Thursday, April 19, 2007

WWBW String Deals

Monday, April 16, 2007

Strunal Violins

Strunal Violins
Genuine European craftmanship you can really hear.
By Harold Moore

Strunal Violins
Built by expert luthiers in the Czech mountain town of Luby, Strunal violins deliver old-world know-how and attention to detail for amazingly affordable prices. Strunal violins are precision-made with carefully selected woods and are available through Musician's Friend in a range suitable for all beginning and intermediate students of the violin.

Pedigree makes the difference
As a violin instructor of 27 years, I have been exposed to a wide variety of beginner and intermediate student instruments. Sadly, the vast majority of these have been of such poor quality that even a student with promising technique could not produce a sweet tone with them. This is discouraging for teachers like me and much more so for students.

Twenty years ago I discovered Strunal violins, and I've been recommending them ever since. Hence, when Musician's Friend approached me I was glad to write a recommendation. I believe the secret of the Strunal violins is in their heritage. Most of the Strunal luthiers are from families who have been making stringed instruments from as far back as the middle 1600s. Many of them are the cream of the crop from Luby's school of violin making, which has been training luthiers since 1908.

I was actually lucky enough to visit Luby in the late 1990s and tour the Strunal factory. The fresh mountain air and beautiful surroundings seemed to impart a refreshing sense of calm purpose in the fine craftsmen I saw working there. There was no feeling of urgency in the factory-each craftsperson took the time to do the job right.

A focus on the student
Though some fine concert-quality violins are produced at the factory, from my point of view as a teacher Strunal's strongest suit is in their beginning and intermediate instruments. There is a great deal of handwork on these instruments, but some of the processes which require great precision have been made inexpensive through the introduction of computer-controlled state-of-the-art woodworking machinery.

Being located in the middle of one of Europe's largest forests, Strunal has a large supply of very well-seasoned and fine-grained top woods. Since they don't have to pay premium prices for these woods, neither do players. These two factors, combined with a number of cost-saving techniques that do not diminish the instruments' tonal quality or playability, have resulted in a very affordable line of student and orchestral models.

Strunal does not skimp on quality when making smaller-scale instruments. Indeed, I have encountered several small-scale Strunal violins that amazed me with their tonal quality. This makes a huge amount of difference in the motivation of a beginning student. The 220 model comes in sizes from 1/8 to 4/4 scale, the 260 comes in 1/4 to 4/4 scale, and the 1750 model comes in 1/2 to 4/4 scale. Overall, I have found Strunal violins to be superior in performance, craftsmanship, and value to any other student and intermediate violins I've encountered.

D'Addario Orchestral Strings

A real family business in the old-world sense, J. D'Addario & Company's lineage is in the "cardaro" trade (Italian for string maker). Its origin traces back to the 1600s (almost back to the Renaissance) and to Salle, a small town in Italy, where Donato D'Addario began the family's long involvement in the business of manufacturing strings for musical instruments.

D'Addario Orchestral Strings
Guts and determination
In the days before nylon, strings were made from the intestines of hogs and sheep (and cats), and the process of turning guts into strings was lengthy (requiring over a week), labor intensive, and tricky. The D'Addario family perfected this process, and their strings became known throughout Italy for their reliability and high quality. The top musicians in the grandest orchestras of the day used them. And the string manufacturing business became a major employer in Salle.

It was in 1905 that two D'Addario brothers left the Old World and headed for the new. Charles D'Addario stayed and established the family's business here in America. Through an eagerness to innovate, a willingness to adapt, plus a grounding in the D'Addario tradition, it has thrived to this day guided by successive generations.

Modern D'Addario
The development of the company in modern times is interesting—the D'Addario Web site has a well-written account. In short, it was a period of change: the move into synthetics and an increasing focus on guitar strings. As the guitar rose in popularity, D'Addario, like all string makers, began devoting its energies to supplying the strings. With the emergence of the electric guitar and bass, the guitar string business expanded, and again the D'Addario family was at the forefront of developments.

The proliferation of guitars and increased demand diverted the company for awhile from the bowed strings that had long been the family's stock and trade. In the early '80s, however, D'Addario decided to refocus on the orchestral side. It launched an ambitious research and development effort aimed at developing and refining bowed-instrument strings using modern materials and technologies, just as it had with guitar strings.

In the 20-some years since, it has perfected a varied and innovative line of bowed-instrument strings to serve musicians at every level. Now there are four types of D'Addario strings that employ a variety of materials and construction techniques. Though each type is unique, all meet the high standards of musicality and playability that are the heart of the centuries-old D'Addario tradition.

Click to Enlarge
Prelude Series
The Prelude Series strings were the first strings D'Addario developed for its return to bowed-string production. Prelude was created for the beginning student and amateur player. The strings have a solid steel core with a winding of an aluminum alloy for E and A and nickel for D and G. They are bright, easy to bow, and are unaffected by temperature or humidity—a big advantage for the student player because it makes tuning more stable.

