(read Part 1)
(Part 3 coming soon!)
Part 2: ONE YEAR LATER…
…and I am still using all gut set ups on both my concert cello and “sarangi-cello” (more on that cello in a future post). I have spent a lot of time thinking about strings, calculating gauges for tension schemes, experimenting with different combos of various brands and string makers. I have a much better idea now of what I like, don’t like, and need from a gut string. Almost a year before I had purchased any gut strings, I had reached out to a couple of viola da gamba playing friends for advice on the subject. Niccolo Seligmann, a fantastic gambist and early music super-nerd, gave me some advice, which I followed:
“Start with getting a couple different gauges of each string from Gamut, which is probably the best for its price. Once you’ve figured out what weights (diameter and tension) to use, then you may want to switch over to something more expensive and longer lasting, like Aquila or La Folia… the try-out process is expensive, but you can keep all the not-quite-right strings as spares. It’s always wise to have at least one spare of the top two strings and at least two spares of the top string.“
This advice was for open gut strings, but it applied to the wound gut audition process as well. For instance, getting all three gauges of a Eudoxa a-string is expense, but now I know what works and I was able to re-purpose or keep settled-in spares of the gauges which weren’t right for my instrument or the music I was making at that time.
I have found that I spend more time caring for my cello, making sure the tailpiece, bridge, nut, and peg set up are all staying “healthy”. As a result of learning to play on gut strings, I have made huge strides in my bow technique and left hand precision. Gut set ups have helped me understand how interact with the strings on a much deeper level. There is a greater subtly required when drawing the sound, as a result a wider range of tone and expression. It has taught me how to open up my articulation palate and push through to a next level of playing. Of course, it might not be the right fit for all types of music, instruments, or aesthetics: that comes down to (1) taste & importantly (2) the conditions of performance. I have used wound and open gut string combos for classical, traditional/world, contemporary, jazz, experimental, etc and have found these set-ups chameleon their way through all of these genres very well!
Over the course of this year, I have tried wound gut strings by Correlli (don’t waste your time), Damian Dlugolecki (Ni/Ag gut) and Pirastro’s Eudoxa, Oliv, and Gold (older wondertones) line strings. I have also tried plain gut strings by Dan Larsen (Gamut), Damian Dlugolecki, Toro (venice and high twist), and Aquila & Pirastro’s Chorda (not impressed for A-string, but I don use the e’ string for Sarangicello because it is so smooth). Maybe in another post I will examine these comparisons further, however this post will remain focused on Eudoxa and Oliv strings. Again this is for the first time buyer. I have certainly had some frustrating and expensive moments this year, my hope is to let you in on those insights so you don’t have to make the same mistakes.
Suggested Combos/Sets (no particular order):
Eudoxa medium a, d + Oliv light G, C
[ 2020 edit: see Part 3 for more thoughts on combos ]
Oliv light set
Bonus Tip: try out a number of different rosins to find out what works best with your various string combos. Especially important if you have a mix of plain and wound gut or a combo of different brands/makers.
EUDOXA VS OLIV
I find the Eudoxa tone to be sweet and delightful, like dessert. There is a joy and playfulness in my playing, especially when I’m using the a and d string.
Oliv has a hearty, deep, complex tone which feels more like the main course. My playing is more serious and mature, especially when playing on a full set of Oliv.
I can’t get away with playing on a full set of Eudoxa, (as nice as that would be) unless maybe with medium A, D, G + a heavy gauge C; *but I haven’t tried that yet*… In contrast, I am definitely satisfied when playing on a full set of Oliv. In the last article, I gave a few examples of Steven Isserlis playing on his Eudoxa set up with Oliv C. Here is a good example of the tone capabilities of an Oliv set from Gary Hoffman (with an Evah Pirazzi A-string, from what I can see). A Hoffman is a very different player than Isserlis. I think their personalities are well captured by the tonal differences of these string setups.
Now that I’ve had a bit of experience practicing and performing on both Eudoxa and Oliv strings, I may choose to string up my cello with different combos that suit the circumstance of a recording session or performance.
- playing with piano or contemporary ensembles: Oliv set
- playing with plucked strings (like Brothers Grimm): Eudoxa set
- solo, unaccompanied:
(1) Eudoxa A, D, G + Oliv C
(2) Oliv D, G, C + Aquila A, Toro A, or Eudoxa A
(3) Oliv G, C + Toro A, D
- Chamber music:
(1) Eudoxa A, D, G + Oliv C
(2) full Oliv set (medium set link)
- [ 2020 edit ] Favorite All Around Setups:
(1) Eudoxa medium A, D, G + Damian Dlugolecki NiAg/gut C 38pm or Oliv C
(2) Eudoxa heavy A + Oliv light D, G, C
For a long time, I used to use Jargar A, D and Larsen G, C; which you can hear on The Brothers Grimm 2012 album Redolent Spires (bandcamp / spotify) or on my 2010 original solo cello score for Mary’s Wedding OST (bandcamp). Often this set up was too powerful for violoncello + classical guitar. If the Brothers Grimm were going out on tour, I would most likely use a Eudoxa medium set (in this case the quieter C string would be an advantage!).
