The world of strings is a universe where you can easily get lost. The knowledge of some technical parameters, however, can help us to see more clearly and orientate our choices.
Don’t forget that the sound of a string depends first of all on whoever makes it vibrate. A string doesn’t play by itself, and your best guide should be your own ears.
The sound also depends on your instrument, which should be set up to suit you.
A string is made of two elements : the core and the mettalic windings.
The core can be made of synthetic gut fiber or metal. Most of the gut strings have an over-winding of another material: they are called wound strings.
A string made of animal gut, without being metallic wound is called : a pure gut string.
Different materials are used for the wire that is wound around the strings : gold, silver, aluminium, nickel (chromed steel), steel, titanium, tungsten (wolfram), brass…Of course, each material has its own characteristic sound.
The pure gut strings have a tendancy to give a warm and soft sonority. They are used mostly for baroque music.
Wound gut strings have a very soft sound with a deep tone, thanks to the elasticity of their gut core. These strings are quite sensitive to temperature and humidity.They are usually used without a fine tuning adjuster.
Synthetically spun strings have a powerful sound with a rich and warm tone. Their sound characteristics are close to that of the gut strings, but not completely the same. They are much less sensitive to temperature changes and humidity, therefore they are more stable intonation-wise, and hey are also easier to play.
Metal spun strings are the most powerful ones . Their tone is clear and their sound is very direct.They are not sensitive to humidity and are more solid than the other strings. It is preferable to use fine tuning adjusters for the high strings.
The diameter of the string directly affects the sound that is produced, that is why it is important to choose the diameter carefully, and not to be afraid to try different ones.
We speak about diameter, thickness, gauge or tension of the string. Most strings are available in 3 gauges : medium, light and heavy.
As for tension, this is a parameter that increases along with the string diameter, giving the string a more powerful sound. The stronger the tension, the bigger the volume, but also the slower the bow will react (which can be a problem in the pianissimos…). On the other hand, if the string is thinner, it will produce less volume.
Maud Rouchaléou, for Cordes et Âme
translated in english by Hannelore Guittet and Kate Goodbehere