Which String for my violin?

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The Violinist.com Guide to Choosing Violin Strings

Which strings are the right strings for your violin?

Which strings are the best? There are no one-size-fits-all answers. Each violin reacts differently to different brands of strings. One type of string may sound amazing on one instruments but sour, dull or too bright on another violin. Each instrument is different, and the unique needs of the violinist are important.

For example, a classical violinist’s strings might not be right for a blue grass fiddler, and vice versa. Some instruments will respond better to some strings than other. String vary in their sound, playability, volume and responsiveness. Each instrument is unique and each player is unique.

The Three Basic Types of Violin Strings:

Synthetic core strings are by far the most popular type of strings, because they are more stable than fickle gut strings but have most of the tonal colors of gut strings, generally speaing. Gut core strings are regarded as having the best tone, but they need to be tuned more often and react to changes in the weather, generally speaking. Steel strings are generally for specialized uses.

Gut Strings. For centuries, all musical strings were made of pure sheep gut — not cat gut, as is popularly believed. In the 16th century, the lower strings (which were the thickest) were wrapped with silver wire to increase mass. Today, gut strings have a gut core and are not entirely made of gut. According to string maker Damian Dlugolecki, “Since wire of silver or copper is several times heavier than gut, applying one, two, or three threads of wire in open wound fashion to a gut string, you create a string equal in tension at a given pitch to a pure gut string of considerably greater diameter.”

Gut strings are known for having a warm, rich sound with many complex overtones. Gut strings tend to take longer to stretch than synthetics, and once stretched they are generally stable but can react to changing weather conditions and generally require more tuning than synthetic core strings. Different string gauges for gut strings can change the quality and power of tone drastically. Usually a smaller gauge gut string will have less carrying power and be rather ‘bright’ sounding, whereas a thicker gauge gut string will be more powerful, gritty and with a higher string tension. Musicians playing Baroque or early music often prefer gut strings for the sound.

Steel Core Strings. Soon, steel strings became more popular than gut among non-classical players. Strings made of steel core have a direct, clear sound, and few overtones, although those that are wound can have more interesting overtones. They are much more stable in pitch than gut. They also last longer. They are very bright sounding, and sometimes thin, although again the thinness can be negated by windings. They are also good for smaller, entry-level or beginner instruments.

Synthetic Core Strings were invented in the early 1970’s when Thomastik-Infeld began producing the revolutionary Dominants, made from nylon perlon. Since then, manufacturers have created many new brands of synthetic strings using other high-tech nylons and composite materials. Synthetic Core strings have the warm sound qualities of gut, but are much more stable pitch.

Violin String Gauges:

Most strings are available in different thicknesses and tensions. With a thick string, you will get more volume and more center to the tone. With a thin string, you will get a ‘brighter’ sound with less carrying power.

Major Violin String Brands on the Market Today:

Dominant – These time-tested synthetic core strings are a great choice for students or anyone wanting a quality string at a reasonable price. Dominant strings are probably the most popular strings in the world. They are the default choice for many violinists, including in various combinations with other strings. These strings, like all perlon core strings, have a highly flexible, multi-strand nylon core and cater for artists who feel uncomfortable with steel strings. The sound of the Dominant string is full and mellow with rich overtones. It is radiant and can project without sounding metallic. While some believe Dominant strings are comparable in sound quality to gut without the disadvantages of gut strings, some disagree. However, these strings are clearly a step up from the early metal strings. Dominant strings do tend to have the tendency to unwind. They come in 3 Gauges: Stiff, Medium and Soft. Pick according to your instrument or mix and match. (Note: you will need to play them in for a few days to get rid of any metallic edge that they often have fresh out of the package). They have to be changed at regular intervals to keep the sound.

Evah Pirazzi – Evah Pirazzi synthetic core strings have an unbelievably powerful sound, range and modulation. Full, round sound and stability coupled with easy response and playability. Available in thick, medium, and thin. You can get a great sound without a lot of effort. Warm and brilliant sound, but must be changed often. Some players find the strings over-rated, and the higher tension may be too high for some instruments, again demonstrating that the match between instrument and string is a challenge.

Larsen Tzigane – These new synthetic core strings have received very favorable reviews from violinists. They seem to have rich undertones and a nice timbre range for synthetic strings, good projection with less tension than other strings, and responsiveness.

