I have been a violinist for 20 years, but with 3 two-year gaps. I now play in three churches and three prayer meetings in Chennai, India.
Strings, Strings and More Strings!
Which Violin String Set Should You Buy?
There are dozens of premium violin string sets available on Shar Music. Which one should you choose? And how can I decide what string set to use? There are so many available on the market!
This is not a simple choice, or an easy process, although it is highly enjoyable as you explore all the different colors and sounds your instrument can make. In practice, you need to try as many that have good reviews as possible to see which one is the best fit for you.
Some very expensive strings have not suited my violin, other cheap ones have retained clear tones for over a year. I have not tried some of the established premium sets, which is a big miss, but I am sincerely happy and content with the sound I have now, so I doubt I'll be trying them anytime soon.
Normally violinists mix in strings from different brands. You can have four strings from four different brands, in the extreme case. I have never done that but I am sure I will, once I get more of a chance. String selection in the Indian western violin market is terribly limited.
A Whole New World - Literally!
Being a Western Classical Violinist in India
India is famous for the Carnatic and Hindustani style of violin music. Western Classical violin is not common in comparison. However, recently, there's been a huge increase in the number of western classical violinists, mostly thanks to YouTube.
l studied the violin initially from Musee Musicals in Chennai. Although I started learning in 1998, it was only in 2005, after buying a Mach One shoulder rest from Singapore, that my violin started giving me a decent sound.
Credit to the Almighty God, of course - I surrendered my instrument to Jesus Christ in 2005, asking Him to bless me with the gift of making music, under the condition that I would play for Him and play only His music. I soon found that my prayer was seven years late, because of how many instant transformations there were after I started using a shoulder rest.
Indian violin has a flavor to its own, and now Indian violinists are making a mark on the global stage. My teachers were Girija Jayaram (7 years), Jachin Samuel (1 year), George Samuel (4 years - 3 years of which I suffered from a nerve injury, but this particular teacher (violin master is a better term) who sadly passed away recently was ever so kind), and Solomon Senthil (2 years). I also have three breaks of study in my violin playing, with three gaps of 2 years each - which, as any violinist will tell you, does not help!
But I have been playing with Emilian, Cyril, and Jerinho Fernandes of the Fernandes String Quartet in the Little Mount Prayer Meeting for over a decade. And that playing with recording professionals is by far the best teacher of them all - not saying my teachers were bad - on the contrary, they were all very highly skilled.
Being A Violinist is Hard - But the Results are Worth the Struggle.
Alice Violin Strings
Initial Exploration with the Pirastro String Sets
Like every beginner in India, I started out with Karuna Indian made violin strings. (However, if you are a beginner in India now, today, I highly recommend Alice Violin Strings from Amazon.com - quite sufficient and they don't break the bank - INR 400)!
For beginners today, Alice settles in instantly, has a decent tone, maintains its quality, and it is easy to make a rich sound. A definite must-buy if you are a beginner today and want to wait until you are more settled before you start buying premium strings.
Granada strings were my first rather premium set. and they cost INR 750. Granada settles in instantly, feels thin and smooth as silk. The E string is very soft and pliant, It was great for a few months.
I entered the world of the Pirastro violin strings sets. I started with Pirastro Piranito (1100 INR), Piranito settles in fast, gives beautiful flowing sound, and among my teachers, the late George Samuel used it.
I experimented with Pirastro Chromcor (3500 INR). Chromcor is by far the most sensitive string set I have ever used. Minute variations in finger placement lead to big changes in intonation. They break in quickly but were so sensitive that I couldn't maintain pure intonation, and I had to move on to another set. Pirastro Chromcor is the brand used by Cyril Fernandes and Emil Fernandes and is the standard brand of choice for the recording artists in the Indian Cine Artists Musical Association, the recording professionals in the movies made in Chennai, India. The sound quality is excellent and smooth.
I finally settled with Pirastro Tonica (1400 INR), which I used for several years, a new set around every 2 years. Tonica had the longest break-in time, the thickest feel, and the deepest broad tone I had got so far. Tonica was a good all-around choice for me and I used Tonica from 2006-2011.
USA-Quality Strings From KL, Malaysia
I started experimenting with other sets, and I tried out the D'Addario Prelude (3500 INR) and Pro-Arte (4500 INR) sets. Both were good, but I didn't use them for too long because I found that they felt much thicker and too different from what I was used to. So I can't really give a specification of my experience with them.
But then - my dad was posted to KL, Malaysia, and now I could get strings that were of much higher quality (face it - the Indian Western Violin market gets the rejects from the rest of the world).
So my next two sets were Infeld Red (5500 INR), and Infeld Blue (5000 INR) (Price is the INR equivalent of the Indonesian Ringgit bought from KL, Malaysia). Both were great, and I used them for four years. I later learned that they were meant to be mixed up with each other, and that they had different subtleties when mixed up. I did not do that since I didn't know about it and I put on the Blues and the Reds all together as two complete sets. (My bad!)
