Sound qualities: We find it useful to analyse the sound of strings using three factors: brightness, colour Stringman(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 A & D: 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 A & D: 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 A & D: 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 A & D: 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 A & D: 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.
PIRASTRO 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.
Warchal A & D: 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.
Warchal Amber (2016) A & D synthetic core strings and Warchal Amber metal core A string.
Testers were asked to judge the strings for the following criteria: feel of bow contact, speed of response under the bow, power and projection, feel under the left hand, ease of shifting, balance in all registers, sound colour variation, brilliant/dark/rich sound, fortissimo/pianissimo colour/capability and playing in time, with 5 as ‘very good’ and 1 as ‘not good’. They were also asked if they would be happy to use the Warchal Amber set in future.
Cellist A has a Betts cello and was using a full set of medium Evah Pirazzi Gold strings before testing Warchal Amber. She found the metal core A ‘a little too metallic for my taste; although it gives a brilliant, clear sound, it can be a little piercing.’ She much preferred the synthetic core A string which scored between 4-5 in all categories. Playing in took 4 days for the metal core A and 2 days for the synthetic core A. The D string scored well, but the player ‘could not produce the same quality of sound at the top of the string’ so it scored 3 for fortissimo colour in top register. Playing in: 4 days. Cellist A would happily use these strings in future on her cello for their brightness of tone, their sound and their feel under the left hand.
Cellist B plays a Guadagnini copy by Robin Aitchison and was using a full set of Thomastik Versums before testing the Warchal Amber set. He found the metal core A string enjoyable to use but would prefer the synthetic A if playing chamber music, as he felt the metal core A lacked darkness of sound and also was less effective at achieving pianissimo. Metal A playing in time: 3-4 days. He preferred the synthetic A overall but thought it might lack power for orchestral solo work. Playing in: 2-3 days. The D string was less successful on his cello: ‘The string does not perform well above the first octave. It takes a lot of effort to play Boccherini.’ Playing in: 7-10 days. Cellist B would happily use these strings on his cello in future, for their balance, sound, evenness between strings and their ‘excellent A strings’.
Cellist C plays a Tomáš Haškovec cello and was using a Passione weich A, Passione mittel D, before testing the Warchal Amber A and D and the metal core A. For this cellist, the metal core A scored poorly for sound variation, darkness and richness and only moderately for feel under the left hand and pianissimo colour. He found the sound rather bright and wanted more depth and core. Playing in: 2 days. The synthetic core A had ‘a good basic sound albeit on the bright side, though that also reflects this cello… I found that I couldn’t change the sound colour as much as I wanted to.’ Playing in: 3 days. The Amber D also lacked variation in sound colour for this cellist, but scored well for fortissimo colour in high registers, ease of shifting and power/projection. Playing in, 3 days. Cellist C would not choose these strings for his cello due to the ‘lack of variation in sound colour, especially in the lower dynamic range.’
LARSEN MAGNACORE A & D
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.
PIRASTRO EVAH PIRAZZI (EP) GOLD A & D
Evah Pirazzi 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 A & D
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.’
THOMASTIK VERSUM A & D.
Thomastik Infeld have long been famous for their Dominant and Spirocore strings. In 2015 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.’
THOMASTIK: VERSUM SOLO A & D
In April 2017 Thomastik released a new version of Versum A & D: Versum Solo and they have a strong following. 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.’
In general, players describe them as long-lasting strings with more texture, power and projection than a standard or solo Larsen. Morwenna del Mar loves her new Versum Solo A & D. ‘I’ve had them on for about 2 months, after switching from Larsen Solo, using Magnacore on the bottom. My cello has absolutely fallen in love with them – they’re like silky chocolate! The D took a while to settle, but the A settled straight away.’
During our tests, Versum Solo A felt more flexible under the left hand than a light tension Larsen Solo A that Sophia Ramnarine had used before on her contemporary cello. She liked the responsiveness and the slightly textured edge to the sound and enjoyed the string’s ability to project and the way it settled down quickly. Versum Solo D sounded more textured than the A and had more structure, power and clarity, which created a good transition to a Spirocore G. The A and D played fifths cleanly. After about 2 months Sophia wrote: ‘The soft and supple tension in the new strings facilitated my playing of Haydn’s D major cello concerto, without compromising on projection. I enjoyed the resonance of the Versum Solo D so much that I changed my fingering in the second movement in order to play the D for longer. After 2 months, I remain delighted by the overall clarity, the resonant D string and the ease of playing (noticeable in thumb position) that Versum Solos provide me.’
