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Terez Mertes

An exquisite act of incredible stupidity

April 9, 2013 at 7:56 PM

This article first appeared at The Classical Girl.

Chalk it up to worsening eyesight. Dim light in my practice room. The fact that I change out my violin’s strings maybe, oh, about a quarter as frequently as I’m supposed to. But I put an A string where the D string belongs. My brain kept thinking “A” and my fingers decided “D.” It was a full day before I noticed, once it was time to practice again. (When I switch out my strings, I do it one string every other night until all four are changed out.) Even then, I didn’t catch the error. Although something felt wrong, I wasn’t sure what, so I launched into practicing my scales. Finally I looked closer. String manufacturers provide color-coded threading at the base, which helps intelligence-challenged types like myself. Green equals “D.” Blue equals “A.” My double-blue, green-less setup confirmed it all.

I’ve always wondered what happens when you put the wrong string in the wrong slot. Who knows what sort of trauma I caused that string? Or, since it was tuned lower than it should have been, it turned out okay. Right? Perhaps I merely gave it a horrible case of gender identity. Now it won’t be like the other A strings. It will always prefer a more masculine tone. I have confused it for the rest of its string life.

What if I’d done the opposite, putting the D string where the A belongs? Would it have been stretched beyond its normal capacity and, once corrected, put in its right place, sound flabby and flaccid? Destroyed overnight? Oh, the guilt I’d feel. Not to mention the fact that these aren’t cheap strings.

Dominants. They can stand up to anything you throw at them.

By the way, here is a wonderful discussion thread about strings I’ve kept for reference for years now. Many thanks to v.commie Christian Vachon, who compiled the original post. Strings Discussion

©2013 Terez Rose

From Trevor Jennings
Posted on April 9, 2013 at 11:55 PM
Terez, I don't know whether you've used Larsen Tziganes, but if you do, be very careful: the tailpiece windings are identical, as are the peg windings. The only reliable way to distinguish between them in a hurry, especially the A and D, is by the color of the end ball - and not even then if the lighting is poor. Information about the color of the balls is printed on the packets, but nevertheless for me the twin golden rules with these strings, which I use on my folk fiddle, are never to have more than one string out of its packet, and never to keep more than one string in a packet (which some of us are prone to do with spare strings) if I don't want to court disaster.

Some years ago I was a string coach at Saturday morning orchestral workshops for school kids in the 7-16 age groups, run by my local educational authority. The younger kids weren't yet able to tune their instruments quickly and reliably, so quite a few minutes at the start of the morning would see dozens of these youngsters standing in line for their instruments to be tuned by the teachers and coaches.

One thing we very quickly learned to do was to inspect each instrument carefully before tuning. Oddities we came across during this procedure included,

Strings wound on pegs the wrong way round so you had turn a peg the opposite way to normal to raise the pitch (well-meaning parent always responsible for this).

D string swapped with the A (again, parent responsible).

All strings tuned a couple of tones too high (believed to be by tone-deaf parent).

Bridge leaning at an angle unknown to Euclidean geometry (not sure who was responsible).

Bows tightened up so much that they had more than a passing resemblance to the "Bach bow" of legend, which would invariably prompt a lecture to the class before the lesson started.

E string wound on the A-peg and the A string wound on the E-peg (strings in the right order over the fingerboard), so thoughtful tuning was called for. I met an elderly folk fiddler, a retired engineer, several years later who used this method of string winding and he explained this was in order to make it easier to change the A string, whereas the E string didn't need to be changed nearly so often.

If the pupil was in one of the younger age groups we always checked by careful examination of the instrument, and by interrogation of the infant, that it was in fact a violin and not a violin strung as a small viola. Every teacher/coach seems to have fallen for this one at some time or another (including yours truly), and we therefore kept a stock of spare (used) strings against this and other eventualities.

On one notable occasion the problem of a violin action that was impossibly high had apparently been solved by an enterprising parent moving the bridge well back towards the tailpiece so that the soundpost would have been located between the bridge and fingerboard had it still been standing...

Those were the days!

From Terez Mertes
Posted on April 10, 2013 at 3:58 AM
Trevor, I'm just gasping (with mirth?) at some of the things you wrote. Wow, you've seen a lot of string mishandling. I feel oddly better.

