How often should you change your strings?

September 24, 2013

Because I'm often in high-pressure situations, changing strings has become a routine

In our 2013 Accessories supplement (free with the October issue), five leading young soloists discuss the process of selecting and finding their perfect combination of strings. Here, violinist Augustin Hadelich (pictured) tells Pauline Harding why he finds it essential to keep changing the strings on his instrument:

I change all of my strings at the same time, and I do it every two weeks. I started doing this on my old violin – the ‘Gingold’ Stradivari from 1683 – because it’s hard to get it to respond without having very fresh strings. The strings that I use don’t take a long time to break in. If you change them in the evening, they will be good to go the next day. After a couple of weeks, the response becomes too slow for that violin.

On the violin I have now – the 1723 ‘Kiesewetter’ Stradivari – I can leave my strings on for longer. But in the summer, I always change them within two weeks because of the high humidity that there often is – especially where I live, in New York. The East Coast area of the US is incredibly humid. Sometimes I play outdoors, so my strings deteriorate more quickly. I think this happens to all strings, not just to the type that I use.

I’ve had situations in the past when I’ve kicked myself and said, ‘Why didn’t I change the strings before playing this concert?’, because there were moments in the performance when some notes didn’t speak, or things happened that I know wouldn’t have happened if the strings had been newer. Because I’m often in such high-pressure situations, it’s become a routine: I look at the calendar to find a time when there are at least three days until my next concert, and that’s when I change my strings. It’s an expensive habit and I don’t do it if I have a break, of course: if I go for a couple of weeks without a concert, I’ll leave them on for longer.

The last time I broke my E string in a concert was a few years ago, when I was playing Mozart’s Concerto no.5. It’s not usually a piece where I think I’m going to break a string: it isn’t a loud or violent piece. I was in Colorado with the New York Philharmonic, playing outside. Maybe because of the outdoor conditions, the string suddenly broke in the second movement, so I did a switch: I played on the concertmaster’s violin while someone in the orchestra put a new E string on my violin. But when I got it back, the E string was very different. I was almost sorry that I’d switched back to my own violin! I don’t know what the string was, but it had such a metallic sound to it – it made a big difference. There was no time to go offstage to put on my own string: I couldn’t make all these people wait for me.

The audience loved the theatre of it, and it was interesting for them to hear the different instruments and strings. The next time I played at that venue, I changed the E string a day before the concert, just to make sure that it was really new and wouldn’t break again. That would have been just too much!

The 2013 Accessories supplement is available for download NOW, as part of the October 2013 issue. Or click here to subscribe

Photo: Rosalie O’Connor

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