How To Tune And Change Violin Strings
One of the most common maintenance issues and repair requests we receive is how to replace violin strings that have snapped. It’s easily done, just tighten a bit too far and snap! It’s gone. Thankfully though, this is a really easy thing to prevent or fix.
With a little knowledge in violin anatomy and the range of strings, you can easily get to grips with tuning your violin and can dramatically reduce the risk of snapping or overtightening your strings!
Why Do Strings Snap?
If you’ve found yourself with a broken string, chances are it most likely snapped either during tuning or after extensive playing. Of course there are a whole host of reasons a string will snap, but one common reason we often see is because the string was made too tight while turning the peg, or that the string was tuned too quickly. Tuning the instrument is a delicate process and should be handled carefully.
If you have a child using the instrument and they’re very young, it’s highly advisable to have the teacher tune their instrument for them, however, this isn’t always going to be an option – so it’s time to get learning!
How To Tune A Violin
This is a really easy thing to do. You’re going to need either a piano, or a clip-on-tuner along with your violin (obviously).
A violin’s strings are tuned to G-D-A-E, with the E string being the thinnest and highest pitch string. As it’s the thinnest, the E string is the one that often breaks the most!
Simply clip the tuner onto the scroll of the violin, and pluck one of the strings gently. The tuner should read the note that the string is currently playing – you’ll then need to adjust the fine tuners in order to get to the right note. If it’s really far out, use the tuning pegs to approximate, by pushing in and turning at the same time to go sharper (higher), and loosening the sting by relaxing the peg to go flatter (lower) in pitch. You can then use the fine tuners again (little black/gold circles next to the string) in order to fine-tune to the exact note!
If you’re unfamiliar with some of the bits and pieces mentioned there, here’s a handy diagram of the violin’s anatomy.
Should I replace just one string or the whole set?
This is another really common question that we get from many people looking to fix their string.
Strings can come in two different types – a nylon core, or a synthetic (often steel) core. The difference between the two is in the tone, and each brand of string will have a range to choose from, from a bright, pinging sound to a warm, richer tone.
As a result, it is generally advised to have a whole set of the same string on the instrument – otherwise, as you traverse across the different strings of the instrument, you would have a different tone. This can be done deliberately by an advanced player to achieve a desired effect, for example if the player desires a warmer tone at the lower register they may use a different material G string.
This also sounds very obvious, but do make sure to get the right size string for your instrument! If you get a string that’s too long, you’ll end up having issues tuning the instrument because the space in the pegbox is very limited. A string that’s too short won’t stretch far enough across the fingerboard and the soundboard of the instrument!
Which Violin Strings Should I Buy?
There’s a plethora of brands and strings out there to choose from, and it’s really up to personal preference. For a beginner, we highly recommend the D’addario Prelude or Ascente strings. These are great for starting players as they’re a clear upgrade in tonal quality from any factory strings for a very affordable price. They are also very durable and forgiving to the player, the great thing about these strings for a beginner is that they are constructed to be only mildly affected by weathering and humidity – ensuring a long life!
For more advanced players, we think that the Dominant string is perfect. This semi-professional level synthetic string is highly regarded as great quality for money. It’s often considered the industry standard reference for this type of string, as the tone it produces is fantastic in terms of blending in very well with other sounds. The sound is clear and warm, and is a very realistic representation of how a tradition gut string would be!
High level players with a view to performing on a regular basis may want to consider something like the Larsen Virtuoso strings. These strings are incredibly high quality and produce a beautiful, pure tone. They’re also handmade in Denmark! Available in two tensions, medium and strong, these show incredible string response and deliver a richly nuanced sound with exceptional volume. The Virtuoso strings are made using carbon steel, a unique synthetic multifilament core, and are wound with both pure silver and aluminium flat-wire. The attention to detail and craftsmanship in this product is exceptional, and it shows in the tonal quality that is produced
Many players also choose to have a full set of “backup” strings on hand, just in case their primary set snaps during a performance or orchestral practice. These strings are often less quality than the initial set, however still something that won’t ruin the soundworld of the instrument. If you’re looking for something like this, we would recommend a set of Pirastro Tonica as inexpensive strings that offer great volume and tone.
Electric violinists should look for a set of strings with a steel synthetic core as these will respond in a better manner to the pickups on the instrument than a more traditional nylon core! I would highly recommend the D’addario Helicore as fantastic strings that are very suitable for this, as they’re specially designed for electric instruments. These cost around the £50 mark but are both durable and produce a very whole, rich sound.
So I’ve got my strings… what next?
If you don’t feel comfortable fitting your own strings, at Millers we train all our store team to be able to perform a basic restring service. However, fitting your own strings can be a very self-rewarding process and isn’t as tricky as it might seem. In a full set of strings, each string will be a different colour to indicate pitch, and it’ll say on the pack which string is which.
It’s important to do each string one at a time otherwise the bridge will collapse. Even if you’re replacing the whole set, I recommend to only take out each unwanted string one by one so that you don’t have to worry about resetting the bridge too heavily afterwards.
We tend to start with the G string as it’s the thickest string and therefore less likely to snap. Each string should have a ball end which should fit snugly into one of the fine-tuners on your instrument, or for a higher end violin, into the appropriate hole of the tailpiece.
From here, thread the string through the holes in the tuning peg and turn it as if to tune the instrument, tightening the string. I do recommend to be tidy with this as it will only make your life more difficult (as well as look less aesthetically pleasing) to undo work later. Make sure to push the peg further into the hole as well as turn, or the string will come undone when you let go!
Additionally, take care that the string is resting in the notches on the nut and bridge of the violin. Repeat this process for each string, and then tune up when you’re finished.
Your bridge may need a slight adjustment after you’ve fitted the new strings. This is really common and very easy to do, simply lax the strings slightly and make sure the bridge is standing up straight and not wonky or tilting forward or backwards.
I’ve got a Viola, can I use Violin strings?
Unfortunately you can’t! As a viola is a much larger instrument than even a full size violin, you can’t use the same strings. However, picking strings for viola and even cello follows much the same concept as violin – you’re looking for the tone you want to achieve, and which material the string is made of will determine that. Fitting strings to the other string family members is also exactly the same process! With cellos, I do suggest laying it down on the floor flat as it is a little more of a heavy duty job. Strings can help a player to individualise their sound – so try loads, and find the perfect one for you!
We hope this guide to violin tuning has helped! Happy playing!