‘Frustra fit per plura quod potest fieri per pauciora’

Novacula Occami


Some Notes in the Margin on Charles Besnainou’s Comm 2129, FOMRHI Q 149, April 2020

by Mimmo Peruffo (regarding the author: https://aquilacorde.com/en/mimmo-peruffo)

To the reader

Mr Besnainou’s original text has been written in black, whilst my answers are written in blue. Notable sentences I found worth noticing, and were the starting point of my observations/comments, have been written in red, while secondary observations or bibliographical notes are written in green.

Bibliographical references regarding the FOMRHI quarterly journal can be found here:



Additional note to the reader: when I worked on this, I referred to the article by Charles Besnainou that was published on FoMRHI Quarterly No. 149, April 2020, at page 9 (https://www.fomrhi.org/vanilla/fomrhi/uploads/bulletins/Fomrhi-149/), faithfully reproducing here its content. His article can also be found online at this address: http://www.luthandco.com/2020/04/01/some-notes-in-the-margin-about-mimmo-peruffos-paper-in-fomhri-n143-sept-2018-theory-and-practice-of-twisting-strings/

We would like to inform the reader that his first online version, which we used as a reference, was removed around December 2020 and then put back online with various changes to the text, in comparison with his original article published by FoMRHI Quarterly.

In our work we therefore refer to both the printed version and the first online version.





Charles Besnainou’s Comm 2129 (Some Notes in the Margin on Mimmo Peruffo’s Comm 2095, FOMRHI Q 143, Sept. 2018; The Theory and Practice of Twisting Strings), published as an answer to my Comm 2095 (https://www.fomrhi.org/vanilla/fomrhi/uploads/bulletins/Fomrhi-143/), happens to be notably long. As a consequence, a further answer on FOMRHI would have taken up an excessive amount of space, limiting our possibility to provide the reader a sufficiently extended historical and iconographical documentation.

Comm 2129 is a 59-pages work divided in five parts, plus some appendices and bibliographical references. I will nevertheless fully answer only to the first and second parts, considering that these are the most inherent to the debate, while I’ll occasionally comment on the other ones (that mainly concern his experiences, discoveries, etc.) only whenever there are historical, iconographical or technological references connected to the first two parts.
Following the regulations governing intellectual property, I’ll only report what is allowed by law, i.e., some sections of his work that are useful for our comparison.

Mimmo Peruffo



Some Notes in the Margin on Mimmo Peruffo’s Comm 2095, FoMRHIQ 143, Sept. 2018; The Theory and Practice of Twisting Strings


The very title [1] of Mimmo Peruffo’s paper seeks to convince us that his arguments demonstrate, without possible reply, the rightness of his thesis on the use of loaded gut in the manufacture of bass strings for early stringed instruments, such as the lute. This peremptory assertion suffers from several weaknesses that these marginal notes will attempt to enlighten.

This rejoinder is motivated by the fact that I am the only person towards whom Mimmo Peruffo adopts a polemical tone in his article, attributing to me totally grotesque and improbable facts without the slightest reference to what I have been able to write, here and there, suggesting that he probably does not know the physical mechanisms of rope construction. I would take advantage of this response to critique his approach and to publicize my own results.

Charles Besnainou (‘La fabrication des cordes eten particulier comment répondre aux questions posées
par les cordes anciennes’, lecture at Corde Factum, Puurs, May 2008)

The reader is invited to personally ascertain the complete absence of any polemical tone directed to his person, but only arguments limited to the topic being discussed, which did not only affect him, but also Ephraim Segerman. There were a few sentences like “it is not necessary a university graduate to know how to enlarge the holes in the bridge’”, just to name one: such sentences have the sole explicative purpose of underling the simplicity of the process and does not contain any references to Mr Besnainou’s personal career. Besnainou states that I did not put any references to his work (‘…without the slightest reference to what I have been able to write...’), but this is not true: references have been cited both in the text of my article (the lecture he gave in Puurs in May 2008 is mentioned) and in the bibliography (note 14).




To begin, a scientist would never dare to say that his hypohesis is the ONLY one possible! Edwin Hubble, when he actually measured the precession of galaxies, thereby demonstrating Lemaître’s theory of the expansion of the Universe, used throughout his historic paper only the conditional … leaving the debate open [2]. We know today that this theory has found many applications in astrophysics, which proves its solidity.

