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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 there were three main reasons strings went bad aside from the time they were on the instrument.

First is obviously how much use they get. If someone practices 5 hours a day he or she will obviously wear out strings faster than if someone practices 30 minutes a day.

Second, whether the player tended to pound his fingers on his left hand. 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.

The third is the dermatology of the person playing. If a person’s hands sweat a great deal, the strings will corrode. They turn a different color when salt gets into 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!

A helpful hint here is that silver doesn’t corrode nearly as much as aluminum and nickel alloys. If your hands tend to sweat a lot, if at all possible, get a silver D string for your violin, viola or cello. It costs a little more but will last a great deal longer. Also wipe your hands as much as possible.

Put new strings on one at a time. This keeps some tension on the top and will help in keeping the soundpost from moving or falling. Guard against the bridge being pulled forward while tuning new strings up to pitch.

What is the reason for having 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. This causes the bridge to raise upward and lifts the strings too high above the fingerboard for comfortable playing. It also has a negative effect on 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 my 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. There is a negative effect on the tone and can even in extreme cases cause the top or back to crack in the soundpost area. This is an extremely bad occurrence with long lasting negative effects.