Review: Larsen Magnacore G and C Strings

magnacoreNew strings! We string players are spoilt for choice these days with new brands popping up on a regular basis. As a rule I try not to get carried away with the need to try every string new to the market – no matter how tempting.  For the past five years or so I have settled with either Pirastro Evah Pirazzi Soloist, Larsen, or a combination of these. It so happened that the G from my most recent set of Pirazzis was not behaving very well – so much so I suspected I might have a seam crack. I took my cello (a Mittenwald instrument made C 1880, probably by Neuner and Hornsteiner) to my luthier for a check-up. The fingerboard needed shooting, but there were no cracks and the G string was still excessively volatile. We tried another Pirazzi and found it to be equally raspy; then tried an old Larsen and the buzz disappeared but the sound was rather dull compared with the brilliant, sparkling tone of the Pirazzi A, D and C strings.

For my session work I need a high performing set of strings with quick response and a big open sound right up to the highest register of each string. Normally the Pirazzi Soloist set delivers admirably on all fronts, but it seems the lower strings no longer suit my instrument. Whether it’s to do with slight changes they’ve made to the manufacturing process or a slight change in my instrument is anyone’s guess. I adore Larsen Soloist A and D, but find the G and C strings to be a little tame with a slower response than the Pirazzis. Enter the Magnacore G and C. Having read several user reviews, they certainly sounded like the strings to meet my requirements. Fingers firmly crossed as to whether they will agree with my cello.

Day 1

As expected and in line with every user review I’ve read, the strings are extremely metallic and volatile. I expect they’ll need a good 2 – 3 days of playing in to find their true voice. Listening past the ‘new string sound’, I can tell they are magnificently colourful, and should project very nicely indeed once the initial ‘zing’ has worn off.

Day 2

Still finding myself playing cautiously on the lower strings. After spending around 30 minutes playing exclusively on the G and C strings – scales and arpeggios with a variety of articulations, and exploiting the fullest possible range of each string – the metallic quality has diminished considerably and those wonderful colours I was looking forward to are really coming through. The strings still require frequent tuning, and the brashness hasn’t been tamed quite as much as I’d like.

Day 3

The tuning is still a little unstable (significantly flatter than the upper strings), but after a good half-hour warm-up I am doing my first recording session with them. I’m very happy with the results, especially the dynamic range on the new strings. I think they could still do with a few more hours’ playing in to realise their full potential. I’m also not convinced that the Pirazzi A and D strings make the best combination. Tomorrow I will be replacing the existing Pirazzis with new ones to see whether the overall balance is better.

Day 4

So it’s off with the 4 month old Pirazzi Soloist A and D, to be replaced with brand new ones. And what an incredible difference! My cello is now singing from top to bottom, and the strings compliment each other beautifully. After around 20 minutes playing in the Pirazzis I feel I have a robust, fully played in set with excellent projection, complex tonal qualities and a huge dynamic range. The Magnacore G and C are still a touch volatile, which I think has as much to do with my instrument as it does with the strings, but the G is much better balanced than the Pirazzi Soloist G was, and they lend themselves to just about any style and genre.


Overall, I love the Magnacores. As with all string manufacturers, Larsen had to decide whether to produce a string with no playing in time and a shorter playing life, or longer playing in time and a longer playing life. Thankfully they opted for the latter, and I certainly hope my strings last a good long while. Which brings me to my only gripe: the price. At a recommended retail price of £89.43 for the G string and £103.30 for the C string, they simply won’t be my regular lower string option – as much as I’d love them to be – unless the price comes by a good chunk. My rating: 4/5.

Here’s a recording I made with the Pirazzi/ Magnacore string combination on day 4:




Cello Bags and Cases

If you purchased a student cello outfit you will already have a bag or even a hard case for your cello. Just like bows, the quality of bags and cases varies a great deal from one outfit to the next, and you may need to upgrade what you have. This is especially important if your cello is doing a lot of travelling with you to and from school or your workplace. A very basic cover with limited or no padding will do little to protect your instrument when it’s in the car, on the bus or train, or being carried around.

The more travelling you do, the greater your need to fully protect your cello with a hard case or very well padded soft case. There is a lot to choose from ranging in price from around £50 to thousands of pounds for professional level flight cases and covers. You’ll be pleased to know that £80 will buy you a very robust and well-made padded bag, which offers a good level of protection for everyday transportation of your instrument.