They also don't have the shrillness of many steel-core strings. Prelude strings undergo a special treatment developed by D'Addario that gives them a dampening and prevents the shrill sound. For these reasons, they have become popular and widely used by students around the world. They are available for violin, viola, and cello in light, medium, and heavy tensions and in fractional sizes.

Pro·Arte Series
Available for violin, viola, and cello, the Pro·Arte Series was designed for serious students and amateurs. They are a general-use string with a nylon core that gives them a warm sound and a quick break-in. The outer windings are made of aluminum, silver, and tungsten in various combinations. They produce a warm sound similar to gut strings, but are more stable because they react less to humidity and temperature. They are a string you can count on to stay in tune and bow easily, and because of this they are popular with teachers around the world.

Helicore Strings
Developed in association with preeminent acoustician Norman Pickering for advanced players and professionals, Helicore was introduced in 1994 and quickly became a bestseller. A special multi-strand, twisted steel core and windings that include nickel, titanium, aluminum, and tungsten, along with special manufacturing processes give them a warm, clear sound and amazing pitch stability. Compared with most strings, they have a smaller diameter, which improves bow response to make difficult passages easier to perform.

They are available in fractional sizes for violin, viola, and cello, and are noted for their outstanding sound on electric violins. Helicore comes in three configurations for bass that enhance specific repertoire: Orchestral for bowing; Pizzicato for plucking; and Hybrid for both bowing and plucking, making it well suited for jazz and orchestral music.

Zyex strings are the premier D'Addario line and are designed to meet the demands of the true professional. At their core is a bona fide space age material, a synthetic polymer originally developed for NASA and now used in tennis rackets. This material allows the Zyex string to settle within a matter of hours, and they are absolutely stable—completely unaffected by even extreme humidity and temperature changes.

What has really made the Zyex strings so popular is the warmth of the sound they produce. It is remarkably similar to the sound of gut strings, but without any of the drawbacks. These strings are only available for violin and viola, and come in all sizes and tensions.

Whatever your instrument or level of musicianship, there are D'Addario strings that are perfect for your needs. And just as D'Addario strings brought out the best in the music of 17th century Italian musicians, so will the modern D'Addario strings bring out the best in your or your student's playing.

Musician's Friend

Musician's Friend Clearance Center

At our bulging Clearance Center we've unearthed $5,879,950 worth of overstocks, returns, refurbs, and discontinued gear. To find homes for it all, we've slashed prices—in many cases well below our original cost. Below you'll see just a small sampling of what's on hand. Shop now for the best selection. And check back regularly; we're constantly finding more buried treasure.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Care and Maintenance of Stringed Instruments

Care and Maintenance of Stringed Instruments

By following a basic program of care and light maintenance, one can expect to get many years of use from their stringed instrument. Here are some guidelines that will help avoid costly repairs:

Never let the instrument get very hot or very cold. Excessive heat can irreparably damage to the varnish and can cause the special, natural adhesive holding the instrument together to melt. Excessive cold and/or dryness (as well as rapid climatic changes) can cause severe cracks which are costly to repair. A good way to judge whether it is safe to leave the instrument in a particular environment is to ask yourself if you would be comfortable being in the same place as the instrument for the same amount of time. If you would be at all uncomfortable, do not leave the instrument in that environment. One of the more common mistakes is leaving an instrument inside a vehicle parked outside. In the sun, the inside of a car can easily reach temperatures over 120 degrees in just 5 to 10 minutes... absolute murder to the instrument.

It is best to keep the instrument and bow in the case or bag when not in use. Instruments and bows left sitting out likely to be sat upon or tripped over. (It happens more often than you think!) When unpacking a cello or bass from its storage bag, always remove the bow from its pouch first and set it aside. Taking the instrument out first leaves the bow vulnerable to breakage when the bag is dropped to the ground. Reverse the process when packing the instrument up, putting the bow away last.

After each playing, use a soft cloth to gently remove all rosin residue from the instrument (top plate, fingerboard, and bridge) and the stick of the bow. If rosin is left on the instrument, over time it will stick to the varnish and become very difficult to remove. There are commercial rosin remover kits available, but even the best of these can harm some instrument finishes. It is best to avoid the problem altogether. A positive side effect of always cleaning off your instrument after each use is that you will only rarely have to polish the body to keep it looking good.

Do not overtighten the bow. The stick of the bow is supposed to be curved toward the hair at all times. Under no circumstances should the bow be tightened so much that the curve of the bow stick disappears, or curves away from the hair. This can permanently damage the bow and make it unplayable. Always loosen the bow hair tension after playing and for storage. Avoid loosening the hair so much that the hairs hang limp and floppy. One only needs to relax the tension off the stick. If a bow is left under playing tension all the time (during storage), eventually the bow stick will lose its "spring" and will not be able to keep the hair at a playable tension. If this happens, it often means the bow is ruined. A skilled bow repair technician or luthier can "re-spring" a high quality pernambuco bow, but the process is delicate and costly, and the bow is usually never quite the same again.

