Whether you’re new to playing the cello or simply need a refresher, knowing when to change your cello strings is something every cellist should know. Change them too often and you’ll be spending quite a bit of money, but if you don’t change them when you need to the drawbacks can be serious. In addition to sounding bad, worn out cello strings are more likely to break during play and require extra pressure to play which, over time, can cause stress-related injuries. From understanding the causes of string wear to knowing what to look out for, here’s everything a cellist needs to know about changing their strings.
Causes of String Wear
Strings wear out for a variety of reasons, and understanding the main causes can help you evaluate their condition. In general, string wear can be linked to one of the following:
- Playing habits– although time spent playing isn’t the most reliable indicator, keeping track of how long you’ve been playing with a particular set of strings can help you estimate when they’ll need to be replaced. If you practice for an hour each day, your strings will probably need to be replaced every 3-5 months; if you practice more or less that time frame will need to be adjusted accordingly. Your cello teacher should be able to give you a string replacement timeline that makes sense for your playing habits.
- Material- the truth of the matter is that certain string materials wear out quicker than others. Cello strings made from gut sound great but don’t last very long, while steel strings last for a long time but can be difficult for some players to get used to. Synthetic nylon strings are a good middle ground, and combine longevity with the warm sound most cellists prefer.
- Instrument set-up– in some cases, the way your instrument is set up can be making your strings wear out sooner than normal. If you notice that you’re replacing strings more often than average or haven’t had the set-up of your instrument checked out my a professional, repair technicians can help you figure this out.
- Contact– oil and dirt from your hands can cause the strings of your cello to erode. To avoid this, wash your hands before you sit down to play your instrument and always wipe down your cello before you put it back into its case. Again, your cello teacher or a repair technician should be able to show you how to properly clean your instrument. Here are some tips just in case.
When It’s Time to Replace
Obviously, some string damage can’t be ignored. When one of your strings break, you’ll need to replace them, which is why it’s a good idea to carry around a spare set of cello strings. If the set you’re using isn’t brand new and one string breaks, it’s a best practice to replace them all. You don’t want one string to sound different than the others and, if one breaks, some of the others are sure to follow. Here’s more tell-tale signs your strings need to be replaced:
- Tuning issues– sometimes you’ll be tuning at home or with an orchestra and you won’t be able to get it quite right no matter how many times you try. This is a great indication that your strings have gone false and that you’ll need to replace your strings ASAP. Once a string goes false it won’t have the same focused tonality of newer strings.
- Sound quality- if you can’t achieve the same resonance you normally do or are having trouble with vibrato, you may be running into these issues because your strings need to be changed. If you find yourself needing to use more pressure to create sounds, this is also a good indication that your strings need to be replaced.
- When in doubt, switch them out- if you can’t remember the last time your strings were replaced or are feeling generally dissatisfied with your current strings, switch them out! Strings aren’t super expensive, and sometimes a fresh set of strings can make all the difference. If you do switch out your strings while they’re still in good condition, hang onto them–it’s a good idea to have a set of “stretched out” strings handy in case a string breaks during a performance.
Buy Cello Strings at Music & Arts
Finding the right set of cello strings can be a complicated process, which is why so many parents and musicians turn to Music & Arts. With over 150 stores across 24 states and more than 150,000 products on our website, you’ll find one of the largest selections of orchestra accessories at Music & Arts. If you have questions about the specifics of a particular set of strings, contact us and we’ll be happy to help. With one of the largest product offerings in the world, we offer educator-approved accessories, including a variety of cello strings, from some of the most trusted brands in the industry.
Want more information about the cello? Check out Common Problems with Cellos (& What You Should Do) and Tips & Advice for Cello Players.