cello, Prims on the G and C.

Larsen – Larsen strings are powerful and brilliant, but the D and G strings tend to lose their sound quality quickly. The viola A string can be overly aggressive on some instruments. They have a similar core to Dominants, so they have less tension. Some say they are even more colorful and powerful than Dominants. My first choice for the Cello A string.

SuperSensitive Red Label - These are all-steel strings that tend to be most often found on school instruments because they are very inexpensive. While they are often used for fiddling, classical players do not appreciate the plain sound, or brittle and harshness, of these strings. I do not care for Super-Sensitive Red Label strings, in my opinion they don't sound very good and are cheaply made in that the winding's have a looser fit that other steel strings making them not last as long.

Jargar - These are high quality steel strings with a warm strong sound. Many violists especially like the A string because it balances well with other strings.  Great for fiddle players and electric instruments, they also are great for the viola A and on the A & D on many cellos.

If you play country, old-time, Cajun, or rock, Swedish Prim strings might also be a good choice because of their power and projection. Their bright sound make them popular. A little brighter than Jargar, but a good step up string at a good price.

Warchal Strings - The most recent string company on the market. Their Ametyst set is lower in tension and comes close in feel and playability to Eudoxa. Their Karneol set is higher in tension but more brilliant with more overtones. It is a highly resonant string with lots of ring to it and a wide range of colors, it also projects extremely well. The Brilliant set is similar to Pirastro's Obligato and Evah Pirazzi, though the materials are different. These strings offer a brilliant, focused sound that is round with lots of resonance. They are also very long lasting.

Corelli Crystal strings have a synthetic core which provides a warm, gut like tone and stability in changing climates. Similar to Thomastik Dominant, D'Addario Pro Arte and Pirastro Tonica.

Thomastik-Infeld’s Infeld Blue and Infeld Red strings are new to the market. The Infeld Red set has a darker, warmer sound, and the Infeld Blue is more brilliant. The Blue set sounds a bit like Dominant strings but with more warmth. These strings also have a shorter break-in period. They both tend to have a less scratchy sound than Dominant.   My personnel favorites are the Reds - they are strong, dark and very clean.

Thomastic - PI (Peter Infeld) - These strings have a complex tone with a rich spectrum of colors. A powerful string that also has an elegant sound. A very quick bow response along with tuning stability.

Thomastic -  Alphayue strings were carefully developed to be a serious student's first string. Synthetic core, with aluminum wound A and D, silver wound G, solid steel E, tin plated. Alphayue strings tune in quickly, work well with fine tuners, and are forgiving, stable and durable. Now in Fractional Sizes. A new Perlon core E is available. I don't care for the 4/4, but the fractional sizes are nice.

Pirastro Passione -  A new string by Pirastro that has a gut core and has a full, rich warm sound while providing a faster playing-in time and stability than traditional gut strings. The response time is also quicker making it work well for medium quality instruments that could not take full advantage of the typical gut strings.   

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Brief String Descriptions

 

Corelli - Synthetic core - Excellent balance and volume, easy playing, immediate response.

Helicore - multi strand steel core - quick response, warm clear sound with good longevity.

Prelude -  steel core -  clear bright sound with quick response

ProArte - nylon core - warm sound with good bow response

Zyex - synthetic core - warm sound with good bow response, very stable

Jargar - steel core - Bright full sound with quick response

Larsen - synthetic core - very warm but powerful

Chromcor - stranded steel core - warmer clear sound with quick response

Obligato - synthetic core - warm, brilliant, clear and focused sound

Piranito - steel core - great student string

Pirazzi - synthetic - warm sound with wide dynamic range, intense and brilliant coloration's and quick response.

Synoza - synthetic core - big sound, rich in overtones, rounded stable tone.

Tonica - synthetic core - big rich overtones, very good response.

