Choosing Strings and the Thomastik Back to School Sale!

Choosing the Right Strings

Choosing strings for your instrument is a personal and complicated process. With so many options available on the market, it can be difficult to know where to start. Luckily, we are here to help!

Here are some important factors to keep in mind:

What style of playing do you do? What works for a classical player may not work for a jazz musician or fiddler and vice versa. Different genres call for different types of sound, which can be achieved with different kinds of strings.

How do you characterize your instrument’s sound? Strings have the ability to enhance or stifle the particular qualities of your instrument. In order for them to help rather than hinder, know how to characterize your instrument’s sound. Is it dark or bright? Mellow or piercing? This knowledge will help you work with your instrument rather than against it.

What are you looking for? Do you want to brighten the sound? Tone down the power? Speed up response? Slow it down? Knowing what you are looking for helps make sure your strings accommodate your needs.


There are three basic types of strings: gut, steel core, and synthetic core. Keep in mind that the majority of players today use steel or synthetic core strings. The basic differences are:




  • Warm, complex sound
  • Softer under the fingers
  • Unstable tuning
  • Long settling period
  • Shorter playable life
  • Sensitive to changes in climate
  • Stable tuning, settle quickly
  • Direct and cutting sound
  • Thinner sounding than gut or synthetic
  • Warmer than steel core strings
  • Stable tuning and settle quickly
  • More subtle tonal colors than steel
  • Most widely-used type of string today
  • Similar tonal qualities to gut


**Keep in mind these are generalizations. Each type of string will perform differently for different instruments, and the varying qualities of each will appeal to some and push away others**

Experimenting with strings involves trial and error. Now through October 9th, Thomastik is having their back-to-school sale on select string sets and bundles for all instruments, making this a better time than ever to try something new with your strings. As always, our string prices are up to 55% below list price.

For more detailed information about the different kinds of strings we offer and their differences, please visit our website.

Copyright © 2015 · All Rights Reserved · Silvija Kristapsons

Switching From Violin to Viola

If you are a violinist, you have probably been asked this question at some point during your musical career:

Can you play viola?

For some, the answer is a resounding “NO.” For others, this question leads to them taking on the viola as a secondary or primary instrument. This can happen at any point, but many students are asked around middle or high school in an effort to even out the sections in school programs. Since the violin is more well-known and recognizable, many students or families initially choose it over the unknown viola. Whenever or whatever reason the switch is happening, here are some important things keep in mind:

Be careful when choosing a viola size.

The viola is unique in that there is no “full size,” unlike other string instruments. The viola began as two separate instruments: alto viola and tenor viola. Technically, in order to achieve an ideal tone the viola should be much longer than it is now–upwards of 19 inches. That length would make it impossible to play. The tenor viola was the closest solution to this issue; however it was still so long that unless you had very long arms and fingers, it was too painful to play for an extended period of time. Modern violas fall closer to the size of the alto violas, with makers striving to recreate the sound found in the tenor violas of the past.

Today, the viola typically ranges in size from 15” to 17”, with most players falling between the 15.5”-16.5” range. Some 14” violas do exist (the same length as a full-size violin), but they do not have the same sound quality/depth. For new players, your best course of action would be to start by trying a 15-15.5” instrument and adjusting up or down from there. You do not want to feel like you are straining to play. It will feel larger, but should still be comfortable.

Learn to read or transpose the clef.

This may seem obvious, but it can be easy to rely on your ears to tell you exactly what you should be playing, especially if you are working on familiar repertoire. Violists primarily read alto clef and it is one of the only instruments that does so. It lies between treble and bass, with the middle line being middle C. This accommodates the instrument’s range well. Like learning another language, practice and immersing yourself will help you learn faster and more completely. Your treble clef skills will still come in handy, as viola music sometimes switches between the two. There are books that can help you make the transition into reading alto clef, which can be found on our website.

Your position will need to change.

It may look like a violin. It may still be held on your shoulder. It may even feel the same.

It isn’t.

Keep in mind that violas and their bows are heavier than violins and this will change how you support the instrument. Your arms will be more extended and the finger-spacing of your left hand will be more spread out, which will necessitate changes in your overall position and posture to prevent tension. The best way to discover what you will need to change is:

Find a teacher who plays viola.

Find a teacher who really plays and works as a violist. Even with only one or two lessons, they can be an invaluable asset in finding a position without tension. Many violists are former violinists and will be able to help  you with the transition.


Keep your eye on the Johnson String Instrument blog for more posts, and don’t forget to follow us on Facebook and Twitter!

Copyright © 2015 · All Rights Reserved · Silvija Kristapsons

Tips for Instrument Care

First time player or parent of a first time player? We have everything you need to take care of your instrument, as well as some tips:

Clean your instrument with a soft cloth, as well as the stick of the bow.

This is something that should be done every time you finish playing in order to prevent rosin buildup. Make sure to wipe down the strings, fingerboard, wherever you see rosin on the body of the instrument, and the stick of the bow. If you want to polish or clean your instrument, only use a compound made for string instruments like our JSI Cleaner and Polish.

Keep your instrument’s environment consistent.

The easiest way to accomplish this is to keep your instrument away from extreme temperatures. This means storing it in an insulated room away from vents, heating or air conditioning units, and windows. Do not leave your instrument in an unattended car, especially during the height of winter or summer.

Another factor to keep in mind is that string instruments are sensitive to humidity. Too much will cause the wood to expand, causing problems like immobile pegs. Conversely, too little humidity will cause the wood to contract, increasing the risk of open seams and cracks. Consider monitoring the humidity levels with an in-case humidification system to prevent damage.

Store your instrument properly.

When you are done playing, make sure to take off all shoulder rests/sponges and store them safely. Strap or tie down the neck and make sure any accessories like rosin or pencils are in an accessory pocket. Loosen the bow every time you put it away to prevent the stick from warping and to extend the life of your bow hair.

Do not attempt your own repairs.

It may be tempting to glue an open seam back together or straighten a warped bridge yourself, but performing your own repairs can become more damaging and costly than the initial issue. Particular methods and materials are used to fix stringed instruments; when you use a material that is not normally found on a string instrument, this can harm it. If you suspect something is out of place, please pay a visit to our workshop and let our luthiers assess the instrument.

Use your eyes and ears.

Your powers of observation are your best asset when it comes to taking care of your instrument. If something does not sound or look right, it most likely is not. If you hear an unexplained buzzing or rattling, see an open seam or a crack, or notice anything else out of place about your instrument, bring it to your luthier to have it checked out. If problems are ignored, they can easily get worse and more costly to correct. A little preventative care will allow your instrument to remain in good working order.

Copyright © 2015 · All Rights Reserved · Silvija Kristapsons