What kind of strings do you need?
There are 3 main types of string cores, gut, steel, and synthetic. After you choose the string core, then you need to choose the kind of wrapping, gold, aluminum, chromium or other kinds of metal.
Gut strings have been used since the conception of the violin family of instruments in the 17th century. The natural fiber, made from sheep intestine, is either plain, with no metal winding, or wound with different metals to give the string the specific weights needed. Gut strings take weeks to break in and fluctuate pitch greatly with changing humidity, requiring lots of retuning. Because gut strings stretch so much, fine tuners are almost useless, so you better be good at tuning with your pegs before trying gut strings. Gust strings can be moderately to high priced. Gut strings also wear out relatively quickly, usually within 6 months of moderate playing. Older instruments tend to have gut strings on them because of the lower tension and warmer sound. Synthetic strings are being developed to give the sound of a gut string, but with greater stability and lifetime. Because the gut strings are a natural fiber each string can have a slightly different sound to them. Gut strings have a warm sound with lots of complex overtones, making them ideal for professional players and serious students alike.
Steel core strings, introduced in the late 1950's, are a great student string. They have the shortest break in time, stay in tune well, and are relatively low priced. A lot of student instruments are fitted with steel core strings. Steel core strings last a very long time, years possibly, and are a great backup string to have in your case because of the ease of tuning them up and staying in pitch. Steel strings have a very stark sound, lacking depth and complexity of gut, with few overtones and tend to have a very bright sound.
Synthetic core strings, introduced into the mass market in the 1960’s, are considered the best of both worlds. They can last a long time, but have good overtone ranges. Most synthetic strings are based on some type of nylon (basically plastic) strands wrapped together with a variety of metal windings around them. Synthetic strings are good at recreating the sound of gut strings, with their warmth and complex sound, but lack the depth of gut strings.
Windings are a whole different ball game, or should we say orchestra concert. We’ll discuss a few of the most popular here, gold, nickel, aluminum, and tungsten.
Gold is primarily used as plating on violin E strings. It reduces the shrillness of hitting the E strings during fast string crossings and heavy, loud playing.
Nickel is used to add weight to a string. it is used as the standard wrapping on most standard sets of strings. It adds a darker sound to the string, without adding to much weight or thickness to it.
Aluminum is also used to reduce the piercing and whistling of violin E strings. It does add to the thickness because unlike the gold that is electroplated to the string, it is wound, culminating in a much thicker feel under the fingers.
Tungsten, used on expensive cello strings almost exclusively, adds a great deal of mass without adding to the thickness of a cello G- or C-string. These strings feel much thinner under the finger and bow compared to a nickel wound string, and are easier to start and stop than a standard wrapped string. The tungsten wrapping also adds to the overtone range of these lower strings. With the added mass to the string it tends to ring longer due to the momentum of the string.
One more thing, Soloist sets of strings are very similar to a standard set of strings, but with one important difference. The tension of the set is usually higher. The added tension makes the strings louder and cuts through a full orchestra playing behind you better. This creates more stress for the instrument to have to cope with. Before putting on a soloist set of strings, ask your local string repair shop if your instrument can handle the stress.