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Hands-On Review: D'Addario Orchestral Strings

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Combining old-world values and space-age technology

By Jules DeGaultier

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.

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.

Prelude Series

D'Addario Prelude Violin Strings

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

D'Addario Pro-Arte Violin String Set

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

D'Addario Helicore Violin 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

D'Addario Zyex Violin Strings

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.

Tags: Strings Orchestral Strings & Accessories D'Addario

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