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Alma

Do strings go "dead"?

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Please comment on this player's take on string replacement:

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"A well-made string lasts for as long as you want it to last. This meme about strings, going "false," or "dead" is just people responding to a kind of benign mob mentality, fed in no small measure by the string retailers. If the string retains its structural integrity, i.e., the winding is tight and pure throughout its length (and particularly near the bridge), there is no reason to change it. There are a zillion causes why we might hear differences in the sound of a string over the course of four seasons, not the least of which being we just think we hear a difference due to a sinus condition or ear wax. Changes in the instrument, humidity, bow, room acoustic, rosin, bridge or soundpost, and many other factors all are far more likely to be the cause of the string ills some people here like to believe in. It's sad, since all you're doing is spending money you don't need to, and enriching the dealers and manufacturers. Nothing against those folks; they have to make a living too. But it's wonderful when normal, obvious marketing efforts fit so perfectly neatly into our neuroses about our sound and why it might not be as good as we want."

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Is the notion of a dead string a neurosis?

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Bob Battey, who entered this post at the ICS (Internet Cello Society) earlier today, is a very experienced provessional cellist. So he was talking about cello strings. In my opinion, much of what he wrote here is right on the "money."

But strings do go "dead" in the sense that they play and sound "bad." This is often due to a rosin accumulation on the strings, perhaps even between the windings, so that the motion of the vibrating string is changed. If this is the case, the string can be cleaned (on the instrument) to completely eliminate the problem. I think strings hsould be wiped clean (until they no longer squeek) everytime an instrument is put away.

The bow can also accumulate melted rosin that does not interact with the string in the normal way - and this can change the sound too.

Andy

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For guitar strings, this is an obvious effect. No rosin... just finger grease, oils, acid, whatever, as I understand it. I don't see why other instrument strings should be immune, unless they are encased in plastic.

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Doesn't sound too far off base to be honest, but try telling this to a violinist whose E string has completely corroded! :)

Every 2-3 months I'll take all the strings off of my cello and run them through an ultrasonic cleaner for several cycles. I suspect that this cleans the strings literally from the inside out, although I don't have a microscope to prove it (nor would I ever care to anyway). My G, D and A strings are only a few months old (had to find my sound ya know), but my hand-me-down Spirocore C has got many years of use on it and every time I give it it's "bath", it comes out shiny and sounding as loud/bright/punchy as a brand new Spirocore. Same goes for the other strings.

I can't say I'd recommend this for gut strings. :)

post-24915-1254755125_thumb.jpg

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Please comment on this player's take on string replacement:

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"A well-made string lasts for as long as you want it to last...

Obviously the first sentence is not true. Strings break and the windings wear and unravel. How long you want them to last has no effect.

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In my experience the lower cello strings can last quite a few years, but certain brands clearly deteriorate more than others. In particular Larsen A and D are made with a proprietary dampening material in the core, this material seems to break down over time and the strings start to sound 'rangy' or too metallic (too much high frequency) There is a huge difference when they are replaced.

I suspect certain nylon (perlon) etc strings can get stretched out and feel quite flabby.

But I don't recommend chucking out a set of strings because they are a year old.

Oded

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I recall reading about a professional orchestra violinist who hadn't changed his strings in years. Presumably he would replace one if it broke.

Personally, I don't change strings until they stsrt to rot. I'll be changing a set of mandolin strings soon, as the bronze-wound ones are going green over the bridge. But usually I just buy another instrument. So far I have well over a dozen mandolins, and numerous violin-family instruments, a stack of guitars. I find it's easier to just change instruments at this stage; if I were reduced to one of each, I suppose my response would differ.

I assume this is my punishment for my laughing at a co-worker a few decades ago; she had a flat tire on her car, so she sold it. "I just can't trust that car any more" she explained.

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I suspect certain nylon (perlon) etc strings can get stretched out and feel quite flabby.

But I don't recommend chucking out a set of strings because they are a year old.

Oded

And here is an interesting thing that is maybe good for acoustic thinking:

I wrote Woodhouse about increased density of states (normal modes) from perturbing a system with an extra "force" or mass distribution. He said it would not increase number of states but that they would change spacing and that sort of thing.

He ws 100% right, of course. But still I had an objection which I kept to myself. Relative to a constant frequency range, states (normal modes) could go in and out of it. (density of states could change, for a spectral region.)

