I have read that the rule of thumb recommends I should change my strings every six months, and since I am coming up on the six month mark since I purchased my Fiddlerman Concert Violin, I decided to look a little further into this subject.
Upon further reading, I have found out that the rule of thumb popular about changing strings is not always the best recommendation to follow. Every player and set of strings is different and these factors need to be taken into account.
Like car tires, violin strings have an average use span. With a car tire the average use span depends on a few factors like original tire quality, the age of the tires, driving habits, and road conditions. The same is true with strings. When to change strings is dependent upon how often one plays, playing style, care of the strings, and the effect one’s hands have on the strings.
Many experts agree that a set of violin strings have an average life span of about 180 hours give or take, depending on the brand and type of strings, so it is important to track playing time with a set of strings. If the average of 180 hours is taken, it would mean about 60 minutes or 1 hour of playing a day over the course of six months.
The materials that make up the strings is another factor. Synthetic strings are not as vulnerable to oils and sweat from fingers as are steel fabricated strings. Salt and acid transferred from fingers will degrade strings over time. Clean, dry hands can help to lengthen string life. Dirt and rosin buildup can also cause strings to wear out faster than normal. Frequent fluctuations in temperature and humidity can also shorten string life. Playing intensity, the pressure of bowing and fingering, also plays a factor.
How to make an assessment about when to change Strings?
All the above is good information for a beginner like me, and there are even more variables to consider for more advanced players, but what indications can I look for that will tell me it is time to change my strings?
Increased tuning difficulties is one thing to consider. Constantly having to tune strings or having to make many adjustments to achieve the right pitch can be a sign that strings are at the end of their life.
Having to increase the pressure with the bow or fingers to achieve playability, good resonance, effects, or sound quality in general can be an indication it is time to change strings. Do the current strings sound dull?
Dirty, grimy or dingy strings. Compare the present strings to the new set waiting to be used. Do they look somewhat similar, or does the present set pale in comparison to the new set?
When Changing Strings…
When the decision is made to change strings, there are practices that can extend the life of the new set. It is a good practice to use just a bit of pencil lead (graphite) to lubricate where the strings make contact with the nut and bridge grooves. This helps to avoid damaging the windings when tuning. A good hand washing before playing to remove perspiration, oil and dirt will help to keep these substances from being transferred to the strings. Using a good, clean, microfiber cloth to wipe the strings down and remove rosin makes strings happy and helps to minimize damage not only to the strings but to the body of the fiddle as well. I also have a String Cleaner that is very effective in cleaning residue off my strings, although I probably don’t use it often enough.
In my first six months, I know I have not yet played 180 hours. While I practiced every day for about an hour during the Winter and early Spring when I first began, the Summer, which comes with greatly increased work-related responsibilities, has deeply cut into the amount of practice time I have each day with some days seeing no practice at all.
I am guilty of not always washing my hands before each practice, and I now know I may have unnecessarily shortened the life span of my present strings. I also am guilty of not wiping my strings and fiddle down after each session.
Living in the Northeast, fluctuations in temperature and humidity levels are quite common. And, I know I tend to overdue my pressure with both my bow and fingers.
Weighing these factors, I have decided to change my strings at this point. I have already purchased a new set of Fiddlerman Synthetic Core Violin Strings. These are the same strings that came with my fiddle when I purchased it.
There are so many factors to be taken into account when considering a string change, even more than I have listed here. I can see why so many follow the rule of thumb and just change their strings every six months.
Here is a Fiddlerman video I found demonstrating the proper way to change strings quickly and efficiently.
So, what about you? Do you have other factors that help determine when to change your strings? How often do you change your strings?
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