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Thread: How often to change strings

  1. #1
    Registered User Charles Kelley's Avatar
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    Default How often to change strings

    I'm still really new on this instrument and trying to learn. My latest wondering is about strings.

    I've read a lot of information on choosing strings. But what I haven't seen is when I should change strings. I get the idea of changing strings to change the sound or the feel under my fingers. But I figure they must wear out or lose tone. Other than just "you will know it when you hear it" is there any rule of thumb to go by?

    These strings are an order of magnitude less expensive than the strings my son used to buy for his cello. So I figure they don't last as long as the cello strings. But that's just a guess. I certainly don't know.

    Any guidance would be much appreciated.

  2. #2
    Registered User ABrown's Avatar
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    Default Re: How often to change strings

    There's a lot of variables- how often you play, the oils of your hands, what strings you're using, what mandolin you're using, what sound you're looking for, etc. Some people like the jangly sound of fresh strings and others like them broken in a couple weeks. For me it's usually a week before a show, about every 6 weeks, or whenever they start to stop holding tune
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    Registered User Doug Brock's Avatar
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    Default Re: How often to change strings

    I change my strings when intonation of the wound strings starts getting iffy. Any change in quality of the sound is so gradual that I can't go by that, and really the strings look pretty good and still play smoothly at that point. When the open notes are in tune but the fretted notes get farther from great sounding, then I change strings. It's funny, but it's usually a moment of, "Huh, is there something wrong here?" when I'm trying to tune, and then I remember, "Ah, it's been nearly four weeks since I changed these strings."

    SO, if the strings still play smoothly and sound good to you, then there's no rush to change them.
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    Registered User Ranald's Avatar
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    Default Re: How often to change strings

    Quote Originally Posted by Charles Kelley View Post
    These strings are an order of magnitude less expensive than the strings my son used to buy for his cello. So I figure they don't last as long as the cello strings. But that's just a guess. I certainly don't know.
    Cello strings are also much bigger than mandolin strings (thicker and longer). That being said, a luthier told me that the only reason violin strings are so much more expensive than guitar strings, which are also longer and thicker, is that violinists are used to paying higher prices (often more than five times as much for a set of four violin strings, as opposed to six guitar strings). That's second-hand opinion, but I haven't heard a better explanation. Anyway, price seems to be arbitrary, so be happy you're playing mandolin.

    Personally, I change my mandolin strings at least once a year, whether they need it or not.
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    Default Re: How often to change strings

    ABrown is right about the variations affecting changes. Personally, my chemical makeup is such that I have to change strings at least every 6 to 8 weeks. Whatever is in my system corrodes the strings, especially A & E and usually around the 2nd through 4th frets. (We do a lot of country music so C, G and D chords are predominant.) All other things being equal, 6 to 8 months or more is not unheard of.

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    Default Re: How often to change strings

    Sooner is better, but certainly when you have the thought of needing a better mandolin.
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  11. #7
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    Default Re: How often to change strings

    Quote Originally Posted by Ranald View Post
    ... Personally, I change my mandolin strings at least once a year, whether they need it or not.
    Yep, guilty... with an explanation, your honor.

    After a half century of guitar and a decade+ of mandolin, I've come to realize that my finger/skin chemistry is fairly benign and that my fretting touch is fairly light (or at least WAY lighter than some folks) so my strings tend to last longer than, uhmm, my talent. And they lose tone and/or volume so slowly that I don't notice it until doing battle with banjos & fiddles which, in my corner of northern NJ, tends to be mostly in summertime. Thus: more or less annually. Your mileage will probably vary, but this is, at least, some perspective to file away for future reference.
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    Default Re: How often to change strings

    I don’t like changing strings, so put it off as long as possible. What usually gets the lard out is an A string that seems hard to tune (and stay tuned). I understand that the reason strings for my violin cost 7 or 8 times what my mandolin strings cost is that violin strings are under MUCH greater tension.

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    Default Re: How often to change strings

    Quote Originally Posted by RickPick View Post
    I understand that the reason strings for my violin cost 7 or 8 times what my mandolin strings cost is that violin strings are under MUCH greater tension.
    Really?
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    Registered User CWRoyds's Avatar
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    Default Re: How often to change strings

    I usually change strings every week, a couple of days before going to a regular Monday jam.
    If I play a lot it might be quicker than that.
    If I go to two jams, they are toast.

