String Gauges for Part 1
- a1 Eudoxa medium gauge 21 PM / 1.05mm (sheep gut core, aluminum wound)
- d2 Eudoxa medium gauge 24 PM / 1.2mm (sheep gut core, silver/aluminum wound)
- G3 Eudoxa heavy gauge 27 PM / 1.35mm (sheep gut core, silver wound)
- C4 Oliv light gauge 36 PM / 1.8mm (sheep gut core, silver wound)
I recently had a month away from my cello while it was being repaired for some damages caused by United Airlines (more on that in another post). During the interim, I was researching both plain and wound gut strings to outfit my cello(s) with. It became clear that a lot of my heroes – Pau Casals, Jacqueline Du Pré, Daniil Shafran, Steven Isserlis – used wound gut strings. It was high time I gave it a try.
Now, I don’t know which gauges British cellist Steven Isserlis uses… but I know that his set up is Pirastro Eudoxa for a1, d2, G3 – and Pirastro Oliv for C4. Isserlis is a benchmark among modern cellists for the tone he draws from the cello. He is famous not only for his wonderful performances of cello repertoire, but also for his decades long use of Eudoxa strings, handmade by Pirastro in Germany. If it’s good enough for him, then it’s certainly good enough for me!
The new strings have been on for a three weeks now. I love the tone they produce, there is a complex, vocal quality to it. They feel nice under the fingers and allow you to sculpt each note. This is exactly the sort of color and depth I felt was lacking from my steel string set ups. It’s a robust round sound, rich in harmonic content and full of resonance. Quite honestly, they are much louder than I anticipated. I know the stereotype is that gut strings are quieter than steel, and maybe this is more to do with projection or is about steel vs plain/open gut … but I must say that on *my cello, these wound gut strings are actually louder than the steel string set ups. *Loudness results may vary from cello to cello… I’m having the opposite problem, I can’t seem to play quietly enough. So much so that I’ve had complaints from my upstairs neighbors about the volume being too loud when I am practicing.
Initially, the G/C strings seemed too stiff and limited in their range of expression via variation in tone. However, they have since opened up a lot. Now it is easier to bow near the fingerboard and activate the string quietly. At first I felt trapped into pushing towards the bridge for every note, just to get it to speak. There is a limit to how aggressively you crank on these strings, especially on the low end. You can’t bend the string to your will with crushing down bows. It won’t respond the same way, it certainly won’t give you the sound you want. There is a lot more subtlety to be explored in the sound and the technique.
Pros / Cons
The tone is incredible (see video above). Many of my adult students (and student parents) being more familiar with what a cello sounds like, immediately remark at the Eudoxa’s beauteous sound. With a nice ebony wood tail piece and the gut string set up, it feels like I turned on a super wet reverb inside the cello!
Gut strings have been the sound of bowed string instruments for centuries! Steel strings only came into prominence in the 20th century during WWII when sheep gut was hard to come by. Playing on gut puts you in touch with centuries of tradition and helps you understand the repertoire of the past (from 1940’s back to the 1600’s) in a deeper tactile way.
Eudoxas are uniquely flexible all the way up the fingerboard! I feel more relaxed when playing in thumb position. Planting the thumb and fingers down to the fingerboard two octaves up the A&D strings is easier to do than on steel.
The staccato and spiccato bow strokes sound is unreal on these strings. I truly feel I’ve never executed a proper sounding staccato or spicatto stroke until using gut. The bite is there, but it’s still a round note unlike steel where it can sound only like the bite and nothing else.
Pizzacato feels/sounds AMAZING. If you are a jazzer or get into chordal playing, definitely give these strings a try. It makes me feel like I’m playing fretless bass guitar, Jaco style. Pizz has never sounded so lush on my cello!
Shifting is very enjoyable and fun to do on this set up (which I can’t say for most strings).