Mimmo Peruffo is probably unaware that a single counter-example is enough to destroy his hypothesis as unfounded, as I will strive to show with a multitude of examples. But before continuing, we must clearly define some essential words.

Mr Besnainou argues that my article is unquestionable, and he affirms it while replying with a 59-pages work! Honestly, as he clearly proves, anyone is free to challenge the content and the evidence reported in my article, and he is a clear proof of it, but the point is that FOMRHI quarterly is not the proper platform.
FOMRHI Q. is not a scientific journal; in scientific journals there is a “peer review”, where the editor sends an article to other scientists in the field, often rivals or with other theories, who try to “shoot it down” and force the author to drop his ideas or fix the discrepancies, but without involving the final audience. This is a good approach, unless gangs are formed with the only purpose of helping each other and letting bad papers full of junk being published, which happens more and more nowadays. Normal scientific journals would not allow all the rhetoric and ‘cat fighting’, and would also try to make sure that the point of the paper is clearly stated and then quantitatively proven. 


HYPOTHESIS: A provisional explanation of an observation, phenomenon, or scientific problem that can (must) be tested.

CLUE : Trace or apparent and probable sign that a thing exists or has occurred and that the interpreter associates with the possibility of a reconstitution.

EVIDENCE: Something which imposes itself on the mind as a truth, or a reality, without the need for any proof or justification.

PROOF: Fact, testimony, reasoning capable of irrefutably establishing the truth or the reality of something.

FACT: Knowledge, information or any objective element of the reality of what happened, or was accomplished.

The hypothesis of Mimmo Peruffo (that is by densifying gut one can manufacture strings of smaller diameter, thus more flexible, and such bass strings could be better than those of natural gut) [3] is a very interesting proposition based on the laws of physics. And this could be an alternative to so-called historical re-enactments. As a modern process, this idea is a valuable contribution to the renewal of the lute and modern instruments; as a rediscovery of a forgotten ancient process, it must be argued with clues and evidence to become proven.

At the outset, Mimmo Peruffo claims that for the bass strings there are « only two hypotheses… » one was « the construction of ropes ... » and the other « that the density of gut was increased by a treatment with metal compounds … ». We may agree that the second is a hypothesis, to be tested by historical documents. On the other hand, his first “hypothesis” is not a mere hypothesis at all since a widely-known iconography adequately attests that there were bass strings which clearly possessed a texture evoking that of marine cables. This iconography is in itself a matter of fact, suggesting several clues that we will present.

I’d like to go straight to the core of the discussion. I frankly cannot see why Mr Besnainou has to consider our two hypotheses to be in opposition, since in Comm 2095 I clearly stated that the extra courses added to lute basses were probably crafted by means of a roped structure, starting from fresh raw gut that was previously loaded. Once dried, the string would appear to be a little bumped (working with fresh gut, the strands tend to compress and flatten), but a final smoothing process is however expected.

Honestly, I have been supporting the idea that lute basses, in the first two thirds of XVI century, were made from gut strips twisted in a roped structure then subsequently polished, for at least a decade now (I introduced the fusion of the two hypotheses here:  MIMMO PERUFFO:  ‘Gut strings: further to Comm 1683’, F.O.M.R.H.I. Bull. nº 107-108  comm. 1804 .pp 14-15; April- July 2002; but most importantly here: ‘The Lute in its historical reality’; Ed TG book, 2012):


                           From: ‘The Lute in its historical reality’; 2012

To this pre-existing technology, the loading of gut has been simply added after 1570, thus making the two hypotheses merge into one:


 From: ‘The Lute in its historical reality’; 2012.

(see full article here: The lute in its historical reality)

The confluence of two apparently opposite hypotheses (roped versus loaded) is the final result of a thirty-years long research in the field of merceology and various arts of the XVI and XVII centuries (such as dye-works, silk processing, painting, leather tanning, processing of pigments and metal powders, etc.), with particular regard to string making technology and analysis of literary and iconographical sources, that have led to our seven points of comparison.


Part 1
This iconography extends from antiquity to the present day, and from Europe, Africa and  Asia alike. There are four types of iconography: engravings and line drawings, paintings, sculptures, and photographs. Each of them must be analysed with different criteria. First of all, we must be aware that all representations whatever depend on the artist’s desire to bring out a meaning; when he signals a detail, he does so with the intention of being understood. On the other hand, the absence of a detail does not mean the proof of its absence in general; the artist chose, perhaps, a simplification to emphasise something else. Painters are not photographers. In most cases, their representations can only suggest something. Sometimes, once in a while, we have found some details that are too relevant not to have been expressly desired by the artist. I present quite a number here.