Violino - round big sound with great projection - great student string

Prim - steel core - bright powerful sound

Belcanto - exceptional balance of tension, projection, and tonality

Dominant - Perlon core - feel of gut with exceptional stability, clear, rich in overtones

Infeld Blue - synthetic core - Brilliant strong and clear

Infeld Red - synthetic core - Warm strong and clear

Spirocore - steel spiral core - round, bright and powerful

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Installing Strings


1. When replacing the full set of strings, do not take them all off at once, but replace them one at a time. By doing them one at a time you keep the bridge in the correct position and protect the sound post from falling.

2. When you remove the strings, examine the way they are attached to your tailpiece and to the pegs in the peg box as hopefully they were installed properly to begin with.  Notice how the string is attached either with  a fine tuner or through the hole in the tailpiece. If it is on a tuner, check to see if it is a one or two prong tuner, if two prongs, is the string pushed between the prongs or was a lasso wrapped around the prongs.

3. Place a paper towel under the tailpiece to prevent the tuners from scratching the top.

4. Remove one string.

5. With a pencil, put a little graphite onto the grove of the bridge and nut, this will make the string slide smoothly over them.  While you are doing this, examine the nut and bridge string grooves to see that they are not too deep, or so rough that the string may break. The depth of the groove should be about 1/3rd the diameter of the string, If much deeper, you may need to take it to the violin shop.

6. This is a good time to lubricate your pegs as well.  Use Peg Dope.  Lava brand bar soap can also be used. Chalk or Peg Drops should not be used as they contain oil and can cause the wood to swell and make the pegs seize in the holes.

7.  I start by putting on the G string, because it’s the first peg whose string hole is covered by subsequent strings, you can also loosen the D slightly for easier access and the post won't be affected. I then put on the E, D, and A in that order.  Insert the new string in the tailpiece through the hole and pull it up taught and into the slot, or into the fine tuner, depending on the way it was before, if you're not changing the setup; the top string (E on violin, A on Viola and Cello) will normally always have a fine tuner; the other strings may or may not use a fine tuner. If you have a Wittner brand style tailpiece, all four fine tuners will be built in. If the slot in the wooden tailpiece is too narrow for the string to pass without forcing it, take it to the violin shop to be widened.

8. When changing the top (thinnest) string, make sure the bridge has a protected pad glued on it, you may also use the small plastic tube on the string. Some strings come with a "doughnut" (a small rubber ring). It is placed under the string where it crosses the bridge, this is a tone filter and filters out the 'twang' that some thin steel strings have. This ring needs to go on as you are putting tension on the string.

9. Pull the string end towards the peg box, and insert the tip of the string into the hole of the appropriate peg, if you remembered to only remove one string, it will be the only peg that doesn't have a string inserted. Pass the string through the hole and extend it about 1/4"
Turn the peg so that the string winds over the top of the peg and wraps towards the small end of the peg 1 or 2 wraps, then crosses over itself and wraps toward the large end of the peg. The string should not hit the side of the peg box wall or the bottom of the peg box as both can damage the string and keep it from tuning properly. There should be a small space between the peg box and the string, this keeps the string from wearing prematurely and breaking. The last 2-3 wraps should not be over top of other previous wraps as this will make the string break more easily. Never force a peg into the hole as you can damage the peg box, even crack it. If the peg doesn't stay put when you push it in, see the section on why pegs slip; always tune up to the note and never down to it. Make sure that you are turning the correct peg for the string you are tuning or you can easily break the string. 

10. Tighten it up but not all the way, using an electronic tuner if you need it, and tighten the string to about 1 note lower than the end desired pitch. 

11. Repeat this process on all the strings you plan to change.  Keep an eye on the bridge to make sure it is still standing straight with its back side (that facing the tailpiece) perpendicular to the violin top.

12. When you're through changing the strings, tune up all the strings just slightly above the proper pitch (no more than 1/2 note high. You will need to adjust the tuning a few times for the strings to settle in.  If you are using gut strings it may take a full week to "break" in the strings.  

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Why Strings Break

 

Strings today are manufactured to such high quality that it is almost impossible for a string to break without help. The following is a list of common locations where strings break and their cause.

