String Instruments & Accessories

Blog

August 18, 2017

String tension and gauge

There is often some confusion surrounding string gauge and tension for bowed stringed instruments. For this article, I will concentrate on Violin strings, but the same principles apply to Viola, Cello and Bass.

The gauge of a string is the measurement of its diameter or in other words, its thickness. This was easily measured in the old Gut string era. The string was simply slotted a v-shaped tool which indicated the thickness – from which the weight was calculated and hence the downward pressure on the bridge.

With modern wound strings, this is not possible as thicknesses vary – thus the measurement is one of ‘tension’ from which again the downward pressure on the violin bridge can be calculated.   The tension of the strings thus defines the pressure on the bridge – the higher the bridge and smaller the angle of the strings at the bridge, the greater will be the pressure on the bridge.

With modern strings, some manufacturers will list the actual tension, while others just offer a description such as, Hard, forte, stark or heavy – medium, mittel – or soft, thin, dolce, light etc.

In principle, the harder or stronger the string, it will result in a louder, fuller, and more powerful sound, but may also result in a slower response time. But also bear in mind that the violin must be robust, with a strong bridge and soundpost, otherwise you could damage your instrument. Generally, for older more delicate violins, the hard strings should be avoided.

Medium tension strings are the most popular today because they have been designed by the manufacturer to give an even, balanced tone and response. Once again the right string for you will be arrived at by some trail and experimentation, but I recommend that you try medium tension strings first when experimenting with new strings.

Thin or soft strings, require less tension to bring them up to pitch. They are used to soften up the tone of an instrument. These are less commonly used except in specific circumstances. Some professional players will mix their strings to achieve the right balance and sound for the instrument they are using, and it is not uncommon to fit a soft string to achieve this. I well remember a lovely old Cello which had a unusually thin table, to the extent that an overly tight soundpost actually dented upward. A set of soft Jargars was the only answer and resulted in a sweet, focused sound.

All this is important, but it is simply one of achieving the right balance between you, your instrument and the sound you wish to achieve.

Next week we will discuss actual strings.

Lance

Sticky
In Blog
0
August 11, 2017

When should I change my strings?

It’s a question we’re often asked:

When should I change my strings?

How long do strings last?

It’s a good question to which there isn’t really a correct answer. As a consumer it wouldn’t be uncommon to think ‘they just want to sell me more strings’ but let’s look at it another way:

  • Can you imagine a Formula 1 driver taking to a track on worn tyres?
  • Can you imagine a tennis player entering centre court with a racket that is badly strung and worn out?

These are just two examples of professionals relying on their equipment for a top performance – how much more essential when your equipment is producing sound, not only for your personal satisfaction, but for all those around you to hear. The strings are of utmost importance if the best sound is going to be created. The potential of the best instrument is severely dampened when it is badly strung or played with old and worn out strings.

Let’s consider a motor vehicle that isn’t serviced for many years. It doesn’t stop going but the performance, the fuel consumption, the accelaration steadily declines. A string may not snap but the component materials will eventually become fatigued. This is particularly true for the inner core. The richness and the fullness of tone becomes degraded. This does depend on the intensity and frequency of playing but almost certainly in all cases over time.

To avoid sound quality loss we strongly advise changing strings at appropriate regular intervals. This is not an interval we can stipulate because clearly it depends on the type of string you’re using, the type of music you’re playing and how much use the strings have. You would know after 2 or 3 string changes just what the optimum time is to keep your performance at its best.

Changing single strings instead of the whole set at once i.e. mixing old and new strings is common practice, especially when one breaks, as it is obviously most cost effective. This will however jeopardise the entire tonal balance of the instrument as the new string will always sound fuller and louder than the older strings.

At the end of the day its all about what you want to get out of your instrument and of course, changing strings can be a very expensive business. We would recommend where possible to keep a consistently full and rich sound that all four strings be changed at regularly intervals, say every 6 months if you’re a frequently practising amateur, retaining the most recent strings just taken off in case of breakages.

