Brian Phelan Violin Maker

Maker of fine Instruments In the Italian tradition

Posts from the ‘Instrument Set-up & Tone Enhancement’ category

Which Fiddle strings are best for Traditional Irish Music?

Nowadays there is an enormous variety of strings available for violin. So all things considered (for now at least) I’ve decided to narrow my answer to the above question down to the four most common and, more often than not, only sets available in most high street Music shops here in Ireland . Those being; The cheap sets such as Prelude by D’Addario (USA) or OPTIMA Goldbrokat Steel/Aluminium (Germany) Which really are only suitable for beginers, Followed by the three Tomastik sets; Prazision, Spirocore and Dominant.
So what are the factors that distinguish one string from another? A number of factors contribute to the difference between strings but mainly there are two major factors, The first being the “core” of the string which may be synthetic or steel or an amalgamation of different metals. The second factor is the metal which is wound around that “core” (on the G,D and A) The more precious that metal – usually the more expensive the string. But sticking with our four most commonly available sets here in Ireland, which I have named above, The strings I have found to be the most suitable for Traditional Irish Music would have to be the Tomastik “Spirocore” they are of better quality metals than the (slightly cheaper) Tomastik “Prazision”, They are quite responsive, closely wound with a “multiwire spiral rope core” and are a good hard wearing, long lasting well made string. Some players may prefer the more expensive Tomastik “Dominants”, But personally I find these strings more suited to Classical music although for slow air’s they can sound a little more mellow than the “Spirocore’s” but unfortunately they tend to have a much shorter lifespan due to the metals used being softer therefore they tend to come unraveled far easier,
especially after a lot of fast playing.

A Useful TIP for extending the life of your strings: Carefully and very gently rub each string individually, up and down its length with a soft cotton cloth dipped in surgical spirit or even nail polish remover, this is very effective for removing dirt and built up rosin from the strings and will leave them sounding much brighter. *But being extra careful not to get any of the solvent on or near the varnish of the instrument!*

Instrument Setup

After more than 30 years playing experince, I know how important a good “set-up” is to any instrument.

Set up is basically the “mise en place” of all the add on’s to an instrument i.e tailpiece, nut, pegs, bridge, sound post etc. The sound of an instrument is greatly influenced by its set up. I place a great deal of importance on the correct fitting of the bridge on an Instrument..

The overall best possible sound obtained by a good set up and bridge fitting can change greatly depending on measurements and materials used. A well seasoned deluxe French Bridge can cost easily up to 30 or 40€, but the quality of that bridge is worth every cent! (providing your instrument merits such a bridge*) Another important aspect of set up is comfort-ability and play-ability, more for some than others, but for a serious player who spends up to nine hours a day holding their instrument, it should be as comfortable as possible without compromising on sound. It is for this reason I like to do any required adjustments while the player is with me in my workshop. It can be quite amazing the difrence small adjustments can make to the sound of an Instrument

I enjoy working regularly on the instruments and bows of many of the Great Fiddlers  around this County such as Padraíg Creedon, Brendan O Sullivan, Paddy Jones, Donal Cullinane, to mention but a few!

Every thing matters when it comes to sound! Some days your violin sounds great and other days not so great. This can be because the violin is extremely susceptible to changes in atmosphere, moisture levels in the air can greatly influence the sound of your instrument. There are a number of precautions that can be taken to limit and even eliminate this particular problem.

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  • Repairs,Restorations,setup/sound adjustment and sound enhancement.Bows re-haired,New Instruments made to order.
  1. Sound Post adjustments 
  2. Fine tuners fitted
  3. Geared pegs fitted
  4. All Pick-ups fitted  …Fishman v200’s Double Bass pick-ups 
  5. Custom Electric Violins made to order.
  6. Bows re-haired
  7. Personalised Instrument inlay
  8. Instrument Valuations
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