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
G and C Strings
PIRASTRO EUDOXA: A beautiful, smooth gut sound; for many players, nothing else can compare. They lack the clarity and power of the best metal strings and there is inevitably some pitch instability and variation in the natural gut core.
THOMASTIK SPIROCORE: The tungsten wound (Wolfram) version is one of the most popular lower strings of all time and is widely used by soloists. Valued for their powerful, gravelly tone, speed of response and longevity, they take at least a week to play in and always retain a gritty edge to the sound which lends clarity to the dark bottom end of the cello. Spirocores are not universally loved, but they always do their job in their own distinctive way. We would go so far as to describe the Spirocore sound as iconic: they are powerful and responsive, with a cavernous, resonant sound quality and a ‘gravelly’ edge which projects very well. The downside of Spirocores is that they take a long time to play in and the G strings can be rather variable in quality and can sound painfully metallic when new, making the process of playing in an act of faith on the part of the user. Despite these drawbacks, Spirocores have been the most powerful and popular bottom strings for many years.
Various attempts have been made to improve on the Spirocore achievement, perhaps the most successful being Evah Pirazzi Soloist G and C strings by Pirastro which some cellists use in preference to Spirocores, as well as Larsen’s Wirecore and, more successfully, Magnacore G and C.
THOMASTIK DOMINANT: These strings are helpful on cellos with a high bridge or wolf note problems. They are preferred by teachers who want their students to develop fast bow strokes, as Dominants behave in a similar way to gut strings. Allow 1-2 weeks to play in; initially they have a very harsh sound.
D’ADDARIO HELICORE: The ultra-flexible core gives excellent speed of response. The sound is smoother than Spirocore and the strings are excellent value and therefore very popular.
PIRASTRO PERMANENT: A popular tungsten wound string with good tonal qualities. Less gravelly than a Spirocore but with a slightly lower speed of response.
PIRASTRO EVAH PIRAZZI: Very powerful and tonally rich strings which were designed for longevity. Allow 2 weeks to play in. The C string is reluctant to speak when first fitted, but improves with playing.
PIRASTRO EVAH PIRAZZI SOLOIST: EP Soloist strings are powerful with a lot of resonance which can be quite overwhelming until the strings are played in. Some players change EP Soloists one at a time in order to stay grounded, but consider it a small price to pay. The bottom strings are more focussed first cousins to the tungsten Spirocore bottom strings, while the top strings strike a pleasing balance of focus, textured sound and projection, with a feeling of freedom under the bow. What is most unusual about EP Soloists is that these strings really do constitute a coherent set; devotees like to use all four EP Soloists on their instruments. PIRASTRO PASSIONE: These G & C strings have a natural gut core with a patented synthetic woven sleeve which protects the gut core from humidity changes, thus improving the pitch stability and longevity of the string without losing the tonal qualities of gut. Passione cello C is wound with tungsten which helps to increase the clarity of sound. These strings have a higher tension than Eudoxas and so feel more rigid under the left hand and the response under the bow also differs from Eudoxa.
PIRASTRO OBLIGATO strings have a multi-strand synthetic core with metal windings (except for the metal core A) and they fall into the same category as Dominant, Aricore and Synoxa. Obligato strings are not especially new (launched in 2000) but what makes them distinctive is that Obligato G & C strings incorporate tungsten in the windings and reach pitch at a similar tension to other modern metal strings (see table opposite). These strings have a warm, rich and complex sound and we have experienced a recent surge of interest in the G & C strings from professional players who are still seeking the qualities of covered gut bottom strings without the hassle.
D’ADDARIO KAPLAN SOLUTIONS G & C These strings have a good, rich sound quality and are quick to respond; the G is noticeably smoother and less metallic sounding than a Spirocore G. ‘Easy to play, quick response to short bow strokes, C string is not aggressive but the G is a bit over-focussed higher up the string,’ says one cellist.
WARCHAL BRILLIANT G & C: Our brief test of the Warchal Brilliant G and C strings we found them a little disappointing in terms of power and clarity, compared to the top strings in the set. This may well be a playing-in issue; Warchal recommends allowing 3 – 4 days for Brilliant strings to play in. Ben Magwood uses a full set of Warchal Brilliants on his cello and loves them. ‘They have a bright, rich ringing sound with lots of overtones and a very fast response. They do take a bit of getting used to as they are more ‘stretchy’ than other strings I’ve used, almost gut-like, so you have to be aware of where your bow is in relation to the bridge and you often end up tuning using the pegs, as the strings are so stretchy that the fine adjusters don’t make much impact when tuning.’
