How do you test your strings to make sure they are right for you? As cellists ourselves, we begin with a statement of the obvious that is nonetheless often overlooked when choosing and changing cello strings:
“There is only ONE sure way to assess
a string’s qualities, and that is to play on it”
Hearing is believing. You need to decide for yourself. Some of us rely on recommendations... or look at the “technical specifications”… or try used strings... or order more strings than we need in the hope of finding what's right for us. An expensive gamble we at Rostanvo understood all too well and so became the only manufacturer or retailer to offer a money back guarantee, even on used strings.
You see the problem is we all hear sound differently so thinking you will always agree to what a friend/colleague or teacher thinks, is wishful thinking. Technical specifications (like tension and materials) also mean next to nothing as discussed in our resource section. And lastly the problem with testing used strings is that they stretch over time, corrode and even deform, and thus impact the physical properties of the string.
In terms of how to actually test cello strings, here’s how:
- Don’t change anything. Play on your reference string as it is and get comfortable with sound you currently have. Changing strings too soon will make it harder for your ear to pick up subtle differences
- Test one string at a time. Play a melody you can play very confidently. Stay focused and try not to play on other strings, except if you are testing point (3)
- Move between the adjacent string to compare for changes in volume and tone as you move from one string to another.
- Play fifths and double stops. Let’s be frank, intonation is tricky. But strings can actually make it harder. For instance, when playing fifths up the fingerboard with your thumb the position might be inconsistent with the previous fifth. In theory it shouldn’t and any difference highlights an intonation inconsistency with the adjacent string.
- Be consistent. Whether it is a melody or even just a scale, don’t change what you play between the reference string and the test string.
- Test at different sections of the fingerboard. Some strings sound great in lower registers but struggle higher up, and vice versa.
- Mix up your bowing technique. Legato, spiccato, you name it, play it! Strings react differently to these techniques, so how well they respond matters.
- Change your bow pressure. Not only are strings pitch sensitive to pressure, the timbre of sound will also vary
- Wolf tones. Some strings are more wolf prone than others so remember where you have one and see if the wolf persists with the new string.
- Ask a friend to help! Not only is a second opinion possibly helpful (especially given they will be listening at a more acoustically optimal place) but they can help you change the strings more easily (thus limiting the time your ear has to forget the previous string’s sound).