How to Tell If You Need New Violin Strings

If you’re interested in becoming a violinist, one of the most important things you’ll have to learn is how to properly maintain and care for your instrument. Proper care and maintenance of a violin is crucial to producing the best possible sound as well as making sure the instrument stays in the best possible condition for a long period of time. Improper treatment of a violin can degrade the wood, permanently harm the sound that’s produced, and even cause strings to break at a quicker rate.

How to Avoid Damage in the First Place

To avoid damaging a violin, there are several relatively simple and straightforward things every violinist should be doing. Always keep the instrument in its case, to avoid any accidental damage. Store the violin in its case face-up or on its side, somewhere where it won’t be at risk of falling or having something dropped on top of it. If you live somewhere with a harsh climate, either too hot or cold or too humid or dry, make sure to store your instrument in a climate controlled environment. Always be sure to clean the violin using a soft, lint-free cloth. Wash your hands before you play, to try to minimize the effect the oils in your skin have on the violin’s varnish. Finally, and most importantly, make sure you’re changing your violin strings properly and regularly.

Things That Affect the Longevity of Your Strings

How can you tell if you need new violin strings? Unfortunately, there’s no simple answer. The longevity of your violins strings can depend upon a variety of factors such as each individual string’s composition and material, the environment in which you play, the frequency with which you play, and even the acidity of your sweat. A general rule of thumb for violin players who practice and play frequently is to make sure the instrument’s strings are changed every 3-6 months. Violinists who play less frequently, including beginning student-level playing, may find that their strings last longer. However, even with infrequent play, the tension of the strings combined with humidity and the corrosive pollutants in the air will eventually cause strings to wear out. If you know ahead of time that you won’t be playing for a while, and you want to preserve the strings, it can be a good idea to loosen them by a whole step. Do not loosen excessively, as that may cause the bridge and soundpost to fall down which will require you to take the instrument to a qualified repair technician.

If you’re looking for signs that it’s time to change your violin’s strings, pay close attention to the instrument’s ability to hold pitch for a long duration. Check the strings to see if they appear dirty, grimy, especially worn, or fraying. If you notice the sound the violin produces is dull, then it’s time to change the strings. Some of these changes occur over time, which means that they can be difficult to detect. If it’s been more than a few months since the last time the strings were changed, it’s probably a good idea to switch them out. As you become more experienced with the instrument, you’ll develop a better sense for when to change your instrument’s strings based on the sound, environmental factors, and frequency with which you play.  

Replacing Your Violin Strings

If you’ve never replaced your violin’s strings before, make sure to have your teacher or another experienced professional walk you through the process. The process of replacing violin strings is simple, but it’s important that it be done properly. First, unwind the tuning peg and remove the old string. Next, you’ll want to remove the old string from the tailpiece, taking care not to scratch the varnish with the sharp string end. Then, you’ll want to remove the peg from the peg box and lubricate the worn surface of the peg. Work in the lubrication by replacing the peg into the peg box and turning it back and forth. The next step is the lubricate the nut and bridge with a sharp pencil. Follow this up by threading the end of the new string through the peg-hole. Start winding the string onto the peg. For the left pegs (G and D), you’ll want to wind counter-clockwise. For the right pegs (A and E), wind clockwise. Keep winding until the string is the correct length. You’ll want the string to come just to the edge of the peg box. Keep in mind, if the string rubs against the peg box when the peg turns, it’ll be hard to tune and may break.

The next step is to attach the ball/loop end of the string to the tailpiece. Wind the peg to remove any slack. Make sure that the bridge is straight. The back of the bridge should be perpendicular to the surface of the violin. Bring all strings up to pitch, using either an electronic tuner, pitch pipe, or tuning fork. It’s also important to remember that, over the next few days, the strings will continue to stretch. This means that you’ll have to continue tuning your strings before you practice or perform.

When you’re going through the process of replacing your violin strings, there are several things to always keep in mind. Only change one string at a time, as it’s important to maintain tension over the bridge. If tension is not maintained, the bridge and soundpost may fall over. Use graphite to lubricate the nut and bridge in order to reduce friction with the string and avoid warping of the bridge. When you’re bringing new strings up to pitch, be careful not to over-tune or over-tighten them. Finally, remember to make sure that the bridge is sitting straight throughout the process.

When to Consult a Repair Technician

After a while, knowing when and how to change your violin’s strings will become second-nature. If done properly, you shouldn’t face any serious problems. However, there are a few instances which will necessitate bringing your instrument in for adjustments or repairs. For example, if the strings keep coming out of the peg hole, it may be necessary to have smaller ones drilled. If string won’t stay in the tailpiece, it may be necessary to have a new tailpiece installed. If you hear a buzz when you play after installing new strings, there may be a loose piece of the violin. In each of these situations, if you aren’t sure what to do, it’s best to take the instrument to a qualified violin repair technician. Music stores as well as music teachers are an excellent resource for finding qualified repair technicians in your area.

Think your instrument might need to be repaired? Check out our Repair FAQs.

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