Strings: 101

by Laurinel Owen

Strings are made from basically three different core materials: gut, synthetic (nylontype) fiber and steel. Laurinel Owen discusses the advantages – and disadvantages.


For centuries strings were made from unwound gut (sheep intestines). Later, gut was wound with metal, such as silver, which increased the volume and decreased breakage. Gut has a very warm rich “colorful” tone that players seek. Unfortunately, it is highly unstable in varying humidity conditions, breaks easily, and takes many hours of playing before it will hold its pitch. Because the material is very supple the strings have a slow response and, though the tone is luscious, it is not powerful. Also, because of the increasing difficulty to obtain high quality gut, the cost is high. This is the ideal string for players who want their sound to blend in with others.

Synthetic fiber

“Dominant” strings (by Thomastik-Infeld in Vienna) were developed over 40 years ago as an improvement on gut and are now considered the world standard, though other manufacturers, such as D’Addario (Long Island) and Pirastro (Germany), make competing products. String companies have experimented with different materials, like Perlon, stabilon, or Zyex, trying to replicate the warm tone of gut while providing the player with the obvious advantages of a stable man-made product. Manufactured with a great variety of metal windings, synthetic strings are reliable, longer lasting and offer a robust “complex” tone in an easy to play string. Since the string is stiffer the response is superior to gut. Especially suited to violinists and violist these strings are the correct choice for the beginner, advancing student and professional player.


After the war, when gut became scarce, Dr. Thomastik invented strings made with a steel core. Today manufactures wrap the core, which can be twisted or braided, with metals such as nichol, aluminum, titanium, tungsten, chrome, silver and steel. Players, especially cellists, have come to rely on their powerful, direct, and transparent timbre. Fast responding with quick break in period these strings offer superior longevity. Because of their stiffness and high tension they may require the musician to use more strength or weight than gut or synthetic cores. Tuners should be used.

Putting on Your New String

Only change one string at a time!

After the old string is removed insert the thin silk-wound end into the peg’s hole keeping it free from crossing the other strings. Wind the string several times around the peg toward the peg knob (starting from the middle and winding toward your hand).

Insert the ball or knot end into the tailpiece or tuner. Make sure it catches in the hole of the tailpiece or prongs of the tuner.

Thread the string over the notches in the bridge and nut and tighten only to the correct pitch. Do not over tune!


  • Wipe the string with a cloth before you put on the instrument.
  • Avoid pulling the string. (This can stretch the core material.)
  • Play the strings immediately after tuning to correct pitch.
  • Always change the entire set so you don’t mix old with new strings.
  • Look to see that the bridge is standing straight and is in the correct position.
  • Make sure your bow has plenty of rosin. Extending the Life of the String
  • Do not over tune.
  • Wipe the strings clean after use. Rosin and perspiration build up will result in early deterioration of the winding.
  • If a cloth cannot remove build-up dampen a cotton ball with alcohol, turn instrument upside down (do not allow liquid to touch the varnish!!!), and clean strings. liquid to touch the varnish!!!), and clean strings.
  • Apply graphite (pencil lead) to the notches of the nut and bridge. This acts as a lubricant so the strings will slide easily helping to eliminate damage to the winding.
  • Slightly lower the pitch of synthetic core strings when traveling in an aircraft. Low humidity causes the material to shrink and the string may break. Your String’s Break-in Time

Tip: Break-in time can be decreased by running the entire length of the string through your thumb and forefinger (slightly bending the string) several times. Each time you pull the string through your fingers turn the string. This will increase its suppleness.

Change the Strings if …

  • the winding frays or it feels loose under your fingers.
  • the string no longer rings and sounds dull or woolly.
  • wolf tones increase.
  • fifths are no longer true.

This article was originally prepared at the request of the Thomastik-Infeld Company (manufacturers of Dominant strings) as a brochure and has been adapted.

House of Strings offers high quality, guaranteed violin, viola and cello outfits as well as instruments by Doetsch, Klier, Eastman and W.H. Lee at affordable prices. We also carry bows and cases and will rigorously search for your ideal instrument.100% trade up value is applied to all purchases. Come to us for expert advice. For an appointment call Laurinel Owen at 631-286-1592 or 335-2280.

Related articles and links:

  1. On The Wire: Behind the Scenes with Fan-Chia Tao: D’Addario’s Fan-Chia Tao takes strings apart and analyses them.
  2. Repairs and Adjustments: House of Strings will meticulously maintain or repair your instrument.
  3. The Way I Play: Gerhard Mantel Interview by Laurinel Owen in The Strad, July 2006 Vol. 117.

Discover Today…

House of Strings provides expert consulting for all levels of musicians, from students to seasoned professionals. We provide personal consulting to help you find your dream instrument.

House of Strings
78 Bellhaven Rd
Bellport, NY 11713 U.S.A.
Phone: 631.286.1592
By appointment only

House of Strings | 78 Bellhaven Rd., Bellport, Long Island, NY 11713 U.S.A. | Phone: +1(631)286-1592
By Appointment Only