Sticky
0
August 01, 2017

PIRASTRO KorfkerRest

The new Pirastro Korfker shoulder rest is now freely available. It certainly looks very light and comfortable but it remains to be seen how players relate to it! A comfortable playing stance is so important and players often struggle to find the perfect shoulder rest/chin rest combination that gives the ultimate support. Pirastro have come up with a new design which takes on the ever-popular brands by Kun, Mach one, Wolf, and Bon Musica plus many others.

Here is what they say:

“Discover the maximum potential of your instrument while playing with absolute comfort

  • Explore the entire sound spectrum of your violin
  • Feel your instrument respond as it was meant to
  • Experience truly individualised comfort
  • Enjoy the calming reliability of perfect stability

… in the quest for the ultimate shoulder rest system. Every part of these unique and patented designs has been painstakingly tested for sound properties, stability and light weight, resulting in an unmatched freedom of sound, expanded projection, and revolutionary comfort and reliability during performance.”

  • The worlds lightest shoulder rest
  • First shoulder rest using bendable tone wood adjustable to the shape of the shoulder
  • Offers extensive and very precise personal modifications of position, height and tilt
  • Brings out a much wider dynamic range from the instrument
  • Allows a unknown diversity in articulation
  • Finer variations in string contact can be felt
  • Minimal use of rubber improves sound characteristics
  • Designed to complement the timeless beauty of the violin

Pirastro Korfker Violin Shoulder rest top

I’d be glad of any feedback from current users of this shoulder rest?

Sticky
0
July 28, 2017

My Violin/Viola has a ‘Buzz’

My Violin/Viola has a ‘Buzz’

So, your violin new or old, has developed a buzz?

From the start let’s distinguish between a buzz or rattle that you can fix yourself, and one which requires attention from your violin shop. Listed following are the steps you can take to fix the problem – but if these don’t work then it’s time for a trip to your friendly luthier.

  1. Check your mute. Most of the Tourte-type mutes are pulled back from the bridge when not in use, and these often rattle. The answer is to remove it when not needed or to fit the Bech type mute which anchors to the tailpiece with a magnet.
  2. Check your Soundpost. This may seem elementary but how often have we observed this problem, which can be dangerous to the instrument if left under tension. The Soundpost should sit firmly a brief distance behind the bridge and approximately under the treble string. If it has dislodged, slacken off the strings immediately and get the instrument to the violin shop
  3. Check your strings. Any strings that are old, or unravelling should be replaced quickly, and probably the whole set if they have been around for any length of time. Also check the E string which often has a tiny plastic tube fitted where it runs over the bridge – this can cause problems if it is running loose
  4. Is your shoulder rest getting tired? Check for screws or worn feet and replace if necessary. Even the best shoulder rests get old and worn, and best upgraded with the newest models. Spares are available for the older brands such as Kun or Wolf.
  5. Chinrests can rattle. Check these and tighten up the clamp using the chinrest key – being careful not to scratch the instrument. Check also the tailgut, as modern screw and nylon type tailons can come adrift.
  6. A fine tuner or string adjuster, if turned down to its limit will not only rattle but also potentially scratch the instruments’ belly – a deep unsightly scratch. The tiny nut that holds the tuner down should be checked and tightened. It you tend to use your fine tuners a lot, consider the brilliant new titanium smooth motion tuners which are elegant and rattle free

So that’s about that which you can do yourself. If the buzz still persists especially on the open strings, then there is something more serious going on. In the workshop, we would check for a bass bar that is loose, purfling coming adrift, ribs parting company or the fingerboard lifting. All these need careful attention and the skill of a luthier.

Sticky
In Blog
0
July 21, 2017

Hamilton Caswell drops in for one of his many visits

Hamilton Caswell, the founder of Caswells Strings over 60 years ago, still regularly drops in to advise us and offer his expert advice drawing on decades of experience and extensive expertise.

