Violin strings

April 13, 2020, 8:41 PM · This may have come up before. What are the criteria for changing violin strings? Could be related to hours of use, sound, scratchiness, sliding, too much resin in the strings,etc. Some people seem to go by the calendar which makes no sense to me. Eg some people during the 3 months may only play once per week,
others 2 hours per day. Is there not a scientific way to do it?
Happy playing well!!
Terry

Replies (21)

April 13, 2020, 9:11 PM · I find one of the easier ways to tell is to take advantage of the different string compositions on my viola: the synthetic C, G, and D strings don't stay good for as long as the steel A, and I change them all at the same time. Typically after about 5-8 months I start to notice a mismatch between the D and A strings, which is my cue to change strings.

This might differ on violin, where the E string is under more tension and may not last as long.

April 13, 2020, 10:19 PM · I change my strings based on the phases of the moon.
Edited: April 26, 2020, 12:44 PM · Hours of play. You will notice when they feel dead and not sounding as good as before.
April 14, 2020, 4:34 AM · Add the confusing mix is the fact that some strings will last longer before sounding dead than others, so there really isn't a "change your strings every X hours of playing time" rule that works all the time.

Noticing when strings feel dead is a complicated issue also, because strings begin dying as soon as they're placed on the instrument and you begin to play. It's a very gradual decay in quality and it's a bit like watching yourself get older -- we don't notice it on a day-to-day basis but one day we become aware that we're no longer as young as we recall from some benchmark date. The same with strings -- you keep playing them until one day you realize they don't sound very good anymore or they just don't respond the same way so playing on them is harder. Then we sometimes realize "oh yeah, I've been noticing that for the past two weeks" or some such.

The difficult part of knowing when to change strings also involves performances -- since we also know that strings often need a few hours of playing time to break in to the sweet point in their tone and to stabilize regarding staying in tune. Don't put new strings on the violin the day before a performance. Be aware of the resonance and response of your strings when you have a performance coming up and either change the strings at least a week ahead of time and play a lot to break them in, or make it through the performance with the slightly deader but more stable older strings.

April 15, 2020, 2:10 PM · Cotton, Please explain in more detail! Sounds sounds fascinating!!
April 15, 2020, 3:28 PM · I have 2 different and independent criteria for changing strings.

1. I don't like the way the instrument sounds for some piece of music (or maybe all) that I play.

OR

2. I just received a new brand of strings and I'm anxious to see how they sound.

2.a If i don't like the way the new strings sound on the instrument I put them on, I try them on another instrument I have of the same type.

2.b If I like some (but not all) of the new strings on another instrument I start mixing strings on that instrument.

AND

2.c so on (and maybe) on and on and on......

April 16, 2020, 8:16 PM · There’s no exact rule for changing strings, but there are some signs to look for:

1) Change in sound, not related to temperature or humidity.
2) Change in feel (strings feel floppy like old rubber bands)
3) Unraveling winding
4) Tarnish buildup on the string

Much of the lifespan depends on your playing style, amount of sweat, and practice time. As an average, shops tend to recommend string changes and bow rehairs twice a year, but it’s ultimately up to you to decide what makes the most sense based on your uses.

April 16, 2020, 11:54 PM · You don't replace strings because of tarnish buildup, you just clean off the tarnish!!
April 17, 2020, 1:08 AM · Totally agree with Lyndon, I’ve cleaned tarnish off strings a few times; no problem at all.
April 17, 2020, 2:42 AM · I can't see any reason why even a badly tarnished string would be bad in any way for the tone, as far as I know it's only a cosmetic issue.
April 17, 2020, 2:55 AM · Heavy tarnish might impact tone a little since it would change the vibration properties of the string. Light tarnish probably wouldn’t affect the tone at all. Of course if the strings are tarnished up on the fingerboard, you might not like it rubbing off on your fingers :)
April 17, 2020, 4:42 AM · Tarnish isn't only a cosmetic issue -- how do you think the discoloration occurs? Oxygen molecules bond with the molecules of the string itself. Think of iron which rusts -- that's just a more severe form of tarnish and it works quickly making the iron disintegrate. The materials used on strings don't deteriorate that quickly but what happens with tarnish is much the same. When you remove it, you're removing a tiny bit of the string itself. Sure it's only microns, but if you do it enough those microns add up and alter the construction of the string at that point.
So some people avoid that eventual weakening of the string by replacing tarnished strings -- nothing wrong with that. I guess whether it's important or not depends on how much and what sort of playing a person does. It's a personal choice -- like deciding when to have a bow rehaired. Do you do it as soon as a few hairs break or do you wait until your bow has loose hairs flying whenever you play making your playing a very visual display of your pyrotechnics?

So in my opinion there's no single answer, yes or no, that fits everybody when it comes to how to handle tarnished strings. Replace them if you're worried about eventual weakening and breaking of the string, or don't replace them until they actually break at that point.

April 17, 2020, 1:26 PM · Good point David, for me personally I can’t tell any differences after removing tarnish a few times, at least on Vision and Pirastro strings. You’re right eventually it would affect the material strength of the string but it would have to be very heavy tarnish or get tarnished very often for that to be a major factor. The exact material of the string would make a difference too, so as you said, there’s no one size fits all answer.
Edited: April 17, 2020, 2:05 PM · When I find myself flirting with another instrument and contemplating about an eventual upgrade, I know it's time... They don't go false yet, they still seem to be "okay" from a technical point of view, they just become somehow dull. And with a new set of strings, I always fall back in love again with what I have.
May be after 150 hours, eventually 200, can't tell exactly.
April 17, 2020, 3:22 PM · My luthier's rule of thumb is to change after 120 hours of play. That has worked well for me over the years and avoids my having to guess at how bad they are.
April 17, 2020, 7:34 PM · Although tarnish doesn’t always mean the string is compromised, it can be a sign of a bad string, as the core can be damaged by the chemical reactions.

I included tarnish on my list because it’s just one thing to watch out for. If you clean the strings and they sound fine, it’s not an issue.

Edited: April 22, 2020, 11:56 AM · I looked at the A and D strings under my microscope. Everything below the edge of the fingerboard was as smooth as silk but where the bowing is there are gaps between turns of the windings and irregular edges. So I guess this is fairly scientific!
Thanks for everyone’s comments before this
Edited: April 25, 2020, 11:24 PM · Did anyone see my note about looking at my d string under my microscope on the April 22 discussion? The windings are fraying and spreading. This would be a good test when the sound changes or the bow hair makes scraping sounds frequently.

April 26, 2020, 11:44 AM · Terry - for those of us without access to a microscope, your system does not sound very convenient, although it probably works well for you. The real problem is, for me, that most changes are so gradual that the strings would be in real bad shape before I could really be sure they needed changing. As pointed out above, my luthier's 120 hour rule of thumb works quite well. I end up changing the strings every six months or so based on that rule. It works well and I do not have to worry that I am not hearing the changes that would signal the need for new strings.
Edited: April 26, 2020, 12:50 PM · 120 hours is too short... If you play 2 hours per day, that's 60 days, aka two months. May be a good rule of thumb for Evah Pirazzi, but that's terrible.
April 26, 2020, 1:20 PM · 120 hours is just a very generic clue. The real lifetime very much depends on factors such a playing style, perspiration, cleaning method used by player e.t.c. It does also matter whether your instrument prefers mellower strings (and therefore you need to wait a bit longer break-in time with any synthetic core strings) or rather a brilliant one (and therefore the strings may work right from the beginning for you, but you find them dying sooner). Our customers refer much longer durability mostly, at least with our high-end strings like Timbre or so on.

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