When do you change your strings?

November 26, 2018, 3:53 PM · Being halfway through a BMus I'm somewhat embarrassed to be asking this question, but anyway:

When exactly are you supposed to change your strings if there's no visible wear & tear?

What are the signs to look out for?

Until now I've just been changing them before a big performance, which is every 1-2 months, so there haven't been any issues & I've never felt the need to ask my teacher. But it would be nice to actually know when it's necessary.

Replies (52)

November 26, 2018, 4:08 PM · Worn strings will produce a dull sound, will lack brilliancy. It depends a bit on how many hours you play everyday.
Maestro Glenn Dicterov said me changes the strings of his Strad every week.
Edited: November 26, 2018, 5:36 PM · I am impressed by maestro's budget: that is roughly $5,200 per annum spent on strings only.
November 26, 2018, 5:49 PM · Every week seems excessive, even if someone's playing 12 hours a day!
November 26, 2018, 5:51 PM · Tax deductable?
November 26, 2018, 5:56 PM · Many top players receive free strings from manufacturers. He was the concertmaster of the NY Philharmonic...
November 26, 2018, 6:09 PM · still... if not on his wallet, the impact on environment is huge.
November 26, 2018, 6:09 PM · I've always wondered... why exactly do worn strings produce a dull sound, compared to new? And which component of the string becomes worn?
November 26, 2018, 6:15 PM · I change mine when I have money...which is never.
November 26, 2018, 6:21 PM · I change strings when my instrument(s) sound sub-normal to me. I also sometimes change them to try a new string brand or combination.
Edited: November 26, 2018, 6:29 PM · We use EP green ($42 per set for fractional sizes) and after 2 weeks, the “sparkle” is gone so if we go by that, we’d be changing every 2 weeks.

We end up changing 3 to 4 times a year but her teacher is fine if we only change strings when they go false.

This is for a child who only practices 2 hours a day with a lot of breaks. Her bow is probably touching the strings less than 90 minutes a day or less...actually, a lot less.

November 26, 2018, 6:32 PM · I usually wait until my e string starts going false since it is the first to go. By then the other strings have lost their luster. I can’t afford to put new strings on every time they lose their initial brilliance.
Edited: November 26, 2018, 6:44 PM · Wound strings go dull because the oils from your hand seep into the winding and the core and cause all sorts of trouble. The winding also moves along the string, causing it to eventually go false.

Anyways. I use plain gut strings (not varnished anymore), which are cheaper over all once you learn how to take care of them, and simply break when they're all used up, so it's easy to tell.

November 26, 2018, 7:49 PM · one changes strings upon an exciting new review on violinist dot com promising to make your average fiddle sound like a Strad!
Edited: November 26, 2018, 8:00 PM · Exactly my issue: I notice the 'sparkle' has gone after a couple of weeks, but can't afford (or be bothered) to change them this often.

P.S. I find it ironic that someone thought the concertmaster of NY Phil would need free strings!

Edited: November 27, 2018, 4:39 AM · As a viola maker, I get very sad whenever I see one of my violas with worn out strings, or cheap strings. That's because I invested a lot of energy to make the instrument (and the player made an effort to get it) and, eventually, it is not sounding in its full capacity due the the bad strings.

In the traditional Japanese culture, there was a felling that the owner of a given object should honour and respect the craftsman who made it, and I like this idea.

Life is too short to play with old strings.

Edited: November 27, 2018, 4:52 AM · Cotton: so for plain gut strings does the seeping oil also affect them?
November 27, 2018, 5:05 AM · I change E strings at least twice as often as the rest. It is the first to go, and there is nothing for the "oils" so seep into....
Edited: November 27, 2018, 6:13 AM · The E strings corrode, obviously. I have a stainless E and it's still in perfect condition after a month of heavy use, whereas all my plain steel Es would be black by now.

If your gut strings get dirty, you can clean them with spirits. I personally oil mine with boiled linseed oil to protect them from sweat, because I find it doesn't have any noticeable effect on sound and really helps their lifespan. It also just happened to be lying around, too.

November 27, 2018, 7:45 AM · Change intervals will vary, depending on the player -- and the strings being played. I play on three fiddles -- 45-60 minutes a day on each instrument -- for 2-1/2 to 3 hours per day. At this rate, a set of strings will give me good results for about 5 months -- sometimes a little longer.

FWIW: I use steel E strings on all fiddles -- Goldbrokat Medium. The A-D-G are mostly from Thomastik -- Vision Solo, Peter Infeld, Infeld Red. One fiddle has Pirastro Eudoxa Stiff D-G.