1.1- Engravings and line drawings
Engraving, and pen and ink drawing, are concise arts which aim to make representation relevant by eliminating redundancies and without omitting important information ; here are some examples.
1.1.1– In a Latin manuscript of the 11th century depicting « King David and his musicians » the artist drew the strings of the king’s lyra and those of the musician’s harp with a texture that obviously evokes curls, like shrivelled hair. This clue means, in my opinion, a desire of the artist to represent what he saw. That is to say strings with twisting clearly visible and probably unpolished (‘bumped’, or corrugated).


Figure 1 King David and his musicians, Bibliothèque Nationale, MS latin n° 11550, f. 7vParis Saint Germain-des-Prés, vers 1070. The original can be examined online at https://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/btv1b8551133q/f16.item

According to Besnainou, this iconographic image shows strings ‘…with twisting clearly visible and probably unpolished (‘bumped’, or corrugated).’
Believing that such undulation of the strings is connected to a precise manufacturing typology that leads to ‘bumped’ strings is in fact an exercise of fantasy in which we do not intend to participate. Furthermore, a single image, which by the way isn’t sufficiently detailed, cannot provide enough information to determine a certain period’s string making technique.

If we look at the colored image I’ve reported below, since the strings are thin and brown, should we then consider the chance that they may have been loaded with mercury sulfide, that could lead to such color? (it’s only a joke, of course).



I also must remark that a single, isolated iconographical sample is never to be considered representative of its time period. There are numerous medieval images which depict the instrument’s string with no twisting or undulation whatsoever.

Just to make an example in another field, a single example of a black sheep found in a white sheep flock certainly does not lead to the conclusion that all sheep in the flock are then black.

In such cases, statistics matter. The following two examples, dating back to the XIII and XIV centuries, were photographed in Siena (Italy) in 2018, and smooth strings are clearly distinguishable (other examples can be found searching the web for ‘Medieval musical instruments‘).  In our opinion the undulation of his example was done in order to demonstrate that they  are in vibration.




Mr. Besnainou then gets into the heart of the XVII century, but not facing the argument under debate, that are the lute basses (i.e., a plucked instrument) , he instead focuses on bowed instruments of that period. The only reasonable justification maybe that he is considering bass strings for Violone or Bass violin (that are bowed instruments) to be interchangeable with the bass strings designed for a plucked instrument (i.e., made  following the same technological way).

Nothing prevents one from thinking this way, however, not only this possibility is not supported by any written source, but there are also other factors that make the supposed interchangeability improbable, such as the perpetual sound emission produced with a bow instead of a single sound impulse produced by the plucking with fingers, or the different functional tensions (on lutes they are  quite lower) , and, especially, the FL product, which is notably lower in extra lute basses than the sixth string in the Viola da Gamba family (which coincidentally has the same FL product of the 6 course lutes course during the early XVI century).

When dealing with FL products lower than 58-60 (meaning lower than the 6 bass string of a six course lute or the sixth bass string in the Viola da Gamba family), new technical solutions are needed for the lower bass strings.

A possible example for such ‘new solutions’ has been the introduction of a seventh lower bass string in Bass Viol during the second half of the XVII century. It basically consists in a “densified” string, meaning a string covered with silver wire (the string’s FL product is just 39 Hz/mt, equal to the 10th  gut bass string in a ten-course Lute).

For more details regarding the FL product, see here:



To summarize: different working and technical conditions (various FL products, working tensions, playing techniques – bowed or plucked) require different technologies and this can be seen in the great productive variety of string-makers.

Not surprisingly, in the XVII century lute strings were classified in three qualities or “sorts”: Trebles, Meanes and Basses. I reckon that this classification wasn’t purely economical but also technological. Nowadays, this distinction into three types of strings for lute has been kept: Trebles use Nylgut/Nylon strings (courses 1 to 4), Meanes use aluminum wound on Nylon multifilament core, or Fluorocarbon, or half loaded synthetic strings CD and CDL (courses 4 and 5), while Basses use loaded synthetic CD or loaded gut, wound on Nylon multifilament cores, Gimped or KF fluorocarbon strings (courses 6 to 11).