Pirastro Passione – These gut strings are still new but have received favorable comments from some musicians. Pirastro claims that these modern gut strings have complex overtones characteristic of gut strings, like Eudoxa and Oliv, but with better stability and a shorter break-in time than typical gut strings. Early reviews seem to agree. They have wonderful undertones without most of the stability problems of other gut strings.

Pirastro Eudoxa – Pirastro Eudoxa gut strings have a wonderfully rich, warm and quite full sound. The response tends to be slower (although compared to Kaplan Golden Spirals, they tend to be easier to play), and they can sound dull on some new instruments. These strings are said to be best on old German and Italian violins, but such a statement shouldn’t prevent you from experiencing the richness of gut. Note: If you are wanting gut strings on your viola, but find the C string too unresponsive, either lower the gauge, or try Corelli‘s viola gut C strings (they also make a viola gut G string.

Piastro Oliv – These excellent gut strings have more brilliance and a quicker response than Eudoxy (and more precious metals in the windings), but they have a high price tag. They can be an absolute joy to play when married to a “matching” instrument. Any gut string will require some playing-in time to stretch the string (when the string then becomes more stable), and before they will perk up to their full potential.

Thomastik-Vision – The Vision line of strings by Thomastik have a short break-in period, ease of playing, and high stability. According to the maker, they have a “focused, clear, open and brilliant” tone, although some players report them to be a little bright and one-dimensional on their violins. Made from an innovative and strong composite synthetic core, they come in Solo (Titanium), Orchestral (Titanium) and “Regular” (Not Titanium) variety depending on what type of sound you would like to produce. The Titanium Solo strings are very powerful and brilliant sounding with a lot of modulation and decent overtones, although these overtones can be quite sour on some instruments, and some players find the tone one-dimensional. The Orchestra line have similar characteristics as the Soloist but are warmer and catered to ensemble and orchestra playing, with high mudulation and long string life. The non-titanium regular variety are comparable to, but surpass, Dominants in their durability and sound, some believe. A newe solo version of the regular Vision strings (non-titanim) has received favorable reviews from some musicians. Vision strings come in three thicknesses and can be mixed-and-matched with other strings.

Pirastro Wondertone Solo – These strings are supposed to be the best of both worlds between Evah Pirazzi and Obligato: the color and power of Evah’s with the richness and darkness of Obligatos, while simultaneously being like Visions and having a very short break in period with extreme stability. They accomplish this fairly well, and the consequence is less power than Evah’s and a somewhat harsh sound at first. After playing them in, the sound becomes quite round. They are remarkably stable and settle very quickly. The G can be rather edgy, and both E strings that come with the set whistle a lot on most instruments. A Hill E works well. Best for newer instruments that need more depth. Last a long time.

Damian Dlugolecki – Dlugolecki’s strings are considered by many to be some of the finest gut strings on the market. He makes his strings both varnished and unvarnished upon request. Varnished strings are great for players that live in humid climates or who have a harder time keeping the fingerboard dry. Dlugolecki strings stretch very quickly and have a great response. Players are able to request custom gauges when ordering, unlike ordering from a string distributor where there are hardly any options (if any) to specify a gauge size for gut strings.

Kaplan Golden Spiral – These gut core strings produce very rich and warm sound. They are said to be excellent for solo and ensemble playing. They can be hard to play in and sluggish, although the “Solo” line is less so.

Obligato – Obligato strings, of all synthetic-core strings, seem to come the closest to sounding like a gut-core string. (Don’t be fooled however–these aren’t the synthetic answer to gut–they’re is no definitive answer yet!) However, they are more responsive and more brilliant than gut strings. The Obligato gold E string is a very nice string, being less tonally agressive than the Eudoxa Oliv gold E string (although like all gold E strings, it tends to whistle). Good for overly bright instruments.

Pirastro Tonica – One of Pirastro’s answers to Thomastik’s Dominants (the other being Aricore strings). These share a lot of the virtues of Dominants, although they tend to have a little more complexity, and usually do not suffer from a metallic edge when first put on an instrument. A very fine, multi-purpose string. If you think you like only Dominants, you should give Tonicas a try.