November 27, 2018, 8:36 AM · I'm not entirely convinced that natural oils on the skin are a major factor in strings losing their tone. It is much more likely in my view that the interfaces between the multiple layers of a synthetic core string are breaking down due to no more than the action of the bow during playing (the better the player the more vigorous the playing), ruining the vibration characteristics of the string and hence the tone. Sadly, it seems that the more expensive, and presumably the more hi-tech, the string the more likely it is that the interfaces will wear out that much quicker. Strings without internal interfaces to break down are a different matter - they are either plain gut or plain metal.

The practice of changing strings every week puzzles me a little. It takes an appreciable time for a string to play in and achieve its best tone, which will significantly eat into that week. Perhaps a solution would be install the new set on a spare violin for a week and then transfer them to the main violin? Double the work.

November 27, 2018, 11:36 AM · Oils and dead skin get lodged in the windings. If you've ever boiled electric bass strings... Well, you'd have to throw that pot away. It would never be safe for food again.

Deterioration of the core material is also a big factor.

November 27, 2018, 12:38 PM · Kate - my luthier's rule of thumb is every 120 hours. I follow it pretty carefully (for me that means twice per year) and have never had a problem. I use Obligatos which are synthetic. I suppose there might be a different rule of thumb for gut or steel.
November 27, 2018, 12:47 PM · All-- If you are replacing expensive strings that often, from your heavy practice, rehearsal, and performance schedule, maybe have another practice violin with ordinary strings, and save your good violin for last rehearsals and performances. Some of that wear can be from ordinary friction; having the finger hard down on the wood while shifting, instead of being light.
Edited: November 27, 2018, 4:19 PM · But Joel, if we believe in the concept of "playing in" a violin (which obviously not all of us do), then shouldn't it sound best if played regularly? And even if we don't believe in it, then it should still be arguably better if one performed on a violin he or she knew from endless practice sessions and has internalized how it reacts specifically?

In my case, average 45-60 minutes per day, a set of Obligatos lasts about 4 months. In this time I have to use two Kaplan golden spiral E, or alternatively three of the original Obligato E. The Pirastro Nr. 1 would last longer, but doesn't blent well in my case, it's too dominant.
When the last E starts to wear out, the G is the next to sound dull and weak while D and A would not be perfect anymore but still "acceptable", but then I change the whole set. With Dominants it's about the same, although the Dominant G doesn't fall off the D and A so drastically, while the Vision titanium solo I finally returned to seem to last a bit longer.

Surprisingly the Obligatos in my Viola seem to last almost forever. They've been already on for I don't know how long when I got it 5 months ago, and still sound strong and fresh, although I definitely focused on the viola during the last three months. Or maybe it's just the instrument that sounds bombastic even with dead strings? I'll get us a new set for Christmas and explore the difference...

November 28, 2018, 1:05 AM · I am changing my strings around 6 months, so I use two sets for a year, E string needs replacement soon. Sometimes I bought a "piece" E and replace it in the half of the lifespan of the set of strings.

But it depends on the string type, now I am trying and testing strings. Sometimes I change more often. My violin is at my luthier's shop now, when I get it back, I will try Pirastro Tonica, after Warchal Amethyst strings. I am looking forward :-)

I am now playing on my wife's violin, equipped by Warchal (I don't remember which ones, I am at the job). Almost year and a half old. This instrument is not played too often.

Edited: November 28, 2018, 1:41 AM · I replace my strings twice a year. I probably get between 150 and 180 hours out of a set of strings, and when I replace them they're a little bit dull but still serviceable as backup strings.

My string replacements coincide with breaks in orchestra schedules: summer when I typically have no playing commitments between mid-May and late July, and winter when I typically have no playing commitments in the last three weeks of December. I usually change them in late December about a week before my first January rehearsals, and then in early to mid July a week or two before the summer chamber music workshop I attend.

November 28, 2018, 3:50 PM · Luis, I agree with that principle, however changing strings every week or two weeks seems excessive.

Thanks everyone, that gives me an idea of where others are, and I seem to be changing them more or less at the correct time.

November 28, 2018, 4:06 PM · I switched to Dominants some time ago. They tend to last almost forever. However, there is a point where they simply will not hold their pitch and it is very obvious. That is when I change them. I used to have gut core wound strings (Eudoxa's) and they would usually last about six months +/- a week or so.
November 28, 2018, 4:32 PM · I found the same with Dominants. Unfortunately they don't sound good on my violin. Would love to be able to use them.
November 29, 2018, 1:29 AM · IF I am having problems in producing a sound I used to be able to make.
AND IF that problem doesn't get fixed by the usual roundabouts: different bow, different/more rosin. 3 days no improvement.
AND IF the strings have been on for more than 1 month.
THEN, I change the strings.

