Strings are a subjective matter, but there’s an argument to be made for having different guises strung on the ‘g,’ ‘d,’ ‘a,’ and ‘e.’
In J.S. Bach, specifically in the Sei Solo work, the bass, tenor, alto, and soprano voices all have their roll. If strings are of the exact same guise, then the distinctness of each voice will be minimal.
On the other hand, if one is to choose a unique string for each, then each voice will have a voice all its own, even if your fiddle is round and balanced between all strings in the first place.
Whether the great Soviet fiddle players were stuck with bottom-of-the barrel strings because of money issues, or whether some actually sought out metal strings, is not known to me. But fiddle players like Leonid Kogan, and to a lesser extent David Oistrakh put metal strings on their fiddles.
It’s a strange choice, considering how supple and warm gut strings are in contrast, but there’s something to be said for a fine fiddle strung up with metal strings.
I’ve been sold on this setup for years, and after a little bit a tweaking, I’ve arrived at a configuration that works well for me.
A gut ‘g’ sounds great, and Spirocore’s medium gauge tungsten has some of the bur of guts, but has all the perks of metal, too. For one, once it has an afternoon to get settled in, it rarely falls out of tune. The weather affects all strings, but metal strings don’t seem to be as bad, perhaps.
In contrast to the other metal strings, this special, though pricey ‘g’ really stands out in quality and in timbre.
The only standard of the Spirocore strings I use is the medium gauge ‘d.’ It has a direct and responsive quality, though it’s a little weak. The sonority is a little like a saxophone, so it contrasts nicely with the bur of the ‘g,’ and the roundness of the ‘a.’
It’s perhaps the string I’d most likely swap out given the chance, as it pales next to the other strings in sound production. However, the merits outweigh the limitations considerably.
I’ve heard that Anne-Sophie Mutter and David Oistrakh used a viola ‘a.’ It may be true, it may be not, but since the Spirocore has a full line of viola strings, their viola ‘a’ is a fantastic workaround for those wanting to stick with metal.
Their violin ‘a’ is just too slim, making fifths quite hard to execute, though like the ‘d’ mentioned above, the standard Spirocore violin ‘a’ is wickedly responsive.
Employing the medium gauge Spirocore viola ‘a’ is a powerful option that loses only a tad bit of responsiveness in exchange for great gains in sonority.
For a good while, I abandoned the Pirastro Gold medium loop ‘e’ in favor for some heavy gauge wounded options. But when I finally returned to Pirastro, I was reminded just how wonderful they truly are.
The ‘Gold’ is warm, has a sonorous quality in the upper range (unlike something like the wound Eudoxa, for example), and only squeaks when it’s getting old. The squeaking is such a concern for many for sure. But as long as the Pirastro Gold medium gauge is swapped often, there isn’t too much worry about those terrible squeaks. It should be said, that Eudoxa wound ‘e’ is fantastic for those who want to hedge against ever having a single squeak come their way.
(I’ve come to find that most squeeks can be overcome by a vigorous cloth-ing where there’s rosin.)
With this string setup, there’s a reliable, metallic quality amongst all four strings, but each string is given a distinct personality making it easy to champion the four voices of the violin; especially in polyphonic music like Bach’s Sei Solo.
Needless to say, there’s a million permutations with strings, and mine is just one of them. But do give some thought before mindlessly slapping on the standard set of Dominants as though it’s muscle memory. It’s probably the case that every player has a perfect string configuration.
UPDATE: Nov. 2022
I’ve come to appreciate the warm and glowing sound of the Westminster E-26 over the last months:
This string has power, a round start and end to the sonority, and is just an all-around great sounding string.