CelloZone! Pirastro Eudoxa & Oliv String Review: for first time buyers (Part 2)

(Part 1)

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). 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.

My current set up uses an Aquila plain gut a-string 1.20mm (I love this string!) with Pirastro Oliv light gauge d, G, C. I tied my loop on the a-string in the same style as Dan Larsen from Gamut does. I have made my own leather washers, modeled after the ones available from Gamut, though mine are a little thicker with larger diameter.  I am using three washers on each string to protect the knot, but not to thick as to dampen the vibration from the string to the tailpiece as much as Pirastro’s white a-string washer does. So far, I find this method to be the most resonant between the string and the tailpiece. I’ll probably go back to threading through the loop next time (as pictured on the tenor gamba) to compare for resonance once again.

SET UPS

Suggested Combos/Sets (no particular order):

Eudoxa medium a, d, G + Oliv light C

Eudoxa medium a, d + Oliv light G, C

Oliv light set

Oliv light d, G, C + Eudoxa heavy a

Tip:  I recommend ordering through Concord Music and Gabriela’s Baroque.

Bonus Tip: try out a number of different rosins to find out what works best with your various string combosEspecially 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, I believe).  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. 

For example:

  • 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  (3) Oliv G, C + Toro or Aquila a, d
  • Chamber music: (1) Eudoxa top a, d, G + Oliv bottom G, C  (2) full Oliv set

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).  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:

Eudoxa 

a –

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

med – 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

d –

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!

G –

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

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

C – 

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

Oliv

light set

I love this set up, the first time I strang up with all Olivs, I thought, “ahhh finally, a full set I can use!” / they are very expressive strings, which 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

d

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.

C

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

SETTLING IN

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.

STABILITY

It seems like the Oliv set is more pitch stable than the Eudoxa set.  Maybe due to the higher tension or the winding?  Or because I have more experience now? I am not sure.

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.    

SEPARATION ANXIETY

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. You can take your instrument to a luthier with your set of strings to have this done.

For those who are DIY: I’ve been doing it carefully myself with 400 & 600 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!).

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 of 3 of my a-strings.

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

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.

Postludemortem

I switched back temporarily to the Oliv a, after the Aquila and Toro a-strings it sounded very smooth and creamy to me.  Shifting is obviously much easier on a wound string and I couldn’t help gliding pitches for expression.  In the future, when doing a concert of Chinese or Indian music, I’ll make sure to pop on an Oliv or Eudoxa a.  The Oliv a really sings in a powerful way, but one of the downfalls coming back to it after the plain gut was that I couldn’t help but play loud, loUD, LOUD!  I found myself unknowingly belting out, like an opera singer.  It’s good to know what these strings bring out in your playing, so you can use it to the greatest advantage.  I have switched back to a plain gut top string for my upcoming performances (a thicker string for scordatura tuning).  I found that I lost some subtly in my playing with the wound a, being that it was so fun to play loud.  For unaccompanied solo playing, the flexibility of the plain gut and Eudoxas is an advantage to me.  But!  I love the uniform color, tone, and response on my instrument with the full set of Olivs.

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.

I hope you found this review helpful! Thanks for reading & happy practicing!

Brian

10/19 | InDIGenous Jazz Series presents Executive Tea Set + Brennan Connors & Stray Passage @ Wisconsin Union Play Circle Theater

I’d like to start out with some after show thoughts on Brennan Connors & Stray Passage’s recent performance at Cafe CODA…

A big shout out and thank you to Hanah Jon Taylor and Cafe CODA for hosting us last Friday, 10/5 at his newly opened space on Willy Street.  When I first moved to Madison from Indianapolis, I noticed the absence of a true Jazz club.  I had been spoiled by my experiences at The Jazz Kitchen (and a number of other joints) where you knew you could go hear the best local and touring players.  The environment at Cafe CODA brought me that feeling once again.  It’s comfortable, in a prime location, has headroom, plenty of large inspiring photos of Jazz legends, and sounds great.  The space invites you through it’s front lounge, to the bar in the middle, and finally pulls you towards the listening space in the back.  As a patron, you have three options when deciding how close-to or far-from the musical action you want to be.  Congratulations to Hanah (and anyone who helped out) on getting this new space up and running, I hope many successful nights of music come your way!  If you are in Madison and love Jazz, check this place out.

