V.com weekend vote: Do you change your own strings?

October 5, 2018, 4:53 PM · In celebration of new strings for the fall, we are revisiting this subject: Do you change your own strings?

Changing strings

Changing strings is its own art, and it takes a while to get good at it. If you don't know how to change strings, or if you aren't yet very good at it, it makes sense to have someone else do it, particularly if you are short on time. Often, violin shops will offer to change them for you, either for free or for a small fee. This works well if you don't wish to take up lesson time, having your teacher change strings.

On the other hand, having your teacher change your strings can be an opportunity for you to learn how to do it. You can watch each step, as your teacher takes off the old string(s) and puts on the new, or if you are feeling confident, you can have your teacher supervise while you try changing them yourself. Of course, it does take up lesson time, but I'd say this is an important lesson in the maintenance of your violin. As a teacher, I do like to teach this skill to students, but the best time to do it is not the week before an audition or performance! Rather, plan that lesson for a break time or summer week.

If you have a relationship with a luthier, sometimes he or she can help show you how to change strings; I learned at least as much about changing strings from my local luthier as I did from my violin teacher. You can also learn from Youtube tutorials! (Maybe I'll make one!)

A while back, I had to learn how to change strings with geared pegs, or "planetary" pegs. Here's the secret: You change the strings in much the same way as you do with traditional pegs, you just have to wind, and wind, and wind, and wind!

Tell us who changes your strings, and if you do it yourself, how long did it take to learn this skill? Who taught you? And while we're sharing, what kind of strings do you use?

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Replies

October 5, 2018 at 10:30 PM · Changing strings is an art? What is violin playing then if string changing already qualifies for "art"?

October 5, 2018 at 10:55 PM · I'm with Albrecht on this. For the first two or three years, yes, someone might have to learn. But are there any experienced string players who don't change their own strings, barring disability?

I changed my own from the very first time; I think I saw step-by-step instructions somewhere on the internet (it was probably 2000 so this was before YouTube). I didn't do a good job of it the first few times. Later on, after having a bridge break, I got important tips from people I played in orchestras with: keeping the bridge vertical, making sure the peg end of the string wasn't overlapping itself, etc. It probably took me 4-5 string changes to actually be comfortable with it.

And while we're at it, my entire string history...

Viola strings (primary instrument since 2002)

2001-08: all Dominant

2008-17: Dominant CGD, Larsen A

2017-present: Vision CGD, Larsen A

Violin strings

1999-2007: all Dominant

2007-08: all Vision

2008-present: Vision GDA, Vision Solo E

October 5, 2018 at 11:04 PM · I change my own strings and also frequently readjust tension to maintain proper bridge posture and plenty of adjustment in fine tuners integrated in my tailpiece. I replace my strings often and pass along still usable sets to Junior Appalachian Musicians group that my teacher mentors.

October 5, 2018 at 11:07 PM · I'd love to learn to do it in the future. Due to disability, it will be more of a challenge.

October 5, 2018 at 11:13 PM · Once again, I'm forced into a category due to limited choices.

Yes, I change my own strings. I have no idea if I'm very good at it. I've not put out an eye nor garroted myself, and my sound post is still in place.

October 5, 2018 at 11:24 PM · Albrecht I'm disappointed in your lack of imagination! Indeed, there are quite a few details that go into properly changing a string and maintaining one's instrument; as with any practice, there is a certain devotion involved. Lutherie also is an art, after all. Making a cup of tea can be an art. That doesn't diminish the art of playing the violin.

David, another good indication is if your bridge is still standing and if your pegs are in good working order!

October 5, 2018 at 11:53 PM · I plan to get planetary pegs for my YEV-104, and I'll speed up the winding using a guitar peg crank. I'm using Zyex lights.

October 5, 2018 at 11:58 PM · I have only had to change the E string on my violin once. No dramas. Have changed strings on my guitar countless times, does that count — ha ha. Yes I realise there is more to it and I would just change one string at a time so as not to have the bridge fall over or sound post come loose. I pay careful attention to the winding around the peg as I do on the guitar. I probably should watch an instruction video before changing all strings.