        1. Breaks at fine tuner: the string was installed incorrectly and the tuner sides are pinching the sides of the string causing it to break. See the instructions above for proper installation of soft centered thicker strings.

        2. Breaks at the tailpiece slot: the string was installed into a tailpiece whose slots are too tight for the string and is pinching the sides of the string causing the string to break. Have a repairmen adjust the width of the slot for proper clearance.

        3. Breaks or unravels at bridge: the bridge slot is either too deep or too rough and the string is being pinched. Have a repairman adjust or replace the bridge.

        4. Breaks or frays in the playing area: the string can wear from considerable use-- some players change their strings as often as every 4 to 6 weeks due to the amount of playing time. The more you play, small amounts of the metal are worn away and the string gets thinner and can start to fray or break. An uneven fingerboard can also cause this wear, have a repairman resurface the fingerboard. Sharp fingernails or acidic skin can also eat through the metal jacket of the string.

        5. Breaks at the nut: like the bridge, a rough or too deep notch in the nut can cause fraying or breakage of the string. Have a repairman repair or replace the nut. Excessive tuning from improper fitting pegs (they slip often) can also cause breakage.

        6.  Breaks between the nut and peg: In almost every case, this breakage is caused by tuning the string too high. This is the weakest part of the string, where it goes from metal to thread wrapped, and an over-tuned string puts too much force on the string; strings are only capable of being tuned a couple of notes high.

        7. Breaks where the string meets the peg: especially on the E and G strings, the string can get caught between the edge of the peg box wall and the hole for the peg. Be sure to properly wrap a string onto the peg so that the last winding does not forcibly press against the peg box wall.

        8. Breaks in the winding's on the peg: if the string hits the bottom of the peg box, it can be worn through. Be sure to properly wind the string without numerous layers over top of one another. If the string still hits, than the instrument should be taken to the repairman for more space to be added under the peg for proper clearance.

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Shoulder Rests

 

 

 

Only you can determine if a shoulder rest makes it more or less comfortable to play the instrument. There are over 25 different kinds and varieties, original designs and cheap import copies. The shoulder rest is an accessory that can be found on violins and violas. It may be made of wood, aluminum, carbon fiber or plastic. The shoulder rest attaches to the edge of the back of the violin with rubber padded feet or soft plastic. The shoulder rest is used to make it more comfortable while playing by adding height to the shoulder and preventing the instrument from slipping. A shoulder rest follows the curve of the shoulder; some shoulder rests are more bendable than others, some are made of sponge-like material. It is a relatively recent invention, and it is quite commonly used by modern violinists and violists. Depending on a persons body type and style of clothes, some musicians need no more than a thin sponge, a cloth or sometimes nothing at all under the instrument. No matter what body type you have, there is a shoulder rest that can work for you. Most music stores only carry a couple models whereas a good violin shop will stock most of what is available. For some people that have extra high necks, an alteration may need to be made, a foot extension (standoff screw) can be attached to one or both legs of the shoulder rest to increase height.  These are found at some of the better violin shops and are available in different lengths. 

Pros and Cons

There are two common approaches to playing without a shoulder rest. The first is to hold the violin horizontal by supporting the instrument with the left hand at all times. This usually decreases the mobility of the thumb during shifting and requires that the thumb never leave the neck of the violin in order to support the instrument. The second approach is to support the instrument almost fully at the neck-shoulder region, often requiring the use of some form of padding beside the collar bone to bring the violin closer to the jaw and to hold the instrument in place. Some violinists may even raise their shoulder to achieve this, particularly when shifting positions and when using vibrato. Problems frequently surface while doing this, such as constant muscle tension which obstructs fluidity of technique, and may lead to injury in the long term. These problems can also arise from incorrect usage of shoulder rests.

A shoulder rest can dampen the instrument's tone by decreasing the vibrations of the back of the instrument although I find it to be exactly the opposite with some shoulder rests. Many modern clamp on shoulder rests only touch the very edges which vibrate very little. Vs the shoulder that can dampen the sound considerably.

