Understanding the differences between the three main types of viola, violin, and cello strings is necessary for selecting the best viola strings. When it comes to musical instruments, there is no definitive use of the term “best,” because different people want different things from their strings. The most complex overtones are produced gut core strings, but they are more prone to going out of tune. Steel core strings have a bright tone, are very easy to tune, and have a clear sound. Synthetic core strings have the same complex overtones as gut strings, but they are much more reliable in terms of tuning.
Viola strings are made up of a core material that is wrapped in another material. The gauge of the strings can affect the volume and tone, and the difference in materials used in the core material has the greatest impact on the tone produced the strings. The gauge of a string refers to its thickness or heaviness, and viola strings are typically classified as light, medium, or heavy. Medium-gauge synthetic strings are the most common, but steel core strings are better for beginners and those who do not want to play classical music.
Gut strings were used to make the first viola strings, which were made entirely of sheep guts. In modern times, the gut string is only used as a core and is wrapped in silver or copper to preserve the tone. Gut strings have a rich, overtone-filled sound that is preferred baroque musicians. Many players like these strings because of their rich tonality, but they are sensitive to temperature and humidity changes.
Beginners and players who do not play classical music typically use steel core strings. Steel core strings produce a brighter tone with accentuated high-end tones and few overtones. Steel core viola strings are more durable than gut strings, and they will stay in tune and maintain their tone for much longer.
Synthetic core strings are the last type of viola string. These strings have a nylon core and essentially combine the best features of the other two types of string. They combine the rich low end and complex overtones of gut strings with the durability of steel core strings. Steel or gut strings may be a better choice if the player is primarily interested in tone richness or extreme durability, but synthetic core strings are the best option for most players.
The playability, volume, and tone of viola strings are all affected their gauge. Thinner strings are easier to fret, which can be a problem for beginners, but they have less volume and produce a brighter high end. Thicker strings provide more volume and low-end power to the player, but they may be more difficult to fret for beginners. The majority of players will benefit from medium gauge strings.