String Instruments & Accessories


February 02, 2018

Cello sizes for young players and smaller adults

Just off the phone from a mum who wants her son to begin playing Cello. Obviously the first question fired at me is, ‘what size must I get’? After a lengthy explanation and details such as age etc, I finally asked her son’s height – which turned out to substantially less than even an average child of that age. I had to start the whole process over again, learning once again that age is not a good guide to choosing a Cello size, especially with our diverse population in the UK.

What then to look for? Through the years we have put forth various theoretical approaches to this question using age, height, length of arm and hand size, which are all very pertinent. But here I intend to stick my neck out and say that the only safe and sure way, is to get the Cello into playing position with the pupil.

Get him seated so that his (I hate his/her, so will alternate!) legs are parallel to the floor and the knees bent at 90 degrees – some prefer a slight tilt so that the knee is actually lower than the hips. Get the cello with spike out so that the lower bouts are clasped between her knees with the lower curve tucked into her left knee. If the size is correct the upper rim of the body should rest easily on the breast bone, at an angle of 45 degrees.  The tuning pegs will be more or less level with the left ear, especially the lower peg.

This should suffice to get an idea of the correct size, except only for a final check, using the arm and hand size. The left hand should clasp easily around the neck and the fingers be able to reach easily to the C string. Should her hands be exceptionally small you may have to consider a smaller Cello.

It is common sense to check this with your teacher as some have very strong views on the subject. I, on the other hand sometimes, depending on age (Say 12-ish!) and when they are considering moving from ½ (which he has been on for far too long) to ¾, may advise parents to go full size – within reason.

Alternatively consider hiring the next size (3/4) to bridge the gap until you are ready for full size

Adults of smaller stature are catered for as well. Here is photo showing five sizes of Cello for adult players. They are on level stand to convey the relative sizes. The first is a rather big ‘Rogeri’ copy, the second (still full size) is standard ‘Strad copy’ labelled Johan Stohr; the third is a slim and slender ‘Guadagnini’ copy by Hidersine; the third is a 7/8 Cello by Westbury and finally a ¾ Elysia.

20180201_153131_resized (2)

January 16, 2018

The New Larsen Virtuoso for Viola – A Complementary Balance


The New Larsen Virtuoso for Viola – A Complementary Balance – Available soon

If something works then why change it? Since its original launch back in 1995, the Original Larsen Viola A string has become almost the default choice for viola players.

Offering  excellent projection  with  a  broad  spectrum  of  sound  colours  combined  with  a  long  lasting and consistent performance.

With the development of our new Virtuoso Viola strings, launched in January 2018, the focus has been upon creating a new offering for viola D, G and C, built upon the firm foundations of the tried and trusted A string.  Finding a balance of qualities to complement and mutually enhance something old with something new:

‘A golden, open and clear tone with a nice balance of warmth and brilliance.’

The  new  Virtuoso  for  Viola,  available  as  individual  strings  or  as sets  in  Medium and  Soloist  variants,  achieves  that  complementary  balance.  The Medium set delivers a rich sound texture whilst the Soloist is more focused and brings greater volume to the instrument.

Please note: The Original A string, medium is supplied as the ideal partner for both Virtuoso Medium tension and Soloist combinations packaged as sets.

String Details

The Original Viola A string is based upon a solid steel core, wound with precision rolled stainless steel flat wire. The Virtuoso Viola D, G and C strings build upon a synthetic multi-filament core and are wound with pure silver

January 12, 2018

Slipping pegs (part 2)

Wittner set of cello finetune pegs

The fitting and tuning of stringed instruments using pegs set into a block of wood or a pegbox, is as old as primitive instruments go. The craftsmanship, however, needed to fit specifically instruments of the violin family is a skilled process by trained luthiers using unique tools, getting a precise fit so that pegs turn easily and don’t slip.

Trouble is that they can and do slip which can be very frustrating. In an earlier article I went over the reasons for this phenomenon and the remedies. One such is fine tune pegs by Wittner and by Knilling.

