How do I choose strings for my kid's violin?
March 28, 2013 9:02 AM   Subscribe

We busted a D-string on my kid's violin and now I need to buy a new one online. Which one to buy? And a complete set or just a single replacement?

The violin we've rented from our violin teacher for our small-for-her-age 8 year old is about 42 cm long in total, so according to this chart it's a 1/8. Does this sound about right? (Yes, this is how clueless I am.)

The teacher is on a vacation and can't be reached, there's no music shop I can walk into and ask for advice (or I just did, but they didn't sell strings or know anything about violins), and my kid's miserable about not being able to play. Help!

The prices in online shops seem to vary quite a bit. As do the materials (plastic, steel, aluminium, silver, unicorn heartstring...). I don't want to buy shitty strings that sound bad. On the other hand, I don't want to splurge on something needlessly pricey, either, if cheaper ones are good enough. Are they? The ones on the violin don't look very high quality to me, but what do I know.

Do I just replace the busted D string, or should I buy an entire set?
How do I choose between all the different kinds of strings?

posted by sively to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (12 answers total)
It's always good to have at least one backup string for when they break, so this type of thing doesn't happen again; I'd buy the entire set. The Es always seem to break more often.

The different brands only make a difference to those who 1) are looking to save money and 2) are professionals. I'd just go with the Dominant brand, which is cheap and generally used by non professionals.

Not sure about the 1/8, sorry.
posted by Melismata at 9:10 AM on March 28, 2013

It's pretty difficult to install a string if you've never done it before, which will be your next problem once you find one. I would recommend searching for a luthier or string shop to sell you a string and install it for you. There should be someone around that handles student instruments at local schools - that would be a good person to visit.
posted by asphericalcow at 9:19 AM on March 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

I highly recommend you deal with Johnson String Instruments in Newton, MA. They deal with kids constantly and really know what they need.

D'addario Helicores are excellent strings that are made in the USA and are very high quality. They have them in all sizes. I would definitely buy a set. Usually if one breaks, the others are pretty worn. The violin will sound a lot better with new strings (it's good to change every 6 months regardless of whether they break or not). So your daughter will be happy.

You can buy online but I would call them because they will have good advice for you.

As your daughter grows, I would advise renting through them. They have small sized instruments and they set them up well. They will mail you instruments as she grows into them. Much, much better than the crap that most instrument stores sell.

Nice that your daughter is so crazy about the violin. that's a good sign.
posted by sully75 at 9:20 AM on March 28, 2013 [2 favorites]

I don't really agree, btw, that it's hard to put a string on.

Tuning it can be a bit of a challenge. Can your daughter tune her instrument? Do you have a friend who can help?
posted by sully75 at 9:22 AM on March 28, 2013

Dominant is a perfectly fine brand and is what all the student violinists used in my day. You probably do want the 1/8 size strings; they will be easier to put in.

If your daughter is growing, I probably wouldn't invest in a full set now as she'll be a size bigger in no time. (I'm actually surprised she's not at a 1/4 size already, even if she is small for her age.) You might buy an E string, though; they do break the most often.

I would put "changing a violin string" at about "changing my car's cabin air filter" for a complexity level, and well below "assembling flat-pack furniture". It can be fiddly but it requires no tools or special training if you can follow a diagram or watch a YouTube video (like the one sully75 provided). If you're completely helpless with DIY items, you might want help. Otherwise, it is totally doable at home.
posted by pie ninja at 9:25 AM on March 28, 2013

You might want to try to get the same brand strings as what's already on the instrument for consistency of tone. Your best bet would be to take it into a music store because they can look at the color of the threads and you can sort of figure out what brand they are if they're student instruments.

When I was a student I used Thomastik Dominants. You could just order a 1/8th size d string and that should do the job.
posted by mermily at 9:25 AM on March 28, 2013

Installing a string is easy compared to playing the damn thing, but I wouldn't recommend doing it alone for a first timer.

Seconding D'addario and definitely buy a full set to have on hand.
posted by telegraph at 9:26 AM on March 28, 2013

Is there another school in your area you could call or visit. There might be someone local that teaches violin and sells supplies on the side that might not be listed but is known to other teachers and higher level students.
posted by Yorrick at 10:21 AM on March 28, 2013

FYI, once you get the string replaced and need to tune, the app called Tuner Pro works really, really well. My daughter just went from a 1/8th to a 1/4th, and now we use that to tune every time she practices (before we would just let her instructor tune once a week). Such a huge difference.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 10:51 AM on March 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

I've been a violinist most of my life. Buy Dominant strings - it's probably what was on there anyway, almost everyone uses them for student violins, or at least they did back when I still played student violins (the 90s!).

You don't need to replace all of the strings, but it's a good idea to have a set so when another one breaks you don't have to scramble.

If you want very detailed advice/hand-holding on how to change a string without hurting yourself or the violin, MeMail me and I will be happy to advise.
posted by Cygnet at 11:57 AM on March 28, 2013

Thank you everyone, this has been very helpful! The current violin seems to be getting a little small for my daughter, and I have a hunch she might get an upgrade soon. So I think we'll just get the (Dominant) D-string for now and if/when this happens with a new violin, we'll then get the entire set. That was a good tip.

My only worry now is that I'm not sure if the violin is 1/8 or 1/4. The chart I linked to is the only one I could find, and the age guidelines seem to indicate 1/8 is mostly for younger kids. Any advice on how to reliably determine what size her current violin is?

I've been using an app for tuning the violin with good results (also, the kid seems to have quite a knack for hearing whenever a string is out of tune). As to changing the string, we'll give it a shot (thanks for the link!) and see how it goes...
posted by sively at 1:40 PM on March 28, 2013

Found another size chart and the violin seems to be 1/8 indeed, so we'll proceed from there.

PS. My kid's reaction was amazement at how Metafilter knows everything.
posted by sively at 2:10 PM on March 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

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