Has it been a while since you've changed your strings? Do you need a little guidance?
I realized that I had not changed my strings since the start of the pandemic more than six months ago, and so I decided to make a friendly tutorial for everyone while doing so! I hope that you find it helpful, especially if you find yourself needing to change your violin strings at home for the first time, without help from a teacher or music store. I've been doing this for 40 years, and at the beginning, I had a violin with extremely difficult pegs (four different sizes, in a very worn-out peg box), and so I've shared some of my tricks for dealing with that.
How often should you change your strings? Certainly, change them when they start going false or start unraveling. The time period for that depends on how much you are playing your violin, but in general, change them every six months. It also depends on the kind of strings; true gut strings, for example, require much more changing than synthetic strings. Most of us are using synthetic strings.
When changing your strings, please heed this warning: Do NOT take all of your strings off at once! The only thing holding your bridge in place, as well as your soundpost inside the fiddle, is the pressure of the strings. So just change one string at a time.
Here's a list of some helpful items to have on hand, for changing a string:
Find a place with good light, and if necessary get right next to a lamp that allows you to really see inside the peg box. For each string: unwind it completely with the peg and remove the string. Then clean the exposed portion of the fingerboard with an alcohol wipe. I then dry it quickly with a tissue, just to minimize how long it is wet.
Take out the peg and apply peg dope (just a very little bit!) to the areas where the peg intersects with the peg box. If your pegs are very sticky and not turning smoothly, you can apply a bit more, but be judicious. Put the peg back in and turn it back and forth to evenly spread around the peg dope. If you don't have peg dope, you can rub those areas of the peg on dry soap, then with your finger apply a thin layer of baby powder. Colorado luthier Rick Molzer, who took great care of Eugene Fodor's Stradivarius and has my utmost trust, recommended this to me when I was a teenager, and it's a great trick if you can't get your hands on peg dope. (I think he actually prefers it to the peg dope! You are welcome to share your thoughts on this!)
Now use the pencil to sort of "color in" a little graphite in the groove on the bridge, and then in the groove on the nut. This keeps the string moving over those grooves, so it doesn't get "stuck" in either place as it is tuned.
For the thin strings, A and E, I generally start by attaching the string at the peg end, as the tailpiece end slips out anyway during this process. For the G and D, you can insert the ball end into the hole in the tailpiece, and it will probably stay. Next, insert the wound end of the string in the peg hole, leaving a tail of about 4 mm, and then start turning the peg away from you. (Clockwise for the A and E, counterclockwise for the D and G). Catch the tail under the string as you are winding it (that can get tricky, but it is worth doing because it secures the string). After the string is securely in the peg, but before you've wound it all the way, check the other side of the string, to make sure it is still in the tailpiece or to put it in for the first time. For ball-end strings, the ball goes in the hole and then in the groove next to the hole. Loop ends just hook onto the fine tuner.
Keeping the tension in the string, return to the peg and wind the string toward the pegbox. That is, the string should be wrapping toward the side of the pegbox where the peg is. If your pegs fit well and you don't have a lot of slippage, then don't wrap it tight against the peg box - leave a little room. This keeps the peg holes from unnecessarily getting larger. But, if you have constant slippage and ill-fitting pegs (as I did for years), then go ahead and wrap the string fairly tight against the peg box, as it will help push the peg in and keep it from slipping. Conversely, if it feels too tight, just unwind it and start a little farther out, so it doesn't wind too tight against the peg box and will turn easier.
Tune up the string and set it a little sharp. The string will stretch out, so it will go flat quite a lot during this process. Let the tension out of the string at the bridge - see the video for this. It's another move taught to me by Rick from Colorado, but you have to do it really carefully and correctly. This helps keep the bridge from leaning too much as this process goes on.
You might want to change one string a day for four days, just to spread things out, or you might want to do all four strings at once. Make sure that you check your bridge after changing your strings, as it may start leaning forward (toward the fingerboard) from all the changing in tension. If it is leaning forward, carefully angle it back to upright. Put the violin in your lap and use both hands, with thumbs on one side of the bridge and index fingers on the other. Keep the feet of the bridge in place and just move just the top part of the bridge, a very tiny bit at a time. Check with each move to see if the bridge is straight.
I hope you have found some useful information about changing strings! Please share with anyone who needs help with this, and I also invite you to share your own wisdom and advice about changing strings in the comments!
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