WARCHAL AMBER G & C Testers were asked to judge these 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. The G string scored 4-5 in all categories except speed of bow response and balance in all registers. They commented ‘It’s a bit woolly at the top and harder to articulate clearly. Playing in: 4 days. The C string scored better than the G except for bowing response: ‘The bow contact could be improved. Compared with the other strings I felt it had less grip.’ Playing in: 4 days. Cellist A would happily use these strings in future on their 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. The Amber G scored between 4-5 in all his categories except ‘Brilliant Sound’ (3). He commented ‘After initial stiffness, the string performed very well, producing a very good sound into the second octave.’ Playing in time: 3-4 days. He found the C string more satisfying than Larsen, Evah Pirazzi or Versum C, although he felt it did not respond well above the first octave on the C string. Playing in time 7-10 days. Cellist B would happily use the Amber set 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 Spirocore light tension G and Spirocore light tension C before testing the Warchal Amber set. The Amber G scored poorly for feel of bow contact and pianissimo capability and colour. ‘With both bottom strings, I felt there was no real pianissimo sound – the core sound was lost at piano and below, and the sound became wispy and ‘on the surface’. The sound was richer when bowed strongly but I had to work to get the bow contact.’ Playing in: 3 days. Cellist C felt the Amber C had a less immediate response than the G. Like the G, he gave it 5 for ease of shifting and richness of sound. 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 C & C For many years, tungsten wound Spirocore strings have been the most widely used bottom strings for professional players. In 2013 Larsen launched an exciting new offering: Larsen Magnacore G and C (available in medium and strong tensions). These strings have an innovative core construction of two concentric ‘Slinky-style’ springs of stranded steel, with tungsten (wolfram) windings. We tested these strings on Robin’s Guadagnini copy cello (string length 682mm) which had previously been fitted with fresh Spirocore G and C strings and standard Larsen A and D strings. We have also had some very helpful feedback from professional players.
We found the medium Magnacore G less flexible under the left hand than a Spirocore; it also tuned up more quickly on the peg. It was easier for us to play and was smoother and less harsh sounding than our new Spirocore G. It was also a good match for a standard Larsen D string in tone, texture and response. It was quite quick under the bow and the tone was very balanced, with more richness than a new Spirocore G. It worked very well on Robin’s cello alongside a new Spirocore C. Nicholas Jones kindly tested Magnacore medium strings for us (he had previously been using Evah Pirazzi Soloist bottom strings on his Strad model cello). His Magnacore G medium took three days to play in, but he found it quick speaking, with good depth and a strong, masculine tone.
The Magnacore C medium matches very well with the Magnacore G: it has a rich, warm satisfying sound with a slightly smoother texture than a Spirocore C. Our first impression was that the Magnacore C was slightly less powerful and a little slower to speak than the Magnacore G, but it must be noted that we were testing a newly fitted string and we would expect it to speak more readily once it is played in. The open Magnacore C string had a slight winding buzz on our cello, but again this is probably a playing-in issue.
Nicholas Jones’s Magnacore C medium took eight days to play in. Initially, he also felt that the Magnacore C was less powerful than the G but he found that it improved with playing and that, like the G, it spoke quickly and had a deep, masculine tone. He decided that the Magnacore strings also improved the top end of his cello and that the whole cello spoke more quickly after they were fitted. Nick observed that the Magnacores were more rigid under his left hand than Evah Pirazzi Soloists, particularly when playing in half position.
Gabrielle Kaufmann came for a string trial in November and decided to use Magnacore Medium G and C on her contemporary instrument. She found that both strings were slow to play in and the rough edge to the sound lasted some time, although she thought they sounded good from day one. She describes their sound as ‘round, deep, dark, big, with an edge, and a lot of personality.’ She feels that they have improved the overall sound of her cello, giving it a darker and unusually “old” sound for metal strings which has given more depth and richness to the tone of her cello.
Eduardo Palao tried Magnacore G and C mediums on his Wolfgang Schnabl cello. He had previously been using standard Evah Pirazzi medium G and C and Passione medium A and D strings. He told us that the Magnacore strings were much more responsive and had a little more ‘edge’ to their sound than the Evah Pirazzis and articulation was clearer and faster, with plenty of volume. They also seemed to be stable right from the start. However, Eduardo found their sound rather ‘narrower and less rich in overtones’ than Evah Pirazzis and they also made his Passione strings sound tighter and thinner. When he replaced the Magnacores with new Evah Pirazzis, he felt that his cello sounded rounder and freer again, with less tension under the fingers, and gave him a wider variety of colours.
