Last week, Gary and I changed strings on all nine of the club’s dulcimers. This week, I’m changing strings on three of my personal instruments. So, I thought maybe I’d talk to you about how to change your strings this month!
Why do you need to change your strings?
You might hear musicians say that their strings are “dead” – it means they are old and don’t sound as crisp and bright as they did when they were new. If you start having trouble with tuning or notice that the intonation of your instrument seems a bit off, it is likely old, dead strings that are the culprit. Steel strings also rust – that’s a sure sign that they need to be replaced ASAP! Your instrument will sound better and be easier to play with new strings.
How often do you need to change your strings? It all depends on how much you play, how much your hands sweat, and how exposed to nature your strings are. Some people “kill” a set of strings in a couple of weeks. I change mine every 3-4 months, depending on how much I’m playing. I recommend changing strings on all fretted instruments at least once a year. Hammered dulcimer and autoharp players won’t need to change them as often, but those strings eventually need to be replaced too!
Can you change your own strings?
YES! You can. You can also take your instrument to any music store that deals with acoustic instruments. All acoustic, fretted, stringed instruments have essentially the same process for changing strings. I know for certain that Senseney Music in Wichita can do it for you. I am also happy to help you with a string change if you are nervous to do it yourself.
What tools do you need to change your strings?
The only thing you absolutely have to have is a pair of wire cutters. I also find that having a pair of needle-nose pliers is helpful. I usually polish my instruments each time I change the strings, too. My wood conditioner of choice is “Howard Feed & Wax”.
What strings should you buy?
This paragraph is mountain dulcimer specific – for other instruments, ask around! First, you need to assess whether your instrument needs loop-end or ball-end strings. This is the end that connects at the tail-piece, not the end that goes into the tuning pegs. Then, you determine what string gauges to get. I prefer heavy-gauge strings for my instruments, but I usually use lighter-gauge strings for beginner instruments.
The higher the number, the heavier the string. These are the gauges I recommend: Melody string: 0.010- 0.014 Middle string: 0.012-0.016 Bass string: 0.020- 0.027
The bass string is usually a wound string. You can get nickel-wound or phosphor bronze-wound. Nickel-wound strings have a brighter tone with more high frequency overtones. Phosphor bronze-wound strings have a richer, warmer tone with more low frequency overtones—they are what I prefer. You can also get round-wound or flat- wound strings. I prefer flat-wound because they are less squeaky.
Where do you buy your strings?
Again, any music store that deals in acoustic instruments will carry some string sets. You can usually build your own set if you know what gauges you are looking for. If you need loop-end strings, look for banjo or electric guitar strings (if dulcimer sets aren’t available). I usually order my strings directly from McSpadden Dulcimer Shoppe or FolkCraft. These stores can help you put together the perfect set for you and your instrument.
Finally, I posted a video on Facebook about exactly how I change strings.
Now, go change your strings! You’ll be glad you did!
-Erin Mae, VP