They were wonderful to use, had a low break-in time of a few days, and were warm and rich. They were wonderful to use because this was my first experience with the Thomastik Infeld brand, and I'm still a Thomastik fan. I have nothing against Pirastro, and their gut strings like Oliv and Eudoxa are said to be superior to the steel Thomastik string sets. I have never used gut strings and have always played on steel strings only.
My New Malaysian Violin
I bought the violin that I use now (fondly called Joanna) that I use from KL, Malaysia (Kuala Lumpur), from the Amadeus Violin Shop. Joanna is a Synwin violin made in 1984. On the advice of the luthier, we went for Thomastik Vision Strings. And he said that these violins also perform very well with premium professional strings.
Before using this violin, I had mostly used Chinese Granada violins - kind of the vanilla ice cream flavor of violin makers (Chinese - cheap). I had played the odd professional violinist's instrument, and was in awe of how well they sounded and how awesome they were to play.
Thomastik Vision was great. Rich sound, high quality, but did not last very long. They broke in fast and had a great sound for a reasonable price (4500 INR) but I used it for about 8 months and then had to switch to Thomastik Vision Titanium Solo.
Vision Titanium Solo cost roughly around 8000 INR and has been the set most suited to my violin to date. Even playing in a group of violinists, my sound is richer and fuller and stands out in comparison with the other violins. Definitely a soloist's choice!
Thomastik Vision Titanium Solo
The Best So Far
I have read online reviews about the Thomastik Vision Titanium Solo, and the prevailing consensus was that it did not suit all violins, unlike Dominants and Obligatos which were sure to sound amazing on any type of violin (acoustic - duh!). However, I have to confess that these strings were amazing to use and got the best sound out of the instrument that I had ever received.
It was so good to use and the experts say they last for years. This, I guess, justifies the high price, since most violin strings are changed every 6-9 months if you are a professional. They cost 96 USD in the USA (174 USD without a discount, but there always is a discount) after a discount on Shar Music.
Starting violin strings are 0-40 USD, there is a large set between 40-80 USD, and you can count the 80 USD+ strings as absolute premiums.
Having said that, a common violin string setup is Dominant G, D, A, and Pirastro Gold E. Which cost just 64 USD! Jerry Fernandes uses Dominants on his violin. I have never tried Dominants or the Obligatos, and I realize that is a very big miss after hearing the sound that professionals make. It's humbling to realize that you can devote the rest of your lifetime entirely to violin and never be as good as a professional in the recording industry. That's another standard altogether.
I'm an amateur. The Fernandes String Quartet (with Desmond Xavier playing the cello) is strictly composed of the best recording professionals available in South India. Every prayer meeting when all the violinists are free and able to come is a magical, transformational experience. Do drop by if you're ever in Chennai!
As for me, I've temporarily gone back to Pirastro Tonica after my violin was given a new varnish and am highly looking forward to buying a set of Thomastik Vision Solo violin string set (cost 90 USD), which, according to Shar Music, gives extremely bright and clear sound than even the Vision Titanium Solos.
Dominants with Gold E
Expensive Strings Help, But Are Not Magical for Beginners
A good violinist will always sound fantastic with professional strings, but out of experience, I can say that professional violinists are capable of getting good sound even from cheap strings.
Expensive strings are a bonus, but you cannot use them to hide your lack of expertise. Your skill is everything. The string sets help with the sound quality, nothing more. Of course, this is critical during performances, recitals, or recordings.
If you are a recording artist, you should definitely invest in high-quality strings.
The ground rule is to go for the most expensive strings you can afford - a little investment will go a long way and last for a year or more.
But I would say don't go in for even Pirastro Tonica if you have not been playing for at least two years, and the Dominants and Vision Solo series unless you've been playing for four years or more. Plain Vision is a good choice for a violinist of three years' experience. But it needs to be replaced every six months.
Thomastik Vision Solo
So, now you know my journey over 20 years (with three 2-year gaps) with my violin string sets. I guess you could say that the only one I have the best experience of is the Thomastik Vision Titanium Solo. And I can't wait for my next set, which will be Thomastik Vision Solo. They are so popular that right now www.sharmusic.com is actually out of stock of that particular string set!
Violin and music have changed my life forever. I am a qualified software engineer but I spend as much time with my violin as I do with the laptop while coding. And of course, I sing in classical vocal chorales (bass). And I feel my real long-term call is music. Software is a career and can also be a life, but for me, music is my life because I worship the Almighty God, Jesus Christ through it in various Catholic Charismatic Christian organizations and meetings, and of course, daily mass. And that gives me joy beyond compare.
I encourage you to try learning how to play the violin. There is no better time to do so than the Coronavirus lockdown. Trust me, the journey and the destination are both worth it, and I speak from experience.
A Magical World of Its Own!
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2020 Thomas Cherickal