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What happens to strings?


Bill Merkel
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Can't help but jump in on this one.  In  the interest of full disclosure, I sell  a string cleaner that I have developed. It is a dry non-abrasive pad. For the reasons discussed I am not a proponent of "wet" cleaning. An issue with dry wiping with a cloth, that has not been mentioned, is that the cloth will flatten the rosin and leave a thin layer on the string which only thickens in time. So the key is to use a non abrasive material that will remove rosin down to the original string surface. If a cleaning is to return the string to (as close as possible) original condition, it is also necessary to clean off the underside of the string.

.... cheers, Mat

 

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There are more kinds of pollution representing different risks. (Actually three of them in my opinion)

1. Rosin pollution on the bowed area. There is no any permanent risk, until it would be cleaned by solvents such an alcohol e.t.c. But the temporary effect is unpleasant, since it make the response worse. The pollution does not stick around the whole string and many people are surprised that it does not fix at the very top. If you would cut the string, the rosin pollution would have the shape of clown haircut. So you need to scratch both sides of the string (close the the top) by any sharp object, that is softer than aluminium but harder than rosin. I recommend using a credit card edge (and cloth afterwards). I own up, that I do clean my strings by my nail edges. It might be considered as a bit "peasant" method, so I do not recommend it officially :-)

There is no any reason to clean the rosin very completely. Firstly, a new one rosin sediment will be created by the first bow stroke, secondly the response of the totally clean string used to be neither ideal. This is also, why the mechanic cleaning make more sense.

2. The common dirt coming from our hands, on the fingerboard area. (The dirt we accumulate on the skin during the day, skin debris, human fat, e.t.c.) The dirt comes inside the string and it causes the sound degradation. This is the permanent, non-reversible process according to our research and experience. It happens even with metal core strings (where we can hardly blame the core elasticity drop). In my opinion, there in no any chance to avoid it except of prevention (trying to keep our hands clean).  Metal strings cold be washed by dipping intensive ultrasonic bath theoretically, the open winding of the synthetic core strings closes by removing them from the instrument. I do not believe such methods would be worth trying. 

3. Salt and some corrosive acids in human perspiration. It affects aluminium and hydronalium strings mostly. Only a small part of population faces this problem significantly. But there are guys that destroy every violin A string in three weeks completely due to massive corrosion. It is related to diet we eat in great extent, but genetics has been also involved of course. We recommend them to switch to warm sounding metal core A strings such a Russian style A, since they are wound by the stainless steel of the food quality. 

Salt is easily removable even by clean water fortunately. I have to admit, that cleaning the fingerboard area after every playing session may help to slow down the corrosion a bit. The most of the  sweat remains on the top of the string of course. But it is only a slight remedy, since the salt inside the string is doing its job permanently, even if we do not play the instrument for weeks. I only recommend doing this for those, who face the aluminium corrosion problem.

I would like to highlight that I am not interested in shorting the life of the strings we sell to you (by discouraging you cleaning them by solvents here  e.t.c.). On the contrary, we are permanently trying to improve their durability. If I would be able to make a violin string set, that would last ten years in its original sound quality, I could charge USD 1000 for it. I would be happy to be first offering such product, there would be no any risk for us. 

Answering the very original post, no any violin string has been designed to keep its original sound quality for two years time I am afraid. In my opinion the only we can do (and also we should do) is offering strings of the best possible quality for the affordable price in order to allow customers changing them regularly in time and recycle the worn strings in order to avoid wasting precious metals. 

 

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On 17/12/2017 at 8:31 PM, Bohdan Warchal said:

3. Salt and some corrosive acids in human perspiration. It affects aluminium and hydronalium strings mostly. Only a small part of population faces this problem significantly. But there are guys that destroy every violin A string in three weeks completely due to massive corrosion. It is related to diet we eat in great extent, but genetics has been also involved of course. We recommend them to switch to warm sounding metal core A strings such a Russian style A, since they are wound by the stainless steel of the food quality. 

Dear Bohdan,

Thank you for the interesting information.

One of my children does seem to dissolve his A strings.  I am currently trying an Avantgarde A.  Assuming one hour playing per day (optimistic) and no obvious corrosion, how long should this string last before I should routinely change it?

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On 12/17/2017 at 4:31 AM, Bohdan Warchal said:

1. Firstly, a new one rosin sediment will be created by the first bow stroke, secondly the response of the totally clean string used to be neither ideal.  

2.  Answering the very original post, no any violin string has been designed to keep its original sound quality for two years time I am afraid. 

1.  Very possibly the response of a totally clean string may not be ideal but the over all performance of the string after cleaning surely has to be better than before.

2.  I agree with no violin string has been designed to keep it's original sound quality but I found one that may fit the bill.  I have and use an approximately 45 year old Red Label Super Sensitive steel D medium? string that just seems to keep going and going - I wish it would die down even more than it has over the years.  Not the best choice but is barely tolerable for use.