The warm blend on the Eudoxas with other bowed string instruments is insane, they are perfect for chamber music. If you need to blend inward, I’d go with Eudoxa. If you need to cut through or project outward I’d go with Oliv. For instance, during rehearsals with a pianist for a performance of Schumann’s Fantasiestücke, Op.73 using a Eudoxa set up: I simply could not sing out above the piano without pushing the strings harder than I wished to. For the performance later that week, I had switched to an Oliv set up and no longer had to fight to project. I was able to float on top of the piano sound with out over playing the strings.
My cello projects better with Oliv, than Eudoxa. If you really like the Eudoxa sound on your instrument, but know you need to more power… you may want to try a full set of heavy gauge strings. It will have more tension, bigger tone and might just do the trick. In general, don’t be afraid of the thicker gauges, just make sure that your instrument is set up to handle the width, and that the tension scheme makes sense from top to bottom (less of a problem with a set, more of a problem with mix and match).
Here is a great example of Oliv on C, G and Eudoxa A, with plain gut D from Lynn Harrell (with Orlando Cole). Go for the string sound, stick around for the extended lesson on bow technique!
WHAT’S IN A GAUGE?
Thinner string gauges are lower in tension, with a sweet, reedy tone. Thinner gauges have more treble tone and quicker bow response.
Thicker string gauges have more tension, with a raspy, husky, deep tone. Thicker gauges have more bass tone and slower bow response.
Less tension results in more flex in the string and a quicker bow response. But the more flexible the string is, the quicker it will bottom out when you push it with heavy dynamics. If you often need to play loudly for your style of music, try the heavier gauge string – it can take more bow pressure and give you a bigger sound. The caveat being that thicker gauges with more tension are slower to respond under the bow.
Set advantages – I really like how the full set feels in the left hand and under the bow. It’s very nice to have the consistency of bow response, tension, thickness gradient/feel, tone etc across the whole instrument from top to bottom. (~ with both the Eudoxa medium set and the Oliv light set)
The Eudoxa string response is quick and easy, I liked this for playing unaccompanied solos at events and concerts. When you mix and match, the response is a bit different for the bow from each brand of string, so you have to change your technique a bit from string to string. Olivs are stiffer under the bow than Eudoxa, but when using a full set Olivs, it feels very nice and consistent, I doesn’t really feel stiff anymore.
Here are some quick notes from each string gauge I’ve tried:
light – didn’t even feel like a gut string because it is so thin / easy to play all the way up the fingerboard / you may consider this as an option if the rest of your strings are steel / less of an aluminum sound than the medium and heavy gauge
medium – of the three gauges, this is my favorite thickness on my concert cello / great tone / easy to play all the way up the fingerboard / sometimes is a little sluggish to respond compared to the rest of the set
heavy – what I use on my Sarangi-cello / noticeably more tension than the medium gauge, especially up in thumb positions / more power yet it still retains the sweet tone of Eudoxa / very smooth left hand feel. Pairs very well with Heavy Eudoxa D and with Oliv Light D!
Pros – easy to play, very expressive, beautiful tone
Cons – winding is easy to damage, string doesn’t last as long as Oliv A, easy to blow-out with too much bow pressure
light – sweetest sounding, but didn’t pack enough punch for me
medium – really great d string, one of my favorites, very expressive / I love the mix of the aluminum and silver, and almost wish that’s what they did for the a-string too!
heavy – heavy A and D play really nice together – really nice balance of expression with a little more power and projection – was very happy with the heavy gauge top strings.
[ 2020 edit ]
Pros – easy to play, very expressive, beautiful tone
Cons – General problem I’ve been having with the Eudoxa D strings is that they tend to die and go faulty at the transition from Summer to Fall. With the extreme humidity at the end of the summer and the sudden drop in temperature and dry air in Fall, my D strings have been dying… So don’t change your Eudoxa D until after fall has settled in!
light – (did not try)
medium – at first I was worried it wouldn’t be bass heavy enough, or feel too small in the hand going from the thicker Oliv C the to thinner Eudoxa G, but it really wasn’t a problem at all, and I enjoyed playing on this string very much / sometimes the sound didn’t project forward enough for certain styles – but created a really interesting inward-depth, kind of hard to describe, but was a really unique way to draw the listener in when playing solo.
