Replacing the strings on the cello, or cello stringing, is an essential part of our lives as cellists.
Whether we’ve broken a string or the string has simply gotten too old, replacing our strings is a task best not put off.
Here, we will break down the process of stringing a cello, along with some tips to make cello stringing easier.
When to replace a string
If a string breaks, there’s no way to repair it and needs to be replaced. However, it can be harder to tell when a string has simply reached the end of its music-making life.
If a string is noticeably unraveling or discolored, it’s time to replace it (a partially-unraveled string could actually break at any moment).
More subtly, if you have trouble tuning a string or notice that the sound is off in any way (squeaking, whistling or just sounding “dull”), it may be a good idea to replace it.
As to how often strings need replacing, it varies widely from person to person, and from string to string. The lower two strings (the G and the C strings) generally do not need to be replaced as often as the higher two strings (the A and D strings).
Good quality (more on this later) lower strings can last years. But if you’re playing your cello a lot – think hours every day – you may need to replace your A and D strings as often as every few months.
It’s also important to consider the timing of your string change.
If you have the luxury to plan it, it’s a good idea to change your string about 2 days before an important performance, audition or recording to give the new string time to settle.
How to replace a string
You’ll want to change 1, or maximum 2, strings at a time.
Changing all 4 strings at once can stress the cello. Even changing one string will cause the tuning to be slightly destabilized until the new string settles.
You’ll need to plan on tuning more often for a few days to account for this.
Sit down with the cello as if you’re going to play it, but don’t extend the end pin.
You’ll want the pegs to be easily reachable without putting your arms at a strange angle as you might need a bit of strength to install the new string.
Next, remove the old string (if it hasn’t broken or popped off already).
Loosen the peg a lot until the string can easily be pulled out of the hole in the peg, and also pull the string out from where it’s attached near the fine tuners. If the old string is unbroken and still in decent condition, you may want to save it for an emergency.
Remove the string from the package and unwind it. Sometimes new strings are actually a bit dirty so you may want to wipe it with a cloth before you put it on the cello.
Next, fit the end with the metal ball into the space above the fine tuner. Try to keep it there as you guide the cello into the proper groove on the bridge and on the nut.
Flip the cello so that the front is facing towards you, and turn the peg so that you can see the hole.
Thread the straight end of the string into the hole in the peg from the top. There should be almost no string sticking through the other side of the peg (a millimeter or two at most).
Begin to turn the peg away from you to wind the string up.
As you wind, keep checking to make sure the ball end is still securely in the space above the fine tuner and that the string is fitted into the proper notches in the bridge and nut.
Try to get the string to wind cleanly and close together without spaces (you can use the tip of a pencil to help guide the string as you wind).
The string should also not overlap with itself as you wind. When it starts to feel relatively tight, check the pitch by plucking the string.
Once you get close to the desired pitch, begin pushing the peg perpendicularly toward the peg box to keep the string from slipping. If your cello has fine tuners, you may want to tune the string a bit higher than the desired pitch and bring it down with the fine tuners.
For a few days after you put the string on, you will likely notice that it goes out of tune more often than usual, but that should settle.
If tuning with the pegs, always push the peg in towards the peg box as you turn it to help it stay in place. Never move the pegs too fast, especially when putting the string on for the first time.
To “break in” the new string, you can play loudly close to the bridge.
If, after a few days to a week, you don’t feel that the string has settled or it sounds scratchy or squeaky, first try taking it off and repeating the process of putting it on.
If it doesn’t improve, it may be that the string is false or faulty, which does happen very occasionally. New, good strings should improve your sound once they’re settled!
What are the best strings?
First of all, check out THIS article for a nice guide to some of the best cello string choices.
There are many, many options out there and you will need to try a number of options to find the right combination for your cello.
No matter what type and value of cello you have, it’s a good idea to invest in quality strings, like Spirocore Tungsten for the lower strings. These will last you a year or more so they are without a doubt a good investment.
For the upper two strings, you can mix and match. Larsen Strings are generally considered the nicest strings for cello, but some cellos respond better to Jargar or Prirastro strings, which are ever so slightly less pricey.
A really nice and well-matched set of strings can really help improve the sound of your cello, so don’t be afraid to keep trying until you find the right combination!
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