Strings (all metal and metal covered
makes) should be kept as clean as possible to get the best from them.
When putting the instrument away always wipe the strings with a soft duster.
However, this won't prevent a gradual build-up of rosin and dirt on
the under-side of the strings at the bowing point. Remove this with a cloth and
a minimal quantity of alcohol (any form) being very careful not to touch the
varnish of the instrument with the impregnated cloth. (Don't worry about the
fingerboard; you can clean this the same way when you change a string.)
When changing a string, only ever do one at a time - take the
opportunity to clean the exposed section of fingerboard and check that the
bridge groove is sufficiently lubricated. This is also a good moment to service
the peg if required.
Attaching a string is straightforward but surprisingly, many
teachers don't give their pupils clear instruction on this. Most strings (e.g.
Dominant) have ball ends, which can attach to an adjuster or directly to the
tailpiece, the slots above the holes retaining the ball. Sometimes a hole isn't
large enough to insert the ball from the top in which case thread the top end
of the string through from underneath the tailpiece.
Covered-gut strings have a knotted loop end (e.g. Eudoxa).
Don't use this type with adjusters; they should attach directly to the
tailpiece. They do not need to be double looped onto the tailpiece; attach them
in the same way as one attaches a ball end string.
Some strings come with a felt or cloth ring, which if it is
required should be inserted through the tailpiece hole with the knot or ball,
thus protecting the tailpiece.
Some strings, especially metal varieties are supplied with
bridge protectors, usually a small piece of plastic tube through which the
string has been threaded. It is usually only necessary to use these with the
thinner strings (violin E; viola and cello A). If the bridge has a vellum (a
small piece of clear, very hard skin) fitted over the top string groove, the
additional bridge protector is unnecessary and can be taken
E strings on violins need a special mention; these are almost
always wire and usually used with an adjuster even if the other strings aren't.
Ball end E strings should only be used with the forked lever type of adjuster,
the loop end variety with the single lever type.
Once the ball or loop is installed at the tailpiece the top end
of the string can be inserted into the hole in the peg so that it protrudes
from the opposite side by about 0.5 cm or less depending on the amount of room
in the peg box. Then, while gently taking up the slack on the string with one
hand, start to wind the peg (clockwise on the treble side, anticlockwise on the
bass side), the first half winding to the side of the string hole away from the
peg handle, continuing on the other side of the string hole towards the peg
handle so that the protruding string end is wedged between the first two
windings of the string. Once the string is up to tension, the last coil is
close to-but ideally not quite touching-the side of the peg box. This may take
more than one attempt if you are not used to doing it but once it has been
mastered, the process usually only takes a minute or so.
If you should ever need to remove more than two strings at
once, make sure the right peg gets the right string!
When do you change a string? It is certainly essential
once a string starts to fray or the winding starts to unravel as a string in
this condition can easily scratch the fingerboard, which in turn can damage the
next new string. Apart from that it will probably buzz and could snap on you.
Most strings, especially all-metal ones, rarely fray or snap.
If they do with any regularity, have the instrument professionally seen to as
the fault is likely to be in the instrument, not the strings and will be easily
The other occasion to change strings is less definable.
With age and use they lose their resonance and tonal quality but this is a
gradual process so it often goes unnoticed.
If you are a regular player it is a good idea to have a regular
changing schedule to avoid this problem. Your string supplier should be able to
advise you on this as the playing lives of different makes, vary. Also bear in
mind that the thinner strings (As and Es) wear out sooner than their fatter