Changing the strings on a string instrument

Changing strings on a violin, viola, cello or bass

We get a lot of questions about changing strings or restringing an instrument and so have put together some advice in this blog. As always, just get in touch if you would like any further support.

We are always happy to help change strings in our Edinburgh shop.

How do I know when it’s time to change my strings?

  • If you see any signs of wear/ damage such as a kink in the string or the metal winding coming loose.

  • When your instrument starts to sound a little lacklustre.

  • If any of the strings sound ‘false’: when you play the string, it sounds as though you can hear two notes instead of one.

  • When you are having to tune much more frequently. As the strings age, they lose some of their strength, meaning that you will need to tune more frequently. This is a great early indicator that the time to change them has come!

  • Before a big concert, but not too close! If you have something big coming up, we recommend changing your strings about one or two weeks beforehand. This gives you that vibrant, ‘new string’ sound but gives the strings time to settle in. Planning string changes around your concerts should help to avoid any broken string drama during performances and avoid the nightmare of a brand new string that won’t stay in tune on the day.

Should I change the whole set at once?

If you see any signs of wear or damage, you can get away with only changing the affected string. This is also true if one of the strings is false.

We suggest you change the whole set once the strings start to degrade with age. This is particularly important as tension can creep in to your playing when trying to force more sound out of tired strings.

Why do strings break?

There are three main reasons why strings break:

1.       A build-up of rosin and oil from your fingers forms on the strings over time, attracting dust and weakening the string. We recommend wiping the strings with a clean, lint-free cloth after each time you play to prolong the life of your strings.

2.       When the string is wound too tightly. It’s an easy mistake to make, but stretching the string higher than its intended pitch can cause it to snap. This also puts your instrument at risk! If you are new to tuning your instrument then we recommend the use of a digital tuner or a tuning app to ensure that the strings are tuned correctly.

3.       If worn or badly cut, the grooves on the nut (at the very top of the fingerboard) and the bridge can damage your strings. If you find that you are having to replace one string very frequently, take a look at both of these parts. If you can see any roughness or any grooves which look deeper than the others, seek the advice of a qualified luthier.

How do I change my strings?

Lie the violin flat on a clean, soft surface. A kitchen table with a clean tea towel or piece of kitchen roll on top would be ideal.

Change the strings one at a time. Keeping the tension on the other strings will ensure that the bridge and soundpost stay upright. To make life a little easier, you can use the pegs to slightly lower the pitch on the other strings: no more than a semitone or so!

Remove the old string by turning the peg towards you until the string is loose enough to pull out through the hole in the peg. After this you can remove it from the tailpiece: ball end strings can just be pulled out whereas a loop end E string will need to be unhooked from the adjuster.

1.       Check that the bridge is straight and that both feet are flat on the belly. Gently adjust if not.

2.       Feed the ball or loop end of the string into the tailpiece.

3.       Then feed the top end of the string through the hole in the peg, letting no more than about 1 centimetre come through. Slowly turn the peg away from you, using your finger to guide the string towards the outside of the peg box.

4.       Keeping your finger on the string, turn the peg until the string is fully wound onto the peg. You will feel the string tightening a little as the string comes onto the peg.

5.       Repeat the process for as many of the strings as need replaced and then bring the full set back up to pitch.

6.       Whilst you change the strings, the top of the bridge often gets pulled slightly towards the pegbox. Check if your bridge is straight and gently adjust as necessary.

How often should I change my strings?

Strings are a little like shoes: the more you use them, the sooner they will wear out! As a very general rule, we would expect that a student or professional playing for hours a day would need to replace their strings every couple of months, whereas someone who plays only a few times a week should expect to get at least 9-12 months from their set.

What strings do we recommend?

Each instrument and player is different! We are big fans of Tonica strings for student instruments as they offer a great sound for the price. We’re always happy to discuss our opinions on suitable strings: just get in touch if you’d like to chat.

Bear in mind that gut and gut core strings will need to be replaced far more frequently.

How much does it cost to restring my violin?

Again, this depends on your instrument and budget. The Tonica strings which we suggest for student instruments start at £35.50 for a full set of violin strings. We also sell budget Astrea strings which start at £17 for a violin set, as well as a wide range of professional-quality strings. We do not charge for putting strings on an instrument.

Further information

We stock a range of strings in the shop and are always happy to make recommendations tailored to your instrument and preferences. Do get in touch if you would like to discuss this or if we can help with anything else.