Why not just play till the strings physically break?

Why not just play till the strings physically break?

Ppl have said to replace the string when it starts to crack which one is doing now.

I dont notice any differnet in the sound tho when they are like this.

I like to run things into the ground before replacing them so im not wasting good value.

So why should i replace it before it falls apart totally?

Re: Why not just play till the strings physically break?

What instrument? I only ever change strings on the fiddle when they break. People are always saying to change them every few months, but meh. It doesn’t bother me, so why should it bother anyone else? 🙂

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Re: Why not just play till the strings physically break?

Fiddle here too.I mean they come unwound a bit for me after a coupe months on the A and D string but hasnt affected the sound to any discernable degree. I think when they get really bad they start making a humming rattling noise so i guess that is the time to change them.

Re: Why not just play till the strings physically break?

Who is your audience?

If you’re just playing for yourself then change them whenever you feel like it.

Re: Why not just play till the strings physically break?

I change them once the A or D string begins to unravel and I cannot slide. At $60 for a pack of Dominant strings, why rush replacement. Also, I only change one string every 2 days to help preserve the bridge and not rattle the sound post.

Re: Why not just play till the strings physically break?

People change their strings because they want to sound as good as possible - there is a marked fall off in tone as strings get older. But if you are just playing at home and tone isn’t that important then you can leave them on until they start unraveling. But if you are in that situation of not caring about the tone why use Dominants? why not use cheaper strings which will also last longer?

But you should change them as soon as they start unraveling - a rough, damaged string will wear a groove in your fingerboard very quickly if you keep playing on it.

Re: Why not just play till the strings physically break?

When I was an undergrad getting a degree in piano, I had a classical guitar student friend who said he changed his strings almost weekly. As Mark M said above, he wanted to keep his guitar sounding as good as possible, especially in front of his professor. I don’t play classical guitar so I don’t know if that was excessive or not. (Of course, he played and practiced at least 12 hours a week.) Maybe nylon strings don’t last as long as steel. Anyway, I have a 25 year old hammered dulcimer with original steel strings. I decided to try replacing some strings to make it "sound better," it actually ended up doing the opposite to my ear.

David E.

Re: Why not just play till the strings physically break?

Grandpa Jones was know for his rather aggressive claw-hammer style of playing banjo. During one performance on the television show Hee Haw, he barely got into the song when one of his strings suddenly snapped with a very loud PANG! Being a live broadcast, they had to break into an emergency commercial while Grandpa replaced his string. He came back and sang the song in its entirety without further incident.

David E

Re: Why not just play till the strings physically break?

Mark i nver said I do use dominants :D I use the cheapest ones i can find.

My fingerboard is already down to the wood in two places. Agian not noticed it being a problem. I think it adds character like a good old mist of rosin on the f holes. All part of the tradition! 🙂

Ye buying new stirngs every week is crazy. I think it is commercialism gone made like some people buy a new pair of trainers every week just to look cool.

Im sure they are just being superstitious. I bet they never did A/B testing to see if it actially improves the sound.

Re: Why not just play till the strings physically break?

Arthur, the comment about Dominants was for Hannah Purdy, not you.

Of course you are right, changing your strings is a complete waste of money, just like changing the oil in your car. All those professional fiddlers who change their strings every couple of months really don’t know know what they are doing, and they’ve never thought to listen to their fiddles before and after changing strings to see what difference it makes. And it won’t make any difference to your intonation if you wear grooves in your fingerboard so that the string stops 1/4" in front of where you put your finger.

Re: Why not just play till the strings physically break?

I usually don’t change strings until they break or unwind. However, before I took an exam last year, my teacher noticed that my E string wasn’t sounding good, so he changed it, and it sounded much better.

My A string (a ‘dominant’) on my starter-fiddle (which I keep in play) has now frayed, which oddly enough is the first time it’s happened to me - of course, as a child, I had a gut A-string. I noticed it last week: slivers of metal are all over the fingerboard and even finding their way down the instrument. My teacher is going to change it tomorrow at my lesson, and has suggested changing all the strings for a better sound - it’s been played quite a lot over the three years I’ve had it. Although, like you, I hate spending money unnecessarily, this sounds like a reasonable proposition. Annoying, though, because I like to have a complete set of strings ‘spare’, along with an extra E, so now I’ll have to order an extra set.