October 6, 2018 at 12:36 AM · My violin teacher would always change my strings and always show me how as she did it. Then a string broke when I no longer had a violin teacher, so I got up the courage to do it myself. As Norman said, the trick is to pay attention to winding the string around the peg.

October 6, 2018 at 01:29 AM · Changing strings is more complex than one might at first think. Doing it well not only involves doing it in proper sequence, watching the tilt of the bridge, and winding the strings onto the pegs in a correct way. It also requires having a soft lead pencil to lubricate the string grooves in the nut and bridge, and very occasionally a stick of peg dope to lubricate the pegs, though that must be used with much understanding and judgement.

A violin maker recently returned my violin to me with the strings wound on to the pegs so that they slightly pressed up against the pegbox wall. He recommended doing it that way because it provided a force to pull the pegs into their positions, and reduced the need to push them in while tuning. I've never done that, and I confess that I straight away changed it back to having the strings near to, but not touching the pegbox walls. (After I'd left his shop.) Does anyone else have an opinion about that?

October 6, 2018 at 05:23 AM · As like Norman, I change my guitar strings all the time, but for some reason I don't feel comfortable enough to change them on my violin. I need to get brave so I can stop paying the extra amount at my local violin shop! ?

October 6, 2018 at 05:51 AM · Mark, I am like you in this respect: I prefer not to have the string touch the pegbox wall. I think it is dangerous; in any case, it is unnecessary.

October 6, 2018 at 12:43 PM · Strange, the percentages add to 101%.

October 6, 2018 at 12:54 PM · I try to have it push against the pegbox wall. I'm interested in feedback on why this would be considered dangerous or undesirable. From a purely mechanical perspective, it makes sense.

October 6, 2018 at 01:46 PM · "Yes, and I'm reasonably good at it." I started changing them myself when I moved up to my first 4/4-size fiddle.

If you haven't seen it, check out this video Fiddlerman posted on YouTube. Run time: 3:47.

"And while we're sharing, what kind of strings do you use?"

Three combos on three fiddles, using strings from Pirastro, Thomastik, Lenzner:

1869: E: Goldbrokat Medium. A-D-G: Infeld Red.

1883: E: Goldbrokat Medium. A: Wondertone Solo. D-G: Eudoxa Stiff.

1921: E: Goldbrokat Medium. A: Vision Solo. D: Peter Infeld - Aluminum. G: Infeld Red.

October 6, 2018 at 05:18 PM · Luthier here- I don't recommend pushing the string up against the pegbox wall because it wears and cuts into the wood of the pegbox, necessitating repairs and varnish touch-ups. If doing this with mechanical pegs, additional chance of string being sucked into the gearing mechanism and then breaking. Strings are expensive. So are repairs. Good luck!

October 6, 2018 at 08:35 PM · I learned how to change strings a very long time ago. Since my volunteering with the local Youth Orchestra, I not only tune instruments but replace broken strings, unwind and rewind strings that parents put on incorrectly (often wound backwards), adjust or re-stand bridges that are out of place or down (often from young musicians putting their instrument bridge-down on the floor to put on the shoulder rest) teach young musicians and parents how to properly and easily put on shoulder rests. And even clean off excess rosin buildup before it becomes nearly impossible to remove.

I also have a bunch of cards showing what repairs their instrument requires with a list of local luthiers on the back.

Putting on strings isn't so much an art as it is a science of how to do it right. And its the least of the things I do on Monday evenings getting everyone ready for rehearsal.

October 6, 2018 at 09:10 PM · I change my strings often and I've gotten pretty good. The hardest one at the beginning was the A and trying to get it through the hole. To make it easier, I use tweezers to pull it through. Peg dope is also essential so always have that around. I use medium Dominants and a medium Gold Label E. But I'm going to try out the famous Goldbrokat E this time.