Hamilton is very well known in Violin/Cello circles and is an expert in 19th century string instruments and bows. He is also a restorer and luthier, having worked on some of the most beautiful instruments in the world, including Stradivari.

Although Hamilton is officially retired he is at present restoring six antique Double Basses in his own workshop. One of our recent acquisitions is a fine James Tubbs violin bow in perfect condition which Mr Caswell has provisionally valued at above £5000.

Mr Hamilton Caswell examining and assessing our large bow collection:

HC

Sticky
In Blog
0
July 07, 2017

Why do the pegs on my Cello slip?

Traditional wooden pegs are a friction fit. On a well set up Cello they should turn smoothly and easily (although some strength is required) and should stay put! The simple fact is that they can and do slip which can be very frustrating.  Let’s look at why this happens and how to remedy it – but first off, if you have bought a cheap internet Cello, nothing will help until it is properly set up by an expert using the correct tooling.

The pegbox holding the pegs contains four peg holes. These are tapered to fit the peg which is machined and cut to fit exactly. The Cello strings are wound onto these pegs by turning the peg clockwise. Thus far the obvious. If for any reason the peg slips, your first port of call is to re-tighten the string by turning the peg with a gentle ‘inward’ pressure to engage the whole surface of the peg with the peg hole. Often this is all that is needed.

Still slipping?

  1. Low Humidity or dry conditions   This is the most common cause for slipping pegs. Wooden pegs go through many changes—high humidity can cause them swell and stick in place, and low humidity can cause them to shrink and lose their grip in the pegbox. The solution is to humidify the Cello using a Dampit or similar and store your Cello in a room with 40-60% humidity.  You can also try using a good peg paste such as ‘Hill’s peg compound.’ Unwind the string from one peg at a time, remove it from the pegbox, and apply a thin line of peg paste where it makes contact with the pegbox. Return it to the pegbox and turn it a few times to work the paste in, and then re-install the string and tighten to pitch.

We now discuss why pegs slip and the remedy, which unfortunately will usually mean a visit to your Luthier or Cello shop.

  1. Badly setup Cellos, or wear due to normal tuning after a period of time, can cause pegs to go out-of-round. A peg which has gone oval shaped will resist turning smoothly and obviously on the flat spot will constantly slip. The only remedy is to re-fit the pegs. This is a job for an expert luthier.
  2. String hole is too close to the pegbox wall. This is problem of wear and tear. As the pegs wear and are pressed further into the pegbox, the tiny hole that takes the string gradually moves inward finally causing tension and slipping. Again, the pegs need to be re-fitted or re drilled –  if there is enough peg life left.
  3. The string is wound too close to the pegbox wall. While it is very necessary that the strings are wound carefully without overlapping towards the edge of the pegbox – if this is too close and tight it can cause the slippage. Restring the peg so that the coils are a fraction away from the inside edge of the pegbox.
  4. String is making contact with another peg. This problem is likely to happen only with the strings further up in the pegbox, the G and D. This is again usually due a faulty or cheaply made instrument where the pegs are out of alignment and are too high or too low in the pegbox. The clearance on the C and A is reduced and the G and D rub across the pegs. This will need expert help. If the instrument is of any value and the problem has arisen due to time and wear, the existing peg holes can be re-bushed and re-aligned, but that is an expensive option.
  5. Badly fitted strings. Strings that have been wound on in a haphazard fashion, overlapping and crossing over will cause tensions which lead to slipping. A large gap between the final wind of the string and the inside edge of pegbox can have the same effect. Re-string taking care to have the coils neatly side by side moving towards the inner cheek of the pegbox

One final word. Most Cellos are fitted with fine tuners on the tailpiece end which greatly facilitates the tuning process. If the pegs are not regularly used, however, they may freeze and be very difficult to move should the need arise. A very professional solution is to have your luthier fit a set of Wittner fine tune pegs. These look identical to an ordinary peg but are geared internally so that the actual peg never moves but the string can be tuned with no possibility of slipping.