When choosing a suitable bag or case for your instrument it is also worth considering the weight. If you’re likely to do a lot of walking with your cello, you don’t want a case that will weigh you down and cause back or shoulder ache. 6kg may not sound like much, but add to that the 2.5 – 3 kg of your cello along with your music bag and you’ve got quite a load to carry – especially if your frame is relatively small. Here’s the catch though: entry level cello cases tend to be a lot heavier since they are made out of cheaper materials – usually fibre glass or moulded plastic. Lightweight cello cases are made out of high tech materials such as carbon fibre or carbon composite. These materials are much lighter and extremely tough and durable, but they come at a high price. Unless you have a valuable instrument and are likely to fly anywhere with it, you are unlikely to be looking at this calibre of cello case. You might think that buying a heavy case with wheels is a perfectly good solution, but your cello will not thank you for the bumps and jolts it will get on the majority of road and pavement surfaces, and you certainly won’t be using the wheels up and down stairs.

This is where semi-rigid cases (made out of high density foam or styrofoam) and thickly padded gig bags really come into their own. Styrofoam cases tend to be rather bulky and are often poorly made, but they are lightweight and offer suitable protection for everyday use. When considering padded bags, 11mm of padding should be the absolute minimum.

Here is a list of reliable bags and cases for a tighter budget:

Make: Primavera
Description: 11mm padded cello bag
Price: £50 – £60
Make: Tom and Will
Description: 20mm padded cello bag
Price: £60 – £70
fusionMake: Fusion
Description: 15mm high density foam padded cello bag
Price: £75 – £90
hidersineMake: Hidersine Deluxe
Description:  Deluxe 22mm padded heavy duty cello bag
Price: £75 – £90
Make: Turtle by Gewa
Description: 25mm padded cello bag with wheels
Price: £100 – £125
excaliburMake: Excalibur
Description: High density foam semi-rigid cello case
Price: £110 – £130

If you’re planning to fly anywhere with your cello you’ll need to invest in a good quality case. The bad news here is that even the very best cases sometimes fail to fully protect instruments on airlines. There is always an element of risk when you fly with your cello, and you should always check your options with the airline or travel agent before you fly anywhere. The same applies to any other form of long distance travel that does not allow you to take your instrument on board with you.

The following is a list of more robust cello cases worth considering if you’re planning to do any long distance travel with your cello or you’ve invested in a good quality cello:

Make: Archer by Gear4Music
Description: Durable fibreglass case weighing 7.6kg
Price: £140 – £150
Make: Hiscox (Lifelite Standard)
Description: Double moulded construction weighing 5.2kg
Price: £175 – £210
Make: Sinfonica
Description: Fibreglass case with interior instrument suspension weighing 4.9kg
Price: £240 – £280
Make: Bam Classic
Description: Extra-durable ABS layer with full foam-injected interior suspension weighing 5.4kg
Price: £340 – £370

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© D C Cello Studio 2012


Bows for beginner cellists

The vast majority of cello beginners will buy an outfit (a cello, bow and case or bag). Bows that come with outfits vary in quality, but assuming you’ve bought something that isn’t of the bargain basement variety the bow will probably be reliable if not brilliant. If this is the case you won’t need to look for a bow for at least your first six months of lessons. Second-hand outfits don’t always come with a bow, or may come with something that is not worth trying to salvage. Bows that are badly treated simply don’t last well, especially when they are made of less durable and flexible wood.

If you need to purchase a bow, it is worth spending a little more on something that will last you beyond your first cello assuming it is a full size instrument and a fairly basic student model. The price of bows varies just as much as that of instruments. Professional bows by famous makers carry price tags into tens of thousands of pounds, but it goes without saying that these are not the variety you’ll be considering. £100 – £250 will buy you a well-made, reliable bow.

Within this price range, carbon fibre bows are worth considering. The first non-wood bows appeared on the market in the eighties in the form of fibreglass, epoxy composite and carbon fibre. They looked, sounded and felt inferior to wooden bows. It was not until around the mid-nineties that the technology behind carbon fibre bows improved enough for certain makers of these bows to start turning heads. Although there are still players and high-end retailers who dismiss carbon fibre bows out of hand, there is a growing consensus now that carbon fibre bows by reputable makers offer more for your money, particularly in the above-mentioned price range. Carbon fibre is also practically indestructible, warp resistant and as light and flexible as good quality pernambuco wood, which is now an endangered species.

If you’re brand new to playing, you won’t be in a position to assess bows yourself, and you should get your teacher to help you find something suitable. The following is a list of good quality bows ranging from £100 – £250.