A number of years ago I conducted a scientific experiment using two professional violinists, one that normally used a shoulder rest and one that didn't. I had them both play using their own instruments and a dozen or so shoulder rests or pads and none at all.  The test was done in a 500 seat theater using high end professional digital recording and analysis equipment (I have spent many years working as a volunteer at this theater as the sound engineer). The results, although not huge in difference, showed that the typical clamp on rest allowed for more volume and more overtones while the pad that touched the back of the instrument as well as no shoulder rest dampened the volume.  None of the results were so overwhelming and in the end it is the players comfort that should dictate the use or not of a shoulder rest.

A Shoulder rest, whatever its design, is an accessory to facilitate holding the violin. This can lighten the task of the left hand, enabling smoother and lighter shifting technique. All rests must make a compromise between violin support and freedom (or flexibility in holding the violin). There are a number of soft rests (generally anatomy friendly) and harder or rigid rests on the market.

People with short necks may find that shoulder rests do nothing for them. In my test, both players thought that the instrument sounded best without a shoulder rest and were astonished with the factual scientific results. In discussing this discrepancy, we came to the conclusion that it was the sound vibrating through the players bones that gave them this feeling. When they tried playing with just a folded handkerchief, much of this feeling was lost.

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Chinrests

 

 

 

There are many styles of chinrests. Most are named after famous players or makers like Strad, Guarneri, Kreisler, Flesch and Kaufman. There are many models and most come in a variety of materials such as Ebony, Rosewood, Boxwood, Mountain Mahogany and Plastic. Only you can determine what is comfortable for you and often times it works best to pick a Chinrest and Shoulder Rest together for best fit and comfort.

A chinrest is a shaped piece of wood (or plastic) attached to the body of a violin or a viola to aid in the positioning of the player's jaw or chin on the instrument. The Chinrest was invented by Louis Spohr in the early 19th century in response to increasingly difficult repertoire which demanded freer left hand techniques than had previously been used. It gained quick acceptance among most violists & violinists and is today considered a standard part of the viola and violin.

The attachment consists of a metal bracket that hooks over the edge of the back, clamped onto the instrument by means of two threaded barrels connecting it to screws on the chinrest.

Types and options

Today, there are at least 25 different models of chinrests available to choose from, one of the most popular being the Guarneri type, which attaches centered over the tailpiece with the cup for the chin to the left of the tailpiece. Other types attach to the left, but either type must be placed so it does not touch or buzz against the tailpiece or belly of the instrument. Some players prefer a chinrest with the cup centered over the tailpiece like the Flesch chinrest. Different chinrest manufacturers make the same model with different heights and shapes.

Pressure from the chinrest against the player's skin can result in an irritation known as "fiddler's neck." It can also be caused by bacteria or fungus living on the wood or by an allergic reaction to the metals used in the chinrest. Some players prefer to use a cloth such as a handkerchief, to cover the chinrest, to avoid this irritation and make playing more comfortable. Several types of padded fabric slipcovers, Chin Chums and Strad Pads are also commercially available. They not only cover the chinrest cup, but also extend to cover the metal clamp hardware  Hypo-allergenic chinrests (with plastic or titanium fittings) are also available.  General music stores will only carry the cheaper student models, so go to your local violin shop and they can help fit you with the model that suits your body type.

Fit 

The chin rest needs to fit the player well, just like the shoulder rest and the proper combination of both is essential.  A properly fit chin rest can create better posture and support for the instrument. A poor fitting chin rests can cause problems like jaw clenching, neck aches, headaches and other pains as well as sores.  The wrong chin rests can force a player to look to the right and to tilt their head to the left while forcing their head forward to allow the jawbone to hold the instrument securely. This forces the players to adjust their technique to make the instrument feel more secure and to minimize discomfort. This often means that the violin will droop which can lead to shoulder, neck and wrist pain. 