When dealing with this topic, Mr Besnainou uses an improper terminology, calling “cello” some XVII century bowed instruments which nowadays are more properly classified as “Bass violins”.



1.1.2 in Syntagma Musicum (1620) Michael Praetorius shows the bass strings of the viol with a structure of ‘laid’ or twisted ropes looking something like marine cables. In addition, this view shows us a detail of how the strings were tied to the tailpiece, it seems that the strings have been split in two strands to tie them on.




Figure 2 : Michael Praetorius, Syngtagma Musicae (1620), Viola da Gamba, plate XX


Figure 2 represents a considerably enlarged portion of an engraving taken from Praetorious’ “Syntagma Musicae“, whose original dimensions are about 11 x 5 cm only. The image was printed from a plate engraved on copper impressed on poor quality paper derived from old rags. Questioning the quality of details on this print is to say the least reasonable.


Here is a modern, 1:1 scale reproduction of the volume:




Relying on this image’s details to analyze the instruments’ smallest characteristics, such as how the string was tied to the tailpiece, is quite a questionable operation.
According to Mr. Besnainou, ‘this view shows us a detail of how the strings were tied to the tailpiece’, but this precise detail is cut away from the image.



There is nevertheless an interesting peculiarity portrayed by the image: the fifth and sixth basses suggest a roped structure. The disproportion between the diameters of the fourth and the fifth string, as well as the similarity of the fifth and sixth string, is quite unrealistic, as a further demonstration of the image’s unreliability.
Anyway, why are the string’s twisting and fibers so evident in these image?
Unlike modern technologies and processes that tend to make modern gut strings look almost like transparent nylon ones, the string making processes used in the past to produce the thicker strings used whole gut strings (not from strands) and had a tendency to accentuate the visibility of the twisting and of the fibers, both high twist or roped strings.

In the following picture we show two strings (of the same diameter): the first was made with a simple high twist process, while the second was obtained using two fresh gut strings already twisted clockwise and then twisted together in the opposite way realizing a rope structure (notice in the picture its anti-clockwise direction). Considering these samples, how can someone assure that the twisting method shown in the previous print is certainly attributable to the twisting system of a roped structure?





I prefer not to express a sure opinion. Anyway, a clue (not a certainty) that might suggest a roped structure would perhaps be the anti-clockwise twisting (we define as ‘clockwise’ the angle of the twisting that leans to the right, as in the top string of the photo that is a high twist string).
The fiber orientation could be the most interesting detail. Among the thousands of historical gut strings I examined in these last 36 years, visiting European museums and private collections, and studying the historical documentation and iconography regarding the standard twisting processes in string making, I’ve never found a single string, print or iconography showing an anti-clockwise twisting.

As an example, the next photo shows a violin’s first string once belonged to Niccolò Paganini (picture taken by the author in Genoa in 2003), and shows a clockwise torsion (Mimmo Peruffo: ‘Nicolò Paganini and gut strings: the history of a happy find’, Newsletter, Volume 1, Number 2, Bruxelles, October 2003):


The following belonged to Stradivari, 1727 (Cremona 2011, picture by Diego Cantalupi): once again we see a clockwise torsion.


Lastly, a picture of a 0.38 mm string of a lute first string, (most probably original, but not yet confirmed) belonged to Raphael Mest’s Lute I examined in 2018 at Linköping (Sweden). Needless to say, the twisting has a clockwise direction. 


On the other hand, most of the ropes described in XVIII and XIX century manuals happen to have an anti-clockwise twisting (the reader can verify this claim by searching for “ropes” on the internet).

The anti-clockwise twisting shown in Praetorious’ aforementioned print would then basically suggest a roped structure, where the primary twisting had an regular clockwise twisting (as for all ‘regular’ gut strings), followed then by an final anti-clockwise twist.
This is nevertheless just a hypothesis, since in Praetorious, as well as in every other Roman document dating back to the XVI and XVII century, as discovered by Barbieri
(PATRIZIO BARBIERI: ‘Roman and Neapolitan gut strings 1550 1950’.  In GSJ Maggio 2006; pp. 176-7), there are no explicit clues regarding string making processes.