Maker: Dorfler

Type: Brazilwood cello bow, round stick

Price: £100 – £110

Maker: Westbury

Type: Carbon fibre cello bow (black), round stick

Price: £115 – £125

Maker: Long-Gen Chen (award-winning maker)

Type: Carbon fibre cello bow, round stick

Price: £110 – £140

Maker: Concertante Plus

Type: Brazilwood bow, octagonal stick

Price: £130 – £145

Maker: Col Legno Standard

Type: Carbon fibre bow, round stick

Price: £130 – £160


 Maker: ‘Bravo’ by John Paul USA

Type: Carbon fibre cello bow, round stick

Price: £230 – £250

Maker: Orchestra

Type: Pernambuco octagonal or round stick, silver mounted

Price: £230 – £250

Whether you upgrade your bow or stick with what you have, it needs to be properly cared for, especially if it is wooden. These are the most important aspects of bow care which will prolong the life of your bow and prevent costly repairs or replacements.

  • Never over-tighten your bow. If the stick loses its camber (curve) and looks straight you will need to loosen the hairs so that there is still enough tension in the hair, but the stick retains its camber.
  • Always slacken your bow off when you have finished playing. Leaving the bow at playing tension will warp the stick (particularly wooden bows) and will reduce the elasticity of the hair (especially if it is natural horse hair, which all but the very cheapest bows have).
  • Never leave your bow lying around. If you’re taking a break from practising, rest it on the rib of your cello or hang it on your cello stand assuming it has a bow attachment. Never leave it lying on your chair or on the ground – it’s very easy to forget about and accidentally stand or sit on!
  • If you have a soft cello bag, always take your bow out first and pack it away last. Unpacking your cello while the bow is still in the bag puts the bow at risk of snapping. The same applies when putting the cello back in its bag if the bow is already in its pouch.
  • Never deliberately touch the bow hair. For many players it is inevitable that their fingers will touch the hair while playing. After a while the hair closest to the frog becomes slippery and discoloured, and doesn’t hold any rosin. This can’t be avoided, but touching the bow hair while unpacking or picking up the bow can and should. No matter how clean your hands are, there is oil on your skin that will create oily spots on the bow hair and literally causes holes in the sound as the bow is drawn across the string.
  • When you finish playing and slacken the bow off, tap the tip of the bow (VERY gently) against your hand over a bin to get rid of excess or caked rosin. This will prevent a build-up of dried rosin in the hair and on the stick.
  • You will notice that the hairs break occasionally – while you’re playing or when they get caught on something like your music stand. This is normal, and only cause for concern if the bow is losing a lot of hair on a regular basis, which can happen when the hair is of inferior quality and/ or has not been properly fitted. In this case, see below. If the odd hair snaps, always use a small pair of scissors to cut the hair off at the frog and tip. Never pull it out as this can also lead to excess bow hair loss.
  • Eventually your bow will need to be re-haired and cleaned. Both of these tasks are jobs for a professional luthier or bow maker. Your teacher will be able to direct you to a reputable person or business where this can be carried out.

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© D C Cello Studio 2011

Strings for beginner to intermediate cellists

Strings need no introduction. They are the heartbeat of your instrument and lend their name to its family. But there is a fair amount to know about the different types, the varying costs and what to avoid. Much like rosin there is a rather overwhelming variety of string brands and types along with animated debates over which is the best. And like rosin, finding the right strings for your cello is far from an exact science because there are so many variables outside of the strings themselves.

Beginner cellists do not need to and really shouldn’t spend a fortune on top-of-the-range strings such as Larsen, Belcanto, Evah Pirazzi, Permanent or Passione. In the interests of developing beautiful sound it is best to have a set of strings which offer clean tone and response. The aforementioned strings are designed for players who have already developed a signature sound.

The ideal strings for beginner to intermediate players are generally steel core. There are several varieties of synthetic core strings aimed at this market too. They tend to be less stable in terms of tuning and often don’t last as long as steel strings. Having said this there are a few synthetic brands well worth considering. The following brands are reliable and offer a clean, neutral sound with good response.


Mid-Range (£90 – £120 per set)

1.       Jargar

These strings are made on a flexible steel core. They produce a powerful and well-balanced tone, have a long life and don’t take more than a couple of days to play in. Jargar strings come in three different tensions: Dolce (thinnest diameter, low tension); Medium (middle diameter, medium tension); and Forte (thickest diameter, highest tension).