Eudoxa strings are not as expensive as one might think! A full set of Eudoxa is about $250, whereas an equivalent set of Larsen Magnacore (steel) or Thomasitik Versum (steel) runs about $350-$400. These are professional, high end strings used by such greats as Isseralis and Jacqueline du Pré. While Du Pre was transitioning from plain gut to steel strings, she used Eudoxa C4, G3 and Prim (steel) d2, a1 – as you can see and hear in the video below. Again, if Eudoxa is good enough for THE Jacqueline du Pré, they are good enough for little ole me!
The obvious one (no getting around it) – gut strings have a longer break in period. New steel Larsen Magnacore strings are said to break in within an hour. It has taken two full weeks for my Eudoxa strings to settle up-to pitch and into tension. I spent hours playing in the strings everyday, tuning constantly throughout each session. My (friction) peg tuning skills have much improved as a result! – Update: For this entire 3rd week I haven’t had to peg tune my strings once, they have held steady at A=440Hz! Wohoo!
More subject to temperature and humidity changes.
Animals definitely died in the making of these strings… they are not vegan-cellist friendly.
The Intonation Game
Sometimes it feels like you are chasing intonation around the fingerboard for the first couple of weeks. The strings are all going out of tune at slightly different rates. Because the strings are thicker, rolling your finger from back to front results in a much larger sweep of pitch. There is a bit of retraining for how to place the finger and correct the intonation. Some of these issues are break-in period ones. Now that the strings have settled in and relaxed, it feels mostly back to normal when placing and adjusting the finger to achieve good intonation.
I could foresee a couple of issues for some players/cellos in respects to the low strings: they may feel too chunky; be slow to speak; have overpowering bassy low end; not bright enough lows for your instrument to cut through; vibrate too widely for your string spacing (I can get the C string to vibrate so widely that it hits my G string!); have trouble getting the edgy tone that one can get from a tungsten wound steel string.
My one tonal complaint is with the aluminum winding on the a1 string. It sometimes sounds tooooo much like aluminum. You get a gross sound sometimes when you portamento. The toothy crunching crinkle winding-tone comes out harshly if you don’t get the bow tilt and placement just right, especially without enough rosin on.
The sweet spot on a gut string during the break in period seems to be very specific. If you aren’t listening to the physical feed back loop of the string<>bow interaction, you’ll get a false sounding note, or it may not even speak at all. Certain high register notes are particular to speak; some of the wolf-tone notes of a string can go false or simply disappear on you – if one is not using the proper bow speed, placement, pressure/weight, tightness.
Wound gut strings demand respect from you, the player. With both left hand pitch and point-of-contact for the bow – the feeling is similar to having a feral cat or rescue dog in the house for the first time. You can’t necessarily predict how they will react and behave so you are on your toes, more ready for a slew of possible outcomes. With steel strings, it’s more like having a domesticated dog or cat, you can predict fairly accurately how they will behave in each situation.
On many cellos, the strings may be too wide/thick for your bridge &/or nut – you may need to get those re-cut or altered by a luthier.
The first recording I ever heard of the Bach cello suites was by Pau Casals. These recordings from the late 1930’s were given to me by my Classical teacher Janet Marshall. She was part of the generation of cellists following after Casals in the mid 20th Century. Both Casals and Marshall had an incredibly powerful yet simultaneously beautiful sound. When I play on this Eudoxa gut string set up, I feel that the sound of Casals comes out of my cello. I hear all of those lessons with Janet playing back in my head, how she sang phrases and demonstrated passages with the highest passion and musicality. Playing on these strings feels like being home.
In Part 2 I will review a Full Set of Eudoxa Meduim Gauge strings. Stay tuned and Happy Practicing!
Sat, 10/21 | No Cover 630-930p @ The Mason Lounge
416 S Park St, Madison, WI
INVISIBLE GUY TRIO (SF)
BRENNAN CONNORS & STRAY PASSAGE (Mad)
↑ CD Release via setola di maiale (Italy)
Brennan Connors & Stray Passage have a new CD “Emergence” coming out this October on Italian label, setola di maile!
