Spare string sets - how long do they keep

April 2, 2011 at 04:40 PM ·

I'm thinking of getting a stock of these Passione strings that seem to be the natural match to my violin.  But that made me wonder how long gut lasts for?  Which then made me wonder how old they are when you buy them and whether they should have a pull date like I assume (natural) sausage skins have :)

And then I wondered if maybe even the synthetic cores also have a lifetime - I mean plastics dry out and go brittle.  Do strings?  Or maybe it all takes longer than my lifetime....  And maybe I'm just wondering too much?

Replies (34)

April 3, 2011 at 04:25 AM ·

My steel E rusted after about 4 years!  Maybe I should have just played more and wear it out.

April 3, 2011 at 04:39 AM ·

This is a pretty complicated question; I think I will focus only on the synthetic core strings.

Most plastics get brittle because of environmental exposure; either UV, or something. I think if the strings are kept from light, they will not be affected.
That said, the core is only part of the string. When the string is made, the core is brought into close contact with the winding, and possibly some other material that may coat it before the winding is included. So, there may be some breakdown of the materials as they interact with each other.

I think the best answer would be to contact the string manufacturer, and find out what the tested life for the specific string in question would be. The answer will probably change from one string type to another, even within the same manufacturer. That said, they may have an internal standard that if the formulation doesn't have a 5 year shelf life, it stays in the lab, instead of becoming a product. That may be 15 years, for all I know. But I think only the manufacturer can say for certain.

April 3, 2011 at 07:01 AM ·

You can be sure any strings last at least two or three years, kept in a dark, cool and dry place (like a fiddle case ;-) or in a living room. I don't think gut strings last shorter. See, unused leather lasts forever, for example. Some synthetic materials get brittle over time, but I have nylon strings and guitar picks that are more than twenty years old (see below).

I wouldn't buy a lot of reserve strings anyway, you never know if you'll want to change to another sort. I would recommend keeping not more than two or three sets in advance, that's enough stuff for one or two years playing, depending on your personal style.

Btw, I stock guitar strings in great amounts for my students, synthetic, bronce and steel. Some that I never needed are more than twenty years old and still in absolutely perfect condition. They rest in a box in the hallway.

The topic of strings degrading over time naturally comes from manufactuers or traders who have interest in selling them. This has nothing to do with the degrading caused by using them.

April 3, 2011 at 07:31 AM ·

 Actually, Tobias, gut string do go bad, and rather quickly.  You'd be lucky to get good sound out of them after even 1 year on the shelf, under perfect conditions.  


But synthetics, yep they last for years & years if kept dry.

April 3, 2011 at 09:07 AM ·

I find that keeping them in the freezer at -20C is best, as they last for 50+ years. But if you have to use one in a hurry you definitely get much worse frostbite when in 7th position ... (wink)

April 3, 2011 at 09:21 AM ·

gut string do go bad, and rather quickly.

This is interesting to learn (I never used them and I never will, I'm vegetarian).

Could be because they still contain fluid or viscous components (aka fat and water) that add to the flexibility and get lost over time.

I see that using gut strings is not only bad for the sheep...

April 3, 2011 at 08:35 PM ·

So what I am reading, correct me if I'm wrong, is I can buy strings for a year but if I want to stock up for longer its best to buy a large sheep.

Funny, I suddenly have an urge for a large cup of tea..  And maybe some mutton stew for dinner..

April 3, 2011 at 09:22 PM ·

BTW if strings only last a year - how can one know how long the vendor has had them on the shelf?  Is there a secret code...

April 3, 2011 at 10:24 PM ·

Tobias, I agree about cruelty beeing bad and am mostly vegetarien too + take action to helps animals.

But the thing is that animal products or things that have been tested on them (may that be ok or not) are eveywhere not just in violin. (as for the violin, the varnish itself has cruched insects in you know...) Perhaps one can play violin but fight to ban abuse, bad care, crual kill and lab methods for a same effect.  But of course, everyone is free to chose their way to help that cause.


April 3, 2011 at 10:33 PM ·

[When you do, just bear in mind that much of the medicine that most people readily accept to extend their life or make living tollerable/valuable/enjoyable was developed by scientists who used animals - and often struggled with the choice of experimentation vs cruelty.]

