Many musicians and students are amazed and sometimes bewildered by the large number of strings available for the violin, viola, cello and bass. We are offering this information to answer some of the basic questions about choosing strings. Each different type of string has its own special characteristics, which can change the sound of your instrument. These characteristics can make subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) changes in the quality, playability, volume and responsiveness of the instrument. In some cases, changing one or more strings can improve a weakness in a specific part of the range of the instrument. Some instruments respond best to a certain kind of string and less well with other types. Each instrument has its own personal characteristics. A string that works well with one instrument may not produce the best sound with another brand.
There is also a vast number of playing styles that dictate string choice. A classical violinist might choose strings that would be unsuitable for a bluegrass fiddler. A jazz bass player who plays mostly pizzicato would like a string that symphony bassists would find difficult to use. For centuries, all musical strings were made of sheep gut (not cat gut, as many believe). By the 16th. Century the lower, thicker strings were wrapped with silver wire to reduce mass.
Today, almost all gut strings are wrapped with aluminum or silver. In the early 20th. Century, all metal strings were introduced to improve stability in pitch and durability. Steel E strings for the violin became popular, primarily because gut E strings broke so quickly. About 20 years ago, strings with nylon cores were introduced. They share many of the tonal qualities of gut strings but are much more stable in pitch as compared to gut strings, which need constant tuning. Today, perlon core strings are the most popular strings among students and classical players.