Café CODA is Madison’s premier new jazz space! We are dedicated to the presentation of traditional, contemporary and creative music. Café CODA maintains an arts-centric program of musical performances, workshops and master classes available to residents and patrons of the Madison area.

Additional thanks to Paul S Howell for shooting some nice pics at the club!


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Fri, 10/19 | 7:30pm All Ages, FREE

Wisconsin Union: Play Circle Theater

800 Langdon St, Madison, Wisconsin 53706

INDIGENOUS JAZZ SERIES PRESENTS

EXECUTIVE TEA SET

BRENNAN CONNORS & STRAY PASSAGE

Brought to you by Madison Music Collective, Greater Madison Jazz Consortium, Wisconsin Union Theater.

from inDIGenous:

The inDIGenous Jazz Series is presented by Madison Music Collective, The Greater Madison Jazz Consortium, and the Wisconsin Union Theater. Concerts begin at 7:30 pm and are held in the Memorial Union Play Circle at the Wisconsin Union Theater, 800 Langdon St. Each concert is free, all-ages, and open to the public.

The group Executive Tea Set was formed at a time in history just before it was unfortunate to be associated with the word “tea.” After a short time off from regular performances, the group returns to full force with their inimitable style, humor, and grace. Michael, Mark, and Brad are psyched to welcome newest member Paul Dietrich on trumpet. Paul brings his unique panache, and subtle bluster, spurring the band into unknown universes. Their choice of repertoire combines self-described “difficult music” featuring polyrhythmic, multi-modal reading, metric mystery, and high-flying harmonic modulation with “gut-bucket tunes we can blow on”. Original music of a jazz variety carries the day, penned by the members of the group themselves, with occasional masterworks from one jazz luminary or another.

Paul Dietrich – Trumpet
Mark Siegenthaler – Piano
Bradley Townsend – Bass
Michael Brenneis – Drums

Brennan Connors & Stray Passage is primarily an improvising unit focusing on the outside or experimental aspects of jazz. Each performance is dependent on the mind states of the individual musicians, the physical environment of the performance space, and the intense listening and sonic communication that occurs as they play. Their 2017 release Emergence is available on Bandcamp. 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. Their repertoire includes original compositions, a few old favorites, and raw improvisation.

Brennan Connors – Tenor and Soprano Saxophones
Brian Grimm – Electric Bass and Contra-Cello
Geoff Brady – Drums

The inDIGenous Jazz Series is presented by the Madison Music Collective, the Greater Madison Jazz Consortium, and the Wisconsin Union Theater; supported by Dane Arts, the John and Carolyn Peterson Charitable Foundation, the Madison Arts Commission, Janus Galleries, and the Evjue Foundation; and receives promotional support from WORT-FM and Wisconsin Public Radio.

9/20 | CJ Boyd, Taralie Peterson + Brian Grimm, Scaroth @ Communication

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Thr, 9/20 | 7:30pm  $8  All Ages  Alcohol

@ Communication

2645 Milwaukee St. Madison, WI 53704

CJ BOYD (permatour)

Taralie Peterson + Brian Grimm

Scaroth

In the last 5 years, I’ve had the pleasure of collaborating in various ways with ambient bassist & vocalist CJ Boyd (Joyful Noise RecordingsObsolete Media Objects).  We have a track “Horses” coming out on his yet-to-be-released, mammoth sized “50 states project” (more on that when the time comes!).  Back in 2014, I contributed a track to his fundraiser compilation for reproductive rights: Running Up That Hill.  When CJ came through town in 2013, it was the impetus for Mine All Mine Records + GrimmusiK Records ambient compilation Colias.  I also made an official remix of “slowly by your passing” for his Visions & Revisions remix compilation.  The point being, for someone who is on perpetual tour I’ve managed to collaborate with CJ nearly as much as some of my regular bandmates in town!  Now multiply that by all of the musicians that he is keeping track of on the road, constantly in a cycle of scheduling tours, booking shows, recording albums (sometimes in our local coffee shop bathrooms!), releasing collaborative projects, etc…. this guy is busy!  I am always impressed by the hard work and persistence I see from full time touring musician CJ Boyd.