April 3, 2011 at 11:25 PM ·

I voted for the Tea Party. I'd love to see you try to kill me.

April 3, 2011 at 11:46 PM ·

Just to give another stir to this particular urn of tea  – I don't know if I've got my metaphor right, because my grasp of history is vague enough for me to be a little puzzled by this talk of Tea Parties – but the gut string manufacturer Gamut is now producing strings made from beef gut. There are some useful advantages over the traditional sheep version, apparently. You could also refresh yourself with a mug of beef tea while practicing with these strings.

April 4, 2011 at 01:57 AM ·

The fact is that it does not matter how many strings you buy, it is not going to lead to the death of even a single sheep, cow or cat for that matter.... 

April 4, 2011 at 06:06 PM ·

The only "tea parties" I can think of are the Boston Tea Party and the Mad Hatter's Tea Party in Alice in Wonderland.

April 4, 2011 at 07:00 PM ·

Trevor, you have obviously been blissfully unaware of the latest political landscape in the States. Never mind it.


My favourite tea for tea parties is Hu-Kwa. Goes very well with sausage links, beef jerky, or brine-soaked used g-strings.

April 4, 2011 at 07:29 PM ·

My favourite tea for tea parties is Hu-Kwa. Goes very well with sausage links, beef jerky, or brine-soaked used g-strings.




the aftermath of Hugh Heffner's beach party?

April 4, 2011 at 08:18 PM ·


I usually just throw all the G strings that get left behind here straight into the washing machine. I find that the ladies are very grateful.


April 4, 2011 at 09:13 PM ·

Trevor, the original tea party had to do with the good people of Boston suggesting that the British turn around and sail the other way, taking their over-taxed tea with them.  Probably dwelt upon more in US textbooks than UK history tomes.

April 4, 2011 at 10:55 PM ·

[Though, despite the patriotic hype, a major reason for the treason was they were so far in hock for their excesses in English luxuries, revolution seemed the only way out of not paying the credit card bills...]

April 5, 2011 at 12:38 AM ·

 I think I shall maintain my state of blissful unawareness. I thought the British and EU political systems were complex enough, but ... :)

But to return to the original question, on my main violin I am happy to use plain gut A and D, with a covered gut G. The plain guts give fair warning, both visually and audibly, when they're on their way out, replacements are easily accessible (from a local violin shop in my case) or otherwise by mail, and I've for some time come to the conclusion that their quality/price ratio is unbeatable. The covered gut G isn't far behind either. And when it comes to a steel E, the Hill E and Goldbrokat are also difficult to beat on a quality/price basis, although I feel the Hill E works just that little better with plain gut than does the Goldbrokat, but the difference between them is marginal and may be a function of the particular violin.

And how long do strings last? There are clearly too many variables for a precise answer, but Walchar Strings seem to be the only manufacturer who is prepared to give an indication in public, although even their figure is hedged in with many ifs and buts –  "about" 150 hours playing time per string. 

April 5, 2011 at 01:09 AM ·

150 hrs; at 2 hrs a day thats about 2 months....  not really so long.

My question has a practical side:  I can get these strings much cheaper (about 20%) by mail order - and cheaper still if I order several packs at a time - but obviously that is not a savings if they things are rotting on the shelf.  I wonder if Peter's earlier facetious comment may have some value to it: perhaps if I put them in sealed bags they would last longer in the fridge....

though I do see the hazzard: "hey this meat is really stringy.."

April 6, 2011 at 11:52 PM ·

Yeah, kill those tea party guys who think like our founding fathers did! Heck, they seem to think that government is a "necessary evil," like Jefferson and Madison did! They seem to think that big government has actually done a lot of evil things throughout our human history! That can't be right! 

Me: I like welfare programs, food stapms, afirmitive action, etc. To hell with personal responsibility and freedom; they are overrated! I love big government programs like Medicare and Medicaid which are not constitutional and are more than 45 trillion in the hole! Social Security is not bankrupt, and our public schools are not a mess! 

And let's no worry about the deficit! It will all go away if we just keep spending more tax dollars on uselsess government subsidies! 


April 7, 2011 at 12:05 AM ·

 Good Lord, you've swallowed their propaganda hook line & sinker.  Not the place for such a discussion, tough .....