And following those rules, I find myself changing between 6-8 weeks synthetics. 4-6 months, gut.

November 29, 2018, 2:57 AM · Thanks, Carlos - those sound like some good guidelines for me too.
Edited: November 29, 2018, 10:24 AM · Yes, that serves well for a rule of thumb.

My experience with dominants: they definitely don't last forever. Different from many other brands there is no point when they detoriate rapidly, but gradually all the way down. I experienced this on my son's violin which I also use at least once a week to check if everything is okay. Once we left the sane strings for almost 11 months - he only practices maybe 20 mins per day on average which would make 120 hrs per year. I never noticed a specific pount when I thought something had happened, but they were dead as dead can be, like playing on rubber bands. The new ones made the instrument as great as when we bought it again, so nothing to say against the string brand...

November 29, 2018, 10:27 AM · Now we change them when it noticeably becomes harder to tear a strong sound out of it, maybe after 5-6 months. Although my wife prefers the old strings - she still dreams of our flat as a quiet place! :-)
November 29, 2018, 10:39 AM · I'll change mine (for the first time) when my teacher tells me to. It will be interesting to see when that happens!
Edited: December 2, 2018, 3:50 AM · This is such a good thread

Whenmy girl had a 1/16 violin, we had to change strings very often compared to other children, I changed the E string in about once in a 3 months and the A string once in 6 months, the rest once a year (Pilastro Tonicas).

But we had a big problem of strings going dull very quickly in a few weeks until I started cleaning the strings once a week with alcokol (well actually with desinfectant but they are mainly alcohol). I was so puzzled as I could never have thought our fingers would be corrosive as we eat very healthy and low-bad-carb. But we have super oily skin, so maybe Cottons explanation would be the reason.

Do small fractional strings wear out more easily?

Now 2 months with 1/8 violin we still have the same strings and still they seem to go dull but brighten up with cleaning, but they seem to last longer. Pilastros o other strings but Evah Pirazzi on the A string (thank you for the someone here who wrote that Evahs are also for fractionals as the Pilastro tonica A soundd bad on my girls violin). So Imhoping the strings will last longer, the Evah is expensive although its half price for fractional size.

My question now is, is it ok to clean the Evah with alcohol too?

Edited: December 1, 2018, 11:23 AM · Most sweat is slightly acidic, I think, which is bad for the metals.
And isn't it also about cleaning the rosin off the strings every day?
I've seen people recommend alcohol, but I just use a dry cloth.
Chemicals should be used on natural substances with caution.
People use things to clean bows which may cause harm. Alcohol dissolves protein, and I've seen bleach used on a bristle brush which became an empty ferrule after about a minute.
December 1, 2018, 4:26 AM · Warchal has on its webpage experimentation about cleaning with alcohol and other methods, and he concludes that it is bad for the strings.
On the other hand, Andrew Victor, whose opinion I value considerably, has been using alcohol for more than half century with positive results.
December 1, 2018, 6:23 AM · I must add that I do clean the rosin residue of the strings once a day with dry cloth but it alone just doesnt help, the string just goes dull very fast. After I started cleaning with alcohol also the part of the string which is touched by fingers, the sound of the string improved a lot. It must be our oily hands, sweat and oily skin.

So, I shouldnt clean the Evah Pirazzi with alcohol then as it is a not fully synthetic, or do I remember wrongly? Lets see what happens, how it reacts to oil, maybe it tolerates it better tha the Pilastro Tonicas...

December 1, 2018, 7:03 AM · To clean strings, I use a cork from a wine bottle. Works well and does not have any downsides.
Edited: December 1, 2018, 9:08 AM · I use a dry cloth over the whole length of the strings every time I'm done with practicing, and during longer practice sessions when taking a break after maybe 90 minutes. When I rosin my bow I eventually wipe them even after a few minutes of playing in. (I do not rosin too much, and since I own a daytime job, I'm usually fine rosining twice a week.) I cannot refer specifically to Evah Pirazzi strings (which are btw also a brand from the Pirastro company, like the Tonica) but I clean the strings (usually either Vision solo, Vision titanium solo, Obligato or Dominant) maybe once a month with purified alcohol. After this treatment their sound and response improve significantly, so I honestly do not care at all if this shortens their life span or not. My violin usually feels like a sports car - only a little tip with the toe and it goes from 0 to 100 within seconds. And it's quite irritating when this feeling vanishes.
My hands are (due to heavy use of desinfectants in the daytime job) rather dry and neither oily nor do I tend to sweat a lot.
So, Maria, I'd say give it a try - if they're already dull anyway, there's not much to loose.
December 1, 2018, 9:17 AM · Here is a great article on string cleaning from Bohdan Warchal or Warchal Strings:

https://www.warchal.com/faq/what_is_the_best_way_to_care_for_our_strings.html

I also recall that cork was not recommended as the pits in cork can pull and damage the windings.

tl;dr: use a microfiber cloth to wipe the strings after playing -- nothing else is required.

