How to change cello strings that break in the “line of duty” can be a real test, especially if you are not experienced in it, while it will look so simple to one with experience or a professional luthier.
20 minutes would be all you need to replace all the strings when you finally have the hang of it. However, learning how to change cello strings will be inevitable at some point.
If you are a cello learner or beginner, you’ll gradually appreciate that, sometimes, even though the string(s) may still look immaculately in perfect shape even after a considerable playing time, the truth is, their responsiveness and brilliance is gradually lost.
As such, an average player (playing 2-3 hours daily) will mostly change cello strings, roughly about every 6 – 8 months of playing to restore the crisp sounds.
By this, you get your instrument rid of rosin, sweat and generally germs buildup which slowly affect the instrument, sound thereof as well as your fingers too.
Signs to watch even before learning how to change cello strings,
Before even knowing how to replace cello stings, it’s important to know what to look out for and signal you that, Hey! It’s time to time to, not unless the string breaks without notice.
These include but not limited to:
- The silk winding a top the string displaying extensive fraying. This mainly results from the rubbing on the pegbox.
- Any sign of unraveling of metal winding on the string.
- Challenges with tuning. When the strings go false, it’s almost impossible to quite get the right tuning.
- If playing open strings and notice that bad sound and the wavering pitch. If you aren’t getting the normal sound resonance that you expect, it’s time.
- Eventual need to use extra pressure to yield good sound; could also indicate its time. From the bow hold article, such pressure may lead to unnecessary stress on the hand making playing difficult and uncomfortable.
If you note any or all of these signs, just know it’s time to for your cello strings replacement.
Before replacing the frayed or even broken strings, I bet you’ll start by buying the replacing cello strings. That should be easy but amazingly, it can also be a little confusing task depending on the experience and the information you’ve got. Personal preferences too affect the choosing decision.
Important info’ before buying Cello strings:
By now, you should know that how to change cello strings is not just a single exercise but rather, a wholistic one that includes among others, knowing how often to replace cello strings and what strings to buy. As such, for an almost instantaneous good sound yielding effect on your cello, the gut-core strings are your best bet although they don’t have a long lifespan.
Synthetic-core strings are the most popular of the mid-priced strings, combining great and warm sound with a considerably long life.
However, Steel cello strings definitely beat the two above on longevity with the only big problem being that, getting used to them is considerably difficult to many.
All said though, it would be good to note that, there is never an “ideal string”. It’s only continued sampling and playing that eventually yields the cellist’s and equipment compatibility. For this then, it would be a bonus to know how to change cello strings at your convenience.
Step by step guide on how to change cello strings,
Removing and replacing a string on the cello is not necessarily a nerve wrecking thing. However, you should be at your best just so you get it right and obviously to make sure you don’t break the replacing string.
- Removing the old string;
This is a two-step exercise:
- First, start by loosening the peg of the string you are changing. With your finger, just follow the string run into the pegbox.
With you finger on the string, grab the corresponding peg, and with a reverse twist turn, the peg is loosened, subsequently relaxing the string.
Now, to remove the string from the peg, uncoil it with a gentle upward pull. You can ease the uncoiling by turning the peg as you pull.
2. Second thing is removing the string from the tuner. Just like you’ve followed the string up to the pegbox, run you finger all the way down to the fine tuner on the tailpiece. Loosen the fine tuner and remove the string from the fine tune slot.
- New string placement;
This is a three-step exercise;
- First, push the thread like end of the string through the peg hole ensuring, say half inch protrusion of the string across the hole. Turn the peg, just enough to bend a curve on the string. Pull it out but ensure to retain the curve.
- Now, turn to the end of the string with the bead/ball; in the tailpiece, on the fine tuner cartridge, slot in the ball and ensure it’s properly anchored. This particulary applies for strings with fine tuner.
For strings without a fine tuner, just slot the ball through tailpiece string hole. Thereafter, whatever the string, follow that by lining and pulling up the string with the rivet on the bridge.
The whole point here is the ball must be firmly and securely anchored.
3. Remember the curve bend earlier? It’s now very easy to insert that in the peg hole which is already slotted back into the peg box. Hold the string at the bent part and easily push it in hole and turn the peg for the string to coil round it.
The small string protrusion through the hole should have the wrapping of the string on both sides of its end to guard against slipping back.
- String alignment;
Slowly turn the peg to the direction opposite of loosening. Your aim is to eventually have the string safely and sufficiently tight as possible; not overly tight or too loose.
While at that, to align with bridge, ensure that the string passes over bridge and slots on its designated indent on the bridge.
Further, next after aligning the string with the bridge, it’s to align it with the nut. The string should strike through the groove as it exits the peg box.
Pencil graphite applied on the grooves of the nut and the bridge enhances a smooth string slide, reduces fraying and eventually improves tuning consistency because the string doesn’t get stuck in either of the grooves.
You can’t claim to know how to change cello strings if your fail to properly align the string both at the nut and at the bridge before completing the tightening.
This results to the strings having uneven spacing and subsequently, the string’s anchorage is compromised; and ultimately, both the tightening and tuning are compromised too.
- Finally stretch and tune
It’s time to now tighten the string after the alignments above. This you do by gently but continuously turning the peg while plucking to gauge the pitch. However, as you tighten the cello string, be watchful that it doesn’t snap.
Additionally, ensure to push the peg inward to its place while tightening. However, if in your efforts to securely adjust the string, the peg movement is too tight or slipping out, you can use a pencil’s graphite or candle wax (rosin is good too) respectively to either loosen or increase stickiness of the peg.
You could also equip yourself with a peg compound loosely referred to as “peg dope”, available in music instruments and orchestra accessories stores near you.
Cello strings replacement “DONTS“
When replacing cello strings, it’s good to note these precautionary measures
- Don’t start the string replacement exercise without safety glasses
While it’s not a daily occurrence, once is a while, because of the somewhat high tension on the strings, the strings do break and may fly as a result.
That split second of the string breaking and eventually flying is enough to hit and damage your eye before your eye reflexes respond. Safety is paramount.
- Don’t have more than one string removed at any one time.
Even if you are changing all the strings, never remove more than one string at any given time. This is mainly to ensure that the soundpost/bridge doesn’t collapse or get any slight misplacement.
The order of changing doesn’t really matter.
Further, the bridge must always remain upright/straight. A little leaning, shifting or even falling off when tightening the pegs will automatically call for nothing less than a Luthier’s hand.
- Don’t ‘over tune’ the string beyond the pitch it’s supposed to be tuned to.
If you truly know how to change a cello string and tune it, you know that you just need to tune the string(s) to pitch. Period!!!
In anycase, a few days or rounds will eventually stretch it to just fine point and not risk “killing” the string’s elasticity which is essential for tuning stability and that fine tone.
- Don’t immediately discard the old string(s).
It’s advisable to keep it for a backup for that day a string will break without notice. The good thing about it is that, it’s well stretched out.
However, like that spare wheel in the truck of your car, it’s ideally not meant to take so long before being replaced with a new one.
With this guide, you surely now know what to and what not to do and can confidently say that you know how to change cello strings.