October 6, 2018 at 10:08 PM · Basically putting on a string isn't that hard. Shar has a video that shows you how to do it. And there are videos on YouTube as well. Whether it's an "art" depends on your general approach to things. If you take a zen-like approach to the simple tasks in life (making tea for some -- for me it's frying an egg), then you understand that putting on your strings can be done nicely, and with heart.

I use Evahs on my violin, Obligatos on my viola.

October 7, 2018 at 05:35 PM · Not an art, but definitely something that involves a lot of things. One can change a string and do it wrong, even if it's not perceptible. When you change a string there are certain things you must or should check if you want to do it the best way possible.

It's like making coffee, you can do it really easily by boiling water and pouring it in a cup, or you can check temperature of the water for the best flavor, when pouring you can tilt the cup at an angle so you don't spill it, there's also the right amount of coffee, etc... As I said, you can do it without paying attention to all those details and the end result is good enough, or you can do it the best way possible.

October 7, 2018 at 06:02 PM · I used to string mine up right against the pegbox, but I actually think this tends to push the pegs in a little too much and cause stress on the peg holes. It worked, in a practical sense, when I had an old violin with an awful peg box that desperately needed rebushing - everything fit so badly that I just needed a way to get it all to stick. But with well-fitted pegs, it's not a good idea to go all the way against the peg box because it will actually cause wear on that good fit. At least that is my perception from the standpoint of a player who has had multiple violins of greatly varying quality! I do still wind it in the direction of the peg, just not all the way up against the box.

October 7, 2018 at 08:34 PM · Regarding the question of running the string till it touches the side of the peg box: Toward the side of the box where the notch in the nut is. An ideal wind will have the string almost straight in line with the notch but not touching the side of the peg box. A slipping peg is a different problem that needs to be resolved/fixed.

That being said, I've seen more than a few wound in the wrong direction where the forces do tend to pull the peg out of the holes.

October 8, 2018 at 04:40 AM · I believe I'm pretty competent at string changing, but was taught by a luthier I worked for in my college days.

After removing the first string, I clean the nut and bridge grooves, in case rosin or dirt has worked it's way in. I then heavily lubricate the grooves with graphite and blow off the excess.

Then I thread the peg hole and wind away from the peg head for one or two wraps and then come back toward the peg head, giving a locking cross wrap on the string. My wraps are tight as I wrap and tighten against each other. While I don't touch the side of the pegbox, I do try to get close so as to have a slight pulling angle of the peg into the pegbox, a neutral pull at worst, never an angle that puts a pulling tension on the peg toward the outside of the pegbox.

I then start tensioning the string and alternate between tensioning and checking bridge angle, keeping the tailpiece side of the bridge perpendicular as I go.

I now have geared pegs but use the same technique, except no fine tuners to deal with.

I may be OCD about it but I prefer nicely aligned and tight wraps with no spaces between wraps. It's an aesthetic thing for me.

My current strings are Passiones on my primary violin, which have proven to be much more stable than I anticipated, and Warchal Ambers on my backup violin.

October 8, 2018 at 05:08 PM · I have encountered very skilled players whose teachers still tuned the violin for them, so I doubt they are changing their own strings! The most recent case I can recall I was sitting close by, the teacher experienced no apparent difficulty tuning the instrument (she wasn’t doing it because of peg problems, it would seem), and the kid then played a very respectable Saint-Saens Havanaise, so I don’t think she had just started playing a few weeks earlier!

Changing strings does offer opportunities for error. Wind the string the wrong way, jam the string against the side of the pegbox, wind on the wrong peg, leave a little bit of string end in a spot where it will vibrate and buzz, gouge the top under tailpiece fine tuner, shift the bridge out of position, etc.

October 10, 2018 at 04:35 AM · I started changing my strings when I picked my violin back up (after switching to oboe/English horn at 14 and joining string orchestra senior year when I had more choices for classes) and now the only time they get changed by a luthier is if it needs maintenance or a new setup. I will have my viola set up with basic strings once I get it restored, but I will change them myself after.