Pirastro Violino – Orignally marketed as a student string, their price, while hardly prohibitive, is not insignificant. However, of all the synthetic strings, these are probably the “sweetest.” What they lack in projection, they make up for in sweetness. If you have an instrument that needs taming, or has plenty of power but not an interesting tone, these strings are worth a try.

D’Addario Zyex – D’Addario Zyex strings have a bright, focused quality and must be played for a few days before they reach their best sound. Some players find that gradations in the piano range are more difficult to obtain with these strings.

D’Addario Pro Arte – D’Addario Pro Arte strings sound dark and smooth, They are used best on bright, rough-sounding violins.

D’Addario Helicore – These are steel core strings that are warm-sounding, and like all steel strings, are very responsive. They sport more interesting overtones than many metal strings due to their unique windings.

Larsen (regular) – Larsen strings are powerful and brilliant, but the D and G strings tend to lose their sound quality quickly and suddenly. The viola A string is popular with some violists, although on some instruments they can be overly aggressive. They have a similar core to Dominants, so they have less tension. Some say they are even more colorful and powerful than Dominants. These strings are in the middle range of prices nowadays.

Corelli Alliance Vivace – These strings are based on a composite core. While focused, they also provide rich overtones. They tend to be more powerful in terms of projection than Obligato strings, if not quite as sweet, while lacking the harshness that the Evah’s can bring to some instruments. Like Dominants, they work well on many instruments and live good, long lives. They also respond quickly in all positions.

SuperSensitive Red Label – These are all-steel strings that tend to be preferred by fiddlers. They are often found on school instruments because of the one of three virtues that they have: they are practically indestructible. The other virtue is that they are very inexpensive, the third being very appropriate for fiddling. While totally appropriate for fiddling, however, classical players traditionally do not appreciate the plain sound, or brittle and harshness, of these strings, especially in the hands of novices. SuperSensitive has come out with its own less-expensive perlon-core strings, SuperSensitive Octava, that should share virtues of other perlon core strings while supposedly winning on price. However, they seem to be thicker than other perlon strings, and the sound, when compared to the veneberable Dominants or more interesting Tonicas just don’t compete well. (They also have perlon-core SuperSensitive Sensicore strings, which some artists, such as Joseph Silverstein, use).

Jargar – These are fine steel strings, having warmth that SuperSensitive Red Labels lack. Many violists are devoted to the A string because of its ability to balance with other strings while taming what can be a difficult beast of a range for the viola. According to the Ifshin website (referenced below), ‘cellists also appreciate this string.

Warchal Strings – The most recent string company on the market, their new products are excellent. Their Ametyst set is lower in tension and comes close in feel and playability to Eudoxa. Their Karneol set is higher in tension but more brilliant and more overtones. It is a highly resonant string with lots of ring to it and a wide range of colours and modulation. It also projects extremely well. TheBrilliant set is of the new synthetic core type like Pirastro’s Obligato and Evah Pirazzi, though the material and concept are different. Matched with the right instrument these strings will offer a brilliant, focused sound that is round with lots of resonance. They are also very long lasting.

Finding the right E string for your instrument…

It is important to find an E string that matches with your violin. Although the string within one complete set can be good on some violins, some violins will benefit from using a different kind or brand of E. It is worth experimenting. Finding the right E string for your instrument can change the character of your entire instrument. Some companies, like Hill and Westminster make only E strings, while most others are available seperately from their respective sets. Goldbrokat and Pirastro GoldE strings are popular choices and inexpecsive. Since E strings are inexpensive, do experiment! It is worth the time, money and effort.

Whistling E-string and The Kaplan Solutions ‘Whistle Free’ E-string

Violins that are very rich in overtones whistle nearly always when having the E string played on with a quick bow speed or sudden string change. The only string that supposedly guaranties ‘non-whistling’is the Kaplan Solutions. Although this string claims to not whistle, it falls short in many other respects; its tonal projection is very small.

