Is it common for piano strings to break? Will the splice hold?

Kevin Busse Feb 13, 2024
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Q & A

Is it common for piano strings to break? Will the splice hold?

Recently, I was asked a question about best practices for replacing a bass string. Here’s the recommendation I provided, in hopes to share with others who may be experiencing a similar situation.

Q: Submitted by Alanna R.

“I own a 17 yr old Steinway A, and while it was having a maintenance tuning, a bass string broke which never has happened.

I think the technician accidentally broke it! He spliced it and it seems ok for now, but he placed some kind of a marker beside the string and I wonder if it will hold its pitch for long.

How common is this with a piano like mine? I just would like to know if I should have another tuner check it! Thanks and cheers!”

A: Hi Alanna, Thank you so much for your question!

The truth is, strings break. Across brands, sizes, and any age. Splices are an excellent repair that can last for decades, if not, the rest of the pianos life.

Can you elaborate about the mark? Generally, a chalk mark on top of the tuning pin means that the tuning pin is loose and the tuner should "beware." This warrants repair.

Let's talk about the options the piano tuner has…

String Splicinig vs. Replacing a Bass String

Splicing, when done well, can last a very long time.

The splice is generally an exceptionally stable repair (for tuning standards), if it goes well. The string is kept as an original and it would sound congruent with the way the piano sounded before (unless the splice is in the speaking length of the string). Other than the splice itself, it will look the same as far as the aging of the copper color to the other original strings.

However, there are risks associated with the splice in the event that it "doesn't hold." You'd have to take a picture and share it with an independent technician to tell you if they "trust" the splice the tuner made.

Replacing the Bass String is considered the best practice.

However, there are drawbacks to this decision as well. New strings are MUCH less stable than original bass strings (so it needs frequent adjustments for the first 1-2 years). The sound of a new bass string does not sound the same to a critical ear. It requires sufficient tuning and possible "voicing" adjustments to sound as congruent as possible to the other bass strings in the piano for the first 1-2 years.

Fun Fact: Piano Manufactures keep exact measurements for bass strings according to the serial number of the piano on your Steinway A. It is important to find this information when dealing with a string replacement.

The color of the new bass string will not look the same as the color of the other original strings. As it ages, it will begin to blend in, but can usually be spotted by the trained eye for over 10 years.

Final Thoughts

When a string breaks, it doesn’t imply anything negative about the brand nor the technician. The variables concerning broken strings are in the raw materials, rust, and tuning frequency, which often falls outside of any single person's control.

“I hope you can dig up something useful there. Cheers! -Kevin”

“Thanks so much Kevin! I feel more confident that the splice will hold fine. But I’ll keep an eye on things. I appreciate your info, Cheers and enjoy the weekend! -Alanna”

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