This weekend, I tried playing my starter-fiddle, and noticed at once that I couldn’t slide or do much manoeuvring at all on the A string. I went on the internet about it afterwards, and saw advice that I shouldn’t play a frayed string ‘even for two minutes’, as you could damage your hand. Again, this made sense to me, and I’d thought about it as I was playing. They’re wound with aluminium - which is supposedly toxic for the brain & a possible contributor to Alzheimer’s - who wants slivers of aluminium in your bloodstream?

So I think you *do* need to change strings before they actually snap, if they’re going to hurt your hands, your playing, or your sound.

Re: Why not just play till the strings physically break?

"They’re wound with aluminium - which is supposedly toxic for the brain & a possible contributor to Alzheimer’s"

On the other hand, playing music is supposedly a tonic for your brain and a defence against such decay.

Maybe they cancel each other out so.

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Re: Why not just play till the strings physically break?

I think the ears just get used to the sound as the strings age. Sure, the tone does deteriorate a little bit with ever passing 10 hours or whatever, but sometimes it’s not so noticeable. It’s a kind of gradual thing, like when your car’s brake pads start to wear, the braking efficiency gradually decreases, but not usually in noticeable increments - until you have to make an emergency stop and you notice your foot is almost on the floor.

Same with playing - esp if you play the same style all the time - single notes, diddley music, un-varied playing style, same soundpoint all the time - you may not notice the deterioration too much.

However, try punching out a powerful 3-note chord, or chopping, and you’ll notice a big difference very quickly.

It all depends on what you play, and your perception of the tone you are producing.

All that said, some players develop a phobia about changing strings because they have to. It’s more about the actual playing hours on the strings, rather than the overall length of time a set has been on the instrument.

Re: Why not just play till the strings physically break?

Last thing I would want is for my G-string to break in the middle of a performance! 😉

Re: Why not just play till the strings physically break?

Wouldn’t unraveling strings have a detrimental affect on one’s bowhair, as well?

Re: Why not just play till the strings physically break?

My A-string has unravelled where my fingers go - but the metal bits have migrated down the string, so yes, I think it would affect the bow-hair. My string is definitely napoo - no need to wait for it to snap.
Re the music helping the Alzheimer’s - granted, but it still doesn’t mean I want frayed bits of aluminium in my blood. Actually, the saddest thing I ever saw was a Professor of Music with dementia. He could still enjoy his music, but it hadn’t actually protected him.

Re: Why not just play till the strings physically break?

Lol sure if its at the point where they are moving down the string I admit its time for a change. I dont keep them on stubbornly beyond reason.

Re: Why not just play till the strings physically break?

Hmm this talk of aluminium and alzeimers/toxicity. Thanks for giving me something else to worry about. Im already a hypochondriac.

Cat gut only for me now!

Re: Why not just play till the strings physically break?

So you haven’t heard of Catgut Syndrome? 🙂

Re: Why not just play till the strings physically break?

Do you guys complain because you have to change strings every three year or so!? Try playing the dobro! Metal bar sliding across the strings and metal fingerpicks digging in to get the most tone and volume out of the instrument. I have had strings go completely dead after a few hours and if you change the one shut down string the balance is way out so I ended up in periods changing strings every week…But these days I play softer and also a lot less frequent so I change the strings every couple of months. But it makes a huge difference in the sound quality! So then I get to experience the new instrument feeling again.. For a couple of hours!

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Re: Why not just play till the strings physically break?

I guess there’s more skin contact with dobro strings, as you need to damp the trailing ones behind the bar as you play?

Re: Why not just play till the strings physically break?

