by Professor String
|Boiling Guitar Strings…Have You Tried String Soup Lately?||
Have you ever heard of boiling your guitar strings? I can remember the first
time a bass player came up to me and said, “I boiled my strings today.” I would
have paid good money to see the expression on my face when that was said. Since
that time, I heard from countless players, particularly bass players, who boil
their strings. Is it fair to say that many players are actually aspiring to be
chefs? Or, maybe they are just really hungry and feel the need to cook up a
batch of round wound soup!
The practice of boiling strings is not a new concept to players who live on a budget and need to spark new life into their strings. At first this might seem silly. Why not just go out and buy a new set? If you are a bass player who owns a couple of five string basses, then you know that four or five sets of strings will cost a Hamilton or two out of your wallet. If your tone preference is towards the bright and crispy clean end of the spectrum, it will take some string maintenance to keep it there. This is particularly true if you frequently are bringing on the funk with a full blown slap-a-thon every time you play. The list price on a package of premium cryogenic bass strings has some bass players thinking about how they can save money and yet, keep their tone. One answer has been boiling the strings. Does it actually work? Let’s journey into the subject a bit.
The Good, The Bad, and The Boiled
What happens when you place strings into a pot of boiling water? In short, here is a list of some positive things that can happen to the string:
1. If there is oil build-up on the strings, the higher temperature of water will change the viscous of oil. The oil will start to break-up and flow away from the string into the rest of the water.
2. If there salt from your previous sweaty playing on the strings, then the salt will dissolve and become aqueous with the boiling water.
3. If there is any dirt in between windings, there is an opportunity for it to break-up and possibly dissolve.
4. Micro metal shavings from normal fret wear will expand due to high temp and possibly dislodge themselves from windings.
5. Expansion. Overall the high temperature of the water will cause the strings to expand at molecular level. Every metal has a coefficient of thermal expansion (CTE) associated with it. This means the metal expands, or contracts with regards to temperature. In the case of wound strings, the windings will expand as they are made of metal. Anything caught in between the windings will get an opportunity to get squeezed out as the windings expand in the high temperature water.
Of course, there are some down sides to boiling. Here is a list of some bad things that can happen when you boil the strings:
1. Higher temperatures are often used to stress relieve any stresses built up in metal. If the string is exposed to high temperature, there will be changes with in the various stress sites of the string. This will have an effect on tuning and possibly create “dead spots” in the string that deaden the sound.
2. Calcium and mineral deposits from hard tap water can work their way into the inner core of a wound string. To get the best results, use de-ionized water if you are going to boil.
3. Brittle strings. Some strings have been known to become more brittle after boiling them. The process of taking the string to a higher temp (212°F) may have an effect on the string’s elasticity if the alloy quality was marginal to begin with it all.
4. Dirty pan. Obviously you don’t want to use a pan with left over spaghetti sauce still in it. You will end up with string marinara, and your fellow musicians will start calling you meatball. The real issue here is the question of a clean pan still having soap scum and mineral deposits in it. If you use such a pan, the soap and mineral deposits will end up on the strings. As a precaution, using a little bit of alcohol and a paper towel to wipe out the pan would help matters.
There are some merits to boiling strings as well as pitfalls. If you are on a shoestring budget and do not wish to shell out the bucks for new strings on a frequent basis, then boiling might be your calling. Hopefully, we have given you a good number of pros and cons to make the right decision that best fits your needs.
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