Because of all the issues related to proper fit, on line purchasing of a chin rest is really useless. Two primary things need to be considered when fit for a chin rest, the overall shape and comfort as well as the height.  Some jaw shapes work best with certain chin rest styles. A rounder more fleshy jaw will often work best with a flat plate style chin rest like the Kaufman. Rests with a higher ridge at the back are often preferred by players with a long, thin face.  The Brandt often works for a variety of different jaw shapes. 

A good height for a chin rest is one where there is a gap of about one finger width between the top of the chin rest and the jaw when looking forward - not up or down. A properly fit chin rest will give you the feeling of a secure hold on the instrument, the instruments weight is transferred closer to the collar bone making the instrument feel lighter and will lift the scroll making the overall posture better.

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Rosin

 

 

Rosin is a sticky substance, that is put on the bow hair to make it pull the strings of violin family instruments.  Each person has their own opinions on how a specific brand works for them. These are some observations that I have seen over the years. Following the rosin descriptions is some more general information on rosin. As new rosins come on the market I will try to stay up to date.

1. AB – This English rosin is a good dark rosin for all players. It is similar in quality to the Hill dark rosin and is very popular. It comes in a cloth wrapping and provides a smooth strong sound but not as clean and nice as Hill Dark.

2. Arcos Brasil Colophane – This professional rosin has a firm grip and with a smooth and clear tone.

3. Bernardel, Gustav – This French made medium light colored rosin is for violin, viola or cello. It is not too hard and not too soft making it powder well.

4. Carlsson Bass – This Swedish made rosin is very popular with bass players. It comes wrapped in foil inside a plastic cup. It is of a medium sticky consistency.

5. Guillaume – This French rosin provides a strong, smooth sound and comes in a fancy wooden container. It produces very little dust and has a firm grip on the bow hair.

6. Hidersine – This is a dark colored  professional rosin made in England that is on the softer side and grabs the strings more then most dark rosins. It is good for both beginners or advanced players who like a little rougher sound. The rosin produces more dust than typical dark rosins.

7. Hill Light – This light colored rosin that is made in England and used for violin, viola and cello. This rosin is a little sticky and allows the bow to produce a slightly more powerful sound than that of the dark rosin.

8. Hill Dark – This rosin is excellent for violin, viola, and cello and is one of the best selling rosins to professional players. It produces a smooth strong sound and is good in cold weather and dry climates. Although very dark, it is not soft. Made in England.

9. Jade – This French rosin comes in a velvet cloth wrap and is dust-free.  The rosin has a smooth yet very firm grip on the bow hair.

10. Kolstein – This American Rosin is known for its low powdering and smooth, easy bowing. They are all-weather rosins that have both softer and harder grades of cakes.

11. Millant Deroux – This rosin is made in France and it has two different grades, dark and light for all strings. The rosin is not as sticky as other rosin, but it holds well on most grades of bow hair.

12. Melos – The softer dark rosin is for the colder climates while the harder light rosins for the warmer climates. Made in Greece

13. Motrya Gold – This rosin has real gold melted into it.  It has consistent positive grip on bow hair and is hypoallergenic. Metallic rosins are a little harder on the hair.

14. Nyman Bass – This is a professional bass rosin made in Sweden. It is a harder grade rosin that has a medium level of stickiness, providing excellent grip.

15. Paganini by Andrea – Creates a strong grip on the bow hair and produces excellent clarity of tone on any solo instrument. They are designed for solo and performance players.

16. Pirastro Cello – This rosin is recommended for Pirastro cello strings. It produces a nice smooth sound and comes in a red, round cake. Made in Germany.

17. Pirastro Eudoxa –This soft, light amber colored rosin creates a bright tone and strong grip for Eudoxa strings. Made in Germany.

18. Pirastro Goldflex – Small flecks of gold inside the rosin allows for better grip on the hair, but tends to wear out the hair more quickly.  It provides players with a warm but brilliant tone.

19. Pirastro Gold – Gold Rosin is recommended for players who use Gold Label strings. This dark rosin has gold particles throughout the cake for better grip but cam wear the hair more quickly.

