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Thread: Do flatwound strings go dead?

  1. #26
    Lurkist dhergert's Avatar
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    Default Re: Do flatwound strings go dead?

    Quote Originally Posted by Polecat View Post
    Apart from Thomastik, both the Pyramid Gold and Fisoma Supersolo sets have wound A-Strings, though I'm not sure how easy they are to find in the USA. The european flat-wound strings (including TI) are a different beast from the D'Addarios; they are made of a softer material, and both sound and feel different (I prefer them, and have Fisomas on both my Vanden and Gibson A). If you want to look for a flatwound string to replace the A, .014 - .016 is the range you're looking for; good luck with that
    D'Addario flat tops (EFT74) also have a wound A. I use the flat top wound D and G strings and custom order the treble strings in gauges that are good for the tuning I use.

    I would like to keep strings on mandolins and banjos until one breaks, but if they're kept clean they'll last for decades. To be fair, I do typically keep them past their prime, but I like strings on an instrument all to be the same "vintage" and I don't like them to sound bright. I'm meticulous about cleaning them with a fast-fret type of cleaner. It rarely happens, but if strings get corrosion that I can feel with my fingers, I'll change them.

    I have some banjos with strings on them that are older than my children (the oldest is son is 28 now). Kept clean, they still tune well and really sound quite good (for a banjo). Banjos are always too loud though, so as long as the strings are clean, tone is good and as long as they tune, I'm not too concerned.

    Mandolins on the other hand are always too quiet compared to a banjo, so I am more sensitive (some might say sensible) about changing them. Flat tops are like flat wounds in that they start out sounding somewhat muted. The flat top / custom gauge treble string sets that I use can last about a year with light playing, but if I'm playing them hard and often I can hear the difference within a month or two.

    You really cannot assign a time period for strings going dead. It depends on how hard and how often you play them. I've heard pros say their strings are dead within a week. That's because in a week they play more and harder than most of us do in six months or a year. So it's probably inaccurate to indicate any particular time period that would work for everyone.
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  2. #27
    Registered User Bob Clark's Avatar
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    Default Re: Do flatwound strings go dead?

    Quote Originally Posted by sblock View Post
    1) Old strings loose brightness because they develop microbends at the locations of the frets.

    2) As wound strings wear, they develop some tiny flat spots on their undersides, due to wear (rubbing) at the fret locations. You can often see these shiny spots at the fret locations when you take off and examine an old string on its bottom side.
    This exactly matches what I observe.

    1.) I know when I am approaching the point that I will want to change my strings because I find myself shifting from my usual pick to a much brighter-sounding pick (thinner and more pointed). The strings are losing their usual degree of brightness and I am changing picks to compensate.

    2. I do see those flat spots. Actually, if I keep the strings on far too long, I have occasionally noticed the need for more downward pressure when fretting to get a perfectly 'clean' sound. It was in trying to find the reason for this that I first noticed the flat spots, quite some time ago.

    Thanks, SBlock, for the detailed explanation.

    Best wishes,

    Bob
    Purr more, hiss less.

  3. #28
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    Default Re: Do flatwound strings go dead?

    Quote Originally Posted by dhergert View Post
    ...
    I would like to keep strings on mandolins and banjos until one breaks, but if they're kept clean they'll last for decades.

    ...

    I have some banjos with strings on them that are older than my children (the oldest is son is 28 now). Kept clean, they still tune well and really sound quite good (for a banjo).
    ...
    Mandolins on the other hand are always too quiet compared to a banjo, so I am more sensitive (some might say sensible) about changing them. Flat tops are like flat wounds in that they start out sounding somewhat muted. The flat top / custom gauge treble string sets that I use can last about a year with light playing, but if I'm playing them hard and often I can hear the difference within a month or two.

