So, Passione are the latest gut-core strings from Pirastro, and have been developed many years after the Oliv strings, possibly the most famous gut-core strings. Was it time for a new take on gut strings, or have new synthetic varieties made the need for sheep gut a thing of the past?
I think it would be easier to discount the gut versus synthetic question if it wasn’t for that mysterious quality that gut strings can produce; the complexity of sound with a gut core string. It’s hard to define, but it’s intuitively obvious when you think about it, a natural material is likely to have more complexity than something man-made like nylon. (think of carbon fibre bows versus the best pernumbuco; the carbon bow may be capable of being reproduced many times in an identical way, and performing reliably and predictably. However, few would argue that carbon fibre bows, even at the top end, are going to compete with the best Hill & Sons Ltd or Sartori. However, therein lies the potential downside of gut, of course there may be the potential for variation and gut responds to the environment around it more than a synthetic core string would.
Of course when we’re talking about gut strings, we mean something with gut at the core, covered, wound, with a metal material, and there is much variation in this method and material used. Pirastro say that Passione, like Oliv, are hand-made when it comes to the gut element. The D and G strings are silver covered, and the A aluminium. Passione strings are without the multiple variations as with Oliv in terms of variations and materials (but perhaps needed with Oliv to try to mitigate the potential pitfalls of gut)
Pirastro are clearly keen to promote the idea that these are gut strings with the stability of synthetic core strings. They are different to Oliv and Eudoxa in that they don’t have the traditional ‘loop’ end to the D and G strings, but the A, D, and G all have the ball end we’re used to with synthetic strings. It is certainly the case that Passione settle quicker and are more stable than Eudoxa or Oliv, but they are of course going to respond to the environment more than synthetic core strings – the question is: is the variation within acceptable levels for today's musicians, and does the quality of the sound outweigh any potential downside? This question is very much down to the particular instrument and player, and type of music-making they are involved in, but probably the answer is yes.
The A, D and G strings do seem to have that wonderful warm and interesting quality with gut core strings, the complexity of overtones previously only experienced with Oliv or Eudoxa. They are responsive, feel good under the fingers, very smoothly wound, but the E string therefore seems a little ‘ordinary’ in comparison, and violinists may wish to marry a different E string with the Passione A, D, and G, something like Hill or the wound Eudoxa E.
For variation in responsiveness, attack and brightness or tone, you can experiment with the 3 different gauges. For a more exciting option people may find that the Passione Solo strings are more to their liking. These strings are only available in medium, but they are thicker than the medium gauge regular Passione strings and therefore slightly higher tension..
Ultimately they are probably a compromise; more reliable like synthetic, but with a more complex tone. The problem with compromise is possibly not being one thing or another – do they really have the same complexity of sound as the legendary D and G Oliv strings, but if you want to experience gut without as much of the worry, they’re definitely worth trying.