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Summary: Knowing how to find the best cello strings means knowing your musical level, how often you play, and what sound you want to produce. Most players should stick with medium gauge synthetic or steel cello strings.
Cello strings play a big role in the type of sound your instrument makes and the volume you can produce. For that reason, knowing how to find the best cello strings for your situation and skill is imperative.
Here are some of my basic dos and don’ts:
- Do: Pay for high-quality strings that match your skill level.
- Don’t: Buy the most expensive core and wrappings just because you equate cost with quality. Different cores and wrappings are intended for specific situations like soloists or ensemble members. You need something that fits your situation.
- Do: Order from a top brand that offers 3 gauges and different wrappings.
- Don’t: Ignore complementary accessories like a protective case, horsehair bow, and rosin for a cello.
Types of Cello Strings
When looking for strings, you might have seen a lot of words like “steel core medium” or “Dominant, aluminum wound, medium.”
When looking at cello strings, there are 3 types of strings for the cello and 3 types of gauges.
|Type of Cello Strings||Gut core||Steel (metal) core||Synthetic (Dominant) core|
|String Gauge (thickness)||Light||Medium||Heavy|
There are also different wrappings or windings that are physically wound around the core. These can alter the sound and quality slightly as well. The best core material and wrapping is really based on your situation.
You do not need to buy the most expensive cello strings just because they are expensive. The “best” strings should work well for you and your instrument.
Spending more money on expensive strings will not make your cello sound better. Strings are there to facilitate the sound your abilities are able to produce. So, if you are a beginner, you will probably still have lots of mistakes as you try to play your first few pieces of music, no matter what strings you have.
As a professional musician, your strings will respond to whatever technique you apply, so the more advanced your technique, the more responsive the music will be.
You can watch this quick video on why the most expensive cello strings might not be the best fit:
Best Cello Strings for Beginners
If you are a beginner, your biggest concern is making sure that you have the right arm positioning, that you are sitting the proper way with your instrument, and that you can move your bow across the cello strings. Developing your technique is the most important step at this stage.
So, you need cello strings that help you do this. Beginners should work primarily with synthetic or dominant core strings. Synthetic strings were originally manufactured for the cello in the 1970s.
They are called dominant strings because of the company that produced them. If you want high-quality synthetic strings that give you good sound and durability, dominant strings are a good fit. For beginners, there are many benefits associated with using synthetic strings:
- Synthetic strings have more flexibility.
- Synthetic strings respond better to your movements, so you don’t have to work as hard to get the sound you want.
- Synthetic strings last a long time, so you don’t have to change them as often.
- Synthetic strings don’t need tuning as often as other strings.
Best Cello Strings for Intermediate Players
As an intermediate musician, you probably have an idea of what specific genre you play the most. You might be part of a small tree or brass quintet. You might be a member of a classical Orchestra or Community ensemble.
At this stage, you not only know the type of music you prefer to play, but you have developed your technique enough that you need strings that complement your skill and help bring out a wider array of overtones.
You can still use synthetic strings as an intermediate player and reap the same benefits as a beginner. However, steel strings make a great alternative because they give you more control over the sound and volume you produce. For intermediate musicians, there are many benefits associated with using steel cello strings:
- Steel strings have the longest lifespan.
- Steel strings are great for specific musical genres like bluegrass, country, or jazz music.
- Steel strings offer more metallic sounds.
- Steel strings don’t need to be tuned as often as gut strings.
- Steel strings come with many advanced wrappings to alter the sound.
Best Cello Strings for Advanced and Professional Musicians
As an advanced or professional musician, your technique is already refined, and you need strings that help you make the most out of your instrument and complement the other accessories you use, such as your rosin and your bow.
For professionals and advanced cellists, gut strings are highly recommended. Gut strings are the oldest type of cello strings. They are widely considered the best. However, they are also the most finicky. For this reason, they are typically reserved for professionals rather than beginners or intermediates.
Only advanced musicians or professional cellists will have the skill and time necessary to tune gut strings regularly and adjust tension based on the humidity or temperature.
- Gut strings are very responsive to refined techniques.
- Gut strings give the most complex overtones, perfect for more complicated pieces.
- Gut strings offer the warmest sounds that can only be imitated by other string cores.
- Gut strings have the shortest lifespan and have to be tuned under fluctuating weather, heat, or humidity.
In the video below, you can hear the striking difference in overtones, volume, and especially power when the same Baroque piece is played with steel core cello strings and then again with gut core cello strings:
When I started playing with a professional ensemble, I read quite a bit about different cello strings and how gut strings were better. Still, I honestly didn’t like having to take breaks to tune my instrument that often, so I avoided them.
I learned very quickly that there is a noticeable difference between gut strings and steel strings, even steel cello strings designed to mimic gut strings’ sound.
The video above demonstrates that very noticeable difference in the same piece of music depending entirely on your strings.
As a professional, I needed something that produced a sound very similar in quality and overtones to what the rest of the group was producing. The other instruments, including the other cello, were using gut strings, and I stood out.
We weren’t playing in particularly large concert halls; we were playing in smaller community opera houses that were stunning but had a maximum capacity of 500 people.
At that size, the volume produced by my steel strings actually prevented my cello from blending in with the rest of the group. Once I changed my strings, I was suddenly producing a warmer, gentler sound that flowed seamlessly with the other stringed instruments.