Finetune-pegs made by Wittner in Germany offer a “non-slip” solution for the violin/viola or cello player. These pegs have the traditional hardwood ebony appearance while offering a unique internally geared system that makes them a doddle to use.

The fine-tune peg is fitted firmly, but not glued, into the existing peg hole so as to be immovable. Done correctly it remains thus and the only part of the peg that moves is the head and the geared middle section of the shaft onto which the string is wound. Each peg has the internal gearing affording very precise and smooth tuning. The mechanism is constructed so that it cannot slip back once tuned. Fitting the pegs is really a job for a trained luthier which, of course, adds a bit of cost.

This non-slip function is not the only benefit of Wittner peg. Because the peg shaft is immovable there is no wear on the peg box. The traditional tapered peg caused progressive wear by the constant turning, resulting in the need for ongoing maintenance and even re-bushing on older instruments. There is also no risk of a split peg box, as no inward pressure is being exerted on the peg box. This fact is particularly important for older instruments and especially where there is a repaired pegbox split, thus reducing the possibility of the crack opening again.

Another advantage is that you can do away with fine tuners on the tailpiece, which reduces the weight (however small) and adds to the overall aesthetics of your instrument. Some players do just leave the e- string adjuster as being perhaps a bit easier to use and more precise.

There are more and more student instruments now fitted with the finetune pegs as standard – see the Giovanni Allegro, Vivente Academy and Veracini Finetune model.

In Blog
December 22, 2017

Help! Which strings do I need? Part 3 – Gut core strings

Help! Which strings do I need? Part 3 – Gut core strings

So, we finally come to the original gut strings which have been used for centuries – plain old gut strings. Traditionally these are made from sheep or cattle gut. Up to the beginning of the 20th century only gut strings were played, and even now they remain popular with many musicians. There are two kinds of gut strings – unwound or simple solid gut strings such as Pirastro Chorda, and then gut covered, overwound with some kind of metal. Unwound strings are mainly used today with period instruments, for baroque music. Quite often, too, we have been requested to supply raw gut strings for Hurdy Gurdy players at medieval functions!

Wound gut strings are, however, still used by many players today who have a preference for the rich and full sound they offer. To a large extent gut core wound strings have overcome the perceived disadvantages of plain gut and much research has gone in to achieving this end. That said, in years gone by the Pirastro Eudoxa was our fastest selling string for Violin, which is not the case today.

Musicians that prefer gut core wound strings will give the reasons that they stick to them, viz; Rich and full sound with overtones and colour not found with other strings; Warmer and subtler when used on basically loud instruments; Useful for older more valuable instruments and available with different tensions.

The older perceived disadvantages such as break is time, have to a large extent been overcome by the modern windings. There is some evidence that they react more to change of temperature and humidity and have a shorter life span – but the better tone makes up for any such problems. The most popular strings are Eudoxa, Passione, Pirastro Oliv and Gold label.

Disadvantages of gut strings:

  • Usually more expensive than synthetic or metal strings
  • Take longer to break in
  • Can be affected by chanegs in temperature and/or humidity
  • Shorter life span
  • Less sound volume than most synthetic and metal strings

Advantages of gut strings:

  • Period (baroque) instruments
  • Instruments that sound loud or sharp by nature
  • Musicians looking for a lovely warmer, more colourful sound
In Blog
December 14, 2017

I have Grandpa’s old violin – is it worth fixing?

I have Grandpa’s old violin – is it worth fixing?