He gave the example of an "ideal" string.... Not perfect new string, but the thought experiment of a string with no stiffness or diameter. He mentioned that adding stiffness causes the high overtones to become anharmonic. (they get further apart)

Actual strings probably are adjusted by experiment to sound good: perhaps the existing stiffness etc are balanced against the fact that the bridge end is not fixed (as in an ideal thought-experiment string) .

Uneven stretching likely is going to make the overtone series change. Almost certainly for the worse. I was always told that strings went false because they stretched in a differential manner. Now, that idea makes perfect sense.

I agree that unused old strings likely do not go bad. At leat synthetics. I can see old gut strings taking on humidity in a bad way, gut is very sensitive to humidity. Oils and dirt from the hands are worse in gut, maybe worst of all in the old pure gut. The corrosion in a steel E may be less or more than differential stretching in any string. But I would bet it is less significant.

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For guitar strings, this is an obvious effect. No rosin... just finger grease, oils, acid, whatever, as I understand it. I don't see why other instrument strings should be immune, unless they are encased in plastic.

For guitar strings I've noticed that the string is always stiffer before I place it on the guitar. Once I take the string off it is not as stiff. Now I only remove the string once it has become very dead. It may be that the string looses stiffness when it is first strung up (due to the windings no longer touching each other?) and I just don't notice because I never remove a fresh set of strings from my guitar. I think the flexibility of the string plus the things you list are probably all at play with guitar strings going dead. Violin strings are always very flexible compared to guitar strings so I think this would change them less over time.

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Clearly strings that are metal core, as most cello strings are, will last a long time, maybe years. For us violinists, with synthetic and maybe gut core strings, it's a different story.

A string being "dead" is a subjective judgment of the player, a metaphor, since it was never biologically alive to begin with. Over the course of months the timbre of a string and its response do change, gradually and slightly. At some point where the player no longer likes that evolving timbre or response, the string is "dead," undesirable for that player. That point might be different for different players.

Going "false" is less of a subjective judgment. At some point a string does not want to tune easily to perfect fifths with its neighbors or needs constant adjustment to stay in tune. You can spend your time constantly adjusting the pitch or you can buy a new string; your choice. That string is old and false and needs replacement if you want to maximize your use of time.

The original post notes that if a string has its structural integrity, it's ok. That might be true, but if you're pushing and sliding your fingers and bow against strings 4+ hours a day, will that string's dimensions and structure remain exactly as it was at the point of install? Probably not over a period of months. So, contrary to the claim of the original post, the structure (or at least the dimensions in various places) of the string will change even if there's no obvious, visible change, and that change may be tonally for the worse, as far as the player is concerned.

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Clearly strings that are metal core, as most cello strings are, will last a long time, maybe years. For us violinists, with synthetic and maybe gut core strings, it's a different story.

The original post notes that if a string has its structural integrity, it's ok. That might be true, but if you're pushing and sliding your fingers and bow against strings 4+ hours a day, will that string's dimensions and structure remain exactly as it was at the point of install? Probably not over a period of months. So, contrary to the claim of the original post, the structure (or at least the dimensions in various places) of the string will change even if there's no obvious, visible change, and that change may be tonally for the worse, as far as the player is concerned.

Exactly. The problem with a loss of structural intergrity in a violin string is that you are rarely going to see it, or rather by the time you do, it will be long gone, e.g., broken or separated wrapping over the nut or bridge. But how is someone going to see other kinds mechanical fatigue that might be occuring on the microscopic level?

However, the interesting thing is, this is the easiest phenomenon to test experimentally. Simply take old strings off and put new ones on. There is not a shadow of doubt that synthetic core strings depreciate in tonal quality over playing time, and perhaps to a lesser extent over time while strung up, but not in use.

Anyone who cannot hear a difference when replacing very tired strings with new ones likely has comprimised hearing.

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However, the interesting thing is, this is the easiest phenomenon to test experimentally. Simply take old strings off and put new ones on. There is not a shadow of doubt that synthetic core strings depreciate in tonal quality over playing time, and perhaps to a lesser extent over time while strung up, but not in use.

Anyone who cannot hear a difference when replacing very tired strings with new ones likely has comprimised hearing.

Exactly right, GMM. You do hear the difference between the sound of the old set and the results of the new set, even when replacement is by the same brand.

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