Edited: December 1, 2018, 10:03 AM · Exactly. And only if the strings go dull despite wiping, and you start dreaming of a new set, then give alcohol a try.
It's important to protect the varnish. I cover it with a piece of cloth before approaching with the alcohol...

Mr Warchals article may be full of truth, and who was I to question his competence. But what does this help to me if in a prohibitive setting I'd like to get new strings at least every other month, while allowing it a sip of alcohol now and then, this will bring them back to new for a while?
And as I already explained, I'm wiping my strings almost permanently "with a microfiber cloth", so there is absolutely no way for the rosin to build up.

Edited: December 1, 2018, 7:18 PM · Cork is one of the worse ways to clean your strings. It damages the surface via friction and fills the winding with little cork bits you can't see.
December 1, 2018, 3:42 PM · I have been tempted to try the Warhcal strings. I told my teacher that the violin didn't seem as bright. She commented that there's no way I should need new strings already. It's been maybe a little over a month with my present set.

I need to watch myself. I like to change strings.It just feels good. Like new socks. I figure I have a few years until I try all of the major brands once.

December 2, 2018, 3:46 AM · Thanks. It is difficult with oily hands, which sweat.
Edited: December 2, 2018, 9:24 AM · Meanwhile on another string thread, Cajun fiddling and ensemble chamber work are being conflated. I've seen all this among uke players and guitarists - strings are a great receptacle for transferred neurosis.
A cheaper possibility is different rosin. A still cheaper possibility is different bowing technique.
December 3, 2018, 5:52 AM · Before my strings are changed, when the sound degrades, I am able to hold them for around 2 - 4 weeks using alcohol cleaning method. But it is only last chance to let it longer.
December 3, 2018, 10:22 AM · I usually change mine at the 3-4 month mark (sometimes longer than 4 months), typically following Carlos's first point about not being able to draw a sound that I am normally able to. If a heavy practice period (for me 1.5-2hrs a day is a lot!) then every 3 months, if a light practice period (45mins) is interspersed with standard practice periods (60-75mins) - then every 4-5 months depending on what is going on with my life. I wish I had the time to practice 2hrs a day, sigh.
Edited: December 3, 2018, 11:06 AM · I have had an Eudoxa "Stiff" G & D since early May, and they sound so good I feel it's a crime to change them right now. The synthetic Aricore-Eudoxa that I installed at the same date "expired" some months ago, though it was a good match. Right now I have those "old" Eudoxa G&D, a two month or so pure gut Tricolore A, and a new medium Hill replacing a EP Platinum "Weich" E. I have a set of Oliv and Platinum E ready, waiting for months, that I planned to install way before this time, but since these strings still work so well, I feel it would be a shame to give up on them this "early."

(A matter of taste/playing preference, I suppose, but IMHO, so much for the old "gut strings do not last" marketing mantra out there.)

In my experience If you play a lot, for synthetics, 3-4 months if you want to save money. If $ is not a concern, sooner than that.

December 3, 2018, 4:36 PM · Adalberto, although my experience with gut strings is limited to Eudoxa medium and stiff, I totally agree with you. They definitely last way longer than any synthetics I've ever tried, at least the G and D (not sure about the A).
Edited: December 4, 2018, 1:59 AM · I've had my pirastro perpetual in since they were released, however long ago that was. They still sound pretty good. The violin produce a nice clear tone, so I'm not compelled to change them.

What are you trying to achieve when you change your strings? Do you achieve that in actuality when you change them out? Every time you change strings you have to deal with that metallic sound stage. That lasts a week or two. Perhaps that Strad guy changes strings every week, because he wants that fresh metallic sound.

Do professional violinists get free strings? Professional tennis players have to buy their own strings. That's $50 per set, and 6 sets per match. And a flat rate of 20k per year for a stringer at each major tournament.

December 4, 2018, 2:25 AM · When my strings get lose their tone over time, it eventually leads to a mismatch in my mixed set. I normally use Vision C/G/D and Larsen A strings on my viola. For the first 4-5 months, they match extremely well. After that, the synthetic strings start to get duller, and around the 6-month mark, the difference in brightness between the D and A strings becomes noticeable enough that I start to avoid crossing between D and A strings in lyrical passages. That's my cue to change strings. At that point, the strings are still serviceable as emergency backups to keep in my case, but I'd rather not keep them on my viola.


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