‘I have had the medium Magnacore C and G on my Hill cello for several days now and I am very impressed. My previous Spirocores were good but the Magnacores are a real improvement. In playing the opening bars of the first movement of the 3rd Beethoven Sonata with the G Spirocore I had a wolfy sound on the F sharp that has been eliminated with the Magnacore. With the Magnacores I can go several octaves up the G and C strings and still have a lovely tone so I have more flexibility in fingerings. The C has taken several days to get clear but has required far less break in time than my Spirocores. The 5ths are perfect and the strings are an excellent complement to the Larsen soloist A and D.’
John Hawk, Mt Shasta, California.
Magnacore strings are available in both medium and heavy tension. According to Larsen, the heavy tension strings have more focus, edge and volume than Magnacore medium strings.
LARSEN MAGNACORE ARIOSO G & C are a low tension version of Magnacore G and C. The C string is almost as low in tension as a Eudoxa and can significantly free the response of some cellos while giving a powerful, beautifully textured sound which is darker in tone than a standard Magnacore. Both the C and G are described by players as gutsy and powerful. Larsen recommends trying Arioso C with your existing G as it can work well with other G strings.
Arioso feedback: ‘The Arioso G and C took a good week to play in. Initially the C string felt ‘boomy’ in certain positions but as the string settled, the sound focussed and became more even. The G made my cello feel wolfy and although it did settle a little, it didn’t quite reach the focus and immediacy of the C. The point of contact with the bow needed to be nearer the bridge to get a focussed sound and the strings spoke better with a more legato bow stroke when playing off the string. The strings are powerful but I felt they lacked beauty. They are nicely made and feel good under the left hand and the transition between the G & D is easy and smooth. They ring very well when playing pizzicato. I felt that the lower tension Arioso C opened the top of the cello a little, but not as much as using Spirocores. I would use the C, but not the G as it stayed quite “tungsteny”. ‘ (Cellist 1)
Cellist 2 tried the Arioso G on his fine French cello: ‘Very textured, good core, broad, resonant but fuzzy in 5th position. Smoother and warmer than Perpetual Soloist. Still a tungsten sound but not quite as bright and with more core than Perpetual. A nice expressive edge, husky sound, warmer and broader than Spirocore. A real powerhouse.’ Cellist 3 tried Arioso C on a fine Henry Lockey Hill cello and found it ‘quick, light and immediate, a lovely rich, free sound which was darker than standard Magnacore and which suited the cello very well.’
EVAH PIRAZZI GOLD G: Like most G strings, this string needs time to play in; when fitted new, cellist 1 felt it was rather breathy and metallic, especially on the open string, but he still liked the sound enough to persevere with the string. Cellist 3 found the EP Gold G softer and less clear than Magnacore G and he also felt it encouraged the wolf note, but preferred its tone colours to Magnacore G. He also felt the EP Gold G made his Spirocore C sound softer, and that it lightened and sweetened the rest of the cello. He found the EP Gold G more flexible under the hand and less metallic than Magnacore G.
EVAH PIRAZZI GOLD C. Cellist 1 loved this string as soon he first played it and much preferred it to the Spirocore C which had been fitted to his cello before. ‘His comment was; ‘You couldn’t make this sound on a Spirocore!’ He enjoyed the string’s sweet, warm, immediate response and smooth, rich sound with no ‘hiss’ – and compared it to playing a silver covered gut string. After 2 weeks of playing, he described it as ‘good and strong, nice depth, a fatter sound than Spirocore’. On a strong, edgy cello, EP Gold C offered cellist 3 a high quality, dark sound and opened the cello’s general response. He found it much better than a standard Evah Pirazzi or Kaplan C, which sounded a bit dry in comparison.
JARGAR SUPERIOR G & C: Jargar issued Superior A in 2011, Superior D in 2012 and have now completed the set. We reviewed the A and D in our Autumn 2014 newsletter and these reviews can also be read on the website page A and D string reviews. The G has an excellent response and good, clear and colourful sound. We found the C rather slower to respond under the bow than the G.
