This guest post is brought to us by Betty Fisher, who takes lessons from Casey and regularly attends the Tip Jar Jams.
So it’s New Year’s Eve and I am picking up my banjo for the first time in more days than I care to admit. (Sorry Casey and Murphy. You can kick me later.)
I had gone through my repertoire and have now capoed up to A. I don’t know what happened but somehow things got badly out of tune and I seriously over cranked the first string and it snapped. Scared the bejeebers out of me! (Couple of bad words flew.) So now I knew I had to re-string it. I had bought new strings on the advice of Murphy after the last jam that I attended. She told me if I was the least bit mechanically inclined, I could do it on my own. I am mechanically inclined. Having been a previous surgical nurse, there were many occasions when I had to get a malfunctioning piece of equipment working again in the middle of surgery while a surgeon stomped his feet and yelled, “Just fix it!” Also there is a very embarrassing story (for my husband) about a broken washing machine that he couldn’t fix, but I did in about 5 minutes….but I digress.
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"When should I change my strings?" That's a question we often hear. New strings usually sound better, but there are as many answers to this question as there are musicians. Some things that you can consider are:
1. There's no 'official' time to change strings. I used to change the strings on two guitars and two mandolins every day when we played bluegrass festivals, but Bill Monroe changed his strings once a year-- at New Year's-- and from then on, he just changed them when they broke (which was pretty often, by summertime).
2. Some people like the sound of old strings. Our Cousin David loves the sound (or lack of it) that old strings have, and would probably prefer never to play on new-sounding strings. I think that brand-new strings can sound a bit tinny, myself, but sometimes-- such as when I have a big stage show to play, or a noisy party gig or bar gig where there's going to be plenty of musical stress and challenge-- I'll make sure at least that my strings aren't too old.
3. Generally speaking, newer strings make your instrument get in tune (and stay in tune) better. This is because (a) a new string isn't worn from playing and is still about the same diameter from one end to the other, so it "frets" more in tune; (b) the string is not very corroded yet, so it slides through the nut-slots and bridge-slots more smoothly as you twist the tuners; and (c) the lack of rougher, corroded surfaces on the string make its vibrations more coherent so you (or your electronic tuner) can hear the string's note better. Also, new strings (or preferably a day or two old. so they're "stretched" and stable) are usually better for recording, because getting exact tuning, and having the strings stay there, is really critical if you're in a recording session.
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So those are some things you can think about.
Editor's Note: For even more detailed info on this topic, you can see Red's previous post on this same topic.