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An Alternative to Boiling Strings

Discussion in 'Strings [BG]' started by john grey, May 14, 2011.


  1. john grey

    john grey

    Apr 19, 2011
    Oracle, Arizona
    Some discussion and opinion on the merits (or lack thereof) of boiling strings has existed for some years now. Many people have felt that any positives have been offset by the problems of the changes promoted by the definitive rise in temperature during the boiling process, it's destruction of string temper. It’s often been reported that a brightness returns for only a minimal amount of time and the strings return to their dull state possibly because the temper has been compromised during that process.

    I believe I may have an answer to this issue of extending the life of an expensive string set. That is to look at what the boiling process entails. It is generally acknowledged that boiling removes the minute particulate matter that builds in a set of round wound strings from skin cells and dirt accumulated in the windings. I therefore attempted to try something different. I used a variety of very thin viscosity solvents to immerse the strings in and set about to see what could be drawn off from that process. I also found that certain solvents boil at substantially lower temperature than water! Acetone for instance boils at 56 C, (129 F : a very hot day in the desert) substantially lower than water. Obviously no flame could be used so a hotplate would need be employed in that instance.

    But what of simple immersion? Simple immersion takes time and movement to achieve a substantial level of “crud” recovery.
    Depending upon the solvent used a comparison was setup as to the extraneous material found from a boiled set of strings and one that was simply immersed in differing solvents. This obviously was not a very science oriented testing medium as there was no way to determine how much extra material was in each set of strings. However it superficially seemed that certain solvents DID achieve profound results in removing that build-up. Acetone, naphtha, toluene, xylene, ethyl acetate, & methanol were all used. These are examples of both polar & non-polar solvents (water solvency).

    The most profound effects were consistently found in solvents that could dissolve in water. Raising the temperature to boiling were in most cases far below that of water (boiling). In the case of acetone raised in temp to 50 degrees centigrade (122 F) enormous amounts of material were recovered and the strings achieved a brightness (Rotosound) that sounded new. They also maintained that beyond three weeks which appeared to be fairly close to new. This may be viewed as a lack of alteration in temper of the steel. Therefore it might be possible to bring back life to old strings using this technique. Strings that had enormous amounts of material within the windings cleaned up very quickly is acetone. Xylene. Toluene, and methanol appeared less effective. While Naphtha appeared to be quite effective also if allowed to remain in immersion for 2+ days with some shaking, etc.

    I do NOT look at this as a standard thing to do, however it DOES appear to work quite well. It’s down-side apart from a fire danger is that “wrapped” strings wear into tatters, etc. The results were interesting for at this time I have been using a set or Rotosound strings that sound so close to brand new, it’s very surprising.


    NOTE: 4 used sets of strings were tried. The best result achieved from boiling acetone on a hotplate within a water bath. A set of Rotosound, 2 sets of Yamaha, and a set of GHS strings were all tried in various configurations and material examined afterward. Both time immersion and heat were measured & tried. The water-solvency (solvents) all boiled at WELL BELOW that of water. ALL the solvents achieved a degree of activity that were similar to boiling water (they removed a majority of "crud"). The standouts were acetone (boiling and naphtha (non-boiling). ALL string sets appeared to sound new & since (there were a limited number) each set has an individuated level of crisp sound, etc; it was too difficult to make a marked determination as to what was actually best with what. However, if completed with a water bath & hot-plate: fire danger accounted for - this technique appears viable with immersion being the safest obviously.
     
  2. jefkritz

    jefkritz

    Oct 20, 2007
    iowa city, IA
    yep. i've used denatured alcohol for years. works great. no heat necessary - just let it sit overnight.
     
  3. JimmyM

    JimmyM Supporting Member

    Apr 11, 2005
    Apopka, FL
    Endorsing: Ampeg Amps, EMG Pickups
    i would never boil acetone or denatured alcohol! talk about a fire hazard! just let them soak for a few days. so it takes longer...big deal...beats burning your house down.
     
  4. mdogs

    mdogs Supporting Member

    Apr 13, 2010
    Constant state of flux
    Ya, the denature alcohol thing has been around for years and years. Best thing to use as it contains no water. Just soak the strings for about 24 hours and hand to dry and put them back on. As Jimmy said, boiling those solvents is just plain a fire hazard...
     