We have written something about this earlier but here are further details and tips on how to evaluate your instrument. The above question I have heard more times than I can shake a stick at. Often, sorrowfully, it is Grandpa himself who has throughout the years treasured his ‘Stradivarius’ violin – only to be told that it is a very good German copy from the last century! Nice enough violins in their own right but not worth the untold thousands of pounds that was anticipated. So how to go about making the decision to put the old violin up for sale and, quite frankly, who can you trust anyway? In the world today, there are only a handful of real experts who are qualified to evaluate a really classic old ‘master’ violin – so in this article we are only treating of the multitudes of German and French workshop fiddles that flooded out of Europe during the 19th and early 20th century

Put very simplistically the quality of workmanship will be the thing to look for which will tell you if your violin is worth taking in to the shop and getting an experienced eye to evaluate it. There are also numerous websites where you can read all about it – but have the following information to hand

  1. The Back – Take a general look and get a feel for the instrument and then turn it over and look at the back. Is it a one-piece or two piece back? Is the wood (usually maple) nicely flamed and are there signs of wear where patches of varnish have been worn through. Is the button well-made and symmetrical?
  2. Check the purfling back and front. This is the thin black line which is (usually) inlaid around the edge, following the outline of the instrument and neatly into the corners. This should be even and well worked. It is easy to see if this has been done carefully but check for ‘drawn-on’ or painted purfling which is often a giveaway
  3. The Front. Now go to the front and again examine for careful workmanship to the corners, and the F holes which should be carefully made and matching. Look at the quality of wood. The grain should be even and narrow or perhaps widening out to the edges – indicating a fine choice of wood. Look at the fingerboard – are there signs of wear indicated by a pale wood appearing through the black. This indicates that the fingerboard has been painted black and is not true ebony
  4. Look carefully at the side or ribs for evenness and good workmanship. At the button end has it been well finished off and the ribs well aligned
  5. The scroll is often an obvious sign that a violin is good and has been well made. Is it symmetrical and well executed curving cleanly towards the pegbox? Are there still chisel marks and does the fluting continue all the way round or do the grooves just disappear. The quality of the scroll carving does not affect the tonality the instrument, but is a very good marker that the violin is a good one because makers often made a point of paying attention to this detail.
  6. Lastly, with a strong light behind you peer down through the ‘f-hole’ and see if you can see a label. This may or may not be genuine but is an overall component of the evaluation process. There are literally thousands of ‘Strads.’, ‘Amatis’ and the like out there, but if, fortuitously, your violin carries the name of one of the famous German or French makers it is certainly worth seeing to.
December 07, 2017

Help! Which strings do I need? Part 2 – Synthetic core strings

Help! Which strings do I need? Part 2

There are currently quite a number of brands, string types and tensions. But which strings are the best for me? Or, to be more precise, which strings are the best for your instrument? There is not one clear answer to this question, but with this short guide we can hopefully guide you to what will most likely be the most suitable.

Strings for string instrument can roughly be subdivided into three types – those with a gut core, those with a synthetic core and those with a steel core.

We will be covering the three categories in more depth and this is the second article where we look at synthetic core strings.

Strings with a SYNTHETIC core

The core used with these strings consists of a synthetic substance such as Nylon or a similar composite material, around which are wound various grade of thin metal wire. The winding can be precious or semi-precious metals such as aluminium, chrome, silver or gold. The whole drive behind the ongoing research into synthetic core strings, is to achieve the warmth and overtones associated with gut, whilst retaining the advantages of a nylon core.

These strings are very popular because they offer wonderful tonal qualities but are stable and very quick to play in, stay in tune, are responsive and longer lasting. Many professional players in an orchestral setting, are now using the more expensive modern brands – Evah Pirazzi, Obligato, Peter Infeld and Vision. The ever-popular Dominant strings are middle of the range both in price and tonal quality, whilst even less expensive brands are still very acceptable; Tonica, Pro-Arte and Warchal. Most are available for smaller instruments.

Modern research is moving towards removing any disadvantages of synthetics, but many players still stay with traditional gut strings which offer greater desirable complexity of over-tones; where the modern synthetic strings could be overpowering in an ensemble setting.

Recommended is to consider using synthetic core strings if you own a modern instrument which is built to cope with the higher tensions and you are looking for a more powerful, yet still-warm sound. The usual advice is to experiment, reaching out to the sound you are seeking and starting with the cheaper brands.

