STRING REVIEWS: A and D
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, Evah Gold 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. For string tensions, see String Tension Chart
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.)
Jargar A Special (medium) was a bright, brilliant, resonant string with quite a narrow, focussed sound. We missed the warmth of the Larsen Standard A. We felt that Jargar D Special had a warmer sound than the A, and on Robin’s cello the string was not at all out of place between a Larsen A and a Spirocore G. We did find that the response of the D string was more affected in the wolf note area in first position than we expected.
We then tested the Jargar A Superior (medium) which had a powerful, expansive tone (brighter and more powerful than Larsen A) with an honest, direct response and good projection. Altogether, the Superior A is a much more exciting string than a standard Jargar A. Jargar A Superior was favoured last October by an important young soloist whose cello we adjust. Four months later, he still finds the string much more resonant and successful than the standard Jargar A which he had used previously and he is still enjoying the string, although it slightly overpowers his Evah Pirazzi D, G and C strings.
We found the Jargar D Superior much more smooth and mellow than the A Superior. We experimented with various combinations of different tension A and D Superior strings in an attempt to find a good match, but without success; in each case, the A was significantly brighter and more textured than the D. Unexpectedly, we achieved a satisfactory result by fitting a Superior medium A with a Special medium D. It may be that the Superior A and D would work well for a cello that needs lots of extra texture and power on the A string.
Nicholas Jones also tried the Jargar A and D Superior (medium) on his cello and said that the strings were very comfortable to play for both hands and that their tone had more colour and warmth than a normal Jargar A and D. However, he felt that the Jargar D Superior string had less lustre than a Larsen string and had fewer upper partials than an Evah Pirazzi Soloist. Nick also felt that they slowed the response of his Magnacore G and C strings.
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 are fairly bright strings which have been developed as an alternative to Jargar and Larsen. They have proved to be excellent strings with great power, tonal depth and clarity, with more texture than Larsen Standard strings.
Passione A & D. These strings have a distinctively clear, fresh sound, a smooth texture and a colourful tonal core. Cellists also report that these strings have a quick, clean response and are easily tuned.
Warchal are an innovative Slovakian company producing a range of violin, viola and cello strings. Warchal Brilliant cello strings have an advanced synthetic core, and so have joined the family of synthetic core strings which includes Dominant, Aricore and Synoxa. We tested a full set of Warchal Brilliant cello strings on Robin’s Guadagnini model cello and have also received feedback from cellists.
The Warchal Brilliant A had a very quick response, a nice gut-style sound and was very comfortable under the left hand. Warchal Brilliant D was also very comfortable under the left hand and responded very readily under the bow. Both A and D had a warm, expressive, clear core sound with a distinct texture (the D string had more texture than a Spirocore G). We believe that Warchal Brilliant A and D have a more modern sound than Dominant A and D, with greater power, clarity and resonance and slightly less texture. They also blend surprisingly well with steel bottom strings. For players who want to work with very flexible, pliable top strings, Warchals are an interesting option.
Warchal have recently launched a new metal-core A string, called the Warchal Prototype A. We fitted this to Robin’s cello and we found it powerful, but a bit difficult to control on the open string. It has a similar timbre and feeling under the bow to a D’Addario Kaplan Solutions medium although it has a slightly harsher, more textured edge to the sound. Kaplan Solutions is a little more subtle in tone than the Warchal Prototype A and is a little easier to control on the open string.
Magnacore A reviews: The first cellist found that Magnacore A offered more power and tonal substance than his Jargar Superior A, and also had more focus, clarity and core. Cellist 4 found Magnacore A brighter and more powerful than a standard Larsen. Compared to his Larsen Solo A, cellist 2 said Magnacore A had a ‘stronger, thicker’ sound and felt very immediate in response and comfortable to play. Cellist 3 experienced more tension under the hand from a Magnacore compared to a standard Larsen A; the Magnacore also had more texture in its sound, but he decided that he still preferred the standard Larsen A.
Magnacore D: Cellist 1 said that Magnacore D had more power, clarity and colour than his Jargar Special D and performed better in high positions. Compared to Larsen Standard D, Cellist 3 found the Magnacore very powerful and deeply textured with a lighter and faster response. Although Magnacore D offered more character and interest, cellist 3 decided he preferred the smoothness and clarity of the standard Larsen D. Cellist 2 found the Magnacore much better than Larsen D, providing greater strength and a very good relationship with Magnacore A. However, cellist 4 found Magnacore D too aggressive for her cello, and decided to stay with standard Larsen D.
The Magnacore set: Two of the cellists we interviewed now use a full set of Magnacores: cellist 2 finds them very well balanced and even, and feels more confident of being heard clearly in piano quartet performances. Cellist 5 describes her set as the most splendidly responsive strings she has ever played; she loves their ‘warmth and breadth’ and describes them as ‘the Rolls Royce of strings’. Magnacores certainly offer an appealing blend of power, tone colour and texture, combined with a very quick response, and can colour and strengthen cellos which need more focus and brilliance. However, on open, bright cellos, these strings can sound a little ‘brash’ and aggressive.
