“Which strings should I get for my cello?”
It’s a common question to receive as a cello teacher and quite honestly, a difficult one to answer. The gauge, tension, materials, and action of our strings make a significant difference in the tone and sound production of the cello. Each instrument has a different voice, which requires experimentation in what type of string is best to use. The same brand of strings on two different cellos will ultimately yield unique results. “String-Brand-A” may sound excellent on my cello, but be a totally wrong for yours…. With so many brands and prices, which one do you choose?
Thankfully, Johnson String Instrument Shop has made it easier for me to share cello string combinations via student wish lists! Here are three sets/combos of strings to get you started, in order of low to high price. [ 2020 edit: I am updating all of the product and gear purchase links across my website this year ]
** All string sizes listed below are 4/4 Full Size. If you need to order 1/2 or 3/4 size cello strings, be sure to select that option when ordering!!
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D’Addario Prelude – reliable set on a budget or backup strings
Pros: Affordable, yet still sounds good and plays well! I use them on my homemade electric cello (#frankencello) and I find them to be flexible and reliable. They have stood up to some extreme playing conditions encountered during gigs. The nickel winding helps the low strings pop out of your cello. If you need more brightness in your low end, try these strings (rather than the more dull silver winding of the Helicore).
Cons: Not as pitch stable as Kaplans or Helicores. The “center of pitch” feels slightly mushy… this is hard to describe and may be due to the nickel winding, which is on all strings.
- Prelude 4/4 Cello Set A, D, G & C – nickel wound / steel core: Medium
Prelude (D’Addario) set – solid steel core string that is durable and not affected by temperature and humidity changes. Prelude strings have a clear, bright sound without the shrill sound of traditional steel strings, and have a quick bow response.
Brian Grimm D’Addario Kaplan-Helicore Combo
Pros: Great for multi-style playing. Holds tuning very well. Quick response. Fairly loud sound production. This has been the string combo on my concert cello from 2013 to 2017. They have proven to be suitable across many genres… however, I’m now moving on to some other brands of strings in search of a richer, mellower sound.
Cons: As the Kaplan A & D strings age, they get a bit metallic and scratchy sounding (especially in the high end). Not as subtle as Jargar, Larsen, Pirastro strings.
Combo Set Includes:
- Kaplan Cello A – titanium wound / steel core: Medium
- Kaplan Cello D – nickel wound / steel core: Medium
- Helicore Cello G & C – tungsten-silver wound / steel core: Medium
Kaplan (D’Addario) set – strings offer a beautiful, rich tonal palette and superb bowing response. They provide clarity and warmth across the registers and throughout the dynamic range.
Helicore (D’Addario) set – multi-strand, twisted steel core strings have a small string diameter, providing a quick bow response. Thanks to special manufacturing techniques, Helicore strings have a warm, clear sound with excellent pitch stability and longevity.
Janet Marshall (My Classical Teacher) Jagar-Larsen Combo
aka “The Denmark Combo”
Pros: Powerful low end sound. Beautiful rich tone. I very much enjoyed this combo when playing Brahms and other Romantic era pieces. Jargar has since come out with two new lines of string that I haven’t tried: Thin/dolce & Thick/forte. There isn’t a huge price jump on those and are worth trying, depending on your #soundgoals.
Cons: Larsen strings are costly, you pay for that good sound; the C string itself is $100. Sometimes my Jargar A & D strings would be a bit unstable & drop pitch over the course of a piece.
Combo Set Includes:
- Jargar Cello A & D – chrome wound / steel core: Medium
- Larsen Cello G & C – tungsten wound / steel core: Medium
Jargar – Bright, full sound, quick response. Made in Denmark, these steel core strings are favored by many solosits. Jargar strings are known for their powerful, well-balanced tone.
Larsen – Made in Denmark, Larsen strings are aimed at soloists in need of a string with projection.
Additional resources on selecting strings:
- Johnson String – choosing strings
- Shar Music – purchase cello strings
- Shar Music – all about strings guide
Find out more about Cello Lessons with Brian Grimm
Cellist Brian Grimm is a composer, performer and teacher based out Madison, WI. Though Classically trained and studied in Jazz, Brian also grew up surrounded by Chinese instruments. This has pulled him into a life passion for learning music from all around the world. Brian’s teachers include members of Yo-Yo Ma’s Silkroad Ensemble, the Hong Kong Chinese Orchestra, the WuJi Ensemble (Hong Kong), the Buselli–Wallarab Jazz Orchestra, & Sitar virtuoso Pt. Sugato Nag (India).