Advantages of synthetic core strings:

  • Wide variety on offer
  • Different options: from warm and intimate to bright and powerful
  • Very short settling in period
  • They stay more in tune better than gut strings
  • Easier bow and left hand response than gut strings
  • More and more less expensive synthetic core strings available

Disadvantages of synthetic core strings:

  • Top brands can be very expensive
  • Some types of synthetic strings have a limited lifetime
  • Despite recent developments they still lack the complexity (over- and undertones) of gut strings

Synthetic core strings are ideal for:

  • Modern (newly built) instruments that don’t react well on the low tension of gut core strings
  • Instruments that need more articulation than is possible with gut core strings
  • String players that want to experiment with different types of sound, because of the large offering in synthetic core string types
  • Young/student string players wanting a warmer sound on small instruments
In Blog
November 29, 2017

Caswells Christmas Prize Givaway 2017

Our Christmas Prize Givaway 2017 is running from the 24 November until Christmas Eve 24 December 2017. Any orders placed on or between these two dates will be entered in a prizedraw* to win one of 20 fabulous prizes worth in excess of £1000 combined.

Every order has an equal chance of winning and the winning orders will be drawn on the 27th December 2017. Winners will be notified by email.

Caswells Christmas Prize Givaway 2017 prizes:

1 x set of Peter Infeld Violin strings (Supplied by Hidersine, Barnes and Mullins)

1 x EDM-1 plus a BAND pickup for violin (Supplied by Headway Music Audio)

1 x P&H  carbon composite violin bow (Supplied by Stentor Music)

1 x set Larsen Virtuoso violin strings (Supplied by The Sound Post Ltd)

1 x set Larsen Crown Cello strings (Supplied by The Sound Post Ltd)

1 x Bio Violin case without pocket (Supplied by Gewa Music)

1 x Too hot to handle oven gloves

3 x Snark Touch screen metronome

10 x Boxes of Chocolate violins

Judges decision is final and no correspondence will be entered into regarding prizes. Prizes will be dispatched 30 days from the date of the original order placed.

Carbon Composite violin bow

* The draw is open to anyone – for FREE entry please email and you will be entered in the draw

November 23, 2017

Help! Which strings do I need? Part 1 – Steel core strings

Help! Which strings do I need?

There are currently quite a number of brands, string types and tensions. But which strings are the best for me? Or, to be more precise, which strings are the best for your instrument? There is not one clear answer to this question, but with this short guide we can hopefully guide you to what will most likely be the most suitable.

Strings for string instrument can roughly be subdivided into three types – those with a gut core, those with a synthetic core and those with a steel core.

We will be covering the three categories in more depth over the course of the next three weeks.

Strings with a STEEL core

In days of yore, the only strings available were the old-time favourite gut strings (literally made of animal guts or the intestine of sheep, goats and even cows!) The sound produced was warm with many beautious overtones. There are advantages and disadvantages of gut which we will discuss in a later article, rather concentrating now on the Steelcore strings used by most students today.

Strings with a steel core and wound with various metal coverings are primarily used by student players, but also by jazz and folk musicians, and for electric instruments. First introduced in the early 20th century they have been constantly refined and improved using better winding of precious metals, to improve the tone.

Somewhat generalising, metal core strings have an open, brilliant sound that is less complex than either synthetic core strings or true gut strings. Steel core strings can be had at the cheaper end of the price range, with the exception of the more modern examples where different metals such as silver, aluminium, chrome steel and complex alloys are used.

In summary, the advantages of modern steel core are bright, projecting sound; a short break in period; unaffected by temperature or humidity changes; fast clear and easy sound production.

