Friday Mailbag and Linkage — The Quandry Regarding a String Called G (rated PG)

My own question for this week has been the topic of research: How do I get my G string to sound bigger, more intense, less fuzzy and generally more powerful? Now, if you want to know about violin strings, you’re definitely in the right place. If you’re looking for info on the preferred attire of exotic dancers, um, not.

The pitch of the lowest string on a violin is named “G”. It has a very unique sound. Many players expect to find a sultry, sensuous, yes even sexy sound when they play on G, especially in the higher reaches. The sound should not crack under bow pressure, or whine or buzz or sputter. In short, the G on my violin doesn’t respond the way I think it should. It rarely cracks, but more often simply sputters and whines. Kind of like when you get poked with a sharp object and say “ow”. It doesn’t have that “fatness” in the sound that feels like dark blue velvet or thick, warm syrup on pancakes. It’s had this problem since I bought it, some eight or nine years ago, but I’m really starting to notice it now. Don’t know why I didn’t before, or why it didn’t really matter before, but that’s another post.


So I’ve been looking for cures or tips on things I can do myself to improve the sound without taking it in to a shop and risking the luthier telling me that my fiddle is a piece o’ junk. My initial thought, because I’m a closet pessimist, was that I’m doing something wrong — not enough bow, too much bow, not enough weight, arm not in the correct position, whatever. It’s these simple fixes that usually work miracles for my students’ sound. But I’ve tried playing with the position I use and nothing seems to improve the density of the sound. Several times, I’ve considered installing a “wolf eliminator”, a little gadget that attaches to the string between the bridge and the tailpiece that supposedly removes the offending sound. Or would, if the violin actually had wolf tones. Mine doesn’t, so that would be a total waste of five bucks (and I’m frugal too.)


Another thought would be to change the brand of string. I currently use Pirastro Aricores with a Goldbrokat E, after an exhaustive search for the strings that sounded best and produced the kind of sound I was after. They are fabulous on the A and D strings and I’ve gotten compliments over the years regarding how well-matched they are to my instrument. I got a scare recently when I actually had to start buying strings again (because I was practicing and playing with some regularity) and the retailer from which I had been buying them stopped carrying them. The rep tried to tell me that Pirastro had discontinued them, so I emailed Pirastro and was told that they had NOT been discontinued. So I just buy them from another retailer now. And the first retailer, with which I’ve done business since 1976, lost most of my business because they lied to me. Anyway, I need to restring anyway for an upcoming performance, but it has occured to me that maybe I should start looking for a G that has different tonal characteristics from the others. I’m not particularly brand loyal, but I do have to say that the Goldbrokat E is the best I’ve ever used, and I don’t care a whit for Dominants. I absolutely love gut strings, but Olives are out of my price range for everyday playing. Eudoxas and Gold Labels wear out too fast and the sound, while rich and lovely, is too muted for my violin. I’d even pay more for the G of my dreams, if it gave me the sound and response I want.

Then I thought, OK, maybe it’s something structurally wrong with the violin. Maybe the bass bar is cracked or the bridge needs replaced. That would be something that I’d have to have a luthier do. If it’s the bass bar, you’re talking major bucks. I’m not sure it is a good use of money to spend half the value of my instrument repairing something when I could use that money and buy another one that’s already in playing condition. So, until I actually come up with an answer the smart thing to do is to play with different strings — start with the least expensive fixes first — and if that doesn’t solve the problem, I’ll bite the bullet and take it to Kansas City.



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