Strings stretching and longevity

January 29, 2018, 7:31 PM · No, it's not another ranking of strings :-)
I hate the time that new strings take to settle. Not only on intonation but also the way that each GDAE goes its own way until they decide to work together, with the bow and with me. Until then, it is like fighting the strings instead of playing them. Yes, I am impatient.
The "breaking in" of the strings, is it produced by the stretching and re-tuning or is it mainly the vigorous shake that the bow produces?
In the same sense... What would be the life expectancy of strings that are rarely played but stretched to be in tune in an instrument? Compared to another one played regularly.
The reason I am asking it's that the only way I see changing strings without the initial akwardness is to have them "pre-stretching" in another instruments weeks before the time you transfer to the new one. Say at half way of your strings life you put a new set in the spare violin and just tune them everyday with a couple of scales. How long would it take for them to be 100% ready to be used in the main violin? and would that process reduce significantly the expected playing lifetime?

Replies (41)

January 29, 2018, 7:47 PM · I think it's the synthetic core that needs to stretch into a certain condition. Before that you're going to get that coffee-can sound. You should change your strings very frequently, like twice a year, so that the string makers can make a lot of profit, pay taxes, and keep medicare solvent.
January 29, 2018, 8:17 PM · At least one person I know used her 2nd violin to pre-stretch strings for her main violin.

But since I've gone to geared pegs (Pegheds or Knillings) tuning up strings is so simple that installing new strings and keeping them close to in tune has not been a real problem. Pirastro's "Flexocor-Permanent" strings are steel core but very good and pretty much tune up like a new steel E string.

I have found that playing does help get the strings to stay in tune a little faster - so does "overturning" but I don't like to do that.

I just installed a set of gut Tricolore strings (first time I've used gut in almost 50 years) and it's taken about a week to get them to stay in tune - and the silver-wound G-string has taken longer than the bare-gut A or D.

January 29, 2018, 8:33 PM · I use geared pegs. The tuning up is just part of the issue of new strings. The initial imbalance and undesired behaviour is what annoys me and I am looking for a way to not suffer it during my classes.
Edited: January 30, 2018, 1:33 AM · I once read (probably posted here) that strings can be broken in effectively by "massaging" them while under tension. The idea is that you use your fingers or a gadget to create a Z bend in the string:

nut \ _________bridge

Then, run fingers or gadget along the strings a couple of times, so that every centimeter of string will have been bent. (If you use your fingers, use a cloth or it will hurt.) It was claimed that this trick has the same result on new strings as days of playing.

I didn't try it for myself, yet.

Edited: January 30, 2018, 6:49 AM · Nylon (Perlon) cores can be tuned a semitone higher before going to bed, several days running; we must not do this with the newer "composites".

I once put an Obligato composite violin A on my viola (which is only supplied with a steel A): the extra tension due to the vibrating string length did not break the string, but caused it to stretch unevenly, drastically affecting intonation. (I now use an Eudoxa Aricore A.)

"Breaking in" is also a matter of easy bending at the nut and under the fingers. Nylon cores can last for decades, but with increasingly poor tone and intonation as the core becomes worn where the stresses are strongest.

I once tried half a plain nylon guitar E on my violin, hoping to get a gut-like sound. It soon became flattened where my fingers pressed. This was before the advent of Dominants.

January 30, 2018, 8:28 AM · If you don't want strings that stretch after installation, try Vision. I doubt it's the core that "wears" but rather the windings, which become contaminated with oil and dirt.
January 30, 2018, 10:19 AM · Thank you for the tip, Han,it really seems to work (contrary to my scepticism).
January 30, 2018, 3:12 PM · It works wonders on wound gut strings too.
Edited: January 30, 2018, 4:43 PM · What's so objectionable about the sound of new strings?

Sure, if one hasn't changed strings for five years or so, the sound and playing characteristics of a fresh string could be rather jarring. ;-)

Edited: January 30, 2018, 6:44 PM · 1. place violin on your lap and secure it with your left hand.
2. grab the string with your index and middle finger, while placing your thumb firmly on the top of the bridge
3. pull the string up 1-2mm
4. re-tune

Stretching strings on another violin, or beyond their designed pitch will shorten their life span. Pirastro wrote about this. From my own experience, once relaxed, the string does not sound the same anymore.