Mark M, "Professional" being the operative word. I actually hate it when you have to break a new set in, they take a while to get to sounding good and for the tuning to settle. So doing it every few months (unless you are a profession and playing all day every day, on tour a new venue each night etc) would just be a complete waste of time and money for me. Obviously some people like the sound of newly changed strings, but I don’t think there are hard and fast rules for session musicians? You know what I mean?

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Re: Why not just play till the strings physically break?

Although I realise you are coming from a different point of view, being an instrument maker and repairer, 🙂

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Re: Why not just play till the strings physically break?

I think once the string starts to unwind, it is broken. I can think of a couple reasons not to play with strings like this. They don’t stay in tune very well and don’t hold a steady pitch as well. The windings from the strings will give you slivers. I have had it happen to me and it’s not pleasant. The windings will also dig into your fingerboard which isn’t good if you value your instrument, although I suppose you can get those replaced, but new strings are cheaper.

Re: Why not just play till the strings physically break?

It is always a good excuse for a short conversation when a string breaks when one is playing at a session or somewhere else, though this can be a bit unexpected.

Changing strings before they break increases the likelihood of being able to play through a session without a string breaking.

Re: Why not just play till the strings physically break?

Tunes: yes, in my first post I did say that if you’re not fussed about the sound then you can leave them on until they start unraveling, and that probably applies to the guy who sits at the back of a session scratching away with 1/2" of bow on a £40 fiddle as much as to those who only play at home.

But most people do care what they sound like, they will pay large amounts of money for an instrument they like the sound of. And in that case it seems a bit illogical to compromise the tone of that instrument by playing on after the strings have gone dead just to save a few pennies.

Re: Why not just play till the strings physically break?

That goes without saying.

Like saying someone with a rolls royce would ride around on bald tires vs. the guy with the 90’s ford fiesta.

I think its about what is important to you, the pomp and circumstance of it or just getting your hands dirty and playing. I bet the old boys like john doherty didnt give a hoot about it. Im sure his fiddle got all sorts of knocks and bumps as he walked on foot from town to town.

Re: Why not just play till the strings physically break?

I think its the same kind of deal as the issue with playing with incorrect ‘collapsed’ left hand.

Anyway my main purpose of the htread to see if there were logical reasons to change the string which Id overlooked which it seems there was a few Id never consdiered.

Re: Why not just play till the strings physically break?

Just back from my lesson; Fiddle Guru forgot that he’d said he’d change all the strings, so I didn’t remind him! 🙂 However, the A string was a pest - the little ball thingy wouldn’t go through the hole in the tailpiece properly, so there’s a possibility that it may pop out again, probably while I’m playing it on holiday or something.
It’s annoying, because the fiddle was ‘set up’ for dominants, and yet the string-end wouldn’t fit properly.

Re: Why not just play till the strings physically break?

Guitarists and other ‘pickers’ know that a lot of playing kills the tone very quickly - I’ve heard that Martin Simpson, for instance, changes his strings before every performance.
You fiddle players just don’t know how lucky you are ( apart from $60 a set ! ) ……

Re: Why not just play till the strings physically break?

Fiddle players are also advantaged by not having the strings pick up a series of tiny nicks and bends from contact with frets, as with guitars, mandolins, and banjos. The damage happens below the 12th fret (unless you’re playing Classical or Jazz, I guess), which means the string is no longer uniform along its length, and that starts to throw the intonation off. The intonation can start to be a problem even before a string starts to sound tonally "dead," which is the reason some of us fretted instrument players maintain a frequent string change schedule.

There is probably some intonation loss on fiddle too, from differential stretching. But it’s less damaging to press the string directly on the fretboard, and fiddlers will unconsciously make tiny fingering corrections for intonation when needed. So the strings last much longer. On a fretted instrument, we’re stuck with fixed intonation that assumes a "perfect" (i.e. new) string, so changing strings is the only option when the intonation starts to go sour.

Re: Why not just play till the strings physically break?

That makes a lot of sense Conical bore. I have noticed that old strings do not seem to be in tune no matter how many times I tweak them, they just don’t sound right. But if you think about it the constant correction of a fiddle player, plus the vibrato and slides are going to stretch the string pretty well, causing uneven stretching as well.