Identifying the Strings on Your Instrument:

If you’re having trouble remembering which strings are on your instrument, here are two useful sources for identifying strings by sight:

Quinn Violin’s String ID Search

Stringmail’s String Colour Code Chart

Buying Your Violin Strings:

Violin shops sell strings as convenience to their customers, and will even change your strings for you if you ask. But shop prices are often as high as 100% above mail-order prices. This is, in part, because string inventory maintenance is time-consuming and expensive for instrument dealers and luthiers. The cheapest way to purchase strings for your instrument is to comparison-shop over the internet. A quick Google search will bring up dozens of string dealers, ranging from well-known violin shops such as Shar to unexpected sources, such as the Woodwind and Brasswind catalogue. Prices change frequently, so check every time you order. Often, full sets are cheaper than individual strings; if you prefer a mix of strings on your instruments, your costs may be slightly higher. Be sure to factor in shipping and handling prices when you order.

For More Information:

The Woodwind and Brasswind Buying Guide for Choosing Strings

Johnson String Instrument’s Guide to Choosing The Right Strings: For Violins, Violas And Cellos

Strings Magazine: “Find Your Sound” String Guide

Stringmail (UK): “Choosing Your Strings”

Nate’s Violins: “Choosing Strings”

Shar Music’s “Strings Overview”

Violinist.com’s past discussion – “Personal Review of Strings…”

Ifshin’s Guide to Choosing and Using Strings for Violin Viola and Cello

rosin? which one?

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Decide between light, or amber, and dark rosin–sometimes also defined as summer (light) and winter (dark) rosin. Dark rosin is softer and is usually too sticky for hot and humid weather—it is better suited to cool, dry climates. Since light rosin is harder and not as sticky as its darker counterpart, it is also preferable for the higher strings. “[Any type of] rosin—except for bass rosin, which is much, much softer and would make a mess on a violin bow—pretty much works on any instrument,” says Richard Ward of Ifshin Violins in Berkeley, California. “Lighter rosins tend to be harder and more dense—a good fit for violin and viola. Darker, softer rosins are generally preferred by the lower strings.”

 

from allthingsstrings.com

 

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How to Judge if a Violin has a Good Tone

How to Judge if a Violin has a Good Tone

by Peter Zaret

violin

In a violin a “good tone” is a complex mixture of qualities that blend together to create a pleasing sound. Some of these can be evaluated objectively (power, clarity, balance, evenness) and some are very much a matter of judgement and personal taste.

Power

“There are hundreds of adjectives that describe the tone of a violin: warm, lyrical, rich, clear, deep, smooth, brilliant, “and on and on. The most important one though, is power. A good violin will be loud.” (From my article, How to Choose a Violin.)

Power is measurable in concrete terms. In other words: decibels. Decibels are facts. So much of judging the tone of a violin is subjective, but decibels are facts. If two violins are played exactly the same next to a decibel meter the meter can tell you which one is louder.

Also from my article How to Choose a Violin: “Over and over I ask these hypothetical questions: Why do you think an orchestra has 35 violins and 3 flutes? The answer is the flute produces the power of 10 violins. Have you ever seen a violin drown out a piano? Have you ever seen in a violin concerto, the soloist drowning out the orchestra? A violin can never be too loud. It is the only instrument in the orchestra (other than the viola) where the tone comes out of a hole three inches from the left ear and aimed directly at the ear. It sounds much louder to the player than to the audience.”

As quoted in my article on Quest for Power: “The lordly violin and its less illustrious relatives in the string family are in trouble. As today’s concert halls grow more cavernous, it becomes increasingly difficult for a solo violinist to project his sound above a thundering orchestra and out to the most distant seats. And even if he does, many stereo hi-fi addicts contend that the sound is only a pale echo of the ‘electronically enhanced’ concertos that they can conjure up in their living rooms…(From Time Magazine, December 20th, 1966.)”

Power is obviously particularly significant for classical players but what about violinists who perform in other genres such as jazz, bluegrass, country, celtic, etc.? These folks are probably going to electronically amplify their instruments so how important is power to them? My answer is that power still matters. It is a matter of reserve. If you are completely confident you can be heard you relax and play better. When the instrument has intrinsic power you don’t have to work as hard to pull sound out of it. When the sound is well balanced (further discussed below) you don’t have to expend extra effort to adjust for disparities.

Although there are many qualities to a good tone power is the most important.

