Installing New Strings and "Whizzing" Windings

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Instructions for installing new strings

Tools needed:

needle-nose pliers
wire cutters
straight screwdriver

The screwdriver is for removing hitch pin cover(s): the wooden cover at tail end of chord-zithers and violin-ukes; metal or wood "fenders" on sides of ukelins, covering the melody string pins, etc, etc...they're all put on with screws

The directions below are for one method that works. You may either have or discover your own way of installing strings, which varies from the method given below and works equally well.

Note: if you are replacing an intact string, remove it by pulling it tailward while unscrewing the pin, rather than by cutting it and unwinding it off the pin. If you have already done the latter, or if the string is gone from the tuning pin, then screw the pin in until it bottoms out (you'll feel it) and back up about 5 full turns. This should put you in the vicinity of a suitable starting point for winding the new one onto the pin (though pins seem to be variable, probably owing to the varied conditions of their holes in the pin block.)

Important: If while installing the new string it happens that 5 turns didn't back the pin out far enough and the pin bottoms out before the string is tight, STOP and start over with the pin screwed further out. Continuing to turn the pin after it has reached the bottom of its hole will strip the threads in the pin block. Bad...very bad.


The "hitch, pull, and snip"...

1. After removing the hitch pin cover(s), hitch the string to its hitch pin and run it through or alongside its tuning pin. Pulling it just tight enough that it has no major sags, cut off the excess at about 2 1/2" beyond the pin. If there isn't a lot of excess, you may want to grip the very end of the string with pliers to pull the slack out of it. It doesn't have to be really tight though, and the 2 1/2" measurement is approximate, not critical.



"The crook"...

2. Now run the string through the hole in the tuning pin, and with your needle-nose pliers, bend a 90-degree crook about 1/4" to 5/16" long in the end of the string. (Actually, this crook on the end is included in the 2 1/2" measurement, rather than being in addition to it as shown in the photo. But as mentioned above, this measurement is approximate.) It doesn't matter at this point whether or not it's hitched to the hitch pin.

The result should look something like the image.



"The wind-up"

3. Then pull the string back tailward so the crook is up against the pin and pointing down. Begin tightening the pin, winding the string over the crook a couple of turns, pinching it against the pin. (At some point soon you'll be wanting to hitch it to its hitch pin.)

4. Once you have a couple of winds squeezing down the crook, start working on getting the string to end up right down on the top of the instrument, rather than up on the pin. The picture below shows a couple of pretty good examples of what to go for:

And that's all there is to it.


Instructions for "whizzing" (stripping) wound strings

First of all, there seems to be some difference of opinion as to whether or not there is any real need for the windings of smaller-gauge wound strings (any other than the basses) to terminate inside the bridges, like most (but not all) old, original examples of smaller-gauge wound strings. The other option is for the ends of the windings to terminate outside the bridges, so that the string crosses the bridges windings-and-all. I would encourage you to do your own experimenting and decide for yourself if you prefer one way over the other. In either case it's a good idea to strip the winding wire back at the tuning pin end of the string.

When you make the smaller-gauge wound strings from guitar strings, it's sensible to make the loop at the end intended for the tuning peg of the guitar, as there is normally about the right length of bare core wire for making the loop at this end. So, once the loop is made, cutting the string to the length that fits a zither or ukelin yields a string with the winding running all the way to the tuning pin end and a scrap of wound string several inches long with a ball on the end of it.

Incidentally, if it happens that the string you're using does not have enough bare core wire at the end to make your loop (about 3"), then simply cut the string off at the end of the winding and whiz it back about 3" (you'll know how, here in just a minute).

So why whiz?

It is advisable to strip ("whiz") the winding wire back, to reduce bulk at the tuning pin. Many instruments have the pins situated quite close together, so if adjacent strings are rubbing together, you'll find yourself tuning two or more, in the course of trying to tune one. Then when you tune the second one, it knocks the first one back out, and so on. Thank goodness you've only got 30 or 40 strings to reckon this sounding like fun? Also, wound strings are very abrasive...enough so to file through neighboring strings and break them, I'm inclined to believe. And if all that doesn't make you want to whiz, in some cases you may have to whiz, just to get the string through the hole in the tuning pin.

In any case, it's fortunately very easy to strip the windings, following the instructions given below. My photos of the process didn't turn out very well, so I have provided drawings instead. I think they should be effective.



1. First, cut the string to length (about 2 1/2" beyond the tuning pin) as per directions above. Then get the wrap wire started off the core wire by gripping the string near the end with pliers and pulling toward the string's end.

Once you have enough of the wrap wire off the core to grab it with the pliers, hitch the string to the instrument, making sure it's hitched to the right pin. Begin to pull in the same direction as above, in a gentle, steady motion. You are now "whizzing" the string. The core wire will gyrate at high speed in a circular pattern, producing a faint "whiz" sound.



You should only go about 2"-3" beyond the end of the core wire, per pull, as the wrap wire is pretty fragile and tends to break if you go much further. It usually breaks back on the core wire. If that happens it will cost you a little time to get it back out beyond the end of the core wire, which you will have to do by hand in order to resume whizzing. So if you don't get too forceful with your pulling and don't try to whiz off too much at once, you'll minimize the risk of wrap wire breakage and its consquent time loss.



Once you have whizzed the prescribed 2-3" past the end of the core wire, stop and get a new grip on the wrap wire, just out past the end of the core wire, as in the image.



I should mention that the whole "trick" to whizzing is keeping the pliers beyond the end of the core wire. If you try to grip the wrap wire further back, the core wire will be obstructed and it won't whiz.



Once the winding end is where you want it, cut off the excess wrap wire, preferably as close as you can to the core, and you're ready to install the string as per the instructions for installing that begin at the top of this page.