    I tried using coated strings, which should last longer, but still ending up changing strings ever two weeks or so.
    They just start sounding dull after about a week, regardless of coatings or lack there of.

    I recently went to regular non coated Straight Up Strings, and they are pretty nice for at least a week.

    Ever since I got a mandolin with a James Tailpiece I don't mind changing strings.
    It only takes me about ten minutes, so I love getting a fresh set on.
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    Registered Muser dang's Avatar
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    Default Re: How often to change strings

    I usually change my strings when they start to get a darker color and have a little crud on them. For my main gigging mandolin that is about two four hour gigs and two practices. One gig this summer was 100+ degrees and with so much sweat the strings only lasted that one gig. My other mandolin at home gets it’s strings changed only 2x per year because it gets less playing time. I do play it regularly, but at home my hands are always clean and washed and I think that helps preserve the string life. So does wiping the strings down after a gig, not sure if it slows the corrosion or what but it helps them last longer for me.

    I have noticed that if I have my strings on for a long time they seems to get flat spots on the bottom of the strings where they contact the frets. I suspect this is the cause of those intonation/tuning issues with old strings.
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    Default Re: How often to change strings

    I think a violin string is made to a higher standard for several reasons. What makes a string lose the ability for good intonation are the frets. The violin and family have none, so the string is going to last longer. I am a capitalist to the inth degree, I don't agree that a string manufacturer or anyone else can ask and get whatever they ask just because people have to have their product and the item just sells that high. Sooner or later some one will make the same thing just as good or better and sell it for less.

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    Oval holes are cool David Lewis's Avatar
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    Default Re: How often to change strings

    I use monel strings and they last months. I have flatwounds on a gretsch New Yorker which I don’t play much and that’s been about 18 months. Bronze strings for me last about 2 months. If I don’t gig much.
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    Registered User Jim DeSalvio's Avatar
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    Default Re: How often to change strings

    For my style of playing, and with my good chemistry, I get long life out of mandolin strings. I go by how my electronic tuner reacts as I tune up. If I have trouble "locking in", then I swap them out. I play coated Elixirs.
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    Default Re: How often to change strings

    Lately, every three weeks or so. I use Mapes phospher bronze which are coated. I usually attend two three-hour jams a week with a lot of hard chopping, church on Sunday, and 45 minutes of practice on most off days. I start to notice the high end getting dull and sliding on the A and E strings takes more effort. If I notice while at a jam, I find myself rubbing my fingertips on my oily forehead, which gets me through the jam but clearly means a string change is overdue. At $5 a pack and a little practice, it takes about 20 minutes.
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    Default Re: How often to change strings

    Well … it's about tone and tunability … the frets wear the strings , the tension fatigues the metal , the PH of a players skin can literally attack the metal alloy of a string. All these factors cause wear and tear on a string. That isn't addressing a players personal style and touch which is an X factor. So every week to every few months is normal. I have no PH problems and I play fairly hard on my mandolin. I general change strings at about sixty playing hours +/- . If I have an "important" musical moment coming up I put on a new set. I do like a James tailpiece and for those with other tailpieces a capo performs the same function of holding the string. Play on! R/
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  22. #17
    Registered User Tom C's Avatar
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    Default Re: How often to change strings

    All depends on how they feel. Tone is secondary as most audiences cant tell the difference. Looks like a mandolin, sounds like a mandolin. -Unless its a prominent gig.

  23. #18

    Default Re: How often to change strings

    I use Thomastik flatwounds, which last appreciably longer than other strings. I also have pretty benign finger chemistry, which helps. My mandolin has old style small frets and I play with a light touch, which lessens the fret dents. This all combines to let my strings last a long time. The flatwounds are expensive, so I change them only when needed.

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    formerly Philphool Phil Goodson's Avatar
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    Default Re: How often to change strings

    Quote Originally Posted by Mandoplumb View Post
    I think a violin string is made to a higher standard for several reasons. What makes a string lose the ability for good intonation are the frets. The violin and family have none, so the string is going to last longer. I am a capitalist to the inth degree, I don't agree that a string manufacturer or anyone else can ask and get whatever they ask just because people have to have their product and the item just sells that high. Sooner or later some one will make the same thing just as good or better and sell it for less.
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    Registered User Charles E.'s Avatar
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    Default Re: How often to change strings

    After reading the thread here I realize that the last time I put on a new set (D'Addario monel med) was last October. The strings behind the bridge are heavily tarnished. I guess I'll be changing strings tomorrow.