What strings do I use?

On my old violin, I used Dominants or whatever my high school orchestra teacher had. They're fitted with Dominants now, and should be changed...

On my current and favorite violin of the two, I started with Dominants (early 2017), but once I discovered it has a naturally dark tone, I went with Obligatos. I changed those out for a Warchal combo: Brilliant Vintage G and D (made for vintage instruments like my 1880 German one), Russian A, and Amber E. I just got a trial of Evah Pirazzi Golds, with the gold G, but switched out the E for the Amber Forte E. The Evah E whistles like a train... I'm not crazy about the G either.

The next strings I'll be trying are the new Warchal Timbres. I couldn't resist the promotion!

October 10, 2018 at 05:06 AM · I've changed my own strings since high school, when I came back to violin (senior year) after switching to oboe and English horn freshman year. I used Dominants or whatever odd strings my orchestra teacher had; I wasn't aware of good strings at that time.

My student violin is fitted with Dominants that used to be on my good violin, and they're probably overdue for a switch.

My good violin (German, 1880) has been fitted with three sets of strings. First was a set of Dominants (late 2016 or early 2017), and then I got a set of Obligatos once I discovered that it was naturally a dark and warm sounding instrument (I'm obsessed with dark and warm... It gets me in trouble sometimes with reed-making). The Obligatos were great, and I had them on for about a year (yikes!)

Early this year, I did tons of research and decided on a combination set of Warchals: Brilliant Vintage D and G, Russian A, and Amber E. Hands down, BEST combination for my instrument yet. So warm, so responsive. The Amber E is amazing.

Right now I've got on a trial set of Evah Pirazzi Golds, with the gold G. Not a fan of the G or the E, and I've switched out the E for the Amber Forte E. The Pirazzi E whistles like crazy, and the Warchal is whistle-resistant. The G I think is too fuzzy for my instrument. The Brilliant Vintage is way better.

My next set is going to be the Warchal Timbres, which I saw advertised here! I couldn't pass up the promotion, and I've been super happy with Warchal, so I expect these to be fantastic. (Has anyone tried them yet?)

October 10, 2018 at 06:04 AM · Starting on guitar, I still remember the mess that was changing my strings the first time. And the second time. And the third time. In fact I'm still quite bad at changing strings on a steel string, but that's that.

It takes me about 5 minutes to change my viola strings. I couldn't imagine paying or asking someone else to do it for me, but I am also an adult and have experience with changing strings.

There was that one time I broke a Larsen A tuning it though, and I still gently sigh at myself when I think about that. Fastest money I've ever lost.

October 11, 2018 at 02:46 PM · An essential item for me in my violin case is a pair of tweezers to guide the string through the hole in the peg - the A peg in particular. Probably something to do with my cellist's fingers.

October 11, 2018 at 10:36 PM · My first stringed instrument was the guitar, and I learned a lot about changing strings there. I did get into the habit of taking all the strings off at once, which let me get at the entire fretboard to give it a good cleaning. However, when I tried this technique on my next stringed instrument, the mandolin, the bridge fell off - so I learned the importance of changing one string at a time well before I took up the violin. (It's just as well - violin strings are a lot more expensive than your typical $12 set of guitar strings. And think of those poor cellists...)

I try not to let the string windings touch the side of the peg box - it just doesn't seem right that it should be jammed up that way. While winding on a new string I'll pull the peg partway out so that the windings touch the side of the peg box, but that's just to keep them smooth and even - when I'm done the windings don't touch anything but the peg and the nut.

I put a 90-degree bend in the end of the string - this makes it easier to get it through the hole in the peg, and keeps it in place while winding.

Once I have a string on and tensioned, I'll use a thumb and finger to stretch it a bit - it helps the string to settle in a bit faster. Still, I wouldn't think of changing strings within several days of a concert.

I usually use Dominants on my violin (sometimes with a Pirastro Gold E if the Dominant gets too shrill), and Evah Pirazzi on my viola.

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