Clarity

It is very important that the tone of a violin be clear. A fuzzy unfocused tone will not carry and makes the player have to work too hard to get a good sound out of the violin. A fuzzy, wooly tone might sound loud enough under the ear but it won’t go very far. In addition, it makes bowing harder. A fuzzy note drops off much faster than a clear and resonant note. This makes bow changes, articulation, and smooth moving from one note to another more difficult. Any difficulty in one area has an effect on another area. For instance, if you have to concentrate on articulation, you are distracted from your intonation, rhythm, etc. A fuzzy quality in the tone when playing very softly will practically disappear. A clear tone will make the player have to work less hard and concentrate on other things, like making beautiful music.

Balance

It is important all 4 strings have the same volume and all the notes on the strings have the same volume and quality. If a violin has one weak string it can be a big problem. You either have to play louder on the weak string or softer on the other strings. Once again we have the problem of power, (of lack thereof) if you have to weaken the other three strings to compensate for one weak string. In my entire life I have never heard of a violinist struggling NOT to be heard. (Actually, if you are a poor player this sometimes comes in handy. Hiding in the back of the second violin section can sometimes save a job!) Quite often with a good violin either the D string or the A string will be a little weaker than the other three. A weak E string or a weak G string would be far worse. A violinist plays more on the G string and the E string than on the middle strings. The virtuoso music is written this way as it is very difficult past fifth position or so on the middle strings to play with any real intensity or flair as the bow will tend to hit other strings. Of course the only way to hit the really high notes is on the E string. If this area is no good, my suggestion is to get another violin.

Evenness

Quite often even on a good violin there will be one or two weak notes or a wolf tone. Once again this presents a problem for the violinist to make the tone even enough to make the phrase work. The player doesn’t want some notes that surge or some notes that practically disappear. On a good violin with the traditional bass bar you tend to have a wolf tone on the B natural or C natural above A 440. This is particularly prominent higher up on the G string, but also a problem on the D string (third and fourth finger in third position, and first finger and second finger in first position on the A string). Another problem area is the F natural and the F sharp in the first position on the E string. I will never forget playing Beethoven’s second Romance with an orchestra. It is in the key of F major, (a bad key for the violin). The only way to start the piece is in first position with the first finger on the E string. This note is usually (and the F sharp) weak and very difficult to bring out. Adding to this problem is the F natural is close to the nut of the violin and hard to stop the string. The performance went well but I had to spend a lot of time working on this. Obviously it would be ideal if all the notes on the violin sounded the same. I recently heard a very famous violinist with a very famous violin give a recital. Every time he hit the C natural above A 440 the tone became thinner and weaker.

Warmth

A powerful tone that is strident, edgy and brassy without depth is not to be desired. Quite often a student violin or a small viola have these qualities. Generally speaking, a student violin with the traditional bass bar will be bright and brassy sounding in the lower register. On the other hand if the tone is warm and deep on the G and D string the A and E strings will tend to be weak and wooly. My new bass bar makes the G and D string warmer and richer but at the same time makes the A and E string more brilliant and powerful. I must add, I do not regraduate most student instruments unless the top and back are extremely thick — roughly 50% thicker and stiffer than is normal. The essence of my patent is I discovered how to build up the bass of the violin by adding wood to the bottom part of the bass bar away from the surface. Therefore the violin becomes deep and rich in the lower register yet bright and brilliant in the upper register. It is also structurally more solid than the traditional way of building a violin.

Richness

This is a quality that can be hard to define. I like to think of it as full bodied. In more concrete terms, it boils down to a good strong fundamental and many strong overtones. Contrast the lower register of a flute and the lower register of a violin. The flute is louder but the violin sound is more interesting and complex. (In my opinion, of course). The violin string produces more overtones than the flute. Let us say the flute tone is more pale as opposed to a good violin which is softer but has rosy cheeks. No offense to flute players. In a piece of chamber music, such as the Bach Brandenburg Concerto no. 5 a flute player can take revenge on the violin. I have found this out quite a few times! Mozart is said to not have liked the flute for this reason, although he wrote two absolutely gorgeous flute concertos.

Depth

It is hard to define the difference between a deep tonal quality and dark tonal quality. To me the viola has a dark quality in the lower register and the cello has a deep quality in the lower register, although the cello plays an octave lower than the viola. A dark sound would be a strong fundamental with not as many overtones as with a deep sound which has a strong fundamental plus good strong overtones. A good example of this would be a double bass playing the same note as a cello. The double bass would have a darker quality as the viols don’t have as much sizzle as the violin family. Let us say the G string of a violin and to a lesser extent the D string should have some of the qualities and characteristics of a cello and a viola. Certainly not too much, though. It should still sound like a violin. A good strong fundamental plus many overtones. If the G string has a weak fundamental it will sound tinny and brassy. The lower register of a violin must be deep and rich but it must sizzle also.