  5. JimmyM

    JimmyM Supporting Member

    Apr 11, 2005
    Apopka, FL
    Endorsing: Ampeg Amps, EMG Pickups
    it only takes you 24 hours to get a set back to life? lucky! it usually takes me 4 or 5 days of soaking. maybe my sweat is more gross than yours, eh? ;)
     
  6. Arvin

    Arvin Underwound Supporting Member

    Sep 26, 2008
    On the bench
    Denatured alcohol is the way to go. Do a cold soak, 24-48 hours, good as gold.

    I concur on the boiling thing. Heating alcohol to the boiling point can be dangerous, especially without good ventilation.

    And acetone is just plain nasty.
     
  7. Jazzdogg

    Jazzdogg Less barking, more wagging!

    Jul 29, 2006
    San Diego, CA
    Have any of you tried an ultrasonic cleaner for strings - like they use to clean jewelry?
     
  8. Floyd Eye

    Floyd Eye Banned

    Feb 21, 2010
    St. Louis
    Best alternative to boiling strings is buying some new ones.
     
  9. tylerwylie

    tylerwylie

    Jan 5, 2008
    Dunwoody, GA
    Would a quart of this stuff be enough? Or should I opt for the gallon(of denatured alcohol)
     
  10. Arvin

    Arvin Underwound Supporting Member

    Sep 26, 2008
    On the bench
    A quart is plenty.
     
  11. tylerwylie

    tylerwylie

    Jan 5, 2008
    Dunwoody, GA
    [​IMG]
    Went ahead and got 2 quarts, gonna give these a soak, then when I can get my hands on a couple 6 string sets of fat beams I'll start getting a rotation down.
     
  12. JimmyM

    JimmyM Supporting Member

    Apr 11, 2005
    Apopka, FL
    Endorsing: Ampeg Amps, EMG Pickups
    well i imagine that's how you do it in mar-a-lago, but not all of us are you, mr. trump.

    :D
     
  13. tylerwylie

    tylerwylie

    Jan 5, 2008
    Dunwoody, GA
    That was easy peasy as long as I was playing 4's, once you throw 5's and 6's into the mix it's not realistic for most of us.
     
  14. Im from the UK and im not sure if its called something else here but it doesnt seem that available. is the d/n alcohol known as something else? would normal ethenol do?
     
  15. tylerwylie

    tylerwylie

    Jan 5, 2008
    Dunwoody, GA
    Methylated spirits?

    From Wikipedia:
    Denatured alcohol (or methylated spirits) is ethanol that has additives to make it more poisonous or unpalatable, and thus, undrinkable. In some cases it is also dyed.

    You want something that has lower water content usually. Ethanol should work.
     
  16. Floyd Eye

    Floyd Eye Banned

    Feb 21, 2010
    St. Louis

    Oh, I'm sure you in a better position to afford new strings than I am Jimmy. At least I would hope so. ;)
     
  17. john grey

    john grey

    Apr 19, 2011
    Oracle, Arizona

    I think that's next (as an experiment). It sounds like a very interesting idea.

    RE: the fire hazard.....obviously that's a serious concern. If a person doesn't have a proper background, isn't prepared to take the precautions, etc - it's insane to do so (IMO). However, when boiling point is 125-9 degrees, (that IS actually a closed automobile on a hot summer day) there are ways to do so. In fact there is a possibility it could be done without a hot plate at all....but that's another issue. The biggest contributor to real success is movement. That's why the ultra-sonic idea (above) may be an outstanding idea.

    Immersion alone is not the best answer - it does take some movement (shaking), etc to achieve penetration, especially when the strings are coiled, that was why the "string tube" idea was conceived..However....some type of movement appears to really make a difference regardless. Additionally, alternative types of solvent can work on skin cells, fats and oils more readily than others: experimentation yields results. I really was surprised at what can be achieved; if it's done right.
     
  18. Jazzdogg

    Jazzdogg Less barking, more wagging!

    Jul 29, 2006
    San Diego, CA
  19. MOVEMENT IS KEY!

    Randomize the orientation of shaking.

    Best results found when container volume is more than triple the volume of the solvent.

    It is wise to use a solvent-safe windshield washing fluid jug (where the strings can be worked, ball ends into the lid and through the handle [which shouldnt have blockages from the molding process], down into the jug for easy retrieval).
     
  20. markanini

    markanini

    Jun 25, 2008
    And ultrasonic cleaner and some dishwashing liquid works very well for me. Three minutes and strings are as good as new. I wonder what would happen if denatured alcohol instead of dishwater...Anyone wanna try?:p
     

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