In my personal opinion, there is no stringed instrument sound that is richer or more appealing than that of the cello; I submit into evidence Bach’s Cello Suite No. 1. Just like any other stringed instrument, cello strings must be cleaned to keep that rich, desirable tone.
You should clean your cello strings roughly once per month or more frequently if needed. Clean your cello strings by putting a small amount of isopropyl alcohol on a clean microfiber cloth and rubbing each string lengthwise with the wetted area. Thoroughly rub up and down each string separately several times, occasionally switching to a new area of the micro fiber cloth. To remove rosin build up, give a little extra elbow grease in the area near the bridge where the bow is drawn across the strings or use a string cleaner.
Always put the isopropyl alcohol directly on the rag and don’t get it so wet that it may drip alcohol. You have to be extremely careful not to get alcohol on your cello’s finish as it will damage or even remove the varnish.
Cleaning Cello Strings, Step by Step:
No matter how diligent you are with your daily cleaning, rosin will build up on your strings and the body of your cello. This rosin needs to be removed fairly often.
When cleaning your strings, it is super important to keep the alcohol from getting on your cello’s finish. It’s never a bad idea to place a towel or old T-shirt under your strings to protect the finish in case there is a drip or if you drop the cloth with alcohol on it.
There are other products that are made specifically for cleaning cello strings such as Old Master String Cleaner but I recommend isopropyl alcohol because it is inexpensive, works well, and is readily available.
Steps for cleaning cello strings:
- Place a clean microfiber cloth over the mouth of the isopropyl alcohol bottle and tip it to wet a nickel or quarter size area of the cloth.
- Pinch the cello string with the wetted area of cloth between your thumb and forefinger and wipe back and forth several times over the entire length of each string, including below the cello’s bridge.
- As the cloth gets dirty, move to a clean area and continue to clean. Reapply isopropyl alcohol as needed.
- Give extra attention to the area where the bow makes contact with the strings.
- Continue wiping the strings until no additional debris is removed.
And that’s it! Easy peasy. Right?
Maintaining a clean cello will make cleaning the strings much quicker and easier when the time comes. That’s why I also recommend taking 8 seconds to wipe down your cello strings before and after playing. Wiping cello strings before playing removes any dust, smoke or pet dander that has collected on the strings since you last played. Wiping them down when you’re done removes sweat, sebum (human skin oil), dead skin, and any loose rosin. By following a cleaning routine of wiping down your cello strings before and after playing it will prohibit the build up of these bodily excretions.
And you can make the job even easier with the Nomad Tool Set to help get under your strings. It’ really a nifty tool that can speed up the cleaning process. It’s definitely not needed but helps for sure.
Should I Clean The Rosin Off My Strings?
Absolutely! Rosin is applied to the bow to create extra friction between the bow hairs and the strings of your cello. This friction gives microscopic tugs to your cello strings and causes them to vibrate rapidly, moving air towards our ears, and creating that deep, rich, cello sound. Each time you pull your bow across the strings it leaves a tiny bit of that sticky rosin on your strings. Over time rosin begins to build up on your strings. The thicker this buildup the more it affects the vibration of the strings and thus, your tone. The best solution for this is to simply clean it off the cello’s strings.
Rosin is nothing more than a refined tree sap and solvents will easily break it down. There are all kinds of solvents that can do the job, but those most readily available can likely be found in your bathroom. Isopropyl alcohol or fingernail polish remover will do the trick in no time. Or a more professional string cleaner, if the rosin build up is bad.
Here’s the rub though: varnish can also be made in part from tree resin. So if a product will remove rosin from your cello strings, it will also very likely remove the resin from the body of your cello so you must be very careful while using solvents around your cello.
Why Do My Cello Strings Squeak?
There are a few different reasons that strings will squeak and the solution depends, of course, on what is causing the squeak.
First, identify where the noise is coming from. If the squeak is coming from your neck hand it could be that your hand and the strings are just a bit too clean and friction is being generated when you move your hand. Typically, just playing for a bit will get some of the oils from your skin on the strings and will lubricate them enough to cancel the friction.
If the squeak is coming from your bow hand you may have a bigger problem that requires a few new strings or even a whole set of new strings. First, identify which strings are making noise. Damaged strings can cause unwanted noise and need to be replaced. Check the strings in the area of the bridge and look for damage to the string windings and replace any damaged strings.
If your strings appear undamaged, the problem might be the wrong combination of string gauge and bow weight. Heavier gauge strings or a heavier bow can be ways to address this. Try borrowing a heavier bow to see if that corrects the problem and if it doesn’t, consider changing the offending strings to heavier gauges.
How often do you need to change cello strings?
In general you should change your cello strings once or twice a year. However, that is subject to change based on many factors: chiefly, how often and how long you play. Further influences are the quality of strings you purchase, your environment, and your style of play. Unlike other stringed instruments, disposable income plays a much bigger factor with cello strings as cello strings are significantly more expensive.
If you typically play your cello less than 2-3 hours per week you can likely go a year without changing the strings. However, even if you don’t play your cello at all, a set of strings will likely need to be changed after about a year. When metal cello strings meet oxygen they start the process of corrosion and over time, it will affect their tone.
If you play an hour or more per day you’re going to wear out those strings faster and may need to change them anywhere from every 3-5 months.
If you live in an arid climate, cello strings will also last longer than if you live in a humid coastal climate. The more humid the air, the quicker the process of corrosion sets in and begins degrading your cello strings.
Finally, cello strings can literally be more expensive than a cello. A low-end cello can be less than $300 whereas high-end cello strings can run up to $500! I certainly wouldn’t recommend putting $500 strings on a $300 cello. It would be akin to putting high performance racing tires on a stock Datsun B-210. You can do it, but you’re never going to go fast enough to realize most of the benefits. The tires would be a massive waste of money. Conversely, if you were to put tires from Tire Barn on a Bugatti, it would greatly decrease the performance of that car and the car would then be the massive waste of money. The moral of the story here is that the benefits of high performance cello strings are best realized on high performance cellos.
D’addario makes a great set of cello strings for under $50. If this is more in line with your budget it affords you the opportunity to change your strings more often. Still, many working musicians aren’t making the big bucks and $50 a couple times a year isn’t always plausible. Maintaining a daily string cleaning routine will greatly increase the life expectancy of your strings and save you money.
If you don’t have a case or gig bag to further protect your cello, you should look into buying one soon. We have a few on our cello gear page that we’d recommend.
Cleaning your cello’s strings is quick and inexpensive. Just those few extra minutes will keep your cello sounding rich and extend the life of your strings. A quick wipe before playing will help as well.
Make sure to check out our other cello articles and enjoy your cello!