Re: Why not just play till the strings physically break?

With fiddle strings the problem isn’t so much about uneven stretch, it’s about weight distribution. In order to ring true a string has to be uniform in flexibility and mass/unit length along its length. As strings get older two things happen - rosin builds up at the bridge end, making it heavier, and the fingered area gets worn, making it lighter (when you take worn strings off you can often see a flat area on the back of the string, and in extreme cases the windings get worn right through so the string frays).

Classical violinists talk about two problems - dead strings and false strings, but they are actually different levels of the same problem. To understand what happens as a string ages first you have to bear in mind that when you bow or pluck a string it doesn’t just swing like a skipping rope at the fundamental frequency, it also vibrates in other modes at all the harmonic frequencies, and it is those overtones that give the tone its brightness.

If you lightly touch a vibrating string exactly in the middle it kills the fundamental and what you hear is the first overtone, an octave higher. You’re not separating the string into two parts, they are still coupled, and for it to ring the two halves have to vibrate at exactly the same frequency. If you move your finger very slightly the two halves of the string want to vibrate at slightly different frequencies and they cancel each other out, all you hear when you pluck the string is a pitchless ‘thunk’. This is what happens when a string goes dead - the uneven weight distribution makes the sections of string want to vibrate at different frequencies, killing the overtones and leaving a dull sound that is totally dominated by the fundamental.

But if you gradually move your finger further away from the harmonic point, simulating an even worse weight distribution, you hear some tonality start to come back into the sound - the frequencies of the two string halves are no longer close enough to completely cancel each other out, and you start to hear the pitch of the section that feeds the bridge. But its no longer an exact octave above the open string, it is pitched according to its length. This is the situation in a string that violinists call false - you are hearing the overtones, but they are out of tune with fundamental, making the string sound out of tune regardless of how you adjust it.

False strings were a big problem with gut strings, you quite often got brand new strings that weren’t uniform enough to sound true. With the advent of perfectly uniform mass produced overwound strings classical players tend to regard false strings as a thing of the past, but from this thread I realize that there are people who keep their strings until they fray (and probably never clean the rosin off either) and for them false strings may well still be a problem.

Re: Why not just play till the strings physically break?

Use tungsten strings. Otherwise keep strings clean. Acid in skin corrodes aluminium strings. Keep hands clean as well. Strings that are damaged will buzz eventually. Use 6B graphite drawing pencil in the groves of the nut and bridge before replacing any string. Keep pegs lightly greased as well and that they fit well. In a session, someone may be sitting next to you listening to your strings.

Re: Why not just play till the strings physically break?

I used to change strings every 4-6 months — thinking my sound would be better. In reality, it was compensation for a badly set up fiddle and lack of skill. Decades later, I still buy premium strings (Pirastro Obligato, Thomastic Dominant) but keep them on my fiddles for many years. I file my calloused fingertips with 150 grit paper & wipe the strings with alcohol before playing. My most frequently replaced string is the A due to unwinding and fatigue. Some of my fiddles have 10 or 15 year old Obligatos & Evahs on the G & D strings and sound fine. I believe we fool ourselves into thinking new strings are the answer — I know because I used to.

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Re: Why not just play till the strings physically break?

Hi Jan, you said "use tungsten strings" - but isn’t the tungsten in the inner winding, not on the surface?
In other words, are tungsten strings more durable because of their core, as opposed to (say) synthetic core strings? Sorry, I may have misinterpreted the point of your post 🙂

Re: Why not just play till the strings physically break?

Some confusion here. If used, tungsten is for the winding not the core (it would be too stiff) But I can’t find anyone who lists tungsten for anything other than G strings, I assume it is too heavy to make Ds or As.

Re: Why not just play till the strings physically break?

Hauke, I totally agree with your last sentence. I’ve discovered (through a long process of trial and error) that buying new strings prematurely is simply false economy.

Yes, of course the tone of new strings deteriorates as time goes on, but there’s a lot of psychological stuff attached to this mindset too.

