Instruments    -    Maintenance and Moving

Replacing Strings

How to replace a broken string without removing the pin from the wrestplank

Modern "zither" pins have several advantages over antique pins, namely a head that allows you to put the hammer on in eight different orientations and an even, light threading the lets them work very smoothly and chatter-free in the pinblock. This threading, however, means you should not remove the pin from the pinblock when replacing a broken string, because if you hammer it back in (as was done when the instrument was first strung), the threading will ream out the inside of the hole, and chances are great that the pin will be too loose. This method shows a fast and easy way to replace strings without removing the pins.

Things you will need: a replacement string (of the proper diameter, of course), an extra tuning pin of the same diameter as in the instrument (usually always 5 mm), a ruler, wire cutters, a small needle-nose plier, a tuning hammer, and either an assistant or a hemostat.

Step 1

The remains of the broken string should be removed, and the height of the pin adjusted so that it is even with its neighbors.

Step 2

Mount the replacement string on the hitchpin, and either have someone hold it in place with their finger or clamp it with a pair of hemostats.

Step 3

It is important to get the proper number of windings on the pin, because this controls the amount of downbearing. Look at a neighbor pin and count the number of windings. Be sure to look at a neighbor pin that is the same row, forward or backward speaking. Pins closer to the nut may have fewer windings than pins further from the nut. Multiply the number of windings by 16. This is the length in millimeters you will need to reproduce the same number of windings (assuming a 5 mm pin). Measure beyond the tuning pin and cut the wire to length.

Step 4

Wind the string onto an extra tuning pin.

Keep winding it tightly until you arrive just above the naked pin in the block.

Step 5

Hold the extra pin directly above the naked pin and carefully rotate it counter-clockwise between your fingers until all tension has been relieved from the spiral, and the winding is totally loose. Do not go too far and start to unbend the spiral! As you do this, count the number of half-turns the pin makes.

Step 6

Now set the reserve pin and replacement string aside. A good trick is to stick it between choirs off to one side or another of the area where you are working.

Unwind the naked pin by the same number of half-turns you counted while unwinding the spiral. Add 2 extra half turns for wire stretch in the treble, 3 in the bass. The pin should now stand considerably higher than its neighbors, though it should not be so high as to be completely loose in its hole.

Step 7

Reposition the extra pin above the naked pin, and with a small needle-nose plier, remove the tail from the hole in the pin.

Step 8

Slide the winding down off the extra pin and onto the naked pin in the block.

When the winding is completely on the pin in the instrument, remove the extra pin and set it aside.

Step 9

Now slide the tail back into the hole in the tuning pin.

Crimping the top winding closed helps the tail to stay in the hole during the following steps.

Step 10

Now bring the string up to pitch, keeping an eye on the tail to make sure it stays in its hole. Don't forget also to arrange the string around its bridge and nut pins before you take it up to any significant tension. Stroke the winding around the pin a few times as you raise the tension, keeping the winding tight over its full height.

Step 11

After the string is up to pitch, stroke the winding once again with your finger or a small stick. The pitch will probably drop a few semitones as the tension equalizes through the spiral.


The end result is almost always a perfect replacement, with the proper winding and the pin set to the right depth. If your pin has ended up a little bit too high, give it a light tap with a hammer. This small adjustment wonÕt cause any significant reaming of the hole. If your pin has ended up a bit too low, then wait for the next time the string breaks to get it right. If it has ended up much too low, you can always loosen the string, remove the tail from the hole, unwind the pin several more turns, and repeat the above procedures from step 9 onward.


If you choose to follow any of the advice or instructions given here, you do so COMPLETELY AT YOUR OWN RISK. Paul Poletti assumes no liability whatsoever for any damage to any instrument nor for any injury to yourself or others.