Avoid handling the bow hair directly with your fingers. Natural oil from your hands will transfer to the hair and shorten its useful life. Also, avoid using too much rosin. Once new bow hair has been rosined thoroughly, just a few strokes of rosin is sufficient before each playing session (often even less). Bass players face the greatest risk of over rosining, as most bass rosins require far less to be applied than for other instrument bows. A common symptom of too much rosin is a "raspy" sound that may even sound like a buzzing string.

The only thing holding the bridge to the instrument is the tension of the strings. Under no circumstances should the bridge ever be glued to the top plate of the instrument. It should sit up such that the side of the bridge facing the tailpiece is at a 90 degree angle to the top of the instrument. When in any doubt about any bridge or instrument adjustment, it is always best to err on the side of caution and not attempt to make any adjustments yourself. Your teacher or professional instrument specialist can usually make small bridge adjustments safely, quickly, and easily.

**Very Important** Always refer any repair needs (no matter how minor they may seem) to a qualified instrument repair technician or luthier. Your instrument dealer can help you with virtually all repair needs. Many times it happens that a well meaning family member (including one who may be quite skilled with tools and woodworking) has ended up causing a much more extensive (and expensive) professional repair to be necessary after trying a home repair. Oftentimes what may seem to be a "horrible calamity" (like an instrument neck coming off, or a big seam opening up between pieces of wood in the body) is something that can be handled rather easily and somewhat inexpensively by an experienced stringed instrument repair technician. Stringed instruments and their components are made out of very special kinds of wood and are held together with very special types of glue (not available at any home improvement store). These types of instruments are designed and built in such a way to avoid the worst kinds of repair needs (like actual cracks in the wood).
Routine Maintenance

Several elements of your instrument will require routine maintenance or replacement:

The hair of the bow will need to be replaced regularly. If you are unsure of the service interval, your teacher can recommend the best time for replacement. For most students, the hair should be replaced at least every six months to a year. Extremely heavy use will require more frequent replacement. Your dealer can take care of this service for a standard fee.

Do not wait until strings break to install new strings. Over time, any brand of string will gradually lose its tone quality and lively response, but these changes often happen so slowly that the player may not notice right away. It is especially important for bass players to establish a regular schedule to replace strings, as many times bass strings just never break (unless abused); rather, they just get more and more "dead". To assure evenness of response and tone, it is usually best to replace an entire set of strings instead of mixing new with old single strings on the instrument. When you change strings, save the most recent older set to use in an emergency. The time interval for changing strings varies depending on the type of string used, playing style, and simply how long the strings are played. If you are unsure as to how long to wait before changing strings, check with your teacher or consult an instrument specialist at your dealer for advice.

If you are changing solid steel core student strings on your instrument, it is strongly recommended that you upgrade to high-quality stranded steel core strings like D’Addario Helicore® for several reasons. A stranded core string will be MUCH easier to play due to its greater pliability and flexibility, it will be more responsive to the bow, and it will possess very good durability. Also, if you play multiple styles (classical, jazz, blues, bluegrass, etc.), you will find a Helicore variety available to suit your style: Helicore Orchestral with the best bow response and warmest sound, Helicore Pizzicato with brighter tone and great sustain, and Helicore Hybrid as an ideal solution for "crossover" players performing in multiple styles using both arco and pizzicato.
D’Addario Helicore® Strings

When replacing the string set, do each string one at a time. Taking all the strings off at once, thus removing all the tension from the instrument can sometimes cause the soundpost to fall down. If the soundpost inside the instrument ever drops out, do not try to take it out of the instrument or re-set it yourself. Relax the string tension, and take the instrument to a qualified instrument repair technician or luthier to have the soundpost set back up. Your professional instrument dealer can usually take care of this relatively quick repair.

Understand that the instrument storage case or bag is designed to protect your instrument, and it will accumulate some wear and tear through normal use. Case handles, straps, latches, and zippers oftentimes can and should be repaired or replaced when necessary. However, after some time (usually several years), it will probably be necessary to replace the case or bag. If the case has taken a beating, but the instrument has generally remained undamaged while inside the case, then it has served you well. A badly damaged case or bag will not continue to effectively protect the instrument.

The bridge will usually need to be replaced within several years of purchase. A great deal of pressure is on the bridge when the instrument is under tension, and often the bridge will start to bend or "warp." A warped bridge should always be replaced by a qualified repair technician at your instrument dealer. Note that if you move to a place with a different climate, a new bridge is almost absolutely necessary as climate changes usually cause the wood of the whole instrument to change just a bit, necessitating a new set-up and adjustment. In certain parts of the country, seasonal climate changes may make it necessary for you to have two or three different bridges to switch out as necessary due to natural changes within the instrument when the humidity changes.

Finally, it is always a good idea to take your instrument to a repair technician or luthier at least every few years just to have it checked out and readjusted if necessary (not unlike getting your car tuned up). You will get the most enjoyment (and best performance) out of your instrument if it is kept in top condition. If you have any questions or need more specific advice on care and maintenance, contact your trusted professional instrument dealer.