I'm not a violinist but I've seen a couple of online videos where a soloist breaks a string. They go to the leader of the first violin section and come back with a replacement violin.

What exactly happens?

  1. Does the leader give the soloist their own violin and stop playing?

  2. Does the soloist carry a spare instrument that is left with the leader?

  3. Does the leader change the string and hand the violin back later?

Here is an example

  • 2
    Would this be a good time to mention Paganini? ;)
    – Tetsujin
    Feb 13, 2021 at 16:41
  • 1
    There's a family anecdote about my grandfather, who was a cellist. He broke two strings during a concert while soloist with an orchestra. He completed the piece on the remaining strings.
    – Aaron
    Feb 15, 2021 at 13:56

3 Answers 3


Leader offers their instrument to the soloist. Another violinist (probably the other first-desk player) offers theirs to the leader.

Or they just stop, change the string, then start over from some convenient place in the music.

There won't be a spare instrument lined up on stage. The soloist MIGHT have a spare in the dressing-room.

  • 2
    I don't imagine them changing the string mid-performance. Changing strings, tuning to pitch, stretching to limit miss-performance flattening and all take time with guitars with geared tuners, so with violins with friction pegs, that'll be a task. During a recording, sure. But not with an audience. Feb 13, 2021 at 19:21
  • 1
    Is it an obligation for the first violinist to offer their instrument? I don't think so. It's a courtesy. Feb 14, 2021 at 7:48
  • It also depends on timing. When you bring an instrument into a new environment (temperature, humidity etc.) and start playing, things tend to go wrong near the beginning of a performance. In that case the programme will simply be restarted. Feb 14, 2021 at 11:02
  • Yes. They don't consult the Etiquette Manual to determine who MUST offer his instrument to the soloist!
    – Laurence
    Feb 14, 2021 at 12:40

I've seen this happen live only once. A very long time ago. It was the English Chamber Orchestra but I can't remember who the solist was. They were playing Vivaldi's Four Seasons. there was no conductor as the solist was directing the playing.

The soloist broke a string. He stopped playing and so did the orchestra. Instantly:- it was very impressive how they all immediately reacted. The solist rushed offstage and returned a minute or two later with either a replacement string or a different violin, I don't know which. They restarted the movement.

Now either he had a spare violin or he had a set of pre-stretched replacement strings available to him in the dressing room. I think probably the latter.


The answer is, as the other answers suggest, "It depends." I've witnessed a string replacement in a couple of pro chamber recitals (BSO or NYC level). In one case, the cellist had just finished a solo piece. The violist was held up, so the cellist walked onstage and said "I liked that piece so much I'm going to play it again," which he did. In the other case, it was Itzak Perlman's axe. To spare him the need to get up, the second violin took Perlman's instrument backstage to replace the string. After a couple minutes of silence, Perlman started a running dialog "He's found my case, and is looking for the strings. .... He found one but it's not an E-string.... Oh, good, now he found an E-string in his case.." and so on. The audience was ROFLing.

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