D'Addario's Fan-Chia Tao on Choosing the Right Strings
D'Addario's Fan-Chia Tao talks us through the process for finding your instrument's ideal string set
The enormous world of instrument strings can be overwhelming when one doesn't have a proper guide to be directed in a specific direction while we're searching for a certain type of sound colour or response. It is also often overlooked at how much an effect the choice of string affects both the playability and tonal qualities of the instrument. How can we then best select strings that match our instruments?
D'Addario Orchestral Strings' Research & Development Director Fan-Chia Tao shares his expert advice on the topic.
D'Addario's Fan-Chia Tao on How we can Choose the Right Strings for our instrument
There are more string choices than ever, so there’s probably a string that will enhance your instrument. But how do you find the right string? Recommendations from teachers, colleagues and friends are a good place to start, but what works best for them may not be optimal for you. Therefore, be willing to experiment and keep an open mind!
Bowing response can be just as important as the sound. Different strings can feel very different to the player, and to get the maximum potential from a string may require some changes in bowing technique and playing style, just like for any instrument.
Most strings are available in multiple tension grades, such as heavy, medium and light.
The main effect of tension is to change the playing response of a string. A heavy tension string has more mass, and will exert more force on the instrument and sound louder for the same bowing conditions. However, they are also harder to bow and play softly. A lighter tension string can be played closer to the bridge and may allow more tonal possibilities. An often overlooked tool for optimizing your string selection is to adjust the playing tension for only one or two strings in the set.
Materials have a large influence on string sound and behavior, but the way they are used is just as important, so don’t fixate on just the materials. The actual result with your own instrument is always most important.
Playing and bowing styles have evolved over time and modern players use more bow force and play closer to the bridge than players from 50-100 years ago. Most modern violinists use synthetic core strings because traditional gut strings cannot tolerate this type of bowing style, while cellists have to use steel core strings. Violists are split between synthetic and steel cores.
Steel core strings come with a disadvantage of sounding overly bright and edgy when new due to the inherently low damping of metal. Several string manufacturers have created effective damping compounds which are added to the inside of strings. This reduces or eliminates the break-in period, and allows the design of warm sounding steel core strings.
Many of today’s players want more tonal variety and more texture to their string sound without sacrificing power and projection. String manufacturers are responding with new strings to meet this demand, so be open minded and willing to try new strings. You may be rewarded with a better sounding and easier to play instrument without having to buy a new instrument!
Do you have an idea for a blog or news tip? Simply email: [email protected]
An Engineering graduate of Caltech and Princeton University, Fan-Chia Tao currently serves as Director of Research & Development at D’Addario & Company, in Long Island, New York. He is a co-founder of the Violin Society of America Oberlin Acoustics Workshops and served an instrumental role in a number of pioneering acoustics research projects – including the 'Vieuxtemps Project' and the 'Indianapolis' and 'Paris Double-Blind Experiments'. Fan is also an accomplished violinist, violist and an avid chamber musician.