Strings breaking in fingerboard area

September 21, 2011 at 09:54 PM ·


I'm using D'Addario Helicore strings for my violin and my strings have been breaking every 3 to 4 weeks. I only practice about 10 hours a week.

It is not normal for strings to be breaking constantly and I've read that something that could be useful in determining the cause is noticing where the string is breaking. I've read people mentioning the bridge, the pegs, the fine tuners, etc. My strings are breaking in the fingerboard  area. The only theory to explain this I found is something related to sweat and the skin being to acidic, therefore breaking down the metal and eventually causing the string to break. This seems to be supported by the fact that my fingertips get black lines in them (presumably from the strings) after practicing for a while.

Is there any truth to this acidic skin claim or is it just a myth? Has this happened to you or at least have you heard of it? What can I do about it? I have a set of Dominant strings, but I read the issue happens with those too. Is there a type of string I can get that will diminish the issue (because of the material used)? Or one I should avoid? Any other theories as to why my strings keep breaking is this area?



Replies (24)

September 22, 2011 at 03:14 AM ·

Certain skin types and sweat levels will definitely affect how corrosive your hands are on your strings.  I would have your fingerboard inspected by a luthier to see if it needs to be replaned. 

September 22, 2011 at 01:33 PM ·

Long fingernails could also be causing problems.

September 22, 2011 at 01:50 PM ·

 Are they breaking at the nut?  If so, you may have a sharp edge there.  Try graphite in the grooves.  Fingernails are also  regular culprits.  If your hands are acid enough to destroy strings in 40 hours of playing, they'd be unusual, I think.

Is it just Heliocore strings that cause problems?  You might contact the company via website.  I've had great success with various questions about strings by going to their manufacturers.

September 22, 2011 at 03:16 PM ·

I find that I can prevent those black line things on my fingertips by rubbing strings with an alcohol swap before installing them on the violin.

I don't know what to tell you.. try washing your hands thoroughly before playing and during practice breaks, and use a good cloth to wipe down the playing area of your strings whenever you stop playing.

Helicores are supposed to be longer lasting strings, although I do find that the windings deteriorate rather quickly for me (I sometimes use the A string). They're pricier, but if you want to try another good multistrand steel string, how about trying Spirocore? Those definitely last.

September 22, 2011 at 08:22 PM ·

Something else to think about – is the action perhaps a shade too high, and/or are you pressing the strings into contact with the finger board too much, or "hammering" with the fingers?

September 22, 2011 at 08:37 PM ·

I am just a beginner but visited a shop once for information and was told if my runner wasn't set at 440 that the strings could break.



September 22, 2011 at 10:51 PM ·

Thank you for your help!


The strings are not really breaking. I realized later on after reading some responses that it might not be the right term though I'm not sure. I think the right word might be "unwinding". The external winding the string has is the part that is coming lose, but the internal filament seems fine. Don't really know if that makes any difference.

I've had problems in the past with too much tension and pressing too hard on the fingerboard and though I never thought I was "that" hard, specially not to break a string I certainly need to look into it, not just for the strings, but also because it is a bad habit that affects my technique.

It is definitely not the nails. I couldn't keep them any shorter.

I'm going to work on reducing the pressure and making sure I wash my hands before practicing and see if it makes any difference.

September 23, 2011 at 04:57 AM ·

 Well D'Addario Helicore and Zyex, in addition to Dominants are bad strings.  If they're unwinding on the fingerboard, it's not your fault.   I had this problem when I used Dominants on my Amati in middle school.  The A - string would unwind around 3rd position every 2-3 weeks.  I would recommend trying a different string brand altogether and see if this happens.   Pirastro makes some good synthetic strings, in addition to their wound gut like Eudoxa which is first rate.  

September 23, 2011 at 01:56 PM ·

If they're unwinding too early, you should be able to get replacements from the manufacturer or distributor. D'Addario doesn't have very good quality control, and you can occasionally get a bad set of Dominants (I think the quality control for those isn't as high as for their Vision line.. the Visions come in plastic envelopes inside the regular string envelopes, while Dominants only have envelopes).

September 23, 2011 at 04:43 PM ·

 One other thing to consider--do you pick up your fingers cleanly from the strings, or 'shuffle' a bit?  the latter can create lateral tension that stresses the windings.

I don't think tuning a bit off a440 is going to kill strings.  If it did, they might go false,  I suppose, but they should maintain their structural integrity, unless you're tuning to b or something like that.

September 23, 2011 at 05:58 PM ·

 I've heard that strings are designed to have their normal playing pitch at about 60% of their breaking tension. If this is so, then there should be plenty of leeway for tuning a little sharp. The life of the string might be a little shorter, though.  There wouldn't be much of a market for (new) strings that snap a couple of tones up from their designated pitch!

Marjorie makes a good point. The finger should press down vertically and not pull or push the string to one side while making the note. Easier said than done, I must admit, but if you think about the left arm moving slightly to the left for the E string, and towards the right for the G-string, that will help. I suggest that pulling or pushing the string sideways will tend to "roll" the winding on the core and in time weaken the connection between the two. and it will affect the tone a little, as well.

September 23, 2011 at 07:39 PM ·

A couple of questions for Lili:

Which string fails first, or gives the shortest life?

Do the windings fail close to the upper nut, or is it in the general first position fingered area?

