Thursday, November 09, 2006


New Strings

Yesterday I installed new strings. It took me several weeks to get around to doing it. I don't understand why it was an issue for me, but there it is. Maybe I was a little afraid of snapping one - there are a lot of horror stories out there about people breaking their a-strings while changing them. Or, maybe I was afraid that the new strings would not sound better, or worse they'd sound just the same. That would mean it was all me, then.

I did this carefully, even taking the time to clean the old strings with an alcohol wipe first, so I can save them for reuse if needed. I started with the g-string, replacing it with an Evah Pirazzi Medium, which I got free six months ago after completing an on-line survey at Pirastro. I used a pencil to "lubricate" the notch in the bridge and at the nut before carefully winding on each new string. I tightened it up to F# using my portable tuner. Then I replaced the d-string with a Crown Medium that I'd bought from Cellos2Go several months ago, and tightened it to C#. Then I replaced the c-string with another Evah Pirazzi Medium, and finally a new Crown Medium on the a-string.

I started out trying to do this all myself, but finally realized it works better to have someone hold the string out from the fingerboard - putting a little tension on it - to help in winding it onto the peg, until it was set comfortably on the bridge and nut. That made it easier to smoothly wind the strings onto the pegs. After everything was replaced I picked up my bow and used my on-screen tuner/analyzer to finish tightening these strings to their proper tuning. Then I put it away until this morning.

Today, I only had to make a few minor adjustments with the fine tuners to get it in tune. Then I rosined the bow and dove into my normal warmup routine. It was really different. Invigorating.

The Evah Pirastri c-string is thinner than the one I'd been using, but my fingers didn't seem to mind. The open C was strong and clean - the old string's C always sounded sort of muddy and black (isn't it funny how musicians seem to resort to visual concepts to try to describe sounds?). I had always assumed it was a cello-quality issue related to the low, low frequency - it was technically a C but it really sounded blah, the new one sounded like music. The first-finger D was also really nice - and rang clean with the d-string, but the F and G on that c-string weren't quite as pretty as the C.

The change in the g-string was a little less dramatic, but it did sound cleaner. By far, the biggest change was a sparkling quality in the new d-string. Clean, with good ringing tones, the E sounded nice. The a-string sounded nice too, a little brighter. I also liked how much easier it was to locate and appreciate the second position fourth finger notes on all the strings. The open strings all seem to ring more than before. In general, the cleaner the note, the easier it is to find it while playing (especially hearing when I missed it, thus making me work harder to find it the next time).

It was so gratifying to hear my whole repertoire with this new set of strings. After nearly three hours, I finally had to make myself stop playing today.

This whole string issue is probably the most confusing thing about cellos. There are so many choices out there, not just brands, but types: gut, synthetic, steel, silver, and so on. There doesn't appear to be a single best brand. String discussions are one of the most common threads on Cello Chat's Instrument Forum. There are lots of commenters (a few can get pretty rabid about their particular preferences), but I don't see a consensus about which is best. It all depends on the cello, the player, and what type of music is being played.

I can't say at this stage whether the ones I just put on are the best for my cello. Heck I can't be sure they are even better than if I had just done a like-in-kind replacement. Maybe my anticipation (and eagerness) for improvement affected the quality of my playing. When these strings are ready to be switched, I think I'll take it to one of the luthiers in Anchorage for some expert advice while getting its overall setup checked. Barring any unexpected developments, the next maintenance issue will be rehairing my bow; which I can do by mail.

There's an interesting thread in the CelloHeaven forum that started off talking about the (lack of) quality in the Suzuki CDs. I have been griping about the tinny piano accompaniment that often drowns out the cello altogether in those dang Suzuki CDs since the first day (and I admit, I added my two cents to that topic). Andrei Pricope has put up a some videos of himself playing a couple of these pieces on his website (one of the best cello sites out there, with a lot of information and downloads); and it seems he plans to do several more.

Today, one of our members, who is a professional cellist and a teacher in Florida, posted to say he is going to record the entire Suzuki set (those that are not copyrighted). Even if you aren't learning with the Suzuki method, it doesn't mean you won't eventually add most of these pieces to your repertoire. This will be a tremendous resource for teachers and students. Thanks so much, Paul! I know I will make full use of them.

Lots of new blogging cellists coming online. My sidebar currently lists 16 that I know of so far. I've added Terry, a long-time commenter to this blog; Cellodonna; Star Skimmer; Vito; Rico. Also GottaGoPractice recommended another long-time blogging cellist, AMK. If anybody knows about another one, please pass it on. Not all of these blogs are necessarily about playing the cello, but they are all written by cellists.

I loooove practicing on new strings until my fingers are sore. Happy New Strings Day!

One more blogging cellist for you: Mr. L's Practice Room at
He hasn't posted in almost a year (life circumstances) but the archives and podcasts are fun for a quick read and listen.
Oh! I'm from rada tilly. You where there, in your vacations? I Found this blog searching in the blogger's search. You like R.T? The bad thing of R.T is the fuckin' wind, is so so strong, you know..

You named your blog rada tilly because you loved it? haha, just a superstition. Well, sorry for my BAD BAD english, you know, i know english, just a little little.

Terry's blogging? Terrific!

My strings have been there since the early 90's, or longer. I think some of them came with the cello. They're Jargars and Dominants. I've been afraid to change them, and confused about what to buy, but you may have just inspired me to do it. I think I'll wear safety glasses when changing them.
I always go with Jargar strings as my teacher has a thing for them. And I really love the sound of my instrument, so it hasn't occurred to me to change the strings, well except for the 2 a strings I broke.

Lovely, Terry's blogging, will go check it out now.
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