How to Change Your Strings
Maybe you have broken a string and are just putting on one new one. But there are times when you may wish to change the whole set. Here's how to do it.
For re-stringing the violin (I cringe, too when putting on a new string - they seem so "snap-able!") it is best done one at a time. Don't take all the strings off at the same time because it is the pressure of the strings on the bridge that hold the sound post up. That's the little stick of wood that's inside the fiddle.
With the A and the E string, a small plastic tube is usually included on the string near the bottom of the string. This tube goes over the bridge, with the top edge of it just meeting the point where the string crosses the bridge into the bowed area. As you remove each old string take a soft lead pencil (graphite, actually) and rub the point on the notch in the bridge and the notch at the top nut. It keeps these points lubricated so that the string will move easily when tuned. Raise all the fine tuners at the tailpiece all the way. You'll use these later after you have brought all the strings up to pitch from the winding pegs. New strings generally stretch - some types more than others, so expect them to go flat and need retuning for the first day or so. What I do to “break them in” is to play the heck out of my fiddle for that first day and give them a good workout not minding if they go out of tune.
Start with the D string. Then go to the A then to G then to E. Wind the strings on neatly at the top, kind of poking your fingernail in to keep the windings straight. Tighten each one just enough so you can pluck it and get a sound, then go to the next one. As you bring each string up to pitch, you'll find the ones that you already thought you tuned, will go flat in pitch. That's because the pressure on the bridge is gradually becoming stronger and squishing it down. It is nothing you can see, but it is happening. Tune all the strings most of the way and then let it sit for a while - an hour, a few hours, a day, overnight - and tune it again. Steel cored strings are more stable than synthetic or gut but there still is a certain amount of stretching that takes place. It is the stretching that makes the pitch go flat. So you retune, but each time it takes a little less effort. In a few days they are very nice and stable and stay in tune pretty well.
Keep your old strings with your fiddle just in case you break one and need a quick replacement that will hold its pitch. It is also a good idea to break in a new set of strings but before they have worn out, replace them with another brand new set of the same make. This way you have a good string that is not past its prime tone, but is already broken in and will not go flat. Very important if you're a performer, contest player, or are planning to record a piece.
This article was previously published in the newspaper of The National Oldtime Fiddler's Association
Copyright Beverley Conrad 2001 All Rights Reserved
For reprinting this or any other work on this site, please contact me.