    You really cannot assign a time period for strings going dead. It depends on how hard and how often you play them.
    ...
    Well, I am not sure I agree with much of this, especially the part about keeping decades-old banjo strings, and year-plus-old mandolin strings. Also, old strings sound dead mainly because they loose their brightness, not because they lose very much in the way of volume. They don't. I think you might be confusing aspects of tone (dullness) with loudness (softness).

    That said, I certainly do agree with you that the lifetime of mandolin, guitar, or banjo strings is mainly dominated by how hard and how often they are played, and NOT by how old they might happen to be. This observation is easily explained once you understand the mechanisms of string aging, which were explained in an earlier post. Of course, for those of us who play our instruments regularly, playing time and the string age are very closely correlated! But it's nevertheless true that some folks are naturally lighter on their strings than others.

    Instruments with strings that don't get fretted (pianos, hammered dulcimers, harpsichords, harps, and autoharps are all examples -- and also Dobros and pedal steel guitars!) can enjoy much longer string lifetimes than any fretted instruments. Again, the reason for this is related to the mechanism of string aging. Because these strings are never fretted, they do not develop microbends (kinks) at the fret positions -- because there are none -- and therefore the metal does not tend to get as worked, and does not suppress the high harmonics. The main bending kinks on such instruments occur at the bridge and nut positions (or their equivalents, that is, at the fixed ends of the strings), and these take longer to develop. They also don't have any intonation issues because the string length never changes. They can lose some lifetime by constant re-tuning, though, which also tends to work the stretched metal of the string. And that's why pedal steel strings go dead pretty fast! (Also, banjo strings with Scruggs tuners, too.)

    All strings can corrode, of course, and this is a third factor, beyond micro-kinks and fret divots, that can cut into string lifetime. I did not mention corrosion earlier because my strings get replaced long before this ever becomes a problem. That said, corrosion can be an issue for some players because either (1) they live in a damp region (for example, near the ocean) or (2) they have acid in their finger/hand sweat that is especially corrosive. This varies a lot from person to person, and I know some players whose hands can eat through strings in no time! Of course, the corrosion issue can be reduced dramatically by using coated strings, or by cleaning them regularly after playing, or by giving them a light coat of oil (e.g., mineral oil) -- or all three of these. But taking good care of your strings in this way will do nothing whatsoever to stop the inevitable wear associated the other mechanisms. Sorry, but cleaning the strings it is not the secret to long string lifetime. All it does is prevent premature string loss by the corrosion mechanism, which is not the dominant mechanism for most of us.

    I'm afraid that the only practical way to get your mandolin strings to last for a year or more is not to play your mandolin for a year or more!
    Last edited by sblock; Oct-13-2017 at 12:59am.

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  5. #29
    Registered User Eric Platt's Avatar
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    Default Re: Do flatwound strings go dead?

    Should be interesting when I start feeling the FW74 on my Breedlove are going dead. I say that because my Gibson A Jr. has had a set of PB lights on and after 6 months the other mandolin player in our band (and my mentor) still thinks they sound too new. Not sure how long he's had his strings on. They are a set of 80/20.

    As to intonation, they are accurate enough with tuned with either a Pederson, a Korg Sledgehammer Pro or Polytune. Am actually using the Korg the most these days. Not sure it's the most accurate of the three. But it settles on mandolin strings the quickest, IMO.
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  6. #30
    Mediocre but OK with that Paul Busman's Avatar
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    Default Re: Do flatwound strings go dead?

    Thanks for the physics explanations. I'd always assumed that decreasing string brilliance was due to skin oils and other crud getting embedded in the windings of the strings, muting them. This is enlightening.
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  7. #31
    but that's just me Bertram Henze's Avatar
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    Default Re: Do flatwound strings go dead?

    Corrosion is the main ageing factor for my roundwound OM strings. Steel and phosphor bronze plus acid - there is some electrochemistry going on. I managed to extend string life from 2 weeks to 3 months with regular cleaning after playing, but had to cut back to 2 months because microbending at the saddle slots sometimes caused the D or A strings to break in mid session in the 3rd month (I hate to do string change under such circumstances).
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