Joseph Mendoes - cello expert

What strings to use on the cello

Learn how to choose the right strings for your cello

In this video, Prof. Mendoes talks about strings and their peculiar differences. He also gives you practical tips to choose the right strings for your cello playing.

Released on June 1, 2016

  
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DISCLAIMER: The views and the opinions expressed in this video are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Virtual Sheet Music and its employees.

Video Transcription

Hello everyone. This is Joseph Mendoes with another video for virtualsheetmusic.com.

Today I'd like to talk about two things. They're very much related to one another. And this is a topic that I've only recently become very interested in. It has to do with what kind of strings that you use on your cello. Now this might not seem like something that's very important or something that is almost largely up to tastes. But I think that it has a lot to do with actually how we want to approach the cello and what we want the cello to sound like and these kinds of things.

Now the most common strings that you'll see today that are strung on the cello actually have some type of metal core, usually steel core. In fact one of the more common on the lower strings, the C and the G string, are made of rope. What they call a rope core, which is where they take steel filament and wind them together into a rope. Now this makes the steel actually a little bit more pliable. It makes it not as stiff as say a totally solid core. So it's able to have a little better feel with also having that great, bright, powerful sound.

Now the trend lately in string construction has been towards a lot of power. This idea of getting the instrument sound louder and louder, not just for the cello but for all the string instruments, has been a very important part of research in string technique. Now one of the things that they try to do is they've tried to...now I might be getting my terms wrong. But they've try to have the strings have this much less of the twisting ability.

Of course the older strings are made with a gut core. In fact many cellists like Casals and Emanuel Feuermann played most of their careers on certainly wire-wrapped, in the case of Feuermann and Casals, wire-wrapped D,G, and C strings which had a gut core. But also a completely plain uncovered gut A string, which is surprising to most people because we associate those plain gut strings without any wire on them only with baroque performance practice or using a baroque cello or something like that. But these were actually very common. In fact one of my teachers told me that when he started playing the cello -- this was back in the late 50's -- when he started playing the cello, his first cello actually an A and a D string that were plain gut. And this was very common.

Anyway, getting back today in the string construction. Now, again, we're using these steel core strings, and they have a very different sound. But getting back to what I say about torsion. The strings had a lot of torsion. These gut strings had a lot of this twisting, where whenever you would play on them the response would be pretty slow. And so you had to develop a certain technique, a certain approach to the string, that was much, much more sensitive. For example, you couldn't press. Just to give you an example here, I'm playing on gut core strings on my bottom two strings. If you just press just the tiniest amount you get no sound. To really get the sound to develop, you really have to coax the sound out much more.

So this move forward the steel core strings and away from gut core strings has lot to do with this, with this response. Because you could press an extraordinary amount on these steel core strings, and they just don't give up on you. However I do think that the quality of sound is something that greatly suffers. Not only because of the fact that you're using a steel core string, but because of the fact of how you're approaching it. So cellists, for example like Pierre Fournier, he used a steel A string. But he used gut core on the D, G and C for the vast majority of his career. And in fact, I think probably in his entire career he at least used that. And in his early career he was another one that was used to playing gut.

Pierre Fournier had an extraordinary beautiful sound. And not to be overly too critical of cello playing today, but you hear more of this steely bright sound out of the cello today than you hear that noble sound that Pierre Fournier or Leonard Rose, same thing, gut core strings on the bottom and then a solid steel on top. You just don't hear that kind of sound too much anymore out of cellos. And I've come to understand and I've come to believe that some of it has to do with the fact of these strings that you just can't press too hard on this gut strings or they just collapse on you. And that makes you play in a way that is much more beautiful and much more natural.

Now, you can imitate this a little bit with using something like a dominance, like the nylon core strings. The sound isn't quite the same in my opinion, but there are very imitative of gut in terms of how they play. They do buckle quite a bit. Some of the more of the modern ones they've made in the last 10 to 20 years don't buckle nearly as much. But certainly it has the same effect.

So really, strings depends a lot on playing style. It depends upon a lot on what you want out of the cello. For example using gut cord strings can be tricky with tuning. They go out of tune not easily as people think. Mine stay pretty well in tune. I usually have to tune maybe at most twice a day. But usually just once a day, once in the morning, and then I'm fine. But the steel strings, I mean, you can...I've not tuned for like three days in a row if the weather is very stable. So they are very good in that way. And also they do, in some cases with some cellos, afford the instruments more power. But I have yet to hear a steel core string that is as beautiful as a gut core string on any cello.

It depends on your value system. Do you value a more beautiful, a more silky sound? And do you want to maybe not sacrifice that beauty and then maybe have to work a little harder to develop the technique that you needed or to project with those strings? Or do you want to use steel core strings which are much easier to play on? Certainly they're much easier to learn on in terms of the cello because the strings stay in tune much more easily. So really it just depends on a variety of factors.

