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Whether that’s guitar or violin, if you’re just starting your musical journey then you might think that strings are strings, and it doesn’t matter which instrument you use them on.
Perhaps you’re a frustrated young violinist, tired of spending so much money on costly violin strings especially when there are so many cheap guitar string alternatives.
That alone can make you wonder if switching strings would actually be a good idea.
But can you use guitar strings on a violin?
Violin and guitar strings are different both in size and material. Guitar strings are longer and usually thinner and violin strings are mostly flatwound instead of roundwound. So, stringing the violin with guitar strings will make your instrument sound bad and it could end up damaging your violin.
To better understand why using guitar strings on a violin is not such a good idea we first need to take a closer look at the two instruments and compare them, so let’s get started!
Are Guitar and Violin Strings The Same?
When you see a guitar and a violin it’s easy to see all the similarities between them. After all, they are both musical instruments made out of wood, and they have strings albeit they are played differently, one with a bow and the other with a pick or by fingerpicking.
The sound they produce is of course quite different, but it is also generated by the resonating strings in the guitar’s and violin’s bodies.
Just like the guitar, the violin can be a solo instrument, but it can also be accompanied by chordal patterns. Though I do want to mention that you can’t play a chord with a violin like you can on a guitar because a chord has at least three notes and the violin can only bow one or two strings at the same time.
When it comes to the strings themselves, in the past both instruments were strung with strings made of wire or sheep intestines. Now, most guitars are strung with either steel or nylon strings.
Depending on the musician’s style, violins can also be strung with steel or nylon strings as well as catgut meaning the sheep intestine. The last one offers a warm tone and a dash of nostalgia, however, they are also much more expensive.
How Are Guitar and Violin Strings Different?
Despite some of the above similarities, you can easily tell that they are different just by looking at the two instruments. Violins are much smaller, so their strings are much shorter, they also have four strings compared to the six strings that guitars have, and I’m not even going to mention the 12-string guitar.
Of course, if you look past the visual differences that one can spot with the naked eye, you’ll find many more and that’s what we’re going to explore now.
The Construction and Setup
The most obvious difference when it comes to playing the guitar and the violin is that the guitar can be played with fingers or a pick, while the violin is a bowed instrument.
This is what partly makes the violin significantly louder and it’s an instrument that has longer sustain. The fretboard is also quite different because unlike the guitar the violin is fretless.
One more distinction between the two instruments is that guitars are usually set up in perfect 4ths, and the violin, on the other hand, is tuned in perfect 5ths.
When it comes to how guitars and violins are strung you may be surprised that they follow a completely different order, the exact opposite.
Violins are strung in this order, G, D, A, and E with G being the lowest and E being the highest, while the guitar is strung from low to high in this order low E, A, D, G, B, high E.
The violin’s neck also lacks a truss rod which is a thin metal rod that sits under the fretboard and runs the length of the guitar’s neck. It provides counter tension to the tension strings exert on the neck, which keeps the neck from warping under the pressure.
Without a truss rod guitar strings would force the neck of the violin to tilt backward after a prolonged time, and not only would that distort the sound the instrument produced but it could also damage the violin itself.
Violin Strings Are Thicker
Some violins sound better with thin strings, others with medium, and others with thick strings, but compared to guitar strings they are generally much thicker, meaning that the gauge is much higher than it usually is in guitar strings.
It’s also more common for violin strings to be identified by their tension instead of gauge which is more of a guitar thing. The tension depends on the gauge of the string,
The tension of a string is the horizontal stretching force in the string and violin strings are available in different tensions from light (which), medium, or heavy (stark,) or you may see them listed as low, medium, and high.
Similarly to guitar strings lower or lighter tension violin strings have increased pliability under the fingers and produce, while higher tension strings produce a warmer sound and they .
That being said, if you are using thicker guitar strings on a violin it doesn’t mean that you will have the same acoustic results, the sound and tone will still be unpredictable.