“Their sets embrace plenty of sinuous melody and conversational interplay,
but can just as easily dive into minimalism and dissonance.” ~ Tone Madison
Experimental Jazz trio Brennan Connors & Stray Passage has been performing in Madison for the past 5 years, exciting listeners with a range of sonic capabilities. Their improvised music is directly linked to the atmosphere in the room and energy of the audience. The listener is such a crucial element in shaping the band’s sound that they recorded this album in front of a live studio audience – expertly captured by master engineer Steve Gotcher at Audio for the Arts. Listeners will experience a jazz trio that embraces both free and structured improvisation, original compositions, groove based experiments, and sound exploration. The breadth of a performance ranges from focused minimalism to fiery high energy music, all while maintaining a sense of narrative organization and compelling ensemble interplay.
The group is led by Brennan Connors on tenor and soprano saxophones. Geoff Brady orchestrates drum and percussion textures, while Brian Grimm rounds out the trio bowing cello, contra-cello, and electric bass.
We are ecstatic and grateful to setola di maiale records in Italy for officially releasing our first album!
We’ll be joined by a fantastic drummer & friend of mine, Hamir Atwal (San Francisco), with his trio Invisible Guy. The group features Michael Coleman on keyboard & Ben Goldberg on clarinet. We are very glad to share our CD release show bill with another trio that explores the dynamics of free-improv in full range!
“Mr. Goldberg is a clarinetist of range and curiosity.” – The New York Times
Ben Goldberg’s Bay Area-based trio looks forward and backward at the same time, creating both nostalgic reveries and modern statements. Goldberg is known for drawing on his Jewish roots and radical versions of Klezmer music and his clarinet work is always focused with an endearing lyrical quality. Pianist Michael Coleman leaps between stride riffs and electronic splatter. Drummer Hamir Atwall provides everything from a swinging undercurrent to a clattery rush.
As a trio, Ben, Michael, and Hamir are in strict pursuit of beautiful melody. Michael Coleman says: “Melody is the knife that cuts through to truth. Then there is the importance of breath, and personal expression.” Reviewing a 2014 concert, Howard Reich of the Chicago Tribune said the group is “an unusually focused ensemble inventing a musical syntax for itself.”
From 1992, when his group New Klezmer Trio released Masks and Faces and “kicked open the door for radical experiments with Ashkenazi roots music” (SF Chronicle) to 2013’s simultaneous release of Subatomic Particle Homesick Blues (featuring Joshua Redman) and Unfold Ordinary Mind (featuring Nels Cline), which the New York Times noted for “a feeling of joyous research into the basics of polyphony and collective improvising,” clarinetist and composer Ben Goldberg has shaped a career through relentless pursuit of musical truth across many genres and styles, resulting in the Downbeat Critics’ Poll naming him the #1 Rising Star Clarinetist in both 2011 and 2013. In 2015 Ben released a recording of his songcycle Orphic Machine , sung by Carla Kihlstedt and performed by an allstar nine piece band including Nels Cline, Greg Cohen, and Ches Smith. The LA Times called Orphic Machine “knotted and occasionally spooky composition marked by dazzling interplay.” All Music Guide says “Orphic Machine is wildly ambitious and sophisticated, but also graceful, emotionally honest, and accessible. It makes the profound embraceable and, as a result, is a masterpiece.” Ben currently composes for and leads the following groups:
Unfold Ordinary Mind ; Go Home ; Ben Goldberg School ; and Ben Goldberg Trio with Greg Cohen and Kenny Wollesen.
Drummer/Percussionist Hamir Atwal is a Berklee College of Music graduate who
has taught at Music Academy International, and the Stanford Jazz Workshop. Hamir is an active endorser of DREAM Cymbals. Hamir has played with saxophonists Joe Lovano, Greg Osby, and Grant Stewart; Bassist/Producer Bill Laswell; and clarinetist Ben Goldberg.