I just want to make one last technical point about these strings. I really do think that they can improve how you approach the cello using these gut core strings. Certainly I've used gut and nylon core strings on and off my entire career. And the times that I've had the gut core on have been the times when I'm the happiest with my playing. I'm not forcing. I'm not over-pressing.

So please consider this the next time you think about changing strings on your cello and be willing to experiment with some strange things. Don't just accept what the string companies tell you, which these days is that steel core is the way to go. It gives you power, brilliance, and all these things. Try a wide variety of things. You might be very surprised with the results.

So please leave your comments down below on the virtualsheetmusic.com website. Not on YouTube. On YouTube I cannot see them. Also if you have not yet subscribed to my new website cellojunkie.com, please do. There will be new blog coming up very soon. And also I'll be releasing some exciting news, very exciting news, about a large project I've been working on now really since about January of this year. I'll be announcing that very very soon. I'm very excited about it. And you'll see that on cellojunkie.com, but only if you subscribe. So please go to that website and subscribe. So thank you again. This has been Joseph Mendoes with virtualsheetmusic.com.
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Andrea on June 9, 2017 @9:34 am PST
Hello Joseph,
I am an adult student in second year of playing. I purchased a student cello that was already set up. I don't know the brand strings on it. Would it be beneficial or advisable for me to have it restrung with better strings? I also need to have someone check the string height.
reply
Joseph - host, on July 12, 2017 @5:51 am PST
Hello Andrea, my apologies for the late reply! Moving is tough...

Yes, it would be beneficial. Strings are the soul of the instrument and can have the biggest effect on its sound and playability. And please check the string height! Too high or two low can really have a negative effect on your playing experience.

Happy practicing!

Joe
Zoë on March 16, 2017 @9:16 am PST
Every time try to play my cello an put my fingers on the strings it makes a weird noise. I don't know if it's the bow hairs or wthe strings, help
reply
Joseph - host, on March 19, 2017 @9:15 pm PST
Does the noise happen when you use your bow, or only when you play pizzicato?
lynne * VSM MEMBER * on February 1, 2017 @11:22 am PST
please, could you say what strings you are using now on your cello.
reply
Joseph - host, on March 19, 2017 @9:06 pm PST
Hello Lynne, sorry this is so late! I am using plain gut on my A and D strings in a very heavy gauge and medium Olivs on my C and G. I love this set up, and plain gut is much more stable than people are led to believe.
Amy on September 1, 2016 @4:32 pm PST
From comparing both the D'addario Helicore and the Kaplan cello string set, I have to say that Helicore strings sound much better on my cello. I know every instrument is different. But Kaplan strings sounded a bit harsh or bright and not very stable in pitch at times. Helicore strings have a very warm and focused sound that is agreeable to all playing types. And they adapt well in climate change and environmental change.
Steven Davis * VSM MEMBER * on July 25, 2016 @8:49 am PST
What brand of cello A string do you use ? I presently play on handmade silver wound gut strings on the other three. They are quite warm.
reply
Joseph - host, on August 2, 2016 @4:27 pm PST
I use a Larsen A but I am not very happy with it. Who makes your gut strings? Silver wound D strings are pretty hard to find.
Steven D. * VSM MEMBER * on August 4, 2016 @10:00 am PST
I've used handmade gut cello strings made by Damian Dlugolecki. He only makes silver wound "C" and "G" strings. His varnished plain "A" and "D" strings played with proper bow technique are able to produce a fine sound. Presently however, I am using the new Pirastro Perpetual steel strings. The produce a very focused but warm sound with a wide dynamic range.
Y-L * VSM MEMBER * on June 8, 2016 @5:19 am PST
Hello..., I appreciate a lot the Joseph Mendoes' very interresting lessons. But for a French friend of mine, is it possible to have it in French ? Thanks. Best regards.
reply
Fabrizio Ferrari - moderator and CEO, on June 8, 2016 @9:01 am PST
Thank you for your comment. Unfortunately at the moment we are unable to offer translations of these videos, I am very sorry. I hope the video/text transcription above can help a little bit.
Y-L * VSM MEMBER * on June 9, 2016 @3:06 am PST
Thank you so much. But I wasn't enough clear in my last question. I would like only a translation of the text. Thanks again and : bravo !
reply
denise pepin * VSM MEMBER * on November 2, 2016 @6:52 pm PST
Bonjour,
I can do it for your French friend. Where woud I place /put the translation?
Fabrizio Ferrari - moderator and CEO, on November 3, 2016 @12:15 pm PST
That's very nice of you Denise! If you can, you could paste it inside your comments section here... please, let me know if it works. Thank you very much!
Fabrizio Ferrari - moderator and CEO, on June 9, 2016 @8:50 am PST
Oh, I see now... well, that's something we are thinking about and maybe we'll be able to offer in the future. Thank you for your clarification!
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