This string is actually brighter than the Oliv G string! This is probably my favorite gut G-string that I’ve tried so far, along side the Aquila G-string. no wolf-tone issues, unlike the heavy gauge G string
heavy – held up really well with the Oliv C / big warm bass tone, rich sound / but I felt like the thicker gauge contributed to the tension imbalances on the bridge and caused issues for the surrounding strings with settling in to pitch / projected outward well. Eudoxa heavy gauge G string has a bigger issue with the wolf-tone, it’s quite prominent on my cello with this cello from e-f-f# in 4th position and b-c in thumb position. The medium gauge does not have the wolf-tone issue, so far.
[2020 edit] Pros – brighter and springier than the Oliv G, hasn’t died due to shrinking-core-syndrome in cold dry weather (so far!) like the Oliv G
light – (did not try)
medium – tone sounded great, very easy response, but just didn’t cut it when it came to power / very big volume and energy drop when I’d go from the medium G to the medium C string
heavy – (did not try) I plan to try this string with Medium Eudoxa A, D, G in 2020 and promise to report back if/whenever that happens… The hope is that the higher tension Eudoxa C would be powerful enough to balance the low end while matching the tone and response of the rest of the Eudoxa medium gauge strings… will update when that happens…
Cons – medium gauge was not powerful enough to carry the low end
First impression is that I love this set up, the first time I strung up with all Olivs, I thought, “ahhh finally, a full set I can use!” / they bring out a completely new mature sound from my instrument / I almost feel like a Character-Actor when I am playing things like Beethoven or Schumann / very bright for the first week, but then it mellows out, in a very warm way
[2020 edit] after a while the strings get a little too dull and dark, still powerful but the low end needs some of that brightness back to balance the high end…
light – great string, powerful – louder than Eudoxa for sure, but slower to respond on quick notes – more uniform but not as expressive as Eudoxa – more like playing a steel string.
medium – (did not try)
heavy – (did not try)
light – very nice string, more pitch stable than Eudoxa, great tone plays well with Eudoxa A and Oliv A, no real complaints about this one. again, more like playing steel than Eudoxa
medium – (did not try)
heavy – I am using the heavy gauge d string on my Sarangi-cello and I’ve noticed with both the thicker Oliv (especially the heavy) D strings start to bring out the wolf tone on my cello more. This is something to keep in mind when finding the right balance in gauge/tension for your instrument. It hasn’t been enough of an issue to require a wolf-tone eliminator however.
light – great string, while it lasts….
medium – (did not try)
heavy – (did not try)
[2020 edit] Cons – G-string dies suddenly when it gets dry and cold outside, a very expensive and disappointing problem of shrinking-core-syndrome – more about this is Part 3
light – when paired with Eudoxa med set, this over comes the volume/energy imbalance of the Eudoxa C / but response and tone are quite different / can get nice and growly when you push it –
[2020 edit] G & C start to sound too dull to me after some time
I can settle the string up to pitch in two days. Meaning for the first two days, there is a lot of peg tuning consistently throughout the practice/restringing session. On the third day, when I take the cello out of the case, it’s usually pretty close to pitch and I just have to give it one little turn at the peg and re-tune a couple of times after it adjusts to the room. Most of these strings have fully settled into pitch after 1 week. I play every day, which I think helps to quicken the breaking in process (maybe I am wrong).
I perform 100+ shows/gigs per year, and often I found my self planning when to change a string by what type of performance was coming up the next week. In most cases, I changed the string(s) at least 1 week in advance of a concert. This was usually enough time to break in the string and not have any issues with stability during the show. There were a couple of times that I had to change the string 1-2 days before a performance…. This wasn’t ideal, but I was able to perform successfully in all of those cases. I carefully monitored if my pitch dropped, double checking my tuning quietly with a clip on tuner in between movements & pieces. A number of times I performed with the clip on tuner, just to be sure I could lock in my tuning on the new strings; no one complained.
It seems like the Oliv set is more pitch stable than the Eudoxa set. I believe it is due to the higher tension of the string.