Most of the modern strings settle in a matter of hours or days.

January 31, 2018, 3:22 AM · Rocky, it would be a disaster if stringmakers would make strings which would be no able to undergo tension drop keeping their tone quality. Any peg can get loose anytime spontaneously. It happens quite often on some instruments (depending on humidity, peg conditions e.t.c. of course).
There is a lot of fear about this, many luthiers are afraid making setup- changes with fresh strings. We have noticed only very slight (hardly measurable) changes after several tension loosening.

Moreover, one can hardly predict, how will be the particular tiny sound change work on a particular instrument and therefore how it will be perceived by the player. For example, if the string loses say 2 - 3% of its brightness, it may by minded or appreciated, depending on circumstances. From my point of view, I have nothing against prestretching strings on another instrument. 2 - 3 days should be enough.

In order to answer the original Carlos question: If you mind that any string needs to be broken-in in order to achieve its top quality, prestretching will not accelerate the process I am afraid.

January 31, 2018, 3:48 AM · Thank you Mr. Warchal. Actually I have ordered recently your Avantgarde and Amber E. There were other reasons but one was looking for strings that set in faster as I thought that metal would be less finicky about that.
In that regard and only that, how do you think that metal compares with synthetic for fast setting and playing?
January 31, 2018, 5:09 AM · We only produce E and A strings in metal versions. They are almost instantly ready to play. The strings containing helix (Amber E and Avantgarde A) need about ten minutes for becoming stable.

Is the instant and full tuning stability the absolute priority for you? Our Brilliant and Amber synthetic core line strings do stabilize quite fast. In my opinion after two hours of playing you can play a performance, than a slight retuning might be needed next morning. (Karneol needs more time, there is a nylon core.)

The reason why some of our customers choose Russian or Avantgarde A strings is not a tuning stability issue as I know. It is manlny better response on some kind of violins (particularly in higher positions) and also durability (corrosion resistnace). They are wound by stainless steel instead of aluminium.

January 31, 2018, 5:33 AM · It is not a priority, but it is a factor to ponder between two strings with similar other qualities.
Priorities are tone and longevity (how many weeks they can keep that tone) in my case.
January 31, 2018, 10:30 AM · I also think durability is very important. A half dozen brands sound and work well, for a month or so.
January 31, 2018, 2:28 PM · For durability (rather than "quick stretching"), gut core strings, even if we are generally told otherwise by the market (even Pirastro seems to downplay their own range of gut strings vs their synthetics). They just last longer than the average synthetic, be it Dominant or Evah Pirazzi, et. al. As far as I know and experience is, only gut Es don't last too long-the rest just retain their best qualities for a long while.

I can't comment about Infeld PI and EP Gold (among the pricier few I have not yet tried), but no other synthetic lasts as long as gut for me, be it Eudoxa, Oliv, Gold Label, Passione, or Tricolore.

Edited: January 31, 2018, 5:42 PM · "...seems to downplay their own range of gut strings vs their synthetics".
Not all that surprising. Gut strings are basically very old technology going back many centuries (although modern polishing machinery and other manufacturing techniques are now being used), but today's synthetic strings have expensive R&D behind them, so it is reasonable for a manufacturer to push their new products in order to get a return on their investment - and this is where marketing and advertising step into the picture.

I agree that the longevity of gut (except the E!), by which I mean retention of tone with age, exceeds that of synthetics by a wide margin, the exception being steel strings. I think synthetics lose their tone because of their inherent complex structure. A number of layers surround the core and you only need the interface between two layers, or a layer and the core, to start to fail under the normal usage of playing the violin, and you will have trouble.

Edited: February 1, 2018, 5:22 AM · Gut strings sound great mostly, you are right. The reason why most of players have switched to synthetic has been tuning instability issue, not the sound or durability of course.

However, the quality of synthetics is getting better and better. The best stringmakers aim to reach the same level of sound and durability with synthetic core strings nowadays. For example, Amber line core (W-core ®) is hydrophobic and therefore immune to absorbing perspiration and dirt of all kinds.