Guitar Strings Are Longer
When it comes to the length it’s really difficult not to see the stark difference. Guitar strings are usually 35 to 40 inches long while for the average full-size violin you’ll need strings that are 13 inches long.
That means that guitar strings are more than twice or in some cases nearly twice as long as violin strings. Violin strings instead are sized accordingly and they must match the size of the violin in order to prevent damage to the instrument.
Of course, you could practically string a violin with guitar strings, but you will have to cut them much shorter. But the tension will not be the same and you will have a hard time keeping the strings tuned the way a violin is supposed to be tuned.
There are three different ways of wrapping wire around the core of a string. When it comes to guitars there are three types of winding, round wound, flat wound, and half-wound.
Round wound strings are the most common and as the name suggests the manufacturer uses round wire on the outer layer. They have a very distinct feel when you play them because of the ridges created by the winding.
Flat wound strings use a flat outer wire to wrap the core wire of the guitar strings and they feel much smoother to the touch, that’s why they are easier to slide and bend.
While half-wound strings are somewhere in between they are not worth mentioning because violin strings are predominantly flat-wound.
If you tried to use round-wound guitar strings on a violin instead you would most likely end up damaging both the strings and the bow.
Can You Use Guitar Strings On A Violin?
Technically you can use guitar strings on a violin, but there’s no real reason why you should. By doing so you are not benefiting yourself or your violin.
The only reason I could think of is the price difference between violin and guitar strings. However, I must say that there are cheaper violin strings out there and if you are going for the cheapest guitar strings then you most likely won’t get a high-quality product no matter what instrument you end up stringing.
If price is not the issue and you just want to try high-quality guitar strings on your violin then once again violin strings will give you much better results and you won’t be risking damaging your violin.
You also won’t be able to properly perform with guitar strings, and if you go to a concert or even to your violin lessons with a violin that is strung with guitar strings you will most likely be questioned for your choice.
If you want to experiment, I suggest experimenting with different violin strings instead because that’s the only way you can truly find your sound.
In other words, just because you can doesn’t mean you should!
Why You Shouldn’t Use Guitar Strings On A Violin?
As all the differences between violin and guitar strings have shown, stringing your violin with guitar strings is not the best idea.
Not only are they not compatible they will also have a significant effect on how your violin will sound when you start playing.
I’m not just talking about playability, although you will notice that you will have less control over how each string will behave and I won’t be surprised to see that one of them will snap during the process.
Since the tension will always be off no matter how much you tune the violin it will always sound out of tune, and believe me, tuning a violin with guitar strings is almost impossible.
You just can’t expect the same results that you would have with your violin strings especially when it comes to sound and tone. Random harmonics will pop up, the sudden scratching will make you wince and the overall off-tune sound will most likely make your violinist’s heart cringe.
Despite the terrible sound that your violin will undoubtedly produce due to the guitar strings attached to it, you are also risking damaging your violin.
Since violins don’t have a truss rod the tension caused by the guitar strings may bend the neck. The strings can also damage the bridge of the violin as well as the bow that you will use to create the sound.
All in all, I think it’s just not worth it.
How Do Violins Sound With Guitar Strings?
Despite their incompatibility, if you still want to try guitar strings on a violin then make sure to choose flat-wound strings that are used on jazz guitars.
You will most likely have better results when it comes to playability, flat wounds are also more predictable and they stay in tune for longer than round strings.
The round strings as you can see Rob Landes demonstrate below are quite difficult to play on and they take forever to tune!
The E string as you may notice sounded very similar, but overall the results were quite underwhelming.
At the end of the day, nothing can be compared to a violin that is strung with violin strings!
Guitars and violins are both incredible musical instruments and with the right strings and in the right hands they can produce breathtaking melodies.
The best thing you can do is let your violin create music with the strings it was meant to have and the same goes for the guitar.
Of course, no one here will stop you from experimenting if you want to switch the strings of your violin with guitar ones, but you need to be prepared that the result most likely won’t be phenomenal, and you might end up damaging your violin in the process.