During our most recent tests, both Sophia (on her contemporary instrument) and Julian Ogilvie (on his old English cello) preferred Versum Solo A and D to the G and C. They described Versum Solo C as ‘a fat string with a softer texture than Spirocore, powerful but rather over resonant and less immediate and structured; also, harder to control than a Spirocore.’
THOMASTIK INFELD: RONDO A & D
Sophia and Julian described Rondo strings as quick to play in, with a durability equivalent to Versum Solo and with a substance and brilliance that can help to brighten an over-dark bass. Our testers described the Rondo A as resonant, pure, clear and soloistic, powerful and sweet up high. The sound was ‘shiny’ as opposed to the ‘matt’ effect of Versum Solo. Sophia commented on Rondo’s interesting quality of core and clarity, suggesting it would work well as a string for the Dvorak cello concerto but possibly not for Haydn.
Rondo D projected clearly, matching the texture of Rondo A and overall providing a closer match than between a freshly fitted Versum Solo A & D (but Versum D may take longer to settle down than a Rondo). Rondo D wasn’t as clear in fourth position as Versum Solo but had the same overtones as Rondo A. 5ths were a little different and required the player to play the A string sharp.
LARSEN: IL CANNONE ‘DIRECT & FOCUSED’ AND ‘WARM & BROAD’ A & D
Julian Ogilvie was delighted with the response from his English cello when we fitted a set of Larsen Il Cannone Direct & Focused. ‘They work together very well as a coherent set. When we first put the A and D on, I felt the freedom and quick response of those upper strings. They had more core sound and texture than Versum Solos. Overall, the Il Cannone Direct & Focused set has great power and bite, and a lovely resonance to all the strings, which makes them very enjoyable to play. They ring very well in pizzicato too.’ Drury Loveridge has been using Il Cannone Direct & Focused A and D on his 1820s cello for 18 months. ‘Easily the best strings I’ve ever had. The extra volume and brightness are exceptional, but in a controllable, nuanced way. They don’t collapse under too much bow weight and seem to last forever.’
We haven’t yet been able to test the Il Cannone ‘Warm & Broad’ set extensively, but the consensus is that they are a warmer version of standard Larsen strings. Michael Doran of Doran Violins, Seattle, finds the Warm & Broad set as having ‘a lot of different colours, while still having a solid core that was loud and direct. I felt I could hear a lot of flexibility to the sound, and the response was still quick and precise. It’s rare and very difficult to find that balance in a string. One customer wanted warmer strings, so we tried Evah Pirazzi Gold set which she really liked, but the Il Cannone Warm & Broad were even better and gave her things she didn’t even know she wanted.’
PIRASTRO: PERPETUAL EDITION A & D
Julian and Sophia described Perpetual Edition A as a ‘reedy, narrow, textured, resonant and colourful string with a nice feeling under the left hand.’ Perpetual Edition D was much warmer than the A, but the sound decayed quickly and didn’t do the contemporary cello any favours. On Julian’s old English cello, the Perpetual Edition D made a clear tenor sound, but lacked the punch of Il Cannone Direct & Focused. Philip Hewitt finds that Perpetual Edition strings take about 5 days to play in. He never liked the A and D as much as the G and C as, ‘although powerful, they could be a bit strident and harsh, particularly in thumb position.’ Jeff Bernardo finds his set of Perpetual Editions very well balanced and the sound quality and tone colour very attractive. ‘The A string has a good core and projection while retaining a singing quality. The D string is a perfect bridge between the A and G strings. The lower strings of the Edition set for me have the rather distinctive taste of Pirastro lower strings. I can definitely see many cellists would fall in love with the set.’
Sophia tested Perpetual Cadenza G and C and decided to keep them both on her cello, paired with Versum Solo A and D. She enjoys the lower tension of the string and the comfort this gives her left hand, particularly in thumb position and she loves the clarity of sound they produce, even when playing in a resonant acoustic. Ben Chappell found that he had to replace his Perpetual Cadenza strings more regularly than he would have hoped.
For reviews of G & C strings please see here.
If you would like to send your feedback on any of these strings, please don’t hesitate to email us your thoughts and we will be delighted to add them to this article.
For string tensions, see String Tension Chart
For more string reviews click here