String Tension Explained
What is string tension?
The string playing tension is the force along the length of the string. It is determined by the amount of mass (material) wound on the string, as well as the frequency of vibration and string length. String tension affects the response and playability of the string, as well as the sound. D’Addario offers most strings in multiple tension grades: light, medium, and heavy.
How does string tension affect sound and response?
Higher tension strings will sound louder and fuller (under the same bowing conditions) and can be played louder than lower tension strings. However, because higher tension strings have more mass, which takes more force to move, they are less responsive to bowing. The result is that higher tension strings can be more difficult to control, especially when playing softly. While lower tension strings cannot play as loudly as higher tension strings, they often have a wider tonal palette and can be easier to manipulate.
Which tension: light, medium or heavy, should I use on my instrument?
Start with medium tension. If the string feels too “soft” and you need more sound, try heavy tension. If you want easier bowing response and there is plenty of power, try a lighter tension. Sometimes, a mix of light, medium and heavy tension strings will work best.
The tension levels for one brand can be different than another brand, even if they are both named “medium,” since there are no universal standards for tension. Our tension specifications are listed on our website and on product packaging.
String Core Materials
What type of core do I want?
In general, steel core strings have a clear, focused sound, while synthetic and gut core strings have a more complex sound. The optimal string depends on your instrument, the type of music you play, and your own playing and bowing style. Different strings have different sound and playing characteristics.
Solid and Stranded Steel Core
Steel core strings can be made with smaller diameters which improve bowing response. When combined with D’Addario’s dampening technology, these strings can be played with very quick and easy bow response. The flexibility of stranded steel cores adds greater sound complexity and further improves bowing response, especially for the lower strings.
Existing as strands of fibers, synthetic cores are constructed from man-made substances, such as nylon or other high-tech materials. Synthetic core strings are designed to mimic the complexities of gut strings, while remaining relatively more resistant to corrosion and climate change. They can produce a wide range of tonal color and volume.
Gut strings are made out of the processed intestines of sheep or cows. While gut strings are the earliest form of bowed string, they are still used today, often in conjunction with earlier or historic instruments. Because it is an organic material, gut strings produce a very warm, complex sound, but have a shorter lifespan and are less resistant to climate changes than steel or synthetic core strings.
D’Addario Today: "The Story” by Jim D’Addario
In the very early years of this iteration of our company – 1973 -1981, we bought machinery from two companies that made machines for the string industry. We purchased about 12 winding machines. Being mechanically inclined, I assumed the responsibility of keeping these machines running. By spending 80% of my time on the factory floor, I quickly learned how inadequately designed and manufactured these machines were. I also quickly learned that there are key variables in the manufacture of music strings that need to be controlled to maintain product quality and consistency; I was also concerned about the safety of our employees as these machines did not have features that would stop a machine quickly if a string had broken during winding.
One variable, for instance, is the tension that is applied to the wrap wire during winding; this is crucial to the tone and life of a string. The methods for applying tension were primitive and varied greatly as a spool of wire ran and slowly emptied itself. Maintaining the perfect wire feed angle pitch in relationship to the core was also impossible on the machines we purchased.
At the time, my mother, Mary D’Addario, was running the Packaging Department and one of her employees, saw that I was always trying to improve the machines. She told me that her son-in-law, Gino, had a machine shop right in our backyard; it was literally behind our factory’s parking lot. It was a small shop and he and his partner Luigi were old world craftsmen from Northern Italy. I had no engineering skills or education, but I had ideas on how I could improve things like the control of tension on the wrap wire on our machines. I would sketch things out and take them to Gino’s shop and he would make parts for me. Quickly, I began to improve and modify the machines, so much so that I would not let the makers of the machines in our shop from that point on. I did not want them seeing the competitive advantages we were developing; this way, they could not incorporate them into machines they might make for our competitors.
+ READ MORE