Lance

Sticky
In Blog
0
June 30, 2017

Woodworm or borer beetle and your instrument

Came into work this Monday and viewed the beautiful selection of Cellos comprising our ‘Cello Heaven’ …and then horror or all horrors there was a Cello with obvious signs of the dreaded woodworm! A brand-new Cello just arrived from a German workshop and with an active borer.

What is woodworm or borer beetle?

Woodworm is in fact, a tiny beetle that lays its eggs deep in exposed wood and the larvae burrow in little tunnels in the wood, usually going with the grain. If left untreated they can literally destroy an instrument. The evidence is very clear if you once see the tiny ‘flight holes.’ On this occasion, what was even more evident was the trail of white dust or ‘frass’ that was spilling from the hole – which in one sense that was a relief because the beetle had not yet emerged. This they do as an adult and, of course, the life cycle is repeated as the female lays more eggs deep in the exit hole for more larvae to start eating away at the precious Cello.

So, what to do?

Here at Caswell’s we are constantly on the qui vive to spot evidence of this little horror, and especially so as we often take in old instruments for restoration. I well remember, out in the yard, dousing an entire surface of a big double base with woodworm killer – in fact it was so badly infested that it wasn’t allowed near he shop!

On this occasion because the Cello was going back to the supplier, I simply sealed it inside a big plastic bag and removed it from the Cello room – just thankful that the little horrors won’t normally attack a properly varnished modern instrument.

But the lesson here is to be very careful when buying a Cello. Examination is critical – look for the flight hole, check for raised areas (tunnels) under the varnish, and especially be wary of old instruments which have been store in attics or cupboards. Lastly, it is said that playing is a great deterrent, so keep on practising!

If you do have any suspicion of woodworm, do act quickly. Woodworm killer solutions can be bought at Hardware stores but this is not recommended as a DIY project. Such chemicals are very poisonous and can damage the varnish on your instrument. The safest thing is to take it in to your luthier and have it thoroughly checked out, treated and restored

by Lance

Sticky
In Blog
0
June 23, 2017

Students and Practice

Practise, practise and practise a well known professional musician once said when asked what he does in his spare time! All very well you may reply but every time I remind my budding musician to practice it is perceived as a ‘nag’. I’ve often tried the positive approach – ‘well dear that was really beautiful, can we have it again’, only to get a quizzical sceptical response. So what next?

As we all know constant practice is critical to the mastery of any stringed instrument. In a child’s life, however, this can come a very poor last in all the duties of the day – rugby, networking, hacking (horses I mean!), ballet, and of course the ‘homework’ set by ‘rival’ teachers.

So let experience talk! First off a positive approach is the right one and especially of the non-interfering ilk! Create an atmosphere of encouragement by relating to the instrument, the music he/she is playing and by introducing them to the same piece played by famous musicians – just keep it playing in the background. Next set aside a specific time for the practice. Before school is often simply not practical, but usually you can squeeze a half hour or so into the evening – and try to get this into a fixed routine. Make sure that the instrument is easily accessible by buying a suitable instrument stand upon which the beautiful Violin/Cello resides, just asking to be picked up, caressed and played.

What about parent/ teacher interaction. This is really critical as it provides the impetus needed to move the pupil forward. Check the diary after every lesson and note your teacher’s comments and suggestions. This interaction is very important and can really make or break the whole process of learning. If you budding musician is anxious to please either you or the teacher, the battle is half won – they will be self-starting and keen to progress. I see no reason, too, why you cannot offer rewards for attaining a certain standard, even such a simple thing as the mastery of a passage or completion of a set piece.

Last but not least is the provision of a suitable instrument. This may sound obvious and simplistic but a violin, for example, that is badly set-up, which is too small or of poor quality and with basic factory strings, can be and can sound ugly! There is no incentive to pick it up and be creative or even attempt to emulate the great masters. The provision of an inexpensive but well set-up instrument with ungraded strings (Preludes or Dominants for example) can make all the difference to the player’s enjoyment and incentive to practise.