20. Pirastro Obligato – This rosin is recommended for Obligato strings. This dark rosin has a warm and strong grip.

21. Pirastro Olive – This German rosin is recommended for Evah Pirazzi and Oliv gut strings. This dark green rosin has a great grip on the bow hair and a nice dark sound.

22. Pops Bass – This light rosin is great for the beginner or professional player. It is very soft and produces a strong sound and quick response on any bass because it grips so well on the bow hair and the strings. Made in Texas.

23. Salchow – This medium dark rosin cake is made in New York. It provides the bow hair with a nice consistent and even sound. This professional grade rosin is very popular.

24. Super Sensitive Clarity– These rosins are made from a synthetic hydrocarbon resin compound that improves the clarity of the string response from playing with the bow hair. The hydrophobic material resists absorption of moisture, making it unaffected by humidity.

25. Baker's  - Two formulas are available, only from the maker and sometimes a 6 month wait is required.  It is made exclusively from live trees and made from recipes from Paganini's and Vuillaume's time.

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General Information on Rosin

What is Rosin?

Violin Rosin is a sticky substance that violinists use to make the hair on his bow pull the sound from their instrument. If a bow's hair has never been rosined it will not produce any usable sound.  Once the hair is rosined it actually grips the string and pulls it. Without the rosin's grip, the hair just slides over the string and you essentially hear nothing.

How is Rosin Made?

The basic ingredient in violin rosin is melted pine pitch which is the resin from pine trees. Some makers harvest the pitch from live trees and others from felled trees.  Each manufacturer has his own recipe. In addition to the basic pine resin, other resins may be added. Some add beeswax. Others even add metallic dust such as gold, silver, lead or copper flecks, saying that it adds to the rosin's ability to grip the string. The mixture is cooled and the thick mixture is poured into molds or wood forms to create the rosin cakes.


Is there any Differences Between Rosins Brands?

Rosin choice is very personal. Generally, the darker the rosin the softer it is. Softer rosins tend to be stickier. While stickier rosins produce greater grip on the string, they also produce a grittier sound. Harder rosins often produce more powder, while softer rosin leaves a kind of sticky, clingy mess, making things difficult to clean. But depending on the manufacturing processes and additives, the roles can be reversed. There are even dustless rosins that have been formulated for those that are allergic. A popular bass rosin is very light in color and also extremely soft, it will even run out of its container if left on its side. So you can't just go by color.   If the rosin is not sticky enough you will not produce the full sound that you desire. If it is too sticky you get a scratchy sound. Some people prefer rosin in the form of round cakes. Most student outfits come with cake of rosin mounted in a wood or plastic block. The rosin you like will depend on what sound and feel it has, it also depends on how you play, the characteristics of the bow, the quality and age of the hair, the type of strings and the current temperature and humidity. There is no perfect rosin for everyone, because everyone is different.


How Do I Rosin a Bow?

When applying rosin to a bow the objective is to get as even a coat of rosin over the entire length of the hair as possible. Too little rosin and the sound will be thin and wavering. Too much rosin and the dust will fall all over your bow and violin.

There are several rosining techniques, but the one I recommend is to use several short strokes at both tip and frog and then long slow strokes along the bow's entire length. Press the bow gently against the rosin and move it in both directions so that you collect rosin dust on both up-bow and down-bow strokes. Changing the position of the rosin as you use it so that a groove is not made in the rosin cake will let the cake last longer and will prevent you from wearing a groove in the rosin.

Putting too much rosin on the bow will just produce a cloud of rosin dust. Do not tap the bow or whip it through the air to remove any excess rosin as this can damage the bow. It is best to try the bow out after a number of strokes to see if you have applied enough.

Always avoid touching the hair with your skin as you can leave oils that will leave slick spots and not hold the rosin well. Rosin dust built up on the violin or bow can damage the finish and does not look good and keeps the instrument from vibrating properly and as such is harmful to the sound of the violin. 

Too much rosin dust buildup on the strings can also affect the sound.


How Frequently Should I Rosin My Bow?