In any case, any violin string wound by common metals, as a silver or aluminium gets out of tune by wearing the metals off at the fingerboard area. The corrosion is also involved. This is why any string (even metal core one) gets out of tune by daily use. Now, there is a question whether we are going to benefit from the a still decent (or even great) sound of the worn string, if it gets out of tune. We can hardly play fifths, we need to put fingers differently on every particular string, and we therefore destroy our intonation notion.

It is pretty the same dilemma as drivers faced during the socialism in our country. The only western brand of tires that was occasionally available was Michelin. Some "brand lovers" did buy it saying: "Yes, it is three times more expensive than any Czech tire, but it has also three times longer life time. I can drive 120.000 km instead of 40.000 with the tires. And I am driving the Michelin, not a local junk!" Considering that the average annual mileage those times was not more than 10.000 km in our country, such guys drove the tires for 12 years time. Michelin's were nothing special on wet road even brand new. Rubber is getting harder and harder by time. Can you imagine how slippery they were after 12 years time (still meeting the legislative as for for the groove depth)? This is why there is no much sense to aim prolonging the durability of one product feature if it would exceed the life time of other features several times in my opinion.

February 2, 2018, 12:39 AM · Bohdan, since you are an expert: would you be willing to share some knowledge on what process causes the "breaking in" effect of strings?

For example, why does the massaging procedure above work? Apparently, it helps both for the first-hours detuning and for the initial change in sound color.

I'm a novice on the violin; the two times I had to deal with new synthetic strings, I didn't notice the color change so much, but the detuning was pretty bad. The first set took 2-3 weeks (at a first-time beginner practice schedule); the second set a couple of days with a semitone over-tuning after practice. (Both sets were of a reputable brand, though not Warchal. ;-) )

Edited: February 2, 2018, 2:43 AM · I remember in the 60s (1960s that is) that the envelopes of my plain gut A & D viola strings were marked "true fifths" as a marketing ploy!

Judging by the traces of aluminium on my fingerboards (and fingertips), I can well believe that the windings wear out.

February 2, 2018, 10:30 AM · Bohdan, I've been a regular user of the Avantgarde A and Amber E for a few years now, and I've found that the A has a longer break-in time than the E. The E is stable almost instantly. The A seems to need a few hours to achieve tuning stability. Both seem to acquire their final sound basically immediately.

(I wish Warchal strings were easier to find! They're often out of stock at my local stores and I'm sad that Shar dropped carrying Warchals entirely.)

February 2, 2018, 1:17 PM · @Han, we have never recommended any massaging for synthetic core strings unless of emergence situation before a performance. You can only shorten their life by such procedure. (Gut strings are something else).

The initial stretching is simply a basic feature of any (almost any) synthetic material.

I recommend you changing strings at the end of your playing session. Retune the strings before going to bed. In the morning tune the violin, play a few open strings with high speed bowing (wide vibrating amplitude) and than a few tones loudly close to the bridge (slow bowing, higher pressure). Just a few seconds. Retune and you can start practicing.

The "tuning skills" is also a part of the musical education. Tuning should not be a problem for you. Try keeping your pegs in a good condition and ideal position for easy tuning (vertical). Ask your teacher for explaining the proper finger position at tuning. Than, tuning procedure will be a piece of cake for you. Never accept detuning of one semitone during the session.

Edited: February 2, 2018, 2:43 PM · @Lydia, you might be right with the different break-in time of our helix metal strings. There is much longer helix on Avantgarde. However, since Avantgarde has metal core, tuning by fine tune is recommended. So slight adjusting should not be so annoying than retuning a syntetic core A string e.g.

You are right, we have not made a deal with Shar at the end. But there have to be many other sellers I guess, we supply our US wholesale partners regularly. You know, it is what we call vicious circle. Although starting in 2003, we are still the "latest newcomer" among reputable stringmaking brands in the USA. Retailers are reluctant to stock products they not sell in bulk daily and musicians can hardly learn the quality of our products since are not commonly available :-). But I hope it will be solved soon, our sale is increasing well. Anyway, thanks for the feedback.