And enjoyment is, after all, what it is all about

Lance

Sticky
In Blog
1
June 16, 2017

So you need a new Cello bow?

So you need a new Cello bow?

From the start let me say that this article is intended for advancing players rather than professionals. We have musicians coming from all over the UK looking for the perfect bow – they spend hours testing, feeling, listening. These are bows from £1500 upwards!

So, you have upgraded your Cello, got your merit or distinction in grade 4/5 and your teacher has advised you to get a new bow! One that will take you through to grade 8 and beyond. And how important that is – the bow becomes almost an extension to your right hand and is the ‘heart’ of the richness of the sound that you dream of and want to achieve.

First off make an appointment with a reputable dealer to try out some bows and, if possible, with your teacher.  The choice is, however, an intensely personal one because the bow must suit your playing style and ‘feel’ right with balance and weight. Only you can gauge that, but by including your teacher or a more advanced friend it will give you more confidence and help you to come to a right decision.

Some characteristics of a Cello Bow

First off is the weight of the bow.  This can vary from about 65 grams to over 80 grams, and this can make a considerable difference – particularly if you are of a small or petite build! Heavier bows can be tiring to play for extended periods, but on the other hand can help to produce more sound with less effort. Lighter bows are more maneuverable, but could require additional effort to produce a sustained forte. The shop should be able to actually weigh the bows and sort them into weight order for you.

The next most important factor to look for is balance and at the same time to feel the ‘sweet spot’ of the bow.  Draw the bow across the strings from tip to frog and get a feel for the balance. A cello bow with a balance point closer to the tip will tend to feel heavy, whilst a balance point closer to the frog may feel lighter. Both may affect your ability to produce substantial tone or volume – what feels right for you is the critical quality.

Next check for strength and flexibility. Again, the result you want may be a compromise! An over rigid bow may have a very fast response, but could produce a thin superficial sound, whereas the softer flexible bows produce richer tones, but at the expense of the response. You will quickly find just the right feel for yourself that is suitable to your playing style

What is the bow made of?

At this point the input from your teacher or friend is helpful – although any reputable bow shop will have guaranteed these features beforehand.

Except for most ‘student’ quality bows, any cello bow costing over £250 should be made of genuine Pernambuco wood – the accepted material which has been used for many years. Of recent years Carbon fibre or synthetic bows have become popular – but that is another story! In fact, a good carbon fiber cello bow can possess many of the qualities of a good Pernambuco bow. The stick itself can be shaped as round or octagonal; which is more cosmetic than practical, – although some consider the octagonal stick to be stiffer.

The ‘frog’, which is the part you grip under your hand, is usually made of Ebony with various decorations such as inlaid mother-of-pearl. It also includes the adjusting screw to slacken or tighten the horse hair. It is unusual or even illegal to use tortoise shell or ivory these days. The grip is often made of silver wire, silk or “whalebone” – all of which you must consider what is the most comfortable for you. They don’t materially affect the sound.

The tip of a cello bow is usually made of plastic, unless you are considering an antique bow, because older material such as ivory are now banned.

Decision time

All things considered you have gone to a reputable dealer who offers a large choice, who guarantees his bows and even offers a free annual service – so the next most important thing is yourself. You have tested 20 bows, narrowed it down to 4, considered all the factors above and have got to the point of decision! At that point intuition is often the deciding factor – or take the four on approval and test them in your own environment and acoustics.

In the end the bow will choose you!

So you need a new Cello bow?

From the start let me say that this article is intended for advancing players rather than professionals. We have musicians coming from all over the UK looking for the perfect bow – they spend hours testing, feeling, listening. These are bows from £1500 upwards!

