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How can I tell if a string goes bad?

Always use good quality strings. Cheap strings can make the best violins sound terrible. Even if they don’t break, strings should be replaced after a certain period of time. Old strings are lifeless, false and dull sounding. I have found that there are three main reasons why strings go bad.

1. Prolonged use

How long strings will last first depends upon how much they are used. If someone practices 5 hours a day, they will obviously wear out their strings more quickly than someone who practices 30 minutes a day.

2. Extreme force while playing

Does the player tend to pound his fingers on his left hand while playing? Nobody has ever shown that pounding fingers improves the tone or the intonation. You can stop the string by pressing it against the fingerboard or you can use a tremendous amount of force. There is absolutely no difference in the tonal quality. Extreme force will take its toll in the strings.

3. Sweaty hands

The third factor that affects the lifespan of strings is a person's skin. Sweaty hands will corrode the strings. They turn a different color when salt touches them. This causes the string to deteriorate very quickly. It can be easily observed. Just look at where the fingers fall in the lower positions and compare the color to the upper reaches on each string. I had a friend at Juilliard whose hands sweated so much he bought A strings by the dozen!

Helpful Hints

  • Silver doesn’t corrode nearly as much as aluminum and nickel alloys. If your hands tend to sweat a lot, get a silver D string for your violin, viola or cello if at all possible. It costs a little more but will last a great deal longer. Also wipe your hands frequently.
  • Put new strings on one at a time. This keeps some tension on the top and will help prevent the soundpost from moving or falling. Guard against the bridge being pulled forward while tuning new strings up to pitch.

Why should I have summer and winter bridges and soundposts?

In warm and humid weather, the tops of string instruments tend to swell, which causes them to push the bridge upward. A raised bridge lifts the strings too high above the fingerboard for comfortable playing. It also negatively affects the tone. A lower bridge is necessary here as it becomes very uncomfortable to stop the strings with the left hand.

In cold weather with less humidity, the exact opposite occurs. The top of the instrument contracts, thus lowering the bridge. The strings then become too close to the fingerboard resulting in buzzes and a negative change in the tonal quality.

If the soundpost was fitted during the cold weather, it may become too short for summer use when the top expands. The tone will become fuzzy and weak when this happens and the post will tend to fall. Conversely, if it was fitted in warm weather it may be too long for winter use when the top contracts. This negatively affects the tone and in extreme cases can cause the top or back to crack in the soundpost area.

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