April 7, 2011 at 03:53 AM ·

Propaganda? The left owns the colleges and the media, so who would be guilty of swallowing propaganda?

I made two arguments: 1- that big governement has devestated the world, and that this can be seen historically! Hardly a matter of propaganda! Unless of course you want to call the Lenin and Stalin gulags propaganda? Unless you want to debate the absolute fact that Medicare and Medicade are more than 40 trillion in the hole and not worth much? Unless you want to argue that public schools and the 150 billion dollars that go into them are effective and good? Unless you want to argue the fact that Social Security is not bankrupt.  There is hardly any room to talk about propaganda in the midst of hard facts like this. 

2. I argued that the Founding Fathers believed that the best government was the smallest government, and that governement was a necessary evil. There is no room to call that propaganda since ANY rationale reading of them will yield that understanding. 

So in an age dominated by political correctness and socialism,  who is swallowing propaganda? 


"The principle of spending money to be paid by posterity, under the name of funding, is but swindling futurity on a large scale."

Thomas Jefferson


April 7, 2011 at 04:08 AM ·

John: could you please try to link your soap box subject to the topic at hand? 

April 7, 2011 at 04:10 AM ·

G-strings make excellent garottes. They are equally effective against socialists, capitalists, or fascists.

April 7, 2011 at 09:24 AM ·

"I wonder if Peter's earlier facetious comment may have some value to it: perhaps if I put them in sealed bags they would last longer in the fridge....

though I do see the hazzard: "hey this meat is really stringy..""

Not so much facetious more witty??

Or "this string is very meaty?"

When shall we three meat again?

April 7, 2011 at 01:34 PM ·

Well, now if you take a sheep, divide it by the Tea Party, and take the square root, out comes a shelf life of 100 years...

April 7, 2011 at 02:05 PM ·

More to the point: a few years ago I inherited a gut D string and a spool of E-string gut. They must have been at least 60 years old, and probably were even older. The D string was playable, but the E strings I made from the gut did not last long before they broke. This seems to show that gut strings get worse in time, but not that quickly.

April 7, 2011 at 05:04 PM ·

Bart: I think your post was the most informative on this issue yet :)  So its less than 50 yrs eh?  Only question now is what is it more than?  Other, of course, than is it OK to serve fresh boiled 50 yr aged cat-gut toast points at a tea party? (I mean what else are you going to do with them?).

April 7, 2011 at 11:15 PM ·

Gut, being organic (in the chemistry class sense of the word- I don't care what the kitties or sheep ate), will inevitably break down over time.  I'm sure that temperature, humidity, amount of light, acid-or-alkaline environment all make a difference.  I've wondered about this with synthetic core strings too.  They don't come with "sell by" dates on them- should they?

June 16, 2014 at 07:12 AM · Lol! OMG this forum has detailed so bad I'm not sure even Bruce Willis would survive! This does help answer some questions I had about string longevity. I have a 5 string that I only use very occasionally so isn't worth getting high quality strings for. With an instrument that's played only once every 3-4 months, how often should they be replaced? Personally I find that I need to replace my synthetic core strings 1-2 times annually. I play around an hour daily and if I play more, I find that it becomes impossible to take them off and use them as a garrotte for such Indian pretenders that prefer drinks other than tea...

June 16, 2014 at 09:52 AM · Which reminds me ... I need to watch Baldy Willis in 'Die Hard In a Vest' IV.

Ever notice how he manages to kill a squad of baddies armed with high-powered automatic weapons, using only a single revolver (which seems to need reloading after about 92 bullets have been fired)? If you don't Die Hard, at least Die in a Vest ...

Anyway, I do tend to either re-use used strings at some point, rather that just let them rot away in a drawer.

I once had a set of Corelli Crystals, synthetic core, used on a violin for about two months.

They lay in their original packaging for about 3 years, then I used them on another old fiddle.

Whilst not new, the re-stretching seemed to bring the tone to life a little bit. What do we all do with used strings anyway? Keep them as spares? Clean them, straighten out the peg-ends, and re-sell as second-hand? With some at over £100 a throw for Pirastro Passiones for a 5-string, it's an expensive business.

June 16, 2014 at 06:48 PM · I'm using vitual strings now and they never seem to wear out or break. It's all to do with my new lifestyle i.e. virtual reality ...

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