    As to violin and other bowed instrument strings, they are a completely different animal from plectrum instrument strings. They are more expensive to produce, use more expensive components and have to be able to be bowed to work for the player.
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    Default Re: How often to change strings

    Quote Originally Posted by ABrown View Post
    about every 6 weeks, or whenever they start to stop holding tune
    Same here. I keep them til I notice they seem harder to tune. Usually around 6 weeks depending on how much I'm playing.

  28. #22
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    Default Re: How often to change strings

    I play / practice everyday usually for a couple hours each day on a variety of styles. I gig at least 4 - 6 times a month if not more. Rehearsals for various bands usually 2x a week at least as well.

    I've found based on my playing habits and etc, I need to change strings usually for 1 of 4 reasons:

    1) If a string breaks (unless the string breaks a day or so after I changed the rest, which is really rare) I replace all strings as soon as possible. If I'm playing a gig or at a festival, I may wait until after that's over. Only replacing the broken string leaves an uneven feeling and sound IMO.
    2) The day before an important gig where I want to sound bright. It's important to play with the new set on a little to help stretch them out and avoid tuning issues though.
    3) If there's any wear on the strings that I can feel with my fingers. I use coated strings (elixir's generally) which, when the coating eventually wears, creates gaps in the strings which lead to intonation issues and etc)
    4) I feel the strings sound dull or lack sustain. Honestly, I rarely get to this point on my mandolin because usually one of the first three things happens. That's a different story on other instruments that I play less frequently (like guitar).
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  29. #23
    Dave Sheets
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    Default Re: How often to change strings

    Wow, lots going on in this discussion!

    String life seems to be a kinda complicated topic, it seems to depend on a lot of factors. The tone definitely changes over time, usually not in a good way. I can get a long time out of strings, often 3 to 6 months on a guitar or mando, my body chemistry doesn't seem to produce much corrosion, and I switch instruments a lot. Eventually they no longer hold tune much at all, you really don't want that happening on gig, or even a jam. I'm cheap enough to tolerate some tone loss, but the tuning failure is unbearable. I replace strings on my "main" gigging instruments more often than the other instruments, just as matter of costs. String costs are another side effect of MAS/GAS.

    Fiddle strings (and cellos, etc) vary greatly in the complexity of their construction and their tone, more than mandolin strings seem to. The pricier violin strings have complicated synthetic cores, with mixtures of ornate synthetic fibers, and outer layers of metal, assembled in complex ways. It does seem to matter on a violin. There are various steel core violin strings, some solid, some braided or cable forms. Different people like different fiddle strings, and the instrument, bow and strings all interact in complicated ways. It sounds sorta dumb (like a $35 mandolin pick ), but if you can hear this stuff, and it matters to you, you do it. My preferred violin strings, Thomastic Reds, are about $60 a set, and last about 6 months, with some tone loss I'm sure. But, they make me sound a bit more tolerable on fiddle, so there you have it. It is possible to get $5 violin string sets, if they work for you, awesome.

    Thomastic also makes some awesome electric bass strings, "Jazz flats", that cost about twice what most electric bass strings cost, but they last well and sound like nothing else. Some sort of complicated layering of materials is involved. Sigh. Flat strings do seem to last longer than round wound though, so that's some sort of savings.
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    Default Re: How often to change strings

    Quote Originally Posted by Philphool View Post
    You must not buy gasoline.
    Yeah I buy gasoline, price anywhere from $1.50 to $3.00 a gallon in the last year or year and a half, proves my point. If they could sell it for whatever they asked, why does it go up and down? Supply and demand and competition.

  31. #25
    Registered User Eric Platt's Avatar
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    Default Re: How often to change strings

    I like the sound of older strings, so often put off changing strings as much as possible. Plus, I rotate between 4 different instruments, so that can help. Although two of them have been getting the lion's share of playing so far this year.

    That said, I try to make it about 3 to 6 months between string changes. Same with guitar. There's something about a Gibson with old strings on it that just speaks to me. And as long as the volume is still there, don't feel the need to change.
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