Edited: February 2, 2018, 8:03 PM · I love the Warchal Amber Strings, Bohdan. Unfortunately it's not easy to find them in Canada, but my luthier Guy Harrison in Ottawa keeps a stock to please a few of his customers like me, and you can also order them on-line from Lemuel Violins, based in Mt. Elgin, Ontario ( I highly recommend this site for violin supplies.
February 3, 2018, 2:22 AM · Because of where I live, I need to order everything by international orders by different sellers. Service is always great but shipping varies. For South East Asia, the fastest postage is, for some reason, UK sellers. Then, German and last USPS.
I receive my strings from UK to Vietnam in three days. Last order included, among others, many Ambers and Avantgardes.
February 3, 2018, 7:37 PM · Thanks, Bohdan. Potter's Violins, near me, is both a busy physical shop as well as an online dealer. They stock Warchal strings but have inconsistent availability, and it seems that their shipments are unpredictable.

My luthier and I have had some discussions about my use of the Avantgarde A (on a JB Vuillaume). He thinks the nut should be adjusted to accommodate the steel string if I continue to use it, but he recommends against a fine tuner because it changes the weight of the tailpiece. The tailpiece has a clear impact on sound on this violin.

Stability of the Avantgarde A once it's been on the violin for a couple of days is excellent. The tiny amount that it goes out of tune would be much more easily dealt with using a fine tuner, unfortunately. But for the first few hours, it requires more frequent significant re-tuning, more like a synthetic breaking in.

By the way, I hate tuning because the recommended way -- wrap your hand around the scroll, and push the peg in slightly when you turn it -- is impossible for me. My arms are short and I come nowhere close to being able to cup the scroll of my full-size violin (Messiah Strad pattern, so perfectly ordinary in size).

February 4, 2018, 1:52 AM · David, you can remove abd reinstall Amber E and Avanrgarde A as many times you want. Be careful with winding the end on the peg. Used metal strings are prone to kinks. Bending the wire at very sharp angle (when a kink occurs) may break it easily.
February 4, 2018, 2:03 AM · Lydia, you are right Avantgarde A is the only metal A string which is so elastic that may be tuned by peg. (The pitch incerase by common steel strings used to be too steep to be tuned by peg).

Nevertheless, we do not recommned tuning it by peg. Tou can hardly avoid overtuning and by overtuning you stretch the helix and reduce the unique efect (feature). At the end, you would turn your Avantgarde into Rusian A more or less in fact.

Keeping your tailpiece free form any adjuster is a always good idea. We recommend tuning it with what we call "Smart tuner"

Just be sure using rather the first half of the screw thread. So after stretching the string, you might release the screw a bit and retune the string by peg once. Afterwards, you will be able to ajust the small pitch diferences easily.

February 4, 2018, 3:01 AM · If you're worried about effecting the balance of the tailpiece, I would use a Hill style fine tuner which weighs a fraction of the standard protruding type of fine tuner, and allows the afterlength to start on the saddle of the tail piece just as if there were no fine tuner. I've never tried them but I haven't heard good reviews of this "smart tuner"
February 4, 2018, 4:34 AM · Re Bohdan (February 2, 2018, 1:17 PM) "The initial stretching is simply a basic feature of any (almost any) synthetic material."

I understand that synthetic strings will creep a bit after being brought to tension. The part that I'm curious about is why this has such a big effect on the tone (based on what people write about it). I have hypotheses along two lines: (1) it reduces the bending stiffness of the fiber core - although I think synthetic strings usually have a stranded core that don't have so much to gain in flexibility; (2) the metal winding somehow gets a bit loose, which also affects flexibiliy. I'd guess that most of the bending stiffness of a string is due to the metal winding.

Regarding the 'semitone over-tuning after practice': I meant that after practice, I tune the new strings to G# D# A# F; at the next day's practice they had already dropped below G D A E (not sure about the E-string). It would of course be pretty horrible if the strings detune a semitone within one practice session.

February 4, 2018, 7:47 AM · I have used the Hill style tuner in the past, and yes, they are an attractive design, light and provide the maximum afterlength, but I found that they tended to loosen on the tailpiece rather too quickly for my liking. I think this is an unintended consequence of the design. The design is such that the central threaded pillar, which is threaded externally for the threaded fixing ring and internally for the tuning screw, is also divided on diametrically opposite sides by axially extending slots that accommodate that part of the tuning lever that is within the pillar and in contact with the tuning screw. This means that using the tuning screw over a period of time will tend to slightly alter the diameter of the pillar and hence loosen the fixing ring. I found that if I tightened the fixing ring sufficiently to avoid this effect then the tuning screw became less easy to turn. This system may be satisfactory if you're prepared to check the fixing ring for tightness after every few hours of play, but this, regretfully, I wasn't prepared to do and reverted to a short-arm Wittner lever tuner which doesn't alter the afterlength too much and doesn't loosen with use.