So, you have upgraded your Cello, got your merit or distinction in grade 4/5 and your teacher has advised you to get a new bow! One that will take you through to grade 8 and beyond. And how important that is – the bow becomes almost an extension to your right hand and is the ‘heart’ of the richness of the sound that you dream of and want to achieve.

First off make an appointment with a reputable dealer to try out some bows and, if possible, with your teacher.  The choice is, however, an intensely personal one because the bow must suit your playing style and ‘feel’ right with balance and weight. Only you can gauge that, but by including your teacher or a more advanced friend it will give you more confidence and help you to come to a right decision.

Some characteristics of a Cello Bow

First off is the weight of the bow.  This can vary from about 65 grams to over 80 grams, and this can make a considerable difference – particularly if you are of a small or petite build! Heavier bows can be tiring to play for extended periods, but on the other hand can help to produce more sound with less effort. Lighter bows are more maneuverable, but could require additional effort to produce a sustained forte. The shop should be able to actually weigh the bows and sort them into weight order for you.

The next most important factor to look for is balance and at the same time to feel the ‘sweet spot’ of the bow.  Draw the bow across the strings from tip to frog and get a feel for the balance. A cello bow with a balance point closer to the tip will tend to feel heavy, whilst a balance point closer to the frog may feel lighter. Both may affect your ability to produce substantial tone or volume – what feels right for you is the critical quality.

Next check for strength and flexibility. Again, the result you want may be a compromise! An over rigid bow may have a very fast response, but could produce a thin superficial sound, whereas the softer flexible bows produce richer tones, but at the expense of the response. You will quickly find just the right feel for yourself that is suitable to your playing style

What is the bow made of?

At this point the input from your teacher or friend is helpful – although any reputable bow shop will have guaranteed these features beforehand.

Except for most ‘student’ quality bows, any cello bow costing over £250 should be made of genuine Pernambuco wood – the accepted material which has been used for many years. Of recent years Carbon fibre or synthetic bows have become popular – but that is another story! In fact, a good carbon fiber cello bow can possess many of the qualities of a good Pernambuco bow. The stick itself can be shaped as round or octagonal; which is more cosmetic than practical, – although some consider the octagonal stick to be stiffer.

The ‘frog’, which is the part you grip under your hand, is usually made of Ebony with various decorations such as inlaid mother-of-pearl. It also includes the adjusting screw to slacken or tighten the horse hair. It is unusual or even illegal to use tortoise shell or ivory these days. The grip is often made of silver wire, silk or “whalebone” – all of which you must consider what is the most comfortable for you. They don’t materially affect the sound.

The tip of a cello bow is usually made of plastic, unless you are considering an antique bow, because older material such as ivory are now banned.

Decision time

All things considered you have gone to a reputable dealer who offers a large choice, who guarantees his bows and even offers a free annual service – so the next most important thing is yourself. You have tested 20 bows, narrowed it down to 4, considered all the factors above and have got to the point of decision! At that point intuition is often the deciding factor – or take the four on approval and test them in your own environment and acoustics.

In the end the bow will choose you!

By Lance

 

Sticky
In Blog
0
June 02, 2017

Cello by Jenny Bailly

Just picked out a lovely old Cello labelled Jenny Bailly.

Ever heard of Jenny?

She must surely be the very first and most famous female Luthier of the last century. Jenny was the daughter and pupil of the famous Paul Bailly and Henley writes her instruments up – ‘strong tonal qualities – pure and homogeneous’. Her violins are fetching various prices at auction but the top price was about £9000 with others around £5500.

The Cello itself is slight ‘ladies cello’ of a warm golden colour and detailed meticulous workmanship of high standard.

It has two tiny wing cracks and is due into the workshop this month for a complete re-fit. When that is complete we will assess which strings to fit (although I rarely stray from Larsens, except sometimes fitting a Spirocore to the C!) The choice of strings is critical and I’m inclined to try Larsen Magnacore to bring out the mellow brightness which this Cello should be capable of producing.

We’ll keep you all posted

Lance

Sticky
In Blog
0