Typically I recommend Medium strings, which are the most widely available and by far the most versatile. For very new instruments with a harsher tone which has yet to settle down, Dolce strings tend to be a great way to take that unpleasant edge off the sound. Forte strings are a bit overbearing and not ideal for less experienced players. They are also not well suited to much older instruments given the high tension, but this also depends on the set-up. Your luthier will be able to make recommendations based on what he/ she knows about your instrument.

Average price for a set in the UK: £94

2.       Savarez Corelli

Corelli New Concept strings, which used to be quite hard to come by in the UK, are now becoming a popular choice for students, keen amateurs and professional players. They are steel rope core strings wound with aluminium, nickel or tungsten and are known for their clear sound and response, good balance and long life. They are only available in medium gauge. Savarez also produces a gut core string for cello, but I suggest that beginners steer well clear of these. Gut cores can have a beautiful sound, but are very unstable, need to be tuned by the tuning pegs rather than fine tuners, and have a comparatively short life. They are best suited to players who specialise in baroque and classical music, and whose instruments are set up accordingly.

Players who are less confident about fitting new strings are best off leaving this to their teacher or luthier as the Corelli C string has a reputation for snapping when the metal-wrapped portion comes over the tuning peg. Savarez have recently lengthened the flexible silk-wrapped part of the C string to avoid this from happening, but there are still a few reported mishaps.

Average price for a set in the UK: £96

3.       D’Addario Helicore

D’Addario describe their Helicore range of strings as follows: “High quality modern strings in stranded steel with titanium & tungsten windings for a warm, clear sound”. Helicore strings certainly do offer a bright sound – potentially a little brash on some instruments. But they are a fine choice for bringing dull-sounding student instruments to life, and for progressing students and amateurs looking for a warmer, more soloistic sound. These strings take very little time to settle in and are well balanced.

Average price for a set in the UK: £96

4.       Pirastro Aricore

Aricore strings feature a multifilament synthetic core (perlon) with either silver or aluminium winding. They are long lasting, stable in pitch, and feature a darker, warmer sound than other synthetic core strings. For cellists looking for a brighter tone Aricore strings are also available in chrome-wound A and D strings. The chrome option is also well-suited to musicians who suffer from excessive hand perspiration. These strings are amongst the best and most highly rated synthetic core strings in this price range.

Average price for a set in the UK: £105


Economy Range (£40 – £80 per set)

1.       Super Sensitive Red Label

Red Label strings are a popular choice for students and are widely recommended by teachers. These strings feature a full round solid steel core with flat nickel winding. They offer a clean tone, good tuning stability and are durable. Red Label Strings are available in all fractional sizes right down to 1/8 and come in three different gauges: Soft, Medium and Orchestra. Like Jargar strings, these gauges are determined by the diameter of the string: Soft is the smallest diameter while Orchestra is the thickest.

Average price for a set in the UK: £64 (not widely available, but can be ordered from many US retailers for around £30 plus postage)

2.       D’Addario Prelude

Another popular choice for students, Preludes are more readily available in the UK. These are solid steel core strings; they are durable and generally unaffected by temperature and humidity changes. They offer a warm tone and the response, although not as precise as that of Jargar or Corelli, is not bad at all. Prelude strings are available in all fractional sizes and come in Low, Medium and Heavy (high) tension. Like Jargar and Red Label, the Medium gauge is the most versatile and therefore the most popular type.

Average price for a set in the UK: £46

3.       Pirastro Chromcor

Chromcor are solid steel strings designed for students. They are very popular among teachers as they are durable and easy to play. They offer easy response and a neutral tone, making them a well-balanced string choice for beginner and intermediate students who need strings that are not a battle to play with squeaks and scratches, but equally not overly forgiving of poor technique. These strings also benefit from a very quick playing in period. For more discerning players looking for a darker and more complex tone, Chromcor plus are a good option although strictly speaking they belong in the mid-range category for price and playability at roughly £94 per set.

Average price for a set of Chromcor in the UK: £66

This list is far from complete – there are other economy brands which are reasonable strings in terms of sound and durability. As a rule, the cheapest strings on the market are best avoided. Some are of such poor quality that they are barely playable. For a beginner who is already struggling with tone production, a set of strings which sound awful even in the most skilful hands are like a musical death sentence – especially when that beginner is an adult who already has a very clear idea of what he or she wants to sound like.


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© D C Cello Studio 2011