Jargar Superior feedback. Cellist 1: ‘Lovely warm sound and when played alongside a Larsen Magnacore A & D, the whole cello felt free and open. These felt like very stable Obligatos. They responded really well under the bow, much better than standard Jargar G and C which feel thick & sluggish by comparison. The bottom strings feel thinner than other makes. The G didn’t have an overly aggressive tungsten fizz and both strings settled well.’ Cellist 6 loved the feel of the G but not the metallic edge to its sound. She found it free and open to play, with a quick response and she felt she could hear her cello more clearly than when using Helicore bottom strings. When the C was fitted, it felt fantastic under her fingers and bow but the G became more ‘wolfy’ and the C lacked the sound quality and easy response of the G.
Cellist 2 really enjoyed Jargar Superior G and preferred it to either Perpetual or Arioso G strings. He found the sound clean, clear, rich and colourful with a good core and plenty of power, much more so than a standard Jargar. The G spoke very clearly on his cello in 4th position and cleared up the wolf note.
PIRASTRO PERPETUAL MEDIUM G & C: This new family of cello strings are making waves in the cello community. There is a full set of Mediums and also a Perpetual Soloist G and C. The Medium set is powerful, nicely rich in harmonics. 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 C & G took longer to play in and were less stable in pitch than the A & D. They felt a bit ‘tungsteny’ to begin with and it wasn’t always easy to articulate clearly, but now they have settled, they are even across the strings and in higher positions. My cello doesn’t normally have a wolf note but with a Perpetual G there is a little wolf on F natural. The strings have proved very stable and consistent. I’ve had a run of pit work and they cope really well with the heat and humidity. However, for me the bottom strings aren’t quite a match for Spirocores as they lack that gravelly quality and also make the wolf note worse on my cello.’
Cellist 5: ‘ G and C medium offer just a little more resistance and texture than the Soloist version, which on my Banks were almost too smooth and direct.’
Perpetual Soloist G and C feedback. Cellist 6: ‘These are ‘Soloist’ strings in the true sense of the word. They have a loping, long-legged quality, rather like going into 5th gear. They are very free and resonant, but with a slight metallic edge. The initial reaction is astonishing, but they may not be suited to the pianissimo playing required orchestrally. Ultimately I, and my Forster, couldn’t handle them, but I feel sure they would be ideally suited to another player.’
Cellist 2: ‘Perpetual Soloist G was smoother than Medium, but sounded wolfy in 4th position and made my Permanent C sound colder.’ Cellist 5 loved Perpetual Soloist G for its resonance, warmth and generous qualities under the bow but the Soloist C didn’t resonate as well on his cello as the G. Cellist 3 found Perpetual Soloist C soft, round and mellow sounding, with more structure than the medium C, but it made the whole cello harsher and it was very hard work with the bow. He thought it would probably take time to play in like an Evah Pirazzi.
THOMASTIK INFELD 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 and a particularly attractive G. Some players find the C a bit slow and hard to manage.
Versum feedback: Cellist 7 liked the G for its smooth, attractive playing qualities but found the C too heavy in tension with an artificial sound and slow to respond. Cellist 2 thought Versum G was very powerful with a good core. He described the G as ‘a noble sound, quite soloistic, which would brighten up a dark cello.’
Cellist 8 thought Versums had a lovely coherent sound and voice. He found Versum G rather harsh on the open string but direct, clean and bright when stopped. He felt there was a metallic foundation to the sound which would be likely to improve on playing, like many tungsten G strings. Versum C had a metallic edge when first fitted, and was powerful, rich, and strong, but not very quick on the uptake and difficult to play quietly or with smooth bow changes.
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.’
Tungsten G string Syndrome – general comment
The more experience we have with cello strings, the clearer it becomes that cello G strings can be a real nuisance, particularly those with tungsten windings. A fresh tungsten G string is often fitted in an act of faith that its aggressive tone will eventually mellow and match the C string. The most extreme example of this syndrome is the tungsten Spirocore G but to some extent this is also true of Helicore, Permanent, Obligato and Evah Pirazzi G strings. We understand from our conversations with string developers that traditionally they like to keep the thickness of the G string down, which in turn leads to a very high proportion of tungsten in the winding which is responsible for the aggressive, nasal sound of these strings before they are played in. Some players have rejected tungsten bottom strings altogether as a result; others value the clarity of the tungsten Spirocore C string so much that they are willing to combine a non-tungsten G with a tungsten C. We have seen Larsen Soloist, Spirocore Silver, Permanent Soloist, Belcanto and even Aricore fitted alongside tungsten Spirocore C strings. Recent feedback about the new Kaplan Solutions G suggests that D’Addario have been working successfully to overcome this problem and Larsen Magnacore G is proving a very successful tungsten G string.