Evah Pirazzi (EP) Gold A: Cellist 1 found that EP Gold A had a more muted, narrow slightly nasal sound than Magnacore A and he also detected some extraneous noises in the sound compared with the ‘cleaner sounding’ Magnacore. Compared to Magnacore A, cellist 3 felt that EP Gold A had a thinner, darker sound and a lower tension under the left hand and this sense of lower tension seemed to free up the sound of the cello overall. He much preferred EP Gold to Magnacore A; he liked the gut-style texture and felt he could express himself more freely and pleasurably. He found the EP Gold A had a less metallic and broader sound than a standard Evah Pirazzi A and had more texture than a standard Larsen A. Ultimately he returned to a standard Larsen A for its ‘magisterial resonant sound’. He now uses EP Gold A on a different cello and loves the string in this context as it ‘hides the cello’s teeth’ without reducing its power.
Evah Pirazzi Gold D. Cellist 1 preferred EP Gold D to the A; he found it a darker sounding string than the A, with more bloom. He felt it had less clarity than Magnacore D, but he loved its resonance and ‘plaintive, old-world gut string sound’. He felt it brought out the natural mellowness of his cello and freed up the whole instrument. Cellist 3 found EP Gold D darker than Magnacore D and also very resonant, but he found it less musically flexible than EP Gold A.
Pirastro Perpetual Medium This new family of cello strings are making waves in the cello community. The Medium set is powerful, nicely rich in harmonics and the top strings have significantly more core than other Pirastro A and D strings. The Mediums have a distinctive and appealing grainy texture to their sound while the Soloists are much smoother and richer in texture. Several players have mentioned that these strings increase their wolf note a little. Perpetuals do take time to play in: a day or two for the top strings and up to a week for the lower strings.
Perpetual Medium feedback. Cellist 1: ‘They are well balanced, rounded, warm and powerful and feel good under the left hand. They took a good week to break in properly, but became rounder and warmer as they did. Initially the set was very powerful and lacked colour and the quieter dynamics were not easy. As they settled the range of colours and dynamic possibilities became easier to achieve. They respond well to the bow, have a lot of clarity and are even across the full set.’
‘The A & D feel a bit like Passione but with more power and roundness. The A settled quickly and sounds dark/full with a good dynamic range and projection. The D is a good match for the A but initially it felt a bit dead in 4th position but once it settled it was really lovely.’
Cellist 6: ‘The A and D were initially uninspiring when first fitted but quickly developed a depth and range of tone I would normally only associate with covered gut. The quality of the sound is lovely, quite like the Evah Pirazzi, but with more resonance and richness of tone.’
Cellist 3: ‘Perpetual A medium is deeper than a Larsen, smooth in texture and quite colourful. It gives the top end of the cello ‘wings’ and the instrument sounds fuller and with a nice balance between treble and bass. The effect is a powerful Italianate sound, with real life and momentum. The string has an ‘older’ timbre than a Larsen and I like its malleable feel. Cellist 5: ‘Medium A & D had an immediate response, lovely resonance and slightly grainy sound which made the cello sing.’
Versum. Thomastik Infeld have long been famous for their Dominant and Spirocore strings. Last year they released a completely new set: Versum. We find Versums a very good, cohesive set of strings with a distinguished, clear, sound.
Versum feedback: Cellist 7 liked Versum A but found it a bit simple in sound quality; he also liked the straightforward ‘steel string’ sound of the D but felt it was lacking in colour and sounds a bit nasal. Cellist 3 found the Versum A smooth and singing, with slightly less depth than a Larsen and less texture than a Jargar Superior D. Cellist 6 thought Versum A had a strong core, a textured edge to the sound and a nice quality once it had settled down. She sensed some tension in the string but it still felt malleable and had a nice range of tonal colours on her cello. Versum D felt tight and unresponsive under her left hand and bow and the grainy surface texture of the windings made it hard for her to shift smoothly.
Cellist 8 thought Versums had a lovely coherent sound and voice. The A was rich, refined and responsive, with depth, colour and clarity like a mezzo soprano voice and was easy to mould. The D was rich, clear, responsive and expressive and very good when played quietly, and made a good transition to Versum G which was rather harsh on the open string but direct, clean and bright when stopped. He decided to play Versum A, D and G with Arioso C for the next few weeks. After one month, he decided that the strings required too much effort to achieve contact and sound, so he returned to an earlier combination of strings.
Cellist 4: ‘The combination of the full set of Versums is excellent both on my older instrument and my modern cello. On the older cello the A and D are rich without too much mellowness or thickness, and are very lively. The bottom strings sit well with the upper strings. They resemble Tungsten Spirocores but I find them nicer. They are rounder in tone and they complement the upper strings well. The set is a real success – it’s great. They are my preferred strings on both cellos. On my modern cello, they are very even and give a range of colours with the lightest of touch. These strings give you lots of possibilities to explore.’
In April 2017 Thomastik released a new version of Versum A & D: Versum Solo. We have not yet conducted extensive trials but the feedback so far is extremely positive. We have found them to be remarkably good so far: refreshingly low in tension under the left hand and bow, rich, rounded and expressive in tone, with considerable power. Nicholas Jones was the first cellist to test them for us and this was his feedback:
‘I have been trying new strings with you for some time and these are the best I’ve tried to date. They sounded
great immediately but by 24 hours later were even better. The sound is very free and warm and yet the
volume range is the biggest I’ve experienced. I am especially enjoying the pliability of the string under both
hands. It is allowing me to shape the sound so easily. Other strings that have this quality have tended to
sound thin but these have a richness and a nice texture in the sound.’
For string tensions, see String Tension Chart