String Instruments & Accessories

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April 12, 2018

Buying a new case

Buying a new case can be a daunting task.

Many student or intermediate violins, violas, cellos, and basses can be purchased as part of an outfit that includes a case that is usually consistent with the quality of the instrument; these cases generally offer very adequate protection and durability at an economical price.

If, however, you’ve come by an instrument that doesn’t have a case, you’re looking to upgrade your case for something more protective or if your current case is simply failing apart, the following notes may be of assistance – It is, after all, one of the most important accessories you can purchase for your stringed instrument.

The Shape: Perhaps the first factor to consider is the case shape that’ll work best for you. Violin and to a lesser degree viola cases come in a few shapes: oblong, ‘violin’ shaped, ‘D’ shaped or dart-style and most manufacturers will vary even these to a certain degree such as the BAM slim violin case. Violin Shaped and dart cases are usually very lightweight; these are often the cases that beginners and students choose. They’re usually available in fractional sizes and are easy on the wallet. Most makers such as BAM and GEWA are, however, now making more and more top-quality cases in the shaped version as musicians become more space and weight conscious.

Oblong cases, or rectangular cases, afford more room for accessories and are usually preferred by intermediate and advanced players. Although shaped cases tend to be lighter and easier to carry, you do have more room for accessories with an oblong case and often provision for more bows. The extra space is particularly relevant when considering how important it is to carry a shoulder rest with you.

Exterior Materials and Features: Cases today are made from a variety of materials, some are covered with a heavy-duty cordura canvas material, others are made of plastic or Carbonfiber and don’t have a covering. The canvas covering is a lightweight material which is scratch and tear resistant and provides decent protection against the elements. Carbon fibre is extremely hard wearing and also adds to the lightness of the case but tends to also add to the price.

Most cases nowadays have decent straps. Back straps are an important consideration, especially if you are going to be walking or cycling for miles. Oblong cases quite often will have a full length music pocket which may include an accessory organizer. If you travel by tube or public transport a lot, a subway handle (on the end for vertical carrying) can be very useful.

Closure or latch mechanisms vary depending on the case and there are distinct likes and dislikes about the different options – best to try them. Cordura covered cases often have a flap over the central catch to give an extra shield against the elements. Consideration – am I likely to be caught in the rain?

An important note about cello cases – some cello cases come with built-in wheels and you should decide whether this is an important feature for you: they can be handy in big colleges or airports. On the other hand bumping a case long a gravel drive can cause the cello harm so consider your needs carefully. Most cello cases would have decent back straps or you can purchase an extra such as the BAM backpack to attach to the case.

Construction: The type (or types) of material used in the skeletal, or hidden, construction of the case directly affects the weight of the case as well as the durability and protection the case provides. Commonly used shell materials include foam, styrofoam, cellular foam, plywood, styrofoam reinforced plywood, laminated wood, injected/molded foam, foam/plywood combination, and in some cello cases an AIRTEX cellular skeleton. Gewa have an aluminium bar running the full length to protect the cello while BAM boast their ultra-strong triple ply structure. Pedi steel shield have a unique steel film in the lid making the case extremely protective.

Interior Materials and Features: Instrument case interiors can range from simple and functional to having all the bells and whistles. Whatever your selection may be, it’s important that your instrument fits securely in the case as ultimately its about protection! This is generally not a problem since most instruments and cases are standard sizes; however, if your violin, viola, cello or base has atypical dimensions eg a wider or narrower bottom bout, it does limit the choice and best to seek advice. If you have a small cello in a full size case the fractional size pads help in keeping it from moving about.

Most cases would have neck restraints; a properly secured neck strap will protect the neck of the instrument and reduce movement during transit.

Violin and viola cases are often described as being suspension or non-suspension cases. Suspension cushioned cases have a raised shelf (or shelves) that suspends the back of the instrument approximately an inch off the bottom of the case. This can provide added protection and is often recommended for violins and violas with delicate varnish. Non-suspension cases often feature an injected foam cushion molded to the shape of the instrument. These cases have a snug fit that holds the instrument securely in place. Most violin and viola cases would have an instrument blanket.

Additional case features may include between two and four bow spinners (or holders), accessory compartments, hygrometers for humidity level monitoring, string storage tubes, and vapor bottles for increasing case humidity. One we would highlight is the hygrometer – if you do travel widely and it is likely you will be going from warm to cold to damp to dry conditions, it is advisable to have a built in hygrometer to keep a watch on the humidity.

This is a whistle stop tour of cases and clearly doesn’t cover every possibility of every case. At Caswells we have in excess of 200 cases in stock and nothing beats bringing your instrument along and trying it in a selection until it finds the perfect companion! Failing that, give us a call and we’re glad to be of help.

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April 06, 2018

Should a beginner upgrade the strings on a student Violin or Cello?

Should a beginner upgrade the strings on a student Violin or Cello?

Just been asked the question, and the answer is yes, the better the strings the easier it will become to make a good sound, even before you have begun!

This especially applies to adult beginners! You have bought the best instrument you can afford and happily avoided any of the cut-price VSO’s made of plywood. If you have spent up to £175, chances are that the instrument is strung with poor quality factory strings. Upgrading then is definitely recommended. If cost is a factor there are now some very good and inexpensive wound strings for example Alphayue or Ascente which greatly improve beginner instruments. The old favourites Piranito or Dominant are always recommended and will always make a marked difference to student instruments. It also makes sense to learn from the start how to restring an instrument and how to tune it.

If, on the other hand you have bought a better instrument then it will undoubtedly be strung with upgrade strings in any case but not necessarily – it is always good to ask the question.

For young children starting out on their first instrument the guidelines are perhaps not so rigid. Again, if you have purchase a small low-cost instrument it would certainly improve playability to upgrade the strings, but many parents opt to give the child a few months trial first. Once they have got past ‘Twinkle twinkle…’ and are putting in some reasonably serious practice – the time has come to upgrade. The strings named above do offer small sizes, and it is very important to stick to the correct sizing. The marked improvement in sound often gives a renewed impetuous to carry on.

Teach them from the beginning how to tune because over tuning can result in broken strings, which is a pity when you’ve just spent £45 on a new set. One recommendation is to invest in a clip-on tuner which helps tuning correctly an easy job. I note that some teachers even leave the tuner on the instrument to help with intonation rather than use dots on the fingerboard, but that could be cumbersome on the tiny instrument.

Whatever the route taken just be sure to get well set-up instruments which have had the bridge properly set, the pegs moving smoothly and decent strings fitted.

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April 06, 2018

How to Tune Your Violin or Viola

A very useful video on How to Tune you Violin or Viola by D’Addario.

Key points are:

Tune quietly – if you over-bow or over pluck it may distort the sound and be incorrect

Tune slowly – the cause of most breakages, especially on new instrument is over tensioning the string. If you tune slowly until you are just above pitch and then bring it back you will avoid snapping the string.

Tune frequently – practice makes perfect and makes playing more enjoyable!

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January 16, 2018

The New Larsen Virtuoso for Viola – A Complementary Balance

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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

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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.

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December 22, 2017

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

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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
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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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