These days there is more choice than ever when choosing strings, and it can be expensive to experiment and discover that something isn't the best choice for your instrument (it's all very personal and specific to your instrument afterall) so we'd like to help by beginning to discover and explain more for you about the strings on offer so that it may save you time and money in trying new things.
It's not as simple anymore as steel bad, gut good but unreliable, but let's begin with some basics.
Doubtlessly, many a violinist has had to struggle with the eternal conundrum: what strings to buy? Steel, synthetic or gut? Most violinists tend to choose either of the latter two, but still it remains a difficult problem.
Before we begin: steel strings are the most durable, followed by synthetic strings. Gut strings come in last on this front. On the other hand, gut strings possess the richest tone, followed by synthetic strings. In last place, we have steel strings.
These strings often come along with cheap beginner instruments, because they are cheap to manufacture, and because they are virtually indestructible, being able to withstand almost any kind of abuse. However there are now more sophisticated steel strings for the student market such as Pirastro Chromcor, and the like, and for the cello there are innovations such as the Passione set of strings which brings the bright benefits of steel to the A and D strings, with the warmer G and C in gut.
Metal strings can be harsher, brighter, but speak more immediately and can be very responsive. Violinist will struggle over deciding between the bright steel E strings, or the more expensive wound strings provided in set such as Dominant, Eudoxa and others.
Synthetic strings are a compromise between steel strings and gut strings, promising both satisfactory durability and richness of tone. Synthetic strings have come to dominante in recent years with innovations in the way in which the strings 'speak', colour of the sound and durability. For example, Evah Pirazzi strings are bright synthetic strings, whereas Obligato are also synthetic violin strings, but produce a darker sound. Their comparatively low price, and a good balance between rich overtones, tuning stability and durability make them an easy bet.
Synthetic strings are generally made of engineered nylons or other composite materials, judged to be able to produce tones that do not have the faults of steel strings, while approaching the tone of gut strings.
Nowadays, when we refer to gut strings, we usually refer to strings that have a gut core, rather than pure gut strings. The classic got core strings are the leading strings from Pirastro Eudoxa and Oliv. Either way, these strings are the most high-maintenance and expensive strings you will ever purchase, but they are able to produce rich and complex overtones that justify their cost. They don't last as long as synthetic strings, and their pitch tends to vary with changes in temperature. However, if you are able to afford them on regular intervals, you may well find yourself addicted to the sound. Again, recent innovations have changed the status quo again, with sets such as Passione from Pirastro providing an updated take on gut strings with greater durability and reliability.
This is just a beginning, and we'll begin to look into brand and types of strings in more detail with articles on a regular basis.