CJ still finds time to have a voice in matters of social injustice, whether it’s through social media platforms or directly in his music.  The timing doesn’t always work out when he is coming through town, but I’m glad it did this year! As always, I am excited to spend some time with CJ before/after the show and to enjoy his ambient music stylings at Madison’s new all ages venue, Communication.

Check out CJ’s many records here: https://cjboyd.bandcamp.com/

More on CJ: http://www.cjboyd.com/

CJ and I are both fans of Taralie Peterson’s musical output, including her solo projects as Tar Pet, Louise Bock, and in the dynamic duo Spires That In The Sunset Rise.  A multi-instrumentalist and improviser extraordinaire, Taralie has the rare gift to pull sounds through the void from other dimensions for you to hold momentarily.  This will be our first duo collaboration and I am honored to sit next to her on stage this Thursday.


 

 

 

4/15 | “Seasons of Change” Wellness Retreat @ Blue Mounds Dharma Center

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If you need to shake off the last clings of Winter and transition into Spring; join us for a day long wellness retreat this Sunday, 4/15 at the Blue Mounds Dharma Center.  From 10:30am-5:00pm we will practice yoga, contemplate dharma talks, explore movement meditation, learn healing touch and listen to ancient string vibrations.

See the poster above for more details.

$80

Only 5 spots are left!
RSVP by contacting Shannel:
ymassageyoga@gmail.com


3/10 | Brian Grimm live at Colectivo (Monroe St.) for Second Saturdays

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Second Saturdays – Live Music @ Colectivo Monroe St.

Live music from 6-8pm. Free!

Featuring members of the Madison Classical Guitar Society & Monroe St. Arts CenterJoin on Facebook

Come enjoy live music, great coffee, and craft beer on the second Saturday of every month at Colectivo’s Monroe St. cafe in Madison!Second Saturdays @ Colectivo Monroe St.

Sat 3/10 | Brian Grimm will perform on guqin (an ancient Chinese zither) and acoustic violoncello, which he teaches next door at Monroe Street Arts Center.  For more about Brian Grimm’s live set, visit Brian Grimm Classical/World EPK.


Cello Zone! Pirastro Eudoxa String Review (for 1st time buyers) Part 1

(Part 2 here)

Detail 1: Three different ways to secure your gut string to the ebony tailpiece. C & G strings are looped, like viola da gamba or classical guitar. D-string is laced, with the knot catching underneath the tailpiece. Eudoxa A-stings have a ball end with a thick cushy washer, so I have it saddled in the fine-tuner.

String Gauges for Part 1

the “Isseralis” set up

  • 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, Pierre Fournier, Jacqueline Du Pré, Daniil Shafran, Steven Isserlis, Pieter Wispelwey – have used wound gut string set ups. 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 a, d, G & Pirastro Oliv for C. [Edit from Steven: “I use 21 ½ gauge A’s , and normal for the others. I use the A strings for c 6 weeks, others till they break!”]
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.

Detail 2: Here you can see the “ball end” with cushy “washer” on the a-string. My a-string was and friction peg were fighting the tension a bit when I had it threaded underneath (like the d-string). So after a week, I switched to saddling it in the fine-tuner and it hasn’t given me any trouble since. This may have to do with the added downward tension behind the bridge when threading in the tailpiece vs saddling in the fine-tuner – where it sits higher. I looped the low strings, because they held tension better and were more secure on my cello that way. You can keep it simple though, and thread all of the strings like I have the d-string, just let the knot catch on the underside of the tailpiece.

Pros / Cons

Pros

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!

Cons

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.

Winding Up

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!

Brian

Click here to book a Cello Zone lesson!


10/21 | “Emergence” CD Release Show w/ Invisible Guy Trio (SF)

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!

http://www.setoladimaiale.net/catalogue/view/SM3300

“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.