Orchestral Strings

Brands of string instruments we carry in-store

The string family of the modern Western orchestra is typically thought of as the members of the violin family: violin, viola, violoncello, more commonly known as ‘cello,’ and contrabass, also called the double bass or sometimes just ‘bass.’ Technically, there are two other standard orchestra members that are also stringed instruments the harp and the piano. But we will only be touching on the violin, viola, cello and double bass.


The violin, sometimes known as a fiddle, is a wooden string instrument in the violin family. It is the smallest and highest-pitched instrument in the family in regular use. It has four pegs (ebony) adjusting the strings tightness that in turn changes the pitch. The violin has four strings, and is tuned in perfect fifths with notes G3, D4, A4, E5, and is most commonly played by drawing a bow across its strings. It can also be played by plucking the strings with the fingers ( pizzicato ). The components of a violin are usually made from different types of wood. Violins can be strung with gut, perlon or other synthetic, or steel strings. The violin comes in a variety of sizes from 1/32 – 4/4.


The viola is a string instrument that is played with a bow or pizzicato. It is slightly larger than a violin and has a lower and deeper sound. It is the middle or alto voice of the violin family, between the violin (which is tuned a perfect fifth above) and the cello (which is tuned an octave below). The strings from low to high are typically tuned to C3, G3, D4 and A4. The viola is similar in material and construction to the violin. A full-size viola’s body is between 38 and 46 cm [15–18 in]), with an average length of 41 cm (16 in). Music that is written for the viola differs from that of most other instruments, in that it primarily uses the alto clef, which is otherwise rarely used.


The cello or violincello is a bowed (and occasionally plucked) string instrument of the violin family. Its four strings are usually tuned in perfect fifths: from low to high, C2, G2, D3 and A3, an octave lower than the viola. Music for the cello is generally written in the bass clef, with tenor clef and treble clef used for higher-range passages.  the cello has an end pin that rests on the floor to support the instrument’s weight. The cellist will be seated when playing the instrument, unlike the violin and viola that will be held on the shoulder. The cellist leans the instrument against their body, turned slightly inward to put the strings comfortably in reach. 

Double bass

The double bass, is the largest and lowest-pitched bowed, (or plucked, pizzicato) string instrument in the modern symphony orchestra. The bass is a transposing instrument and is typically notated one octave higher than tuned to avoid excessive ledger lines below the staff. The double bass is the only modern bowed string instrument that is tuned in fourths, rather than fifths, with strings usually tuned to E1, A1, D2 and G2 (the same as bass guitar). The double bass stands around 180 cm (6 feet) from scroll to end pin. The double bass player stands, or sits on a high stool, and leans the instrument against their body, turned slightly inward to put the strings comfortably in reach. 


Violin strings were first made of sheep gut (commonly known as catgut), which was stretched, dried, and twisted. Other materials violin strings have been made out of include: solid steel, stranded steel, or various synthetic materials, wound with various metals, and sometimes plated with silver. Depending on what type of sound you want or your instrument inherently has, you change the strings accordingly.


Violin bows typically contain 150 to 200 hairs. They can be made up of  a variety of materials including nylon and horse hair.


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