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How to care for your strings like a pro

1 Apr 2021
by Jeroen

The production of strings is complex and requires incredible precision. They are also made from precious materials. As a result, they need to be handled with care, in order to optimise their sound and responsiveness and prolong their life span.

There are various home remedies to efficiently remove the rosin residus from the bowed area. If you ask around among string players, you will hear the craziest things: the use of a bank card, a wine cork, a copper coin, a scouring sponge, vodka as a cleaning agent... It can't get any crazier. Although all of these methods may remove the rosin in one way or another, not all of them are equally good for your strings. In this article, we'll take a closer look at that.

First of all: the most important thing in keeping your strings (and the rest of your instrument) clean, is to clean them with a dry cloth after every playing session, no matter how short. That way the rosin and sweat residue doesn't get a chance to form a hard crust on the strings or penetrate into the core. If you notice that a layer does start to form that cannot be removed easily with a dry cloth, you can switch to other remedies.

  • Alcohol: This is a very efficient way to remove dirt from your strings. You can use disinfecting alcohol or specialised string cleaner. Do not use alcohol that has additives or extra flavours added to it. Apply a few drops to a clean cloth and rub the strings a few times. Any residue should normally come off easily. Then wipe the strings with another, dry cloth. Take care to protect the varnish layer of the instrument, as alcohol can cause spots that cannot be removed! The fingerboard of decent string instruments is made of unvarnished ebony, which can be cleaned with alcohol (provided you do not leave any wet spots).
    Cleaning with alcohol is very useful, but we do not recommend doing it every day, only when your strings cannot be cleaned anymore with a dry cloth. The windings of the strings are not watertight for acoustic reasons. The core of the string does occasionally contain materials that can be affected by alcohol. 
  • A plastic bank card: if you are not directly in the reach of alcohol, you can remove the layer of encrusted rosin by rubbing with the edge of a plastic bank card (or loyalty card from that one shop you haven't visited in years) over the string. Plastic is much softer than the materials the string is made of, so the risk of damaging the string is virtually non-existent. Once you have loosened the rosin residue with the bank card, you can simply wipe it off with a dry cloth. This is a very efficient method and not at all harmful for the string.

Other things you should keep in mind:

  • Do you use gut strings (whether wound or not)? Then it is worthwhile to keep them supple by rubbing them occasionally with string oil. This will extend the lifespan of the string considerably.
  • Friction with the cloth heats up the string. If a rosin layer is stuck on it, the rosin melts and sticks to the string. Therefore rub carefully and make sure that the string does not get hot.
  • Keep your string instrument in a stable environment. Differences in temperature and humidity cause the instrument to de-tune quickly. Thoroughly retuning (and thus stretching) the string each time reduces its lifespan. 

Some other tricks that are NOT recommended because they can damage the strings thoroughly and irreversibly:

  • The use of cork. This pushes the rosin layer even deeper into the windings, together with microscopic pieces of cork. As you can imagine, this is very harmful for the string;
  • Cleaning the strings with steel wool or coins. Although the rosin will be usually removed, the friction of steel or iron makes the string completely smooth. The precisely manufactured surface structure of the string is thus completely lost. This has a significant impact on the lifespan and makes this method not recommended.

One last tip: If you suffer from a lot of dust and the rosin quickly forms a layer on your strings, it might be worth changing the type of rosin. On our website you can find a whole range of rosins, each with specific properties.