Set-up - an introduction

Guide to cello measurements
What is a full-sized cello?
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Taming wolf notes
Humidity and cellos
Understanding cello varnish
Sound post cracks
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The challenge of trying cellos
Left hand comfort for cellists
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Cello cases - survey report
Funding for cellists
Healthy cello backs
Cello benefits
Review of A and D strings
Review of G and C strings
New cello strings 2009

New cello strings 2013
Survey of string design
G.B. Guadagnini's cellos
Study of 1729 Guarneri cello
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Review of A and D strings

Jargar Until the introduction of Larsen strings in 1991 these were the most popular upper cello strings.  Jargars are still widely valued for their smooth and dependable sound which gives a solid, neutral foundation on which players can build their own tone colour.  They are good value and are quick to play in.  (Beware - A strings break easily if they are over-tuned.)

Larsen Standard and Soloist
Larsens are probably now the most popular cello upper strings.  The sound of Larsen Standard strings is more colourful than Jargar and they   blend better with gut lower strings.  Larsen Soloist strings have a smoother sound and a more solid core than the Standard range; the Soloist sound is halfway between a Larsen Standard and a Jargar.

 On some cellos it is useful to mix Standard and Soloist Larsens in order to balance up tone colours.  Larsens need virtually no playing in, but some players say they are rather quick to play out.  For their survival they also need correctly filed string grooves.

Thomastik Dominant:
 The Dominant D is useful when a very flexible string is needed as a transition between A and G.  The A has a very fragile winding and is difficult to tune up to pitch without damage.  Allow plenty of time to play in.

Pirastro Permanent: Permanent A and D are very bright and have a lot of texture in their sound.  The Permanent A can be an excellent solution on dark sounding instruments but can sound tinny on some brighter cellos.  The D string has tremendous definition and brightness and can be a useful solution for cellos with an over-soft second string.  Permanents are long lasting and take time to play in.  They are more pliant under the fingers than a Jargar or Larsen.

Pirastro Evah Pirazzi Standard and Soloist:
These are pliable but not as bright as Permanents.  The Standard strings blend well with gut lower strings while the ‘Stark’ tension Standard strings give more core sound.  The Soloist A and D have a nice balance of tone colour as well as a good core sound and are a good alternative to Larsen.  Allow 2 weeks to play in.

D’Addario Kaplan Solutions
These strings have just replaced the D’Addario Unicore A and D.  They are fairly bright strings which have been developed as an alternative to Jargar and Larsen.  More on these strings as soon as we have reviewed them thoroughly!

Sound qualities
We find it useful to analyse the sound of strings using three factors: brightness, colour (resonance) and core.  Brightness is caused by the highest frequency overtones; colour is created by the resonant qualities of the string while the core is the fundamental sound quality of the bowed string. 

Playing style: There are two main groups of A and D strings.  One group (most typically Jargar and Larsen Soloist) are designed for players who use heavy bow pressure and want a powerful core sound.  The other group (Permanent, Evah Pirazzi and Dominant) are more related in style to traditional gut strings.  They are more pliant and lend themselves to faster bow strokes and are also brighter and more resonant than the first group, but they have a less palpable core sound.

Core construction is an important feature of a string as it determines playing tension, flexibility, longevity, speed of response and tonal characteristics.  Windings also affect the sound quality.  The elasticity of a string determines its feel under the left hand (how easy or difficult it is to press the string down onto the fingerboard) and the bowing style.  The tension of a string affects the balance of the cello’s set up.  Paradoxically, higher tension strings can either choke or free a cello’s response and generally exacerbate wolf notes.


* NB Most manufacturers publish string tensions for A-440Hz tuning and a vibrating string length of 700mm.  However, Pirastro's published  data is based on a  690mm string length.  We would like to thank Professor Jim Woodhouse of Cambridge University's Engineering Department for confirming that 3% is the correction to apply to make Pirastro's data comparable to other manufacturers.  We have stated the adjusted figure in brackets after Pirastro's published data.

String   Date released Core Material Windings Medium Tension (lbs)
A                D
Prim 1945 Single steel core Chrome 34.9            26.2


Single metal core Alloys 37.4            31.7
Dominant 1970 Multi-strand synthetic core Chrome 30.9            24.9
Larsen Standard 1991 Single metal core SF/Alloy (A)
Al/Alloy (D)
39.3            29.7
Larsen Soloist 1993 Metal single core SF/Alloy (A)
Al/Alloy (D)
40.7            29.7
Permanent 1996 Steel core Chrome 37.1 (38.2)*  31.4 (32.3)*
Evah Pirazzi 2004 Steel multi-core Chrome 38.9 (40.1)*  30.8 (31.7)*
Evah Pirazzi Soloist 2005 Steel multi-core Chrome 38.9 (40.1)*  28.6 (29.4)*
Kaplan Solutions 2005 Solid steel core Nickel (A) Titanium(D) 39.0           31.0

 SF = Synthetic Fibre;   Al = Aluminium

For more on core materials, see Core Strategy - a survey of strings

For our G and C string review, see Review of G and C strings

© Robin Aitchison and Sarah Mnatzaganian 2005.  Fully revised and updated 2009

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