The Best Cello String Gauge and Tension
The gauge (thickness) and tension can influence the sound too. These should be considered after you find the right core material. In general, medium gauge strings and medium tension are perfect for a cello. However:
- The thicker the cello string, the more volume you get.
- The thinner the cello string, the less powerful the volume.
- The thicker the cello string, the grittier the sound.
- The thinner the cello string, the brighter the sound.
So, you might invest in synthetic cello strings with aluminum wrappings in order to get a full, mellow sound that radiates throughout a concert hall for your classical ensemble. Conversely, if you need that same volume, you can get thicker steel core with gold wrappings and enjoy metallic undertones for your jazz group.
How Often Should I Change Cello Strings?
The biggest influence on how often you change your strings for new ones is how often you play.
A beginner will not have to change strings more than once or twice per year. An intermediate music student will change about every quarter, and a professional will change every month.
|If you are a beginner and practice a couple of hours per week…||Replace your cell strings every 8-10 months|
|If you are an intermediate player and practice 1 or 2 hours every day…||Replace your cello strings every 3-4 months|
|If you are a professional and practice 5 hours per day….||Replace your cello strings every 1-2 months|
Complementary Cello Accessories
Strings make a big difference in the tonal qualities you can produce with your instrument. For beginners, you need responsive strings that help you focus on your technique. As you advance, you need strings that complement your technique and bring out a wider variety of sound quality and tone.
However, to help ensure you get the most out of your cello strings, you should consider investing in a few other cello accessories.
- Invest in a cello case. Exposure to temperature fluctuations, dust, oils from your hands, pet hair from a dog or cat that rubs up against the instrument can all damage your strings. You want your strings to have as long a lifespan as possible. A weatherproof case that latches and seals will keep your instrument protected while it is sitting at home or being transported.
- Invest in cello rosin. Intermediate and professional musicians should have complimentary rosin as you advance in your musical skills. If, for example, you have purchased Pirastro cello strings wound with gold, you can get amber or dark rosin that has gold in it. Rosin helps with the vibrations as you move your bow across the cello strings. The right rosin can bring out subtle and complex overtones in more expensive strings.
- Invest in a quality horsehair bow. If your cello was purchased as part of a kit, figure out what material was used for the bow. The hair can be horsehair or synthetic. If you are playing as a beginner, you can probably get away with a synthetic hair bow. Still, as you invest in higher-quality strings like dominant strings or gut strings, you should upgrade your bow so that it is made with high-quality horsehair as well.
Cello Strings I Recommend
Students: D’Addario Prelude Cello Strings
These are perfect for students. Made with a solid steel core and nylon wrapping, these strings come in medium gauge and focus on creating a stable pitch and durable strings. The best part is that these strings won’t break the bank, and they’ll please just about any teacher.
- Steel Core
- Medium Guage
- Great Student Strings
- Resistant to temperature and humidity changes
- Not suitable for the advancing student
Intermediate to Advanced: Dr Thomastik Dominant Cello Strings
These are a popular choice for the advancing cellist. The strings are regarded as the standard for many students playing orchestral strings. While some brands have been rivaling Dominants in the violin world, they remain top in the cello world. Made with a synthetic core and would with chrome, these strings attempt to mimic the tone and feel of gut strings. While not entirely successful, they are much more stable. They have better longevity than gut strings, making them perfect for those still learning.
- Industry-standard string set
- Cheaper than gut strings
- Sounds similar to gut strings but resists humidity and temperature changes
- Great for orchestra members
- Can be on the pricey side
Professional Set: D’Addario Kaplan
Strings produce a rich and complex tone perfect for professional cellists. Made with solid and stranded steel core, they produce a balance of projection, clarity, and richness. Designed, engineered, and manufactured in the USA, these strings receive the most stringent quality control from the D’Addario string family.
- Available heavy, light, and medium tension
- Perfect for professionals who want strings from the same set
- Made in the USA
- Very expensive
Custom Set: Larsen A+D and Thomastik Spirocore Tungsten G+C Set
This the favorite amongst professionals. The mix of these two string brands creates warmth in the upper strings and clarity in the lower strings. They allow for clear projection across an auditorium, perfect for any solo moments.
- Custom set that gives the best of both worlds
- Most popular string combination in the world for cellos
- Creates a balanced tone across all octaves
- Very expensive
- Only available in medium gauge
Answer: The gauge, or thickness, of your strings matters more as you become an intermediate or advanced player. As a beginner, this won’t matter as much. Most strings are sold as medium thickness.
Medium thickness is the recommended thickness for almost all cellists. You can, of course, try a light or heavy thickness. Advanced or professional cellists usually mix the string material and gauge for the top two strings and the bottom two strings.
Answer: You want to choose a cello string based on the core material, the gauge, the wrappings (if any), and your skill. As a beginner, you should stick with synthetic strings or dominant strings for your cello.
You can play with synthetic or steel core strings at the intermediate level. You can also combine different string materials for the different strings on your cello. As an advanced player, you should choose a cello string that helps you bring out the subtleties of your bow movements and technique.
Usually, this is gut strings, but you can also use high-quality synthetic or steel strings depending on the type of music you are producing.
Answer: Cello strings can be expensive depending on the quality and material. Gut strings are usually considered the highest quality, so they are the most expensive.
However, the wrappings on your cello strings will also influence the price. If, for example, you have a steel core string or synthetic string with gold or silver wrappings, they might be more expensive.
The skilled labor, quality, and specialized machines used to make strings influence the price. The more highly specialized the production process is, the more expensive the strings are.
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