Michael Coleman is a pianist, improviser and composer currently residing in Brooklyn, NY. He has had the pleasure of playing with many great musicians and recording with some of his favorite bands and people. Apart from leading his own groups (Beep!, CavityFang, Young Nudist), Michael has toured the world with Chris Cohen, tUnEyArDs,
Sean Hayes, Miles Kurosky and Jug Free America.
“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.
** 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 (start from this page, click below)! ⇓
Live in Sun Prairie?
Live on the west side of Madison?
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.
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) – 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.
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) – 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) – 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.
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
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).
Sat, 9/2 | THE LIGHTS FEST
6-7pm Brian Grimm (Classical/World) Cello and Guqin solo set
Donating to Make A Wish Foundation
WI-33, Beaver Dam, Wisconsin 53916
The Lights Fest is an experience where thousands of friends and families gather to listen to live music, fill up on food trucks and light up life by sharing personal wishes, dreams and goals. At the perfect moment everyone ignites their personalized sky lanterns with Tiki torches and lets them take flight. It creates a surreal ambiance, where time slows down and your single flame rises and joins with thousands of others to light up your life.
The lights fest is dedicated to leaving a positive impact on the environment and everyone who attends our event. This is an event that is for everyone but cultivates individual experiences. Whether you’re commemorating or celebrating you’re creating a special memory that will last a lifetime
The Lights Fest is proud to be supporting Make-A-Wish® Wisconsin, an organization that grants wishes to children with life-threatening medical conditions, to enrich the human experience with hope, strength and joy. The Lights Fest will be making a donation to the organization in honor of this event. For more information visit wisconsin.wish.org
What You Get
Your ticket includes a packet to be picked up at the event. The packet contains a lantern, marker, and key chain flashlight. Come enjoy a magical night and memories to last a lifetime.Any child under three years old is free to the event. Children ages 4 – 12 need to purchase our kids ticket for just eight dollars. They will receive a fun little swag bag and no lantern. 13 years and older will be charged an adult ticket.
Hurry! Space is limited:
Fri, 9/8 | 8pm $12 @ Art In
1444 E Washington Ave, Madison, Wisconsin 53703
Tone Madison presents:
Tatsuya Nakatani Gong Orchestra
Pennsylvania-based avant-garde percussion master Nakatani returns, this time leading a large ensemble of local musicians playing gongs. The Gong Orchestra uses Nakatani’s bowing techniques to create an otherworldly array of harmonics and textures. It’s a gorgeous, powerful sonic experience you won’t want to miss.
$10 presale, $12 day of, $8 for Tone Madison sustainers (patreon.com/toneMSN)
(September 5th) Update!
Aroma Yin Yoga Yoga & Guqin Mediation @ Monona Yoga
Sunday, July 23rd 6:30-7:30 PM Price: $25 (members $15)
Registration Deadline: Friday, July 21st
Register Here: http://bit.ly/2uAOHpd
Immerse yourself in the blissful practice of Aroma Yin Yoga with Surya, and the live meditative music of the ancient string instrument, the Guqin 古琴 with Brian Grimm
Melt into your mat in this multi-sensory experience, which includes the use of therapeutic essential oils to help you ground, calm, and relax into your poses, that will help deepen and enhance your Yin experience.
Breathe, find stillness, and release stress.
The guqin is an ancient, seven-string fretless-zither from China which has been used to cultivate the mind toward Enlightenment for thousands of years. The quiet, calming tones of this instrument always resonate strongly with those who experience it.
Yoga & Guqin Mediation @ Monona Yoga
Sunday, June 25th 6:30-7:30 PM Price: $25
Registration Deadline: Friday, June 23rd
Register Here: http://bit.ly/2oYTxtO
Monona Yoga welcomes Brian Grimm, who will accompany instructor Valerie Hesslink in a blissful yoga class with the ancient instrument. The guqin 古琴 is an ancient seven-string fretless-zither from China which has been used to cultivate the mind toward Enlightenment for thousands of years. The quiet, calming tones of this instrument always resonate strongly with those who experience it.