Advantages of metal core strings:

  • Powerful, projecting sound
  • Very short break in period
  • Very stable and not affected by temperature or humidity changes
  • Usually cheaper than synthetic and gut core strings
  • Easy to play: very fast and clear response
  • Usually long lasting

Disadvantages of metal core strings:

  • Far less complex/colourful sound than a synthetic core
  • The cheapest metal strings might produce a rather shrill sound
  • Difficult to make sound variations

Metal core strings are ideal for:

  • Instruments that sound “closed” and need more power
  • String players that are looking for more volume
  • Students, due to the often lower prices and long lasting materials
  • Alternative genres musicians: folk, jazz and electrical instruments

Most popular Steel core strings (this is not exhaustive):

  • Astrea – budget string
  • Dogal – Very popular entry leve;
  • Chromcor – Violin, Viola and Cello
  • Evah Pirazzi – Cello
  • Evah Pirazzi Soloist – Cello
  • Evah Pirazzi Gold – Cello
  • Flexocor – Cello
  • Perpetual – Cello
  • Piranito – Violin, Viola and Cello – cheapest metal strings of Pirastro and therefore often used for students and on smaller instruments. A very good choice
  • Belcanto – viola and cello
  • Belcanto Gold – cello
  • Precision – Violin, viola and cello
  • Spirocore – Violin, viola and cello
  • Superflexible – Violin, viola and cello
  • Versum – Cello
  • Larsen – Cello
  • Larsen Soloist – Cello
  • Magnacore – Cello
  • Larsen Crown – Cello
In Blog
November 16, 2017

Dirty bows (To re-hair or not?)

Dirty bows (To re-hair or not?)

If you google the above question you will get 100 replies all contradicting one another! In point of fact the time to re-hair is simply when the number of hairs on the bow are reduced significantly due to the passage of time. Professionals will re-hair possibly every 6 months, whilst others (so I read) go on for 5 years. This latter I suspect is a bit extreme because with a reasonable amount of practicing and playing, the bow should be ready for a re-hair in 12 to 18 months.

The second reason that I am often given for a re-hair is that the bow hair is dirty and discoloured. This can be for many reasons but generally the frog end gets very gungy with accumulated dirt, sweat and body oils. If the entire bow is dirty (which believe me I have seen!) the only answer, apart from a re-hair, is to chemically clean up the bow and re-rosin. Some folk even do this if they are changing or using a new rosin.

From time to time (somewhat controversially) it is advocated that you wash the bow hair in a similar fashion to washing your own hair. Now this does not make sense to me. If it was pure horse hair then fair enough – exhibition animals get their tails washed regularly. The difficulty is that the hair on your bow is caked with old rosin, dirt and may be various oily substances which are unlikely to be washed out by ordinary detergents! So, what to do? There are commercial bow hair cleaners available and we would recommend the Gewa Old Master cleaner but you could also use de-natured alcohol which will dissolve the impacted rosin!

There has been much discussion as to what alcohol to use, but the main point is to avoid splashing the stick of the bow as alcohol can affect the varnish and even strip it. Isopropyl alcohol can usually be got from a chemist shop, but failing that use anything, but just be chary of the bow stick. In extreme case the frog can be gently unscrewed and the whole horse hair rinsed out in a bowl. This, however, is seldom necessary. Rather just soak a very clean micro cloth with spirits and squeeze it out so that it is damp but not dripping. Tension the bow with the hair facing downward. With the damp cloth between thumb and forefinger, just slide it along over both the bow hair surfaces. The area closest to the thumb grip will usually be the worst, so concentrate there.

Once cleaned to your satisfaction let the hair dry thoroughly. You may need to gently run a dry clean cloth over the surfaces to free any hairs that are stuck together. Re-rosin carefully while sighting down the surface of the hair. You will notice dark and light patches. Once the surface is universally white throughout the length of the bow, you are good to go!

Gewa Old Master Bow hair cleaner

November 15, 2017

How to Restring Your Cello

How to Restring Your Cello – a very helpful video published by D’Addario Orchestral Strings:

Key points:

  • The instrument is reliant on the tension of the strings so do one at a time otherwise you risk the bridge and soundpost moving or falling over
  • Add graphite to the string contact points
  • How do I know when its time to change my strings?
  • Make sure you remove excess rosin from the strings.
  • Can I put full size strings on a smaller instrument?