Personally, I usually bow my fiddle hard, even when practicing, so that I know that the tone I am producing is the tone that listeners will hear (even the ones in a noisy pub). My finger pressure is minimal, my fingernails are clipped short, and they never touch the strings. Ever.

I keep my strings clean all the time, so there is no "black mank" from aged sweat, or rosin build-up at the bowing end.

About low-pitch strings being many years old, so what? My low C had been on the fiddle for about 2 years (and I’ve lost count of the playing hours during that time). So, I did what I thought to be the right thing - I bought a new low C. Did it make any difference? Tonally, a very small amount. Financially, a large amount.

So, a lesson learned.

As for some of the really extremely expensive strings, often the gut-core ones - they are often thought of as strings with ‘complex overtones’. Which is fine for the player, who may simply love the sound they make.

However, those complex overtones don’t travel very far, and would certainly not reach the ears of the audience.

Which might explain why many professional players stick to synthetic core strings (or steel/tungsten core).

As a one-time obsessional string whore, I have spent a lot of money on these doggam things that you need to put on your fiddle in order for it to make a noise.

Recently, I had a clear out of my "old" stings - 3 sets of Pirastro Obligatos, 2 sets of Pirastro Evah Pirazzis, 1 set of Pirastro Evah Pirazzi Golds, 5 sets of Thomastic Dominants, 1 set of Pirastro Passiones, 1 set of Pirastro Passione Solos. All successfully sold on eBay for around 25% of the new price, and in each set I sold I included a brand new E string too. Guess what? I got 100% Positive feedback from all of the sellers.

So there we have it.

Re: Why not just play till the strings physically break?

I change strings when they go dead. This is when you suddenly find yourself having to press down really really hard with the bow to get a solid tone out of them. Also noticed by a very tired bow arm. This is usually accompanied by a feeling of "what the heck is wrong with this fiddle? It feels like bowing underwater!" If your strings aren’t dead and aren’t broken, dont worry and keep on playing! 🙂

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Re: Why not just play till the strings physically break?

@Arthur "I bet the old boys like john doherty didnt give a hoot about it. Im sure his fiddle got all sorts of knocks and bumps as he walked on foot from town to town."

I’m fairly sure that John Doherty never actually owned the fiddles he played; they were each loaned to him for a period of time and I believe that, virtuoso fiddler and craftsman that he was, he would have respected and looked after them well (today, most top level classical soloists play on loaned instruments). The sleeve of John’s seminal "Bundle and Go" LP tells us that the fiddle he used for the recording was lent to him by Danny O’Donnell, a highly accomplished fiddler in his own right.

Re: Why not just play till the strings physically break?

I put a silver one on i got off ebay; only cost me 2-3 quid. At first I thought it was a really crap one cos it was making a rattling sound when I first started playing but after a couple days it seems to have smoothed out or I just got used to it 🙂

Re: Why not just play till the strings physically break?

I generally try to buy strings once a year. I teach orchestra in schools, so I usually can tell when strings need changing. My students use steel strings wound with aluminum, so they last a good while. When they unravel, I change them Sometimes they go "false" which is when you keep tuning and tuning and can’t get the correct pitch anymore. The E strings are never wound and they will build a layer of rust, so it is time for a change.
As for changing, their is usually a small hole on the ball at the end. I put the ball through the tailpiece and straighten a paper clip and slide it through the hole. This will keep it from popping back through the tailpiece and when you tighten the string, it will wedge in where it should go. Then I slide the paper clip back out.
hope this helps.

Re: Why not just play till the strings physically break?

Aluminum causing dementia is an old wives tale that has been around a long time. There is no scientific proof of such a relationship.

As for changing strings, I’ve found that in banjos certain strings sound much better than others and that you have to find the right combination. Once this is achieved, then you ahve to decide whether or not your banjo needs some time on the strings to make them sound good according to your ear. I have some banjos that always sound immediately better with new strings and others that need some time wven with the same set of strings. I don’t know if this is true of other instruments but I suspect that individual instruments have their quirks.

Mike Keyes