So, I changed strings on my mountain dulcimer and I must say it was refreshing. It was something akin changing out of dirty clothes, cleaning up and then putting on clean clothes. These two things which we should regularly change have much in common. Admittedly we probably should not change the former as much as we change the later. And we all agree that one should change both with a certain degree of regularity. But why is it that most people have no problem changing clothes but yet are so reluctant to change strings? It comes down to this: If one refuses to change both, then both will stink. It is undeniable that changing ones strings drastically improves the quality of sound coming out of the instrument. Granted, this may be a different story with other stringed instruments, but I doubt it. I have heard mandolin and guitar players make this same remark. I know nothing about other stringed instruments. Do banjo players change strings regularly? Who knows?
Mountain dulcimer players will all tell you that it truly makes a difference. Why? It all has to do with “metal fatigue”. What is metal fatigue? This definition comes from “Wikipedia” [an undisputed source of truth.]” “In materials science, fatigue is the weakening of a material caused by repeatedly applied loads. It is the progressive and localized structural damage that occurs when a material is subjected to cyclic loading. The nominal maximum stress values that cause such damage may be much less than the strength of the material typically quoted as the ultimate tensile stress limit, or the yield stress limit. Fatigue occurs when a material is subjected to repeated loading and unloading.” This applies to our instruments because the strings are made of metal [usually]. Playing the string is exactly the type of “repeated loading and unloading” referred to in the article. And as we can all attest, there are sometimes when a string will break for no apparent reason.
Remember that the string is essentially a wire. Most any one knows what happens when one takes a wire and repeatedly bends it back and forth. First it will become much more brittle and stiff and much harder to bend. Lastly, it will eventually break. On a greatly prolonged scale this is what happens to those strings that you so stodgily refuse to change. They become howsoever slightly stiffer. You may not even notice the difference in the feel but the sound becomes obviously duller. And, there are other factors like rust and corrosion that will affect your strings. So how often should one change their strings? The answer is, “yes”. When one changes their strings they will notice an obvious improvement in sound. And that is how one knows that it was time to change their strings. Seriously though, it is really determined by how often one plays their instrument. If one plays it often, they will notice the sounds gets duller sooner. If one hardly plays at all then there is little to cause a change in the structure of the string so it won’t be dull. Right? Wrong. Do not forget the constant stress placed on the string by its tension. This plus rust and corrosion will also make it dull sounding.
So here is the answer, play your instrument often and change strings every few months or so but especially when you notice it sounding dull.
Don’t stop changin’.
Gary Bell VP