Your reply was so interesting and entertaining, off I go to read it again. : )

From Tom Holzman
Posted on April 10, 2013 at 12:45 PM
What a funny experience. Welcome to the world of us older folk. Maybe you got the A-415 experience out of it. I hope your A will not hold a grudge.
From Terez Mertes
Posted on April 10, 2013 at 1:18 PM
"Maybe you got the A-415 experience out of it."

Loved this. Is this a common experience, that violinists will discuss at cocktail parties or over coffees? ("Ah, that A-415 sound, back in college, that week I was too inebriated to know better. Those were some crazy days.")

Yes, I am being progressively humbled by my "old folk" vision. My son is finding it to be a great source of mirth.

From Terez Mertes
Posted on April 10, 2013 at 1:23 PM
>Terez, I don't know whether you've used Larsen Tziganes, but if you do, be very careful: the tailpiece windings are identical, as are the peg windings. The only reliable way to distinguish between them in a hurry, especially the A and D, is by the color of the end ball - and not even then if the lighting is poor.

Thanks for the head's up on this, Trevor. Um, right there is a good reason for me to avoid these strings! I need all the guidance and visual help I can get.

From Anne Horvath
Posted on April 10, 2013 at 5:07 PM
I really, really like my book reading glasses.

I really, really like my music reading glasses too.

(Insert smiley face here)

From Terez Mertes
Posted on April 10, 2013 at 7:50 PM
Anne - um... ((said in a small, humble voice)) is there a difference in glasses? Or is "insert smiley face here" another way of saying, "well, duh, there's no difference, that was called subtle humor."

I can be thick as a plank sometimes. Especially around violin matters. It's one of my talents. (Insert Anne's smiley face here.)

From Anne Horvath
Posted on April 11, 2013 at 11:36 AM
Two pairs of glasses are better than one.*

(Thus spake the cheerful smiley face)

*Astigmatism + middle age deterioration = separate prescription glasses; one pair for music stand, another pair for normal reading.

Best advice ever from decrepit baby boomer musician friends; avoid bifocals!

(Yet another smiley face here.)

From Tom Holzman
Posted on April 11, 2013 at 1:40 PM
Anne is totally correct about bi-focals, at least for violin playing. You either have to have your nose in the music to read or be so far away from the stand that while the music is clear, nothing on the page is large enough to make out. However, bi-focals work for almost everything else. I have never tried progressives, but people I know do not really like them for violin playing.
From Terez Mertes
Posted on April 11, 2013 at 3:40 PM
Oh, whew, it wasn't a dumb question after all. I am very, very nearsighted, a contact lens wearer except in the morning/evening, and the prospect of getting glasses for increasing presbyopia now is making me just shake my head. Shouldn't one cancel out the other?!

Thanks for the added info, Tom. V. interesting...

From Charlie Gibbs
Posted on April 11, 2013 at 4:16 PM
I have progressives and get along quite well with them. In orchestra I set my music stand quite low so that I'm looking at the music through the lower portion of the lenses; glancing up I see the conductor through the upper portion, and everything is in focus. The same goes for driving: instruments through the lower portion, road through the upper portion. Works perfectly.

Note: if you try progressives, be patient. It takes at least two weeks to get used to them, and in the meantime you'll hate them. The first time I tried them, I gave up too soon - but the second time I hung in there and now I love them.

One thing I would never consider is laser correction. The reason can be summed up in one word: presbyopia. As you age, your eyes simply cannot shift focus from close-up to distant as well as they used to. All that laser surgery does is let you choose which will be out of focus. Since I've been nearsighted all my life (and worn glasses nearly that long), I see no reason to fiddle with things beyond keeping my eyeglass prescription up to date.

From Terez Mertes
Posted on April 11, 2013 at 6:40 PM
Interesting comments, Charlie. I'm all ears (well, eyes). I've considered lasik eye surgery, but there are lots of reasons, I'm thinking not to bother. You make good points here. As long as contacts work for me, I say the old "if it ain't broken, don't fix it."

Oops, this is changing to a conversation about vision. What the heck. So. Anyone out there have lasik surgery and regret it, or regret not doing it earlier?

From Ellie Withnall
Posted on April 15, 2013 at 10:39 PM
My brother recommends everyone over the age of 40 get themselves a Seeing Eye Eagle. They have incredible vision, work for nothing more than dead mice,can even read the small print on medication bottles and are probably happy to sit on the rim of the music stand and turn pages for you as well if trained properly.

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