Many things affect how much rosin and how often it is needed. The quality and age of the bow hair, the type and quality of the strings that are used, the temperature of the space you are playing in, the humidity level of the room, your playing style and the instruments quality and response all contribute. So it can be from every few hours to every few days. Students only need to rosin their bows every day or so. Applying 4 or 6 strokes will even out the layer of rosin on the hair. A thorough rosining after the initial time may almost never be needed.


Why Doesn't My New Rosin Work?

 Rosin comes off the cake better after it has been started. By starting I mean after it no longer has its new shiny surface. You can start any rosin by just doing the normal rosining procedure above, however it will take some time. Many people just want to do it faster.  Perhaps more than 50 years ago, someone decided that if you scratch the surface the initial rosining goes faster. This is probably true as the scratching has actually brought rosin powder to the surface, but along with the powder also comes small chips which create a less than ideal rosining surface for the hair. The scratches are below the rosins surface, meaning that the only use scratching does is to create the powder as the hair doesn't get down into the scratches.  This tale of needing to scratch the rosin may also have been started by someone that was using old dried out or inferior quality rosin. If you are going to scratch the surface the rosin with something other than the bow hair, the only good way is with fine to medium grit sandpaper. This scuffs the surface removing any oxidation and the hair will touch the entire cake. Some people use a bow that already has rosin on it and stroke the rosin a number of times to rough up the surface of the rosin. It is actually best to have the violin shop just put a little powdered rosin on the hair to start the process when you get the bow rehaired.

 

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Cases

 

 

 

There are lots of choices for cases running from those that sell for $30.00 to those costing more than $1000.00. The very cheapest cases aren't worth the money as they do not hold up. If you are going to spend less than $75.00 get a thermoplastic case. They aren't as pretty as the cloth covered ones but will last a lot longer. The difference between the $200 and $500 cases is not that much and the higher priced ones won't give you that much more for the money. Of all the cases I have seen, the Bobelock brand is the best for the money (many models under $200.00) along with the model 747 by SHAR. For Cello Cases also add in the Eastman cases as good for the money. Keep in mind if you are a viola player, I don't recommend buying a case over the internet. Viola's are so different in size, even if you have a 16" viola and buy a 16" case, it might not fit. Go to your local violin shop and try in person. The other problem with buying a case over the internet is the color, what one site calls red another calls wine and even if they call it the same thing the color could be very different from what you think it will be.

One very important thing when buying a good violin case is the support for the instrument. I strongly recommend a case with the suspension feature. It holds the instrument in the center of the case keeping the back of the violin from touching except at the neck and lower end by the Chin Rest. In addition the neck is strapped down. This keeps the violin from moving around in the case.

In case language, "Full French Fit" means that the case has a cavity the shape of the violin and then often has one large and two small pockets. A music pocket can be nice but don't put a lot into it as it can stretch out the pocket and damage the zipper. Also the extra weight of the top of the case with all that music can be hard on the hinges. If the case is a lightweight version this can easily rip the hinges from the case frame. "Subway Straps" are extra web strapping on the end of the case to allow for carrying it vertically instead of horizontally, this is very helpful when going through a revolving door.

Some cases have Hygrometers and Humidifiers built into the cases, most of these are not worth the extra expense. Not that you shouldn't humidify your case because you should. It is just that the ones supplied in the cases are cheap and give you a false sense of security. I was at a case manufacturer and saw a pile of the Hygrometers and every one had a different reading. They are a $1.00 item that adds $10.00 to the case cost. The Humidifiers don't hold much water and don't deliver much result. The best humidifiers use a product called Hydrogels, although even all of these are not created equal. The Stretto and Precipitube (which replaces the string tube) are the best, providing the highest level of humidification. In addition to a case humidifier, I also recommend an instrument humidifier, specifically the Dampit (fits in the "f" hole. You can make a case humidifier by getting a travel soap dish, drilling some holes in the top and inserting a sponge. No matter what brand of humidifier you use, once the humidity level gets below 40% you need to regularly add water to it.

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