1.1.3- In Harmonie Universelle (1636), Marin Mersenne represents the bass strings of the cello and the viol with a string structure suggestive of separate strands. It may also be noted that the direction of the twist for the viol strings are opposite to those of the cello, probably not by chance… Would this have a connection with different bow holds? For the cello, the bow is held from above and therefore the accented stroke is drawn or pulled, while for the viol the bow is held from below and so the accent is a push stroke?

Figure 3a : Marin Mersenne, Harmonie Universelle (1636), p. 184

Figure 3b : Marin Mersenne, Harmonie Universelle (1636), p. 192

The idea that the difference in the string’s twisting between the instrument, Charles calls “cello” (which actually is a Bass Violin) and the Bass Gamba Viol is due to the different ways musicians handled their bows is inadmissible.

Nowadays, following historical documentation and iconography, we know that Cello players (Cello this time is appropriate) began to change their way of handling their bow only in the XVIII century, moving to the current bow technique, that is still used today. Undoubtedly, it is quite evident that stringmakers would have not used different twisting between Cello and Bass Gamba Viol.

In this 1690 painting by Antonio Gabbiani (musicians of the Medicean Court, Florence) we can clearly see one of the first properly named cellos, and how at the end of the XVII century players were still handling the bow the old way. (Antonio Domenico Gabbiani Ritratto di musicisti alla corte medicea (Florence 1684-7), Firenze, Palazzo Pitti, inv. 1890, reproduced on the cover of Early Music, XVII/4 November 1990)


Let’s now suppose that Mr Besnainou’s claim is correct. The question would be: how could the stringmakers have known which of the two instruments their strings would have been installed on, while they were producing them? So far, there’s no historical evidence to answer such a hypothetical question.

1.2 Paintings
Paintings require a more demanding reading because we must not confuse a detail with brushstrokes that are the mark of the artist’s own touch or technique.

1.2.1 The rest during the flight into Egypt, by Caravagio; a close inspection reveals the artist’s peculiar fascination with intricate and eccentric details: an end of a twined string hanging from the pegs of the violin.


Figure 4a&b : Caravagio (1571-1610), The rest during the flight into Egypt, Doria-Pamphili gallery, Rome, Italy.

Nothing in this image suggests that this “curly string” is indeed a “twined string”. For example, whole unsplit lamb gut has a tendency to be curly itself, but it doesn’t imply that the string in the image necessarily is, for sure, a whole unsplit gut string.

There’s no reason whatsoever to exclude the possibility that the string may also have been wrinkled by the musician, or that it may also have been wrecked due to its extensive use, without finally excluding the possible merely artistic purpose of the depiction.
I reckon this image has no value in regard of the debate.

1.2.2 Young man playing lute, by Caravagio. The detail here presented requires special attention: the bass of the sixth course does not show an evident structure, but the painter’s eye has been attracted by the size abruptly larger than the other strings, as if with its bumped structure it has less density and requires larger diameter to reach its desired pitch.

Figure 5a&b : Caravaggio (1571-1610), Young man playing the lute, Hermitage, Saint Petersburg

as if with its bumped structure it has less density and requires larger diameter to reach its desired pitch’ : Besnainou claims that a string is bumped because it has been depicted with a large diameter as compared to the other ones. As much as we strive to look, its “bumpiness” is indiscernible and we cannot draw such a conclusion from the mere fact that it appears ‘larger’. Which is the connection?
Besides, it’s worth remembering that the image is a painting, not a photograph, therefore it is not reliable enough to constitute by itself a conclusion.

Just for the sake of speculation, we could take another example to show a paintings’ modest reliability. In the following work by Caravaggio, more or less contemporary to figure 5a and 5b, the reader can see that the last bass has a slightly reddish pigmentation: should one assume that this given string was unmistakably a loaded bass gut string?
Clearly not, for the image is not sufficiently detailed, and string colouring is a complicated topic, to be treated case by case (as I explained in detail in Comm 2095).

1.2.3 Triumphant Cupid among Emblems of Art and War, by Paul de Vos and Willeboits Bossxhaert. This painting shows a remarkable number of objects, all very finely executed. It takes a very close viewing to discover that the artist has taken the trouble to paint the two bass strings of the cello with a finesse of stunning details, neatly revealing an obvious rope structure.

Figure 6a : Paul de Vos (1591-1678) and Thomas Willeboits Booschaert (1613-1654): Triumphant Cupid. (private collection)


Figure 6b : Enlarged detail (linear transversal anamorphosis). Notice the tailpiece hook.

