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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.
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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
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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 sales@caswellsstrings.com and you will be entered in the draw

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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
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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

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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?

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November 08, 2017

How to Restring Your Violin or Viola

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

Key points covered:

  • 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?

Products seen in this video: Kaplan Vivo Violin string set

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November 03, 2017

The Bass Buggie – a perfect gift for the Bass player

The Bass Buggie is revolutionising the Double Bass player’s lives! It is quick and easy to use and makes moving your bass so easy it does make you wonder why it wasn’t around decades ago!

http://www.kcstrings.com/content/images/buggie-overview-9447.png

A few of the main attractions are:

  • It does not put pressure on the lower block like an endpin wheel or “bass wheel”, including pressure from bumps in the walkway!
  • It allows the bass to stand upright – please note although it will stand on its own we certainly don’t recommend this but being held while you stop to someone, it won’t ‘run away’ from you.
  • Works indoors as well as outdoors.
  • Can strap onto the bass body with or without a bag.
  • Adjusts to any size bass from 1/10 to 4/4.
  • Made in the U.S.A.

The Bass Buggie body:

  • Can strap onto the bass body with or without a bag.
  • Is made of durable high impact molded plastic.
  • Overall dimensions are 36cm length and 16cm in diameter (wheels, height & width).
  • Inside platform length is 28.5cm.
  • Weight is 3lbs.2oz
  • It straps onto the endpin-body and the neck of the bass.
  • Adjusts to any size bass from 1/10 to 4/4.
  • Has non-marking durable wheels

Unlike a “bass wheel”, the Buggie:

  • Rolls easily and straight on ball bearing wheels.
  • Can make the bass stand upright on its own without support (see above)
  • Allows endpin to remain in place while in use.
  • Does not put pressure on the lower block and prevents impact to the lower block from bumps in walkway.
  • Has a flexible body that allows shock absorption, therefore, further protecting the instrument.

Stuck for the perfect gift for a Bass player – look no further!

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October 20, 2017

Cello and Violin mutes

Everyone knows what a ‘mute’ is used for but few realise the selection of mutes available to the instrumental string player.  For images, please click here.

A mute then is a small accessory that attaches to the bridge of an instrument and works by dampening the sound. There two classes of mute, a ‘practice’ mute which makes the sound very quiet so as to not upset the neighbours, and a ‘orchestral’ mute for situations where this is demanded by the score of many classical pieces.  Some commonly used mute which are designated (P) for very quiet practice mutes, and (O) for orchestral mutes:

Tourte (O)  This mute comes as a shaped or round pattern and is very popular, easily to fit and inexpensive. They are made out of rubber, and simply slipped over the bridge.  When not in use, the mute is stored back near the tailpiece, hooked on to the D and A. Glaesel is a similar mute and the Moustro is a novel variation of the Tourte.

Bech magnetic (O)  Popular tourte- shaped mute which has a magnetic backing. When not in use it is slipped back to the tailpiece where a metallic clip keeps it firmly in place

Trident mute (O) Shaped like trident and made of ebony, the trident slips over the centre of bridge very easily and quickly. Problem is it can get lost easily too!

Professional Practice mute (P)  This is a great mute to use when you want to play quietly without disturbing the neighbours. It is made of nickel-plated brass and quite heavy, so produces a very muted sound, but still clear and crisp. The Artino is very similar but with a rubber coating.

Ultra practice mute (P)   Another good practice mute, made of solid rubber to thoroughly dampen the sound, so that you do not disturb your neighbours.

Tonwolf mute (P) an old design which is still popular. Made of nickel and shaped trident-like it is a very effective practice mute which does not affect the instruments intonation. It apparently also suppresses ‘wolf’ notes!

Alpine mute for Violin (O) now available once more. Menuhin style mute with and insert which effectively mutes without altering intonation

Roth Sihon (O/P) damping. The Roth Sihon is a wire mute with rubber coating -it stays on the instrument and slides up to the bridge when needed or down to the tailpiece when not required.

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October 13, 2017

My peg needs replacement – what do I do?

My peg needs replacement – what do I do?

This comment was occasioned when this week I received two rather tart complaints that the pegs we supplied ‘didn’t fit’ the violin! This is despite the fact that we publicise that replacement pegs come as blanks and have to be properly fitted to the violin. Every violin peg hole, often due to wear, is different and there cannot be an off-the-peg solution (forgive the pun!). This comment also applies to the fine tune pegs by Wittner even though these come in different sizes – some fitting is always needed.

Your peg for some reason has snapped and a replacement is obviously needed. If the instrument is of any value the most sensible option is to get your luthier or your nearest good music shop to match and replace it – it is a craftsman’s job. This is simply down to the fact that not only are there many different designs of pegs, but also the exact fitting to your instrument is beyond the average skill of a do-it-yourselfer. The Luthier has professional tools, such as peg reamers to exactly match up the taper of the peg to the taper of the peg hole. This is the critical part because ill-fitting pegs either slip badly or simply refuse to turn smoothly, which leads once again to a broken peg.

Of equal importance is the hole drilled through the peg which takes the inserted winding end of the string. If the peg is inserted too far into the peghole, the drilled hole will be too close to the pegbox cheek, or even disappear entirely. This renders the correct winding of the string impossible and does also lead to strings snapping.

Still want to try, or perhaps, as I often hear ‘Grandpa knows about woodwork’?  Here are some tips on drilling the hole:

  1. Once the taper is correct, insert the peg in as far as it would nromally go and mark the exact spot you wish to drill
  2. Using a clamp, (not your hand) stabilize the peg and drill the new hole through, using a 1/16” wood bit. Go slowly or you may crack the peg.
  3. Reinsert and check for fit
  4. Some cheaper G strings are quite fat so that the hole may need to be a bit bigger!
  5. Replace the string winding it on correctly in parallel loops without overlapping
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