Twisting the Old Bass Strings

Twisting the old Bass Strings

Wringing more life out of the old windings

When a piano gets old the bass strings get stiffer and end up ringing shorter than they should. They wound a steel core string with copper or steel. The old steel wound strings usually sound much better than the copper wound strings. The copper ones always go dead and the steel ones usually do not. The exception is if they are caked in rust. Nothing could sound good with that. We often have both kinds of strings in the same piano. I wish I could get Mapes to make steel wound strings, but they refuse.

One secret that many rebuilders do not know, however, will bring to life a new set of strings and bring back to life an old one. I refer to twisting all bass strings when they go on. I find this was done on many of the best quality old pianos and it works well.

Twist the string in the direction that the end of the winding points. If you twist in the wrong direction you will find a dull thud or buzz in the tone tone. If you do it correctly, it will add the impression of almost an extra foot of length to the piano's sound. I find three twists works best. I have put more but you run risk of breakage with that. One or two revolutions do not do enough good, but three seems to be optimum.

If they are really dead you may notice that when you pull one end of the string loose, the length of string is very stiff and if you hold it upright it does not bend or curve at all. To remedy this tie a large loop in the middle of the string and pull the loop smaller til it is about 3 inches in diameter. Use something smooth and metal in the loop and pull it from one end to the other of the windings. do not pull the loop off the winding and onto the end core wires as the wire may break. It is already about 80 years brittle.

We refurbished many 20 to 40 year-old Yamaha and Kawai grands and we have gotten to where we remove the bass strings from the hitch pins and clean the sound boards and then twist all of the bass strings when we put them back on. I have tried merely cleaning the sound board and not touching the strings, but that leaves a dead tone. Yamaha doesn't believe in crown so the strings seem to go dead sooner.

If you are installing new bass strings I do the same twis on them as well

I agree. Back years ago when I was using Schaff bass strings, I always had to twist them because they rattled like heck if I did not. Now I do it no matter what. However, if I have one of my people put on a set of strings without remembering to twist, I no longer have the rattles, but the whole bass section sounds dead until we go in and twist them.


I have only rarely found a piano whose bass strings were in fully usable condition with both copper and steel. There was no discernable difference in sound between the two. In many other pianos, however, the copper strings had gone dead before the steel ones did.

Having refurbished so many Yamaha grands, we have learned that you are not getting the full benefit from your bass section unless you go in and twist all your bass strings 3 turns.

As far as the crown of a soundboard having something to do with the longevity of the strings, well of course, it doesn't. Crown is used to counteract the downward pressure of the strings against the bridges.

Doug L. Bullock, Copyright 1997-2009


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