Violin strings have changed a lot over the years.
That is why you will get many different answers when you ask what violin strings are made of.
You’ll hear that they are made of catgut, horse hair, and even human hair.
Only one of those three is true. And even that one is not what it sounds like.
Plus, that material is rarely used these days.
Modern strings are made from different materials entirely.
Keep reading to learn exactly what violin strings are made of these days. We will also clear up some common misconceptions having to do with catgut and horse hair.
Table of Contents
- 1 What Are Violin Strings Made Of?
- 1.1 Understanding Violin Strings
- 1.2 What’s The Best Option For You?
- 1.3 What Are Violin Strings Made From: Related Questions
- 2 What Violin Strings Are Made Of: Final Thoughts
What Are Violin Strings Made Of?
Modern violin strings have a steel or synthetic polymer core that is wrapped with a wound metal. The high E string is usually plain steel, that is either wrapped, or plated in tin, silver, gold, or platinum.
Some strings are still made out of sheep intestines, also known as “catgut.” They’re still used to this day, but are not common anymore.
The ends of the strings also have special silk wrapping. In most cases, they also have ball ends. The ball ends are mostly made out of different metals.
Let’s take a closer look at both traditional and modern violin strings and the materials used to make them. We also have a full guide on violin strings that has even more info.
Understanding Violin Strings
The story of violin strings is as old as the instrument. Obviously. And the violin came to be in the early 16th century with some changes over the 18th and 19th centuries.
The tuning was established as G3, D4, A4, and E4 going from the lowest to the highest string.
Even from the old days, strings were made in such a way as to maximize the quality of the instrument’s sound and its sustain, as they are being drawn by a bow.
But modern violin strings differ from the old ones. This makes for some significant differences in sound characteristics. Naturally, that means that some violinists prefer to stick with the old ways.
Original String Material
For a very long time, strings were made from animal intestines. For the most part, these were sheep intestines.
The other name for this material is “catgut.” However, our feline friends suffered no harm — this is just a widespread name. No strings were actually made from cat intestines.
Catgut strings have a lower tension and require a lot of stretching. Although the tone is rich, with a lot of overtones, the strings break more easily.
There’s also a slower response, which takes some getting used to and requires somewhat different techniques. Additionally, tuning stability isn’t all that good with gut strings.
Materials In Use Today
These days, we have different standards for what violin strings are. Although there are still some brands that manufacture gut strings, more prevalent materials are steel and synthetic polymers.
During the 20th century, we first got high E strings made out of steel. The other three strings soon followed. At some point, steel strings became the standard.
Overall, steel strings tend to be more popular with non-classical violin players. They sound brighter, have a stronger attack, respond quickly, and are very focused-sounding. On the other hand, they lack some of the sonic complexity and are much “sharper.”
The high E string can be flat, wound, or plated. The wound E string usually has chrome steel wrapping. Plated E strings have tin, gold, or platinum. The wrapped variant isn’t as bright-sounding and it’s slower in response.
Synthetic polymer cores are also quite popular today. In most cases, they use Perlon, which is a specific type of nylon.
Overall, their tone is somewhat similar to gut strings. However, the tone isn’t as complex and deep, although it’s more focused.
Over the years, synthetic violin strings changed and now we have combinations of different polymers. Ultimately, this impacts the tone, making it sound more gut-like. You’ll often hear them called “composite” cores due to a variety of materials.
It’s also important to add that string ends today usually have ball ends that are made of metal, along with silk wrappings. Those who prefer the old ways can go without ball ends but use loops instead.
What’s The Best Option For You?
If you’re just starting out on a smaller violin, you could try steel core strings. The tone is more focused, which could help you get used to playing the instrument.
For your usual fiddler stuff, steel core is the way to go. The same could be said about a variety of modern genres, especially if you’re playing alongside electric instruments through a PA and need to cut through the mix.
Synthetic polymer strings are the usual strings for classical music. They are less focused, they sound mellower and smoother, and have more complex overtones.
Although gut strings are not as common, they still have their special uses today. For instance, musicians who play classical music from certain eras like to use them. They’re also fairly popular among super-experienced professional classical violinists.
What Are Violin Strings Made From: Related Questions
Below we will answer some common questions related to violin strings and the materials from which they are made. If you have any additional questions, please feel free to ask them in the comments below.
What Material Is Best For Violin Strings?
There is no such thing as the “best” material for violin strings. The best violin strings for you come down to what you need and your level of playing.
Beginning violinists and those looking to play non-classical music, especially in bands with electric instruments, usually go with steel core strings. Nylon strings are for classical players, while gut strings are mostly for very experienced professional classical musicians.
Are Violin Strings Still Made Of Horse Hair?
No, violin strings aren’t made out of horse hair. And they never were. This common misconception stems from the fact that horse hair is used for violin bows.
Do Violins Still Use Catgut?
Even to this day, some violin strings are made out of catgut. They are not as common and might not always be stable and reliable. However, they deliver a highly desirable tone.
Despite what its name suggests, catgut doesn’t come from cat intestines, but from domestic farm animals used in meat production. In most cases, they’re made out of sheep intestines.
Are Violin Strings Vegan?
Apart from those made out of catgut (which is mostly sheep intestines), most violin strings do not use animal products in their production. Modern materials include steel with different wrapping or plating options, as well as polymers.
Of course, due to the complex production processes and supply chains in the modern world, it’s not always easy to point out which products are fully vegan and which are not.
Can Human Hair Be Used For Violin?
Technically, human hair can be used for violin bows and some have even made violin strings with it. However, human hair is very impractical for this use and attempts to use it were nothing more than simple experiments.
What Violin Strings Are Made Of: Final Thoughts
Violin strings are mostly made of metals or polymers these days. In the past, they were made of animal intestines, but that material has mostly fallen by the wayside, with a few exceptions.
The violinists who still use catgut strings tend to play certain types of classical music only. Polymer strings are more common with classical violinists these days. Steel strings are popular with violinists in other genres. They are also good for beginners learning how to play.