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Choosing Strings: Installing Strings on Your Instrument

Installing Strings

How often should you change your violin, viola, cello, or double bass strings? How do you know when to change your strings? Most string players change their strings about every six months. Although the string may still appear to be in good shape, over months of playing, strings gradually lose their brilliance and responsiveness. Investing in new strings every six to eight months will help your instrument consistently produce its best sound. Of course, if you see a bit of the metal winding on the string beginning to unravel under your fingers when you play, or extensive fraying of the silk winding at top of the string from rubbing on the pegbox, or hear a false and wavering pitch when you play the open string, you'll also know it's time to change that string.

How do you change your violin, viola, cello, or bass strings? Some players prefer to have a luthier install new strings after having the set-up checked and adjusted. If your instrument is well adjusted, with pegs lubricated properly, you can certainly install a new set of strings yourself. When changing an entire set of strings, it is important not to remove all of the old ones at once. If you do, you may lose the proper placement of the bridge, and the sudden loss of tension on the instrument's top may cause the soundpost to fall down (requiring a luthier to reposition it properly). Remove just one string at a time, keeping all the others up to pitch. Thread the new string through the hole in the peg, and wind it evenly from the center of the peg to the edge of the peg box. Tighten the string only up to pitch so as not to weaken the string. If a relatively new string breaks after installation, take note of where the string broke, as your instrument may have developed a rough spot at the peg, nut, or fine tuner, which may need correcting by a luthier. Or, if the winding of the string is too close to the peg box wall, it may have been subject to sufficient stress to cause it to snap.

If a peg keeps slipping or sticking, you can remove the peg and apply a peg lubricant such as Hill's Peg Compound to the shiny parts of the removed peg. The product, made especially for pegs, will provide the traction needed for slipping pegs, or the lubricant needed for sticking pegs. Bear in mind that changes in humidity have a significant impact on pegs, causing them to swell or shrink. Players often must push the peg in a bit more firmly on days when the air is dry, or pull out the peg slightly on very humid days. Continued problems with pegs may mean that the pegs no longer fit well in the holes of the peg box. Bring your instrument to a luthier to see whether the pegs need replacing.

After installing the strings, make sure to check that the bridge of the instrument is standing up straight. If the bridge is leaning toward the fingerboard, carefully correct the bridge by using two hands to slowly bring the bridge to a perfect right angle to the top of the instrument.

Next Section: Types of Strings

How To Change A Violin, Viola, Or Cello String

Notes About Strings

  • The most popular strings are the mid-priced synthetic-core strings.
  • Using gut-core strings can warm up an instrument instantly; the Passione brand stabilize in pitch very quickly compared to other gut-core strings.
  • Players often start with the medium gauge or tension of strings (when offered a choice) to see how their instrument responds to the manufacturer's generally balanced tension, before experimenting with different gauges and tensions.
  • If you have remaining questions about which strings might be best for your instrument, please contact us and we will be happy to help!

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Additional Resources

Carriage House Violins

Located in Newton, Massachusetts, Carriage House Violins is the instrument sales division of Johnson String Instrument.

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Whether searching for a job, learning about the "Mozart Effect," looking for a summer music camp, or choosing the right instrument string, you need look no further.

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Johnson String Project

A charitable foundation whose goal is to provide high-quality instruments to children who live in under-served communities and who are participating in El-Sistema-inspired programs in Massachusetts.

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JSI Blog

Information and helpful articles about the music and instruments we love.

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