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There would not be much sense to change only one of the synthetic core strings, you are right. The only excpetion could be if somebody facing aluminium corrosion issuse would insist on using synthetic core A strings. If he (she) would destroy A string in three or four weeks time, changing D and G with every other A string change could make sense. 

On the other hand, the durabilty of our metal core A strings (Russian, Avantgarde) is several times longer than any synthetic core string. So any frequent change might be waste of money. The winding is almost completely resistant to wear, so you can play it at least 3 times longer as any synthetic core set as for tuning issue. Some of our customers have played them even for  many years time. 

Sound quality drop is something else of course. Although I believe the "sound quality durability" is much better with Russian A strings too, we can harly give you any definite advise. The sound quality drop sensitivity is very individual with every single customer and even with every single instrument. Sometimes it is no easy to define the moment when the string(s) should be replaced, since the string sound deterioriation process used to be quite slow and gradual. The very same as with the tires on your car. If you drive on dry roads only, you can wear your tires almost up to zero. Should you like to be able to drive in rainy weather on highways safely, you will need to change the tires much sooner...

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On 12/17/2017 at 5:31 AM, Bohdan Warchal said:

There are more kinds of pollution representing different risks. (Actually three of them in my opinion)

1. Rosin pollution on the bowed area. There is no any permanent risk, until it would be cleaned by solvents such an alcohol e.t.c. But the temporary effect is unpleasant, since it make the response worse. The pollution does not stick around the whole string and many people are surprised that it does not fix at the very top. If you would cut the string, the rosin pollution would have the shape of clown haircut. So you need to scratch both sides of the string (close the the top) by any sharp object, that is softer than aluminium but harder than rosin. I recommend using a credit card edge (and cloth afterwards). I own up, that I do clean my strings by my nail edges. It might be considered as a bit "peasant" method, so I do not recommend it officially :-)

There is no any reason to clean the rosin very completely. Firstly, a new one rosin sediment will be created by the first bow stroke, secondly the response of the totally clean string used to be neither ideal. This is also, why the mechanic cleaning make more sense.

Excellent, common sense approach.  I keep a .000 steel wool pad in my shipping trunk.  You don't need to "scrub", just whisk it gently across the string.  Leaves the string "clean enough", because as you say, the next bow stroke will leave more rosin on the string!  I wouldn't ever use my thumbnail because I don't like anything on my hands when I play, and rosin, being sticky (!) would be incompatible, in addition to being just generally icky (a scientific term...).

Full disclosure: I used to change my strings way too often until I discovered how many things are involved in proper set-up, all of which have an effect on tone.  A well-known (and didactic!) professional cellist once told me he keeps steel strings on his Vuillaume for years at a time, and can detect no degradation of sound.  I don't know his method of rosin renewal, but in any event, I subsequently came to believe his results.

Naturally, if a string has to come off repeatedly for some other work, (like maybe fine adjustment on the nut) I like to replace that string.  I believe the worst thing for a string is to be continually wound up to tension, let down, wound up, let down, wound up, etc. repeatedly.

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On 12/21/2017 at 10:56 PM, FoxMitchell said:

Is there any research on the effects of taking strings off instruments or loosening them (for when work is being done on the instrument, for example) and tuning them again? How does that affect tone/longevity?

As mentioned in the post immediately preceding yours, it can have some negative effect. In particular, If I am going to put Helicore strings on a violin I am setting up, I will put used strings on while doing finishing nut work..two or three times, just tuning the Helicore D strings  up and down  half a dozen times has caused them to break, and that's before ever even playing on them.

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On 22. 12. 2017 at 5:56 AM, FoxMitchell said:

Is there any research on the effects of taking strings off instruments or loosening them (for when work is being done on the instrument, for example) and tuning them again? How does that affect tone/longevity?

We have tested repeated detuning of our strings up to 10 times. We have not noticed any significant tone quality change. However, keeping an old string set for temporary use for set-up jobs is not a bad idea. Particularly if you are not sure about the perfect condition of nut grooves. 

Although we do not warn our customers of string detuning, there is on exception. Our synthetic core cello "A" strings are extremely fine and therefore fragile and sensitive to handling. We recommend avoiding any excessive handling of this particular string version http://warchal.com/technical_support/cello_synthetic_a_string_care.html

 

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On December 21, 2017 at 11:56 PM, FoxMitchell said:

Is there any research on the effects of taking strings off instruments or loosening them (for when work is being done on the instrument, for example) and tuning them again? How does that affect tone/longevity?

I keep used sets of different strings around so I can try them on new instruments, so one set of strings may have been played on 3 or 4 violins for 1 or 2 weeks each. I have not noticed any particular degradation of the strings in doing this, and it allows me to test different strings on different violins without having to buy new sets.

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