On one of my violins I use removable tuners because there are occasions when I might use gut strings, including the E. A tailpiece with inbuilt tuners is therefore not a choice.

I've thought about afterlength tuning and wonder if the concept is a bit overblown - within reasonable limits of course. Unless you're using plain gut there is going to be winding on the afterlength which adds weight to the string, thereby altering its tuning and resonance.

Edited: February 4, 2018, 8:07 AM · @Lyndon. I tried a “smart tuner” on a metal E several years ago but it immediately became obvious to me that the device was likely to damage the surface of the metal in the region where the device is used, so weakening the string and probably leading to a catastrophic break. You don't want defects in the surface of any string, particularly metal where a defect will rapidly become a break.
February 15, 2018, 6:46 AM · @Trevor, the "smart tuner" has never been meant for tuning violin E strings. There would be not enough space for it in the pegbox.
Edited: February 17, 2018, 8:03 AM · David, I just read that and thank you for posting the information. However, I have been cleaning my strings with alcohol for 55 years and have not noticed degradation in sound, etc. When I have cleaned with alcohol - which I tend to do less than once a month, I have used a pharmacutical-bought alcohol pad and immediately wipe the strings dry with an absorbent cotton cloth to avoid trapping dissolved rosin in the string windings. In addition I always wipe rosin off my strings with a microfiber cloth after every playing session. The reason I alcohol-clean is my "belief" that very fine rosin particles or melted rosin can get trapped in string's metal windings and affect their vibratory behavior. I have no experimental proof for that believe, other than my sound improves after alcohol cleaning.

In addition to the idea of doing a final rosin removal with a credit card edge (as suggested in the Warchal piece) it seems to be common around these parts to use one's thumbnail to scrape the strings to remove accumulated rosin (I learned that from a former long-time principal 2nd violinist of the SFO - but notice many others around here seem to have as well).

Rosin transfers from the bow hair to a clean string immediately as one makes the first stroke of the bow and it is the bond between rosin on hair and string that causes the friction behaviors that result in what we hear. Excessive rosin build-up can spoil the sound and intonation because the frictional behavior (or hair-string interaction) has changed and the vibrating string is no longer uniform along its length.

February 20, 2018, 4:09 AM · I just read Warchals cleaning test. Very interesting and thorough as usual. I wonder about the method used for alcohol cleaning. I occasionally clean with alcohol (pure ethanol) and do it by slightly wetting a part of a cotton cloth by holding it against the opening of the bottle and inverting the bottle. I wipe the string with the wet part of the cloth and immediately after with the dry. I find it hard to believe that any significant amount of alcohol is able to penetrate to the core of the string in as Warchal showed using colored ethanol. I suspect that the string in the test was soaked for some time? Like Andrew I have not had any problems with occasional alcohol cleaning of string and intend to continue doing it. And off course dry wipe after every playing session.
Edited: February 20, 2018, 7:16 AM · Interesting. What about the old-fashinoned, tried and true, method of cleaning the rosin off the strings with a cork? A clean cork from a wine bottle will do the job; champagne corks have the best shape for getting in and around the strings. Seems to me a lot easier on the string windings than a fingernail or -- yikes! -- a credit card edge. I always keep a cork in my case, and it works extremely well. I have also, in the past, used alcohol sometimes, but after reading Bohdan's blog I won't be doing that again. . .
February 22, 2018, 11:08 AM · Mr. Warchall responded in a previous discussion not too long ago that he did not recommend using a cork to clean strings but to use our fingernail or a credit card instead.
Edited: February 27, 2018, 11:59 AM · You are right, I have never liked the cork method. But I can try it again and make some microscopic pictures showing the result. Maybe by using Champagne cork you could aim for sparkling tone, who knows...:-)

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