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String Selection, Installation, and Care

D'Addario Bowed Strings

String Selection

There are many characteristics to consider when selecting the best string for an instrument. Each string has its own unique characteristics. An understanding of these characteristics will make it easier to select the string that best matches your instrument, your playing style, and your personal preferences.

Sound the nature of sound is very complex and difficult to describe in words. Despite the complexities, we have attempted to provide some guidance by using the descriptive words clear to rich, and warm to bright.

Bow Response is the time it takes for the string to produce a steady tone when the bow is pulled across the string. Smaller diameter strings respond quicker to the bow than larger diameter strings.

Break-in Time this refers to how quickly a string will stabilize in pitch and sound after it has been put on an instrument. Steel core strings tend to stabilize the fastest. Synthetic core strings take much longer to stabilize, while gut takes the longest.

Stability how well the string stays in tune over the course of time. String stability is affected mainly by temperature and humidity. Steel core strings are the most stable, gut the least. Tuning stability is also affected by instrument stability since wood expands and contracts. Although steel core strings are extremely stable, they are very inelastic. Therefore, any change in the instrument will change the pitch. A synthetic core like Zyex is extremely stable with tuning because it changes very little with temperature and humidity, and has sufficient elasticity to respond to instrument changes without changing pitch.

Durability how long the string will last. String wear occurs as a result of both mechanical wear and corrosion. A string may become unusable because it may break, or the sound may change significantly. Some strings are more fragile than others. Violin A strings, which are typically wound with aluminum outer windings are most susceptible to the wrap breaking since the aluminum is thin and soft. Larger strings (such as cello strings) tend to last longer than smaller strings.

String Installation and Care

Care in mounting strings will extend life and maximize performance. The principal hazards are binding and buzzing, both of which can be eliminated by careful attention to the grooves in the top nut. Grooves should fit the string diameters at the bottom and be well lubricated with soft pencil lead. The edge toward the fingerboard should be square and definite to provide positive termination for the open string. Excessive width at this point may cause buzzing or intonation difficulties. The edge toward the pegbox must be rounded downward, especially toward the closest peg, to prevent binding that might cause the string to break when being brought to pitch. In fact nowhere in the path of the string should there be any sharp bends: all edges and corners at the tailpiece, bridge, top nut, and pegs should be chamfered (rounded) where they come in contact with strings.

To prevent friction that might also overstress the string, the upper ends of the strings should lead directly from the nut to the pegs without crossovers or rubbing on the sides of the pegbox. The last turn of the string should lie directly on the peg and not be crossed over another, for the same reason. It is not necessary to tie modern strings onto pegs; the silking will prevent slipping if the first turn is crossed on itself. The following turns should lie neatly side by side.

Full-size strings should not be used on small-size instruments; the silked ends are made especially flexible because sharp bends in the playing length can cause breakage, especially in the thicker strings. Strings for small instruments are also made to different tensions to compensate for the shorter playing lengths.

On steel-core strings, bridge protector sleeves should be used when provided unless the bridge notch is already covered with parchment. The material used in DAddario bridge protectors serves to keep the string from binding in the soft wood of the bridge but does not degrade the tone or power.

Rosin buildup in the bowed area must be prevented to maintain good tone and intonation. Daily wiping with a clean dry cloth will suffice. If buildup does occur, rubbing alcohol will clean it off, but great care must be taken that no liquid touches the instruments varnish.