Smoothness

This is another hard one. If the violin sounds smooth under the ear it will tend to not carry well. It is more important to sound smooth to the audience than to the player. A violinist has to get used to a certain edginess under the ear that the audience doesn’t hear. This edginess is once again the preponderance of the higher overtones which is one of the components that gives the tone its richness. My old teacher at Juilliard, Joseph Fuchs, had an absolutely gorgeous tone that carried to the farthest reaches of the hall. When I first started studying with him, I couldn’t understand it. He sounded so great in the concert hall and on his recordings but up close he sounded scratchy and rough. I realized later, of course, he was super articulating much like an actor spits out the consonant sounds. P’s, T’s, B’s, etc. Up close it was rough and edgy but 30 feet away, it was smooth and rich

Brilliance

To me brilliance is synonomous with sparkling. A brilliant quality is very important particularly in the upper register. Virtuoso music tends to go up very high on the G string and on the E string. The higher you go up the tighter the string gets and the more brilliant the sound. Also as mentioned before, it is much easier to go high on the outer strings than the middle string. There should be a brilliant sheen to the tone even if it has a rich and deep quality. Once again the large mix of overtones combined with the strong fundamental. Heifetz had a rich tone — there was always a brilliant shimmering sizzle to it. He would occasionally crash down on a note, usually in the higher positions, that would shake me out of my chair!

Responsiveness

Responsiveness means how easy it is to get the tone out of the violin. If it takes too much effort it makes other aspects of playing the violin more difficult. If you have to work too hard to get the tone out you must break away your concentration from intonation, rhythm, phrasing, etc. Generally speaking if a violin has a dark and wooly quality the responsiveness will be relatively easy, and if the tone of the violin is on the bright side the responsiveness will tend to be hard. A balance between the two is best. A violin with too easy a response can bring problems if you are nervous in a performance. The tone will tend to cradk and squawk. A little resistance can be helpful at times. On the other hand, in the larger instruments such as the cello and bass, the easiest response is most desirable. There is much more physical exertion with these instruments and an easy response is very helpful.

Speaking about nervousness and tension, that is one of the reasons quite often a violinist will start out a recital with a Sonata from the Baroque period. If you have a lot of rapid strokes of detache and martele it gets the muscles going in the bow arm. For the left hand the piece is usually in first and third position with a lot of open strings which helps to loosen the fingers. If you start off a recital with a slow tempo, with long bow strokes and the dynamic is pianissimo, good luck!

Edginess

Edginess can also be defined as a lot of surface noise. In my opinion, if there is a good strong fundamental in the tone a good deal of edginess can be very helpful. The edginess is really a preponderance of higher overtones. The more overtones the better for carrying power. It is a fact, that the human ear picks up the higher overtones better than the lower ones. The soprano high C, or third finger in third position on the E string is the center of where the human ear hears best. That is a prime reason why the violin, which produces less sound than the viola, the cello or the bass actually carries better. Western Music usually puts the melody on the top and the accompaniment or supporting part on the bottom. Thus in almost any kind of string ensemble the violin will carry the solo part and the viola cello and bass will carry a supporting part. Edginess without a good strong fundamental will sound brassy and squeaky. However, with the strong fundamental it will help carry the tone and will not sound edgy and brassy 20 to 30 feet away. The tone from a distance will sound warm, rich and clear.

Resonance

Resonance is another very important factor in choosing a violin. Without resonance the tone dies immediately after the bow changes direction. A gap between notes when playing legato passages is obviously very bad. If the tone dampens immediately after playing a short stroke such as spiccato or martele the musical phrase will sound dead and clipped. A nice resonant tone is ideal for a violin. However, too much resonance is also not to be desired. (It is better to have too much than too little though). Imagine a piano without dampers. One tone would overlap into another and another, etc. Since a violin doesn’t have dampers the tone dies on its own if the player doesn’t go to another note on the same string. Therefore if there is too much resonance you have the possibility of a piece of music that is entirely composed of double, triple and at times quadruple stops!