Having the right gauges and tension scheme actually contributed more than I initially thought to stability. Having the bridge and nut properly widened is also important. You don’t want the winding to get caught on the bridge or the nut, especially with all of that peg tuning you’ll be doing. When I had the medium gauge Eudoxa a & d with the heavy gauge G and Oliv light C, I had a little trouble getting the low end to settle and stay in pitch. The tension across the bridge was not balanced. With complete set (medium Eudoxa set & light Oliv set) I felt the strings settle into pitch faster and hold their tuning better. I have experienced some intense pitch swings on the low strings due to weather extremes. In August, when it was very humid, I pulled my cello out of the case and my low C was down to AA! Sometimes I would put it away in the case, after having played in a’=440 and when I pulled it out of the case the next day, my cello would be perfectly in tune at a’=415! Another time, during rehearsal there was a very hot and humid thunderstorm happening but with the air conditioning on full blast and during the finale my C string surprised me by drifting up to C# (luckily the section was in Db MJ…). In my experience this year, if it is humid+hot the strings will drift flat, if it is dry+cold the strings will drift sharp. If it is humid+cold… things get really weird and floppy, good luck. On my cello the thicker lower strings are affected most by the humidity/temperature changes.
For as much as I love these strings and highly recommend them, I have had an unfortunate winding separation issue on both Eudoxa AND Oliv A-strings. This has been the most expensive and frustrating part of the learning process. I already voiced not being crazy about the aluminum edge to the sound of the a-string in Part 1. There is a crunchy squeak sound on the surface if you don’t hit it just right with your bow. I’ve had a rough go at it this past year with the a-string winding separating from the gut core. From the very first string I installed, this happened, in fact some of the issues I ran into with the a-string going false (see Part 1) was actually the result of the winding separating from the gut core.
If you install the string and and the winding separates or goes false, even after taking the precautions of widening and lubricating the grooves at the nut and bridge and lifting the string occasionally at the bridge to reset the winding: contact Pirastro directly about getting a replacement string. I have been in contact with Pirastro about this issue and sent them my faulty strings to be analyzed. I have received replacements for all damaged strings, but I’d rather not have to do the international shipping dance over and over again…
Tip 1: Make sure the groove at the nut has a wide enough channel so it doesn’t pinch the winding – especially at the center point of the nut, where the string is bending the most. The winding is so thin and flexible on the A and D strings that it sort of ‘flattens out’ a bit where it bends over the bridge and nut. You can take your instrument to a luthier with your set of strings to have this done. Maybe suggest that they widen it out slightly more than the string width to give it enough space to move freely and not get pinched due to this slight flattening effect. Pinched winding will be the quickest way to kill your A string and lead to general tuning and pitch instability!!
For those who are DIY: I’ve been doing it carefully myself with 400, 600, & 1200 grit sand paper, strips of leather, blunt sewing needles, rasps, and graphite (maybe a luthier will comment suggesting otherwise – please do, we’ll all learn!). [ 2020 edit: Just go to a trusted Luthier and have them cut new grooves at the nut to fit the strings – maybe consider having a new bridge cut, a little bit higher than your steel set up (to accommodate and balance out the lower tension strings) with grooves that fit the wound gut strings. Keep your old bridge around, so you have one bridge for complete steel string set ups and one bridge for gut string set ups. Also have the luthier adjust the soundpost for a gut-string tension set up too. ]
Tip 2: Wrap the neck of the cello with a cushy cloth where the strap goes over the string (see pic below). I believe this strap-wear contributed to some of the separation around first position, which began the swift death for three of my A-strings.
[ 2020 edit: general wear and tear from playing will breakdown the winding in first position and any other commonly played area on the A-string, especially Eudoxa, because the winding is so thin and delicate. This is only an issue on the A strings. But anything you can do to protect the winding will help it’s longevity. ]
Tip 3: Peg Dope – use a peg lubricant like Hill Peg Compound. Available at most string shops for $10, this really helped my friction peg tuning. The pegs no longer “stick and jump”: I am able to turn the peg slowly and smoothly in a controlled motion without excess force to achieve very small and accurate pitch changes, like when using a fine tuner. Using peg compound in combination with winding the string close to (but not touching) the peg box wall helps to prevent peg slips.
CURRENT SETUP (late 2018- early 2019)
My current set up uses Oliv light gauge C, G, and D strings with an Aquila plain gut A-string (1.20mm), for a’=440Hz playing. I got to frustrated with the winding issues on the a-strings and needed a break from that. So I’m going with an open gut a for now and am very happy with the sound! The Aquila a-string is fantastic, shout out to Curtis from Aquila USA for helping me find a diameter that would match the tension of my Oliv set. …I haven’t given up on the Oliv a string just yet, I do plan on using a full Oliv set for future projects, but I’d like to have a luthier look the nut before I install a new one.
Which string combos have worked well for you with Eudoxa &/or Oliv? Are there other brands that you find pair well with these strings? Wound gut, plain gut, synthetic, steel core? Best rosin pairings? Please share your experiences, I’d love to hear about it! Also comment below if you have string care suggestions or helpful installation techniques.