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

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 underneith 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, 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.

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

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Cello Zone! Rosins I Use

“Which cello rosin do you use?”

…. is actually a question I am rarely asked!  This overlooked cake of hardened tree-goop not only allows us to bow the string*, but also plays a large part in our tone production.

I suggest that students apply a few coats of rosin (3 to 10 strokes, ΠV) before each practice session, rehearsal, & performance.  Partly for consistency, but also to avoid injury.  Without enough rosin on your bow, the hairs won’t properly grip the strings.  To compensate for the ensuing bow-slip, you will tense up and over-work your right arm; resulting in an injury similar to tennis elbow.  However, there is such a thing as over-rosining your bow.  If it’s too thickly coated, your hairs will get stuck in the string.  This results in a bow-tripping sensation much like stumbling from catching your toe on the sidewalk.  We’re looking for that Goldilocks principle: not too much, not too little – a few coats of rosin is just right.

With so many brands and prices, which one do you choose?  Thankfully, Johnson String Instrument Shop has made it easier for me to share the rosins I use via student wish lists!  Here are some recommended cello rosins for: (I) Students (II) Professionals and (III) …surprise! Percussionists.

*Without rosin the bow hairs can’t grip the string, no matter how hard you bow… it makes no sound.


Book a Cello Zone Lesson with Brian!

Live in Sun Prairie?

email Prairie Music & Arts:  info@prairiemusic.org,

cc: bgrimm@prairiemusic.org

Live on the west side of Madison?

email Monroe Street Arts Center:  info@monroestreetarts.org

cc: brian@monroestreetarts.org


Cello Rosins I Use –  For Students

Pirastro Cello Rosin

Pros:  Generally used in Spring/Summer (humid seasons); for light, fast playing.  Cuts well, can add an edge to your bow tone.  There are a lot of Pirastro rosins to choose from (almost too many…), surely one among their variety should be ample to cover the tone and grip needed for your particular strings: see here.

Cons: Heavy powdering, can irritate sinuses.  Sometimes tone is too bright and thin for classic cello repertoire.  Doesn’t grip as deeply as I need for power playing.

Still not sticky enough for you?  Buy the Pirastro Bass Rosin, it works great for cello!

Pirastro rosins have been developed and produced in Offenbach, Germany for over 200 years. Pirastro Cello Rosin is an amber color medium grade rosin specially formulated for use with cellos.


Hill Dark Rosin for Violin, Viola and Cello

Pros:  *Rosin of choice for two of my go-to luthiers!  Use as a final polishing layer in combination with other rosins; fine smooth feel with medium tone; not over-grippy.

Cons:  For a professional cellist, this rosin doesn’t grip strongly enough to stand on it’s own.  However, for students on smaller sized cellos (1/4, 1/2, 3/4, etc) it should do splendidly.

Hill Dark Rosin (green), the ultimate rosins, used by professionals worldwide. The Hill Brand rosins are wrapped in their own padded velveteen shell. This is the rosin that others strive to emulate. Used for violin, viola and cello, the amber (light) is slightly hard and has moderate powder. The dark (green) is slightly softer and grips better than the amber.


Professional Cello Rosin

Kolstein Cello Rosin

Pros: For the last decade this has been my favorite rosin!  Generally used in Fall/Winter (drier seasons); for heavy, rich playing.  More and more, I’ve been using it all year round.  The tone is complex, gorgeous.  Very grippy, results in a powerful deep sound.

Cons:  This rosin may be too sticky and coarse for some sets of lighter gauge strings.

Kolstein & Sons, Ltd. produces an outstanding rosin using their Ultra Formulation Supreme recipe. Very minimal powdering and excellent grip equate to quick response and consistent sustain for both the veteran and beginning cellist. A good rosin for players with respiratory difficulties.


Melos Baroque Cello & Bass Viol Rosin

Pros: Wow, I love this Baroque cello/viol rosin.  Though it’s made for traditional sheep gut strings, it still plays wonderfully on modern metal-core/wound strings.  Incredible glide, with even grip from fingerboard to bridge on all strings. Lighter tone than Kolstein; plays smooth; a finer grade.  It feels as if the bow hairs are melting into your string, like a hot knife through butter.  No harsh squeaking sounds on the A string.

Cons:  Have yet to find any, this stuff is near perfect in my book.

Melos Baroque Cello Bass Viol Rosin is superb for use with period instruments using gut strings. This Baroque version rosin is stickier than rosin for their modern counterparts. Melos founder Christos Sykiotis, himself a cellist, explains it this way: “The gut string sounds not easy as a metallic string. We shouldn’t press the bow in order to play so we need a stickier rosin to play easy.” Melos rosins are made in small batches from Greek pine resin and other natural ingredients.

Try a combination of their two modern cello rosins:  Melos Dark (fall/winter) & Light (spring/summer) Cello Rosin


Rosin for Percussionists

Kolstein All Weather Bass Rosin – I originally heard about Kolstein rosin a decade ago from a professional double bassist (and have loved it ever since).  This past weekend, I premiered a composition by percussionist Garrett Mendelow.  This duo piece included three sections: (i) guqin zither + pedal board, tape, singing bowls and crotales (ii) tabla and Indian cello (iii) bowed vibraphone.  We tried my Kolstein rosin on the bass bows + my Tatsuya Nakatani beach wood cello bow on the vibes.  The tone was delicious.  The vibraphone bars played smooth and spoke well.  OK percussionists, the secret is out! Get that Kolstein bass rosin, it’s even stickier than the cello version – you won’t need much.

Speaking of percussionist Tatsuya Nakatani… I had the immense pleasure of performing in his Nakatani Gong Orchestra this September.  It was hands down, one of the most unforgettable performances of my life. What a tremendous honor to learn directly from the bowed gong master himself (thanks Scott Gordon of Tone Madison for curating)!  I’ve been using one of Tatsuya’s hand made Nakatani-Kobo bows for about 3 years.  I love it.  The tone, the bite, the feel, the articulation…. his bows are incredible.  They are designed for gongs and cymbals, so I tried it on the vibraphone.  The Nakatani-Kobo bow spoke much quicker and with less pressure than a (often over tightened) double bass bow.  Percussionists, these bows are made for bowing metal, check them out.  I asked Tatsuya which rosin he prefers to use, his answer was: Pops Bass Rosin.


Alright Cello Zone studio, that’s all for today’s post.  I hope you find this helpful when selecting your next cake of rosin!  Follow the blog, like us on facebook and share with other cello friends.  Leave your comments below, what’s your favorite brand of rosin and why?

Happy Practicing!

Brian Grimm


Cello Zone! String Recommendations

“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)! ⇓

Click image to go to String Size Selection Page.

Book a Cello Zone Lesson with Brian!

Live in Sun Prairie?

email Prairie Music & Arts:  info@prairiemusic.org,

cc: bgrimm@prairiemusic.org

Live on the west side of Madison?

email Monroe Street Arts Center:  info@monroestreetarts.org

cc: brian@monroestreetarts.org


 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.

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.

Set Includes:

  • 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.


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) – 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.


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:


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).

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