September 23, 2011 at 07:57 PM ·

Nate, that's funny--my Dominants always unwound at third position (particularly the A string) after two or three weeks, too.

September 23, 2011 at 08:33 PM ·

 Yeah Emily, we're not the only ones this has happened to.  I also recall the Dominant E being so poor.  I broke 3 Dominant E's in one day.  Did you use Dominant E's?  It's a great mystery to me why Dominants are so popular.

September 25, 2011 at 12:09 AM ·

A couple of weeks ago I ordered a set of gut strings online from  They arrived, as they usually do from that company, the very next day, and in the packet was a piece of paper giving good advice on installation.  A sentence at the end said that I could expect about 250 hours playing life from the strings. I don't think plain gut Es would come into that category, but my experience of A, D and G gut strings suggests that 250 hours is not unreasonable.

September 25, 2011 at 04:08 AM ·

Dominant E's suck. 

September 26, 2011 at 06:13 AM ·

Marjorie and Trevor make an interesting point that had never occurred to me, but makes total sense the more I think about it.

I can't really tell you that I do that pushing sideways on the string since I haven't noticed, (it's not the kind of thing you hear often so I haven't been looking for that), but it does seem like the kind of thing I would do since I probably apply too much pressure and I've also struggled with finding out the right angle at which to place my hand and touch the strings (mostly due to trying to  avoid stretching and locking my 4th finger and to help keep it curved). I will pay more attention to see if I do this and if it might be "rolling" the winding.

David. The strings, ordered by which I've had the most  problems with, are: D, G, A, E (never). Which is weird (I think) since I always heard about people having problems with the thinest strings since they are supposed to be more fragile, but maybe there is something about the way in which I turn my hand and attack the top strings that is making them unwind (or maybe not, who knows....).

The windings fail in the general first position fingered area.

I'm trying the Dominant's now with a Pirastro Gold for the E, but it's only been a few days so too soon to tell. I'm trying to be more careful now. Let's see if all the strings in this set survive past the month mark.

September 26, 2011 at 06:18 AM ·


for years Domiant was trying to get rid of its e strings here by sticking them in as a free gift with the a string.  I have a huge pile of them.  I try giving them away everynow and again.  Each time I do I lose a friend.   I`m hoping my cat will eat them by mistake one day.  Then  after a couple of days we can say with semantic integrity `These strings are crap.`



September 26, 2011 at 07:43 AM ·

It's a great mystery to me why Dominants are so popular.

Maybe because they simply are fine? I commented in the other thread about breaking strings that my dominants never break or unwind. And that's the case with many other players. We have the freedom of choice...

September 26, 2011 at 02:34 PM ·

Lili, the order of failure is surprising. Normally the A, then the D fail first, particularly if perspiration is the culprit. These are aluminum wound on the standard sets. The silver winding on the G usually holds up better.

Sorry, I think I'd need to look at your fiddle to offer much more.

September 26, 2011 at 05:13 PM ·


Send your Dominants on to me. There's nothing else on the market I'll use at this point.


September 26, 2011 at 10:50 PM ·

Lili, that pulling the string sideways business was noticed by my teacher (sharp eyes!). She had her suspicions a while ago but they were confirmed when I moved over to lower tension strings (plain gut), and the sideways pull became more obvious. It's not a big movement, and you have to look for it, but it is there some of the time, at least, and should be eradicated because it is just one more little stumbling block on the long road.

September 26, 2011 at 11:27 PM ·


Scott,  I also think the three dominants are a fine string and do not see any problems with quality control etc. First choice for a lot of players .  But the e strings?  Are you really okay with those things?   Not sure about sending all that goo throuhg the post.  Perhaps if I send my cat  en masse and you can sort out the residue.



September 27, 2011 at 12:01 AM ·

Hi Lili,

Although perspiration can cause this, I think it is much more likely in your case to be caused by the nut.  If your violin was originally setup for steel strings, the grooves in the nut would have been cut to fit the smaller diameter of steel.  Synthetic and gut strings are bigger and more fragile.  As the strings stretch, and you tighten the pegs to compensate, the strings are pulled through the grooves.  If the grooves are too small, or have rough edges, the aluminum and silver windings will peel right off.  Take a good look at the grooves of the nut and try passing a string through/over one; it should pass smoothly over the groove, not fall down into it or become at all jammed or tight.  The strings should be riding over a small notch, not sitting int he bottom of a steep canyon.  Also, feel the grooves with your finger; are there any rough edges?

If you can rule the nut out, then the next most likely cause is indeed perspiration.  Some people's sweat is more corrosive than others.  Wash your hands before playing and wipe the strings down afterwards with a dry cloth or with string wipes made specifically for the purpose.  If this is what's happening, I'm afraid there's not much more you can do.  Of course, steel or steel-wound strings would hold up better and avoid this issue, but they sound terrible, so that's not really a solution.  But, given the amount of time you practice, I really tend to think it's a problem with the nut. 

The black on your fingers is normal - a byproduct of the aluminum and silver windings of the strings oxidizing and tarnishing.

If all else fails, get it checked by a pro.  A bad setup can also cause the string stripping that you are describing - i.e. bridge too high, peg holes improperly drilled or not smoothed out, strings rubbing in the pegbox, a bad angle from the string hole to the nut, string rubbing on other strings or on other pegs in the pegbox, etc. 

Good luck!



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