Uncoiled A string

September 8, 2021, 11:29 PM · My daughter is in Suzuki book 5 (for reference concerning the amount of shifting). Her A strings normally only last two to three months before they become unraveled at third position. The string had never broke, just becomes unraveled. She practices a little over an hour a day and has short fingernails, and has a full-size violin. She uses Dominant or Vision strings. I believe it must have to do with the way she is shifting. Any ideas? Thanks

Replies (28)

Edited: September 9, 2021, 7:15 AM · Are you buying your strings from a reputable supplier? I ask because there ARE counterfeit strings out there, especially for the most famous brands like Dominant.

I have this vague memory of a discussion on this site some years ago about Dominant A strings coming unraveled but I can't put my finger on it (no pun intended).

Unless your daughter is REALLY clamping her finger down on her string when she shifts, I don't see how her shifting technique can be causing this. And if she was clamping down that hard (the opposite of what you're supposed to do), then her teacher would surely have noticed that. On the other hand it is a little weird that it keeps happening at the same place on the same string.

I suppose it's possible that the unraveling process is actually being initiated at the nut even though this is not where you see it. This is really a blind guess on my part. But if there's any chance of that, you might ask a luthier to check the nut grooves and make sure they are not flawed in some way. Always lubricate the nut and bridge grooves liberally with graphite from a soft but well-sharpened pencil whenever you change strings.

Before doing anything, please wait for responses from people who are smarter about this stuff than I am.

September 9, 2021, 11:00 AM · I would guess that it starts at the spot for 1st finger in third position- D. That is common. Beginners tend to bear down when they start shifting, starting with the 1st finger. Later they will learn to release the pressure or switch fingers while shifting. Aluminum is a soft metal, wears and breaks easily, starting with the A string. Possible temporary fix, if you can stand the sound; - all steel A string.
Edited: September 9, 2021, 11:10 AM · Another reason might be that your daughter’s sweat is very acidic. Most A strings including the dominant and vision a strings are wound with aluminum. Aluminum wound strings are really susceptible to sweat and can wear down prematurely due to acidic sweat. People who sweat a lot or have acidic sweat (different people have different levels of acidity in their sweat) often use either steel core A strings or Synthetic A strings wound in chrome.

It also might be a good idea to stay away from tin and aluminum plated E strings as well if your daughter uses those for the same reason. Chrome plated or platinum plated E strings are more resistant to sweat than tin and aluminum. Plain steel E strings work as well. Someone correct me if I’m wrong, but I think the Goldbrokat E string is plain steel. The vision E string is tin plated and there is a dominant E string that is tin plated. To know which one you have if your daughter uses the dominant E (or any Thomastik E) you can check the package for what the string is wound in. There are 4 types of Dominant E strings. Tin plated, Gold plated, Aluminum plated, and plain steel. Be warned though, a lot of people hate the plain steel Dominant E and usually swap out the E for their favorite; one of them being Goldbrokat.

Likewise if your daughter uses the aluminum wound D string for Dominants or visions you might want to switch her to the silver wound D string since silver is also resistant to sweat. Both Dominant and Vision offer a silver wound D string.

G strings are pretty much always wound in silver. One exception is there is an option to have a gold wound G string from Pirastro’s Evah Pirazzi Gold set. But both the Dominant and vision G string just like virtually 99% (not a real statistic) of all G strings.

Hope that helps

Edited: September 9, 2021, 12:27 PM · My sweat rusts through carriage bolts and I don't think I've ever had a synthetic string come apart in the middle. That is, without significant abuse—repeated detuning and retuning, restringing on different violins, knicking the windings with something sharp, etc. Plenty have come apart at the nut, though. Aluminium windings are the most likely to break, especially on thin strings.

Try another brand of string, I suppose.

September 9, 2021, 12:57 PM · All of the suggestions above are logical. Also, might there be a low spot on the fingerboard near there, I don't mean an obvious one that can be felt but an imperfection in the fingerboard scoop.
September 9, 2021, 1:53 PM · I go through an A-string about every two months, and that's just practicing an hour or two each day.

I've tried many string brands, but all result in about the same life-span. Normally I use Dominants with a Warchal Amber E. Always, order the silver D, else the same result occurs, but it takes longer.

Speaking with several string folks, and even contacted Warchal and tried their Hydronalium windings (same result). As JQ said above, steel works fine, but I can't get used to the sound. I did have some 10 year old gut strings that I used as an A, sounded pretty good, but didn't sound right with the synthetic ones.

Had the same result on my other violins also. Finally decided, as CH mentioned, that because I eat a lot of Indonesian (HOT) food my skin is very acetic and eats aluminum. But, I'd rather just replace the A string than quit eating what I like!

September 9, 2021, 8:14 PM · Thanks to all! What wonderful information! Thank you all for taking the time to reply. We live in Cambodia and my daughter eats a lot of spicy food, too. And sweats a lot because of the heat and humidity ??. Glad to know she is not the only one with these problems.
September 9, 2021, 8:50 PM · Eating spicy food won't change the composition of perspiration.
Edited: September 10, 2021, 6:11 AM · Just meant that the spicy food makes you sweat more:-)
September 10, 2021, 7:02 AM · It's only 8 AM here but a steaming bowl of spicy Cambodian food sounds great right now.
September 10, 2021, 7:37 AM · I'm not sure how old your daughter is, but around age 12 my son started having a ton more acid in his sweat...to the point that his violin maker ends up adding varnish to where his left hand hits the violin body every single year. I've been told this is typical of kids going through puberty. It very well could be as simple as acidic sweat! We haven't had the same issue with strings, but my son plays about 4 hours a day and so his strings wear out around every 3 months no matter what.
September 10, 2021, 7:46 AM · Susan Agrawal - she’s 13 and this is a recent problem, so makes sense that it could be as you suggested.
Edited: September 10, 2021, 8:49 AM · As a chemist (admittedly one with "less than zero" knowledge of biology and biochemistry), I'd like to suggest that the chemical composition of "acidic sweat" might vary tremendously between individuals because of the number of different species that are present in a bodily fluid. The tendency of a metal to dissolve (or corrode) in contact with an "acidic" solution depends not only on the "acidity" (pH) of the solution but often on the presence of other components that tend to stabilize and sequester the metal ions formed in the corrosion process. So this is definitely a situation where multiple viewpoints and a diversity of experiences could be quite helpful.
Edited: September 10, 2021, 12:51 PM · Acidity of perspiration does not vary much. Neither does tonicity. It's hypotonic to plasma. So the issue might be not wiping off the strings where the fingers lie and only wiping off the rosin.

This isn't biochemistry, it's animal physiology. Specifically physiology of the exocrine glands.

Edited: September 10, 2021, 2:07 PM · Susan wrote:
"I'm not sure how old your daughter is, but around age 12 my son started having a ton more acid in his sweat...to the point that his violin maker ends up adding varnish to where his left hand hits the violin body every single year. I've been told this is typical of kids going through puberty. It very well could be as simple as acidic sweat!"

From the perspective of one having been a pro luthier and restorer for about 50 years, there DOES seem to be some stuff going on with wood and varnish degradation, which can vary at different points along the player timeline.

The chemistry changes(?) around the time of going though puberty do seem to be a really tough time for both instruments and strings.

Just my observations. I am not a chemists.

September 10, 2021, 2:01 PM · Stop using dominants.
Edited: September 10, 2021, 2:42 PM · Marty, I happen to think that Dominants are pretty darned good strings. While not the ultimate ideal for each and every instrument, they are pretty darned good for most.

Aluminum-wound strings will not have as much surface-wear resistance as strings wound with harder materials. Most of the wear occurs on the underside of the string, showing as a flat on the underside of the string when you roll it over to take a look.

In general, strings will lose their original sound and playing characteristics, well before they start shedding parts.

September 10, 2021, 2:23 PM · I have noticed that Dominant Al windings are soft enough that I get Al deposits on the fingertips. But they don't appear if I first wash my hands before playing. And when my hands really begin to perspire I stop and rinse them and dry them.
September 10, 2021, 2:52 PM · Ann, might you and I be kin-folk? I wash my hands every time I return from the liquor store, and also when I return from "the house of ill repute". ;-)
September 10, 2021, 3:19 PM · Oh David, you are too funny (as they say around here, to me there's no such thing as too funny). I've had people wash their hands after touching me, a normal precaution.
September 10, 2021, 5:27 PM · I just wouldn’t repeatedly purchase strings if there a long history of unwinding. I’ve used plenty of good, inexpensive strings that don’t unwind.
September 10, 2021, 7:37 PM · With COVID around I have been washing my hands whenever I have touched anything outside the house (except MY steering wheel). And we have hand sanitizer in the car (and I carry a tiny one in my pocket).

I always have always had my hands clean when I play my instruments.

September 11, 2021, 12:57 PM · There's always going to be one string that goes first, and on most violin sets it is the A because as the pitch goes up the wrap gets thinner. The last string with a wrap, thus the thinnest wrap, is the A. If you can live with the sound of strings with steel wraps, then they will last longer, but most of the higher quality strings have aluminum wrap on the A. Probably some brand has titanium wraps, but I don't know which.
September 11, 2021, 10:03 PM · I think D'Addario makes a titanium violin A
September 12, 2021, 12:58 AM · I know Thomastik has a couple steel A options like in their Rondo and dominant pro sets although I've never tried them. I think Perpetual by Pirastro has a steel A option too.
September 12, 2021, 5:53 PM · What about plain gut strings? My continued experience over the years of plain gut A and D, together with a wound gut G, is that they last, and last, and last, while still retaining their tone and stability. Can't say that for the plain gut E, unfortunately. In the case of the gut E, we're probably looking at a practical playing life of 8-10 weeks before fraying becomes too much of an irritation - but I must say I've never had one break when playing or tuning. For general orchestral playing, I now use a plain steel E such as Goldbrokat - inexpensive but good.

My main recommendation for gut strings is to keep one's fingernails short and smooth, check that the grooves in the nut and bridge are up to spec (get a luthier to have a look, if in doubt), and lightly oil the strings in the fingerboard region once a week or so. I use a light oil such as light almond oil (NOT the essence version!). Olive oil is too thick for my liking. Another thing, because gut strings have to be tuned from the pegs make sure that the pegs are up to the job and turn smoothly.

September 13, 2021, 9:56 AM · Whether this is caused by sweat I have no idea, but many guitarists use rubbing alcohol like Isocol (here in Australia) to clean their hands before playing. Seems to help preserve strings.

Edited: September 13, 2021, 10:08 AM · I suspect that treating your hands with alcohol before playing has a drying effect in addition to extracting some oils from the surface of your skin. Perhaps this allows more freedom of movement of the hand along the neck of the guitar.

I don't know enough about dermatology to know whether someone like Cotton, who complains at every chance about his acidic sweat destroying his violin strings, might actually have sweat that is more acidic than the rest of us, or whether his hands just sweat more.

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