The whole painting is reported in figure 6a. I also suggest the reader to visit the website below, where the painting can be freely enlarged at will.


Many interesting topics are brought to the debate by this image, but I should first specify that the instrument is indeed a Bass Violin, and not a Cello
The colored image I’ve reported below is an enlarged detail of the Violin, and is notably different from the black and white one reported by Besnainou, where he states that the strings are ‘revealing an obvious rope structure’. Honestly this “obviousness” can hardly be noticed in the black and white depiction, but in the original one is completely absent.

Let’s now analyze the details better.
Strings 3 and 4 do not have the visible rope structure, as seen in figure 6b.
In fact, in the colored image, the two strings happen to be smooth for almost all of their extension. A string section seems slightly curly only on top of the “f-hole”. It may presumably be the result of a hesitation in the painter’s brushstroke.
So where do those marked clues (at 80-85 degree!) of supposed fibers come from in the black and white image, when such marks/signs are totally absent in the image of Christie’s official website (that we strongly suggest the readers to view personally)? Any explanation?
Furthermore, why in the colored image I reported there is no trace of the supposed fixing “hook” on the tailpiece?
Last but not least, why did Mr Besnainou use a black and white image with a ‘linear transversal anamorphosis’  when he could have simply used a colored high-res image found on the internet?

We have discovered that there is another version of the same painting, which is slightly different from the previous one (we are still a long way from the black and white image of Figure 6b above):

1.2.4 Still life with musical instruments, by Evaristo Baschenis. Here again, with a practised eye we discover the precision of the artist’s touch, revealing parts of the cello strings, also like ropes.


Figure 7a&b : Evaristo Baschenis (1617-1677), Still Life with Musical Intruments, exhibition catalogue, edited by SKIRA (private collection)

We hold a few books dealing with the paintings of Evaristo Baschenis and Bettera. (‘Evaristo Baschenis e la natura morta in Europa’ Skira editore, Bergamo 1996; Marco Roschi: ‘Evaristo baschenis…’Poligrafiche Bolis Bergamo, 1985 ): in almost all bowed instruments painted by Baschenis, strings are always represented smooth, also on the bigger Bass Violins.
Here’s an example (source:

There are several other examples of Baschenis’ paintings, some in hi-res as well, that can be accessed using the following links:




As one can see, only smooth strings can be observed. Once again, statistics matter.

The painting shown in Figure 7a&b has been reproduced at least four times by Baschenis (or maybe by his students): in other three versions the involved string, when it can be well seen, is shown as smooth (see images at pages 160; 162; 164; 208 from the book: ‘Evaristo Baschenis e la natura morta in Europa’ Skira editore, Bergamo 1996).
No definite conclusion can therefore be drawn, as this detail is found in only one of the four different versions of the painting. 

1.2.5 Bass viol, music notebook and sword, by Michel Boyer de Rebeval. This painting is remarkable in that at least the four bass strings of the viol have a tightly twined appearance that we can not fail to notice.


Figure 8 a&b : Michel Boyer (1668-1724), Bass, music notebook and sword (1693), Musée du Louvre (réserves), Paris. [pictures, Ch. Besnainou]

Reading what was written at point 1.2.5 (but especially in the following one, regarding XVIII century instruments), one could think that Charles is not familiar with the history of the evolution of the strings for Bass Viol: ‘the four bass strings of the viol have a tightly twined appearance that we can not fail to notice’.
In this particular example (fig 8 a & b) we can see a 7 string Bass Viol, supposedly dating back to the first decade of the XVIII century, that is when the seventh string was introduced by Sainte Colombe (approx. 1670), and we know for sure that it was a wound string.
In fact Rosseau, who was also his pupil, talks about it.
(JEAN ROUSSEAU: Traité de la viole […], Christophe Ballard, Paris 1687).

In James Talbot’s manuscript of the late seventeenth century / beginning of eighteenth century, (ROBERT DONINGTON: “James Talbot’s Manuscript, II: Bowed strings”, The Galpin Society journal, III 1950) there is an additional notation where it is mentioned the use of a sixth wound string on the Bass Gamba Viol.
Marin Marais also mentions the last three low strings wound with brass wire:


According to Charles, the last four low strings appear as ‘tightly twined’: in short, all plain gut strings. This, however, goes against the considerable amount of historical and iconographic documentation we have today regarding the Bass Viol.
If this was indeed the case, then we will have to observe a steep increase in string diameters, especially with a sixth and seventh string made of roped gut (where the apparent average density is lower than 1.3, typical value of low twist gut, therefore slightly thicker diameters are needed to compensate).
This increase in gauges should be even more evident if one believes in the equal tension profile (slightly less evident if one follows the principle of the tactile equal feel of tension).

More on equal feel/ equal tension:


The seven-string Bass Viol in the painting actually shows a sixth and seventh string of a white/grayish colour, different than the yellow/brownish color of the other strings. One could therefore go so far as to suppose that they are silver wound strings, as also confirmed by the contemporary historical sources mentioned above.

We have another iconographic example (Roland Delaporte, 1750 ca) where it seems to be evident that the seventh and sixth strings are grayish (therefore probably silver wound).

As for the fourth and fifth chord of the painting he reported, it is true that the degree of twisting can be slightly seen, but it could lead to several other possible alternative explanations with respect to the roped structure alone. For example, it could be a simple high twist string (as pointed out previously in the case of Praetorius), or it could be a demi-filé string, a particular typology already mentioned by Sebastien de Brossard nel 1712 ([Fragments d’une méthode de violon], manuscript, ca. 1712, Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale, Rés. Vm8 c.i, fol. 12r) and by Laborde (JEAN-BENJAMIN DE LABORDE: Essai sur la musique ancienne et moderne, Eugène Onfroy, Paris 1780, livre second, “Des instruments”, pp. 358-9: ‘Violon […]’).

It remains the fact that none of these possible explanations can ever be demonstrated with certainty, just as we will never be able to conclude what kind of technology was used to make these strings.

In order to personally verify the details of this painting, we have obtained from the Louvre Museum a high-definition reproduction of the painting:

This is what can be noticed in this high-definition reproduction:

  1. Sixth and seventh strings have an evident greyish-white colour with white ‘spots’;
  2. If near the bridge the fourth and fifth strings ‘tend’ to show the fibers and the twisting, in most of their length (up to the nut) this thing is no longer evident: the strings now appear smooth; sixth and seventh strings, on the other hand, are always grayish-white with those white ‘spots’, which we believe could be a technique the painter uses to indicate the covering with silver thread.

Conclusions about the painting

From this painting, it can only be stated that the sixth and seventh strings were probably silver-coated (as documented by some contemporary written sources as well), and not made of only gut, as Besnainou says.
As for the fourth and fifth strings, we can only affirm that they were made of gut; from here to say that they had a roped/high twist/open wound structure, frankly it seems to us a useless exercise.

Let’s continue

Besnainou then temporarily abandons the seventeenth century to get deep into the eighteenth century, an historical period of which we now have a lot of detailed information – regarding strings and string-making – that allowed us to finally reconstruct the entire historical production cycle in use in the 18th and 19th centuries in Italy and France.

Useful links regarding unsplit lamb gut and its production cycle:

The eighteenth century, as is well known, is the age of wound strings; here are some examples of the first historical documents, dating back to the seventeenth century, that mention them:

 -SAMUEL HARTLIB: “Ephemerides”, manuscript (location not known to the present author), under the year 1659; the passages cited were privately communicated by Robert Spencer (13 October 1995). Spencer suggested that the earliest information reached Hartlib from the well-known chemist Robert Boyle.

– JOHN PLAYFORD: An introduction to the skill of music […]. The fourth edition much enlarged, William Godbid for John Playford, London 1664.

-CLAUDE PERRAULT: Ceuvres de physique […], Amsterdam 1727 (1st edition 1680) pp. 214-5: “Invention nouvelle pour augmenter le son des cordes“. (Ephemeridi 1658; J. Playford C.1664; C. Perrault ‘Ceuvres de physique’….Amsterdam 1680).


The next list has some other sources, from the 18th century, which also mention where they were used (there are many other sources, but we believe that these examples are more than enough for the purpose of this article):

-JOSEPH FRIEDRICH BERNHARD CASPAR MAJER: Museum musicum theoretico practicum […], Schwäb. Hall.

-Georg Michael Majer, Nürnberg 1732, p. 75.

– JOHANN JOACHIM QUANTZ: Versuch einer Enweisung, die Flöte traversiere zu spielen […], Johann Friedrich Voss, Berlin 1752, chapter xviii, section 2, paragraph 28.

-GEORG SIMON LÖHLEIