Selecting strings can be a complex and very personal issue and it would be fair to say that there are no specific rules. Today manufacturers are making many varied strings producing quite diverse and equally varied sound qualities.
Experimenting with different strings is perhaps the best way to track down the right kind of string for you. However this can be costly and confusing. Our vast experience of instrument voicing and set up enables us to offer individual advice on any specific issues regarding a selection of a string type.
Please email Paul Parsons via Strings Express with your question of string selection.
We supply a large range of strings and some of these are available in light, medium and heavy tension.
Light tension: are generally easier to bow when playing softly. Their main disadvantage is that will not play as loud as a medium or heavy gauge string. They can however be played closer to the bridge which can offset some of the disadvantages.
Heavy tension: these strings can be played louder and produce a stronger tone, however they are less responsive and therefor more difficult to play softly.
Medium Tension: Many players use medium tension strings, which are viewed as the optimum for the majority of instruments.
You may wish to adjust the tensions for your particular instrument. If you would like more volume and projection, try a heavy tension set. If you want to improve the bowing response for soft notes, try a light tension set. If you find that only one string has a problem and does not match the response of the others, you can select an alternative higher or lower tension for that particular string.
String stability refers to how well a string stays in tune over the course of time. String stability is affected mainly by temperature and humidity. Steel core strings are the most stable and gut strings are the least stable. Tuning stability is also affected by instrument stability. As wood expands and contracts, this too can affect the instrument pitch. Although Steel core strings are extremely stable, they are also very inelastic. Therefore, any change in the instrument will change the pitch. A synthetic core string will be more stable with tuning because it changes little with temperature and humidity. In general synthetic core strings are stable but sufficiently elastic to respond to instrument changes without changing pitch.
We are often asked - How often should I change my strings? Or How long will my strings last? Strings begin to deteriorate as a result of mechanical wear and corrostion simply by being played upon. The majority of modern strings have a winding of silver or aluminium over a synthetic, metal or gut core. Some strings will become unstable and sound false if the winding becomes corroded by use and perspiration or the winding is compromised, sometimes breaking over the nut or bridge. Corrosion of the string mainly on aluminium strings is noted when the winding becomes grainy, dark and dull grey in colour. Silver wound strings will often go black. If you observe this kind of discolouration and deterioration of the string surface, you can be sure that a string change is long overdue.
As musicians, sound and our ability to observe the sound we make is fundametally paramount. I always advise using this ability to note the end of a string's useful life. A new set of strings when settled in will give the qualitites of sound you require from your string of choice. When you begin to observe a subtle change in these qualities or a slight loss of resonance and quality, then this is also a time to change the strings. String life can vary from manufacturer to manufacturer with each type being quite consistent in its usable life, so you can usually begin to judge and predict when a change will be become necessary.
Installation and Care
Care in the mounting of strings will extend life and maximise performance. The principal hazards are binding and buzzing, both of which can be eliminated by careful attention to the grooves in the top nut. The grooves should fit the string diameters at the bottom and be well lubricated with soft pencil lead. The edge toward the fingerboard should be square and definite, to provide a positive termination for the open string. Excessive width at this point may lead to buzzing and intonation difficulties. The edge towards the peg box must be rounded downwards, especially toward the closest peg, to prevent binding that might cause the string to break when being brought to pitch. In fact nowhere in the path of the string should there be any sharp bends : all edges and corners at the tailpiece, bridge, top nut and pegs should be chamfered where they come into contact with the strings.
To prevent friction that might also overstress the string, the upper ends of the string should lead directly from the nut to the pegs without crossovers or rubbing the sides of the peg box. The last turn of the string should lies directly onto the peg and not crossed over another. It is not necessary to tie modern strings onto the pegs; the silking will prevent slipping if the first turn is crossed over itself. The following turns should lie neatly side by side.
Full size strings should not be used on small-size instruments; the silked ends are made especially flexible because sharp bends in the playing length can cause breakage, especially on the thicker strings. Strings for smaller instruments are also made to different tensions to compensate for shorter playing lengths.
On steel-core strings, bridge protector sleeves should be used when provided unless the bridge notch is already covered with parchment.
Break in Time
This refers to how well a string will stabilise in pitch and sound once it has been put on the instrument. In general; steel strings stabilise the fastest. Synthetic core strings take longer to stabilise, while gut strings take the longest.
The construction of the strings varies between differing manufacturers and may also vary within a given set of strings. The choice of construction for the strings cores is based on the perceived benefits to the sound, stability and overall balance of the string set on the instrument.
In general strings are categorised as follows:
Composite cores of steel strands and synthetic fibres
Multi- strand twisted steel cores
Braided Steel cores