Choosing Strings for Violin or Viola

The best strings for your instrument will depend on your instrument, budget, playing style, and personal tastes. Finding the right strings is often a matter of trial and error. But, to get you started, here are some of the sets that we recommend trying . . .

About Violin Strings

Synthetic Strings

  • Suitable for all levels and musical styles
  • Rich with overtones, similar in tone to gut strings
  • Easy to keep in tune
  • Pliable, easy on the fingers
  • Quick to respond - easy for students to bow
  • More expensive than steel, but cheaper than gut

Gut Strings

  • Made from sheep and typically hand-wound with aluminum or silver
  • Used primarily by professional, classical players
  • Very rich with overtones, with a warm, complex tone
  • Pliable, easy on the fingers
  • Somewhat difficult to keep in tune, particularly in changing temperatures and high humidity
  • Need to be replaced more often than any other kind of string
  • More expensive than synthetic or steel strings

Steel Strings

  • Very inexpensive
  • Very long-lasting
  • Popular with fiddle players
  • Popular in student rental programs because of their longevity and low cost, although we don't recommend them for students
  • Stable and easy to keep in tune
  • Limited dynamic range - they tend to play at just one volume - loud
  • Very focused, often harsh and nasal tone
  • Hard on fingers and bow hair
  • Requires greater precision of bowing and greater bow pressure than gut or synthetic strings
  • Available in plain steel, stranded steel, or steel-core with steel or aluminum winding
  • Stranded steel strings are also called 'rope-core', 'spiral-core', or 'cable-core' strings
  • E strings are a special case and are almost always made of steel, even in synthetic or gut sets.

Alternate E Strings

It is common practice for players to purchase one set of strings, but replace the E string with one from a different set, to match their particular instrument and preferences. Some E strings are manufactured for this express purpose, and are sold individually. The tone of the E you choose effects not just the notes played on the E string, but the tone quality of the entire instrument across all four strings. To read about different types of E strings, please see our Guide to Violin E Strings.

Loop vs. Ball End

loop vs ball

Because the violin E string is so thin, it can be difficult to keep in tune. It is, therefore, typically given a fine tuner, installed at the tailpiece. (The other strings - A, D, and G - are typically installed directly into the tailpiece itself, though student instruments are sometime setup with fine tuners on all four strings.) There are two types of fine tuners - ones that accept "Ball" end strings (with a brass ring or ball attached to the end of the string) and ones that accept "Loop" end strings (where the string forms a loop at the end, with no brass ball). It is important to purchase the correct type of string for your E string fine tuner. Violin G, D, and A strings are only made in the ball-end style.

Viola A strings are also sometimes made with a "Loop" end, though this is less common than with the violin E. Again, be sure to purchase the correct type of string for your setup.

Many string manufacturers now make 'removable' ball-end violin E strings (and viola A strings), which can be installed as ball or loop, as needed.

Some gut strings are sold with a "knot" end, where the string itself has been tied into a knot at the end; the knot should be wedged into the tailpiece as with a ball-end, not looped over the tuner as a loop-end string. Gut strings are also sometimes sold with a "plain" end, where the string simply ends, with nothing at the end at all. In this case, the player must knot the string himself or herself before installing.

String Sizes

Violin sizes range from full-size (4/4) down to 1/32 size. Strings are sized accordingly and must match the size of the violin to prevent damage to the instrument. 1/8 Size strings may be used on 1/10 violins, as manufacturers do not generally make 1/10 size strings.

String Gauges

The gauge of a violin or viola string is a measure of its thickness. Heavy strings respond more slowly, produce greater volume, and put greater stress on the instrument. If the instrument is not up to the pressure, the tone may become 'pinched' or 'closed off', and the instrument may become damaged. Note that string gauges are not standardized and a medium gauge of one set may be thicker or thinner than that of another. Changing gauges or string types may also necessitate a sound-post adjustment to compensate for the change in pressure.

  • Heavy/Stark/Strong Gauge: Stronger tone, slower response, greater string tension
  • Medium/Mittel Gauge: The thickness recommended by the manufacturer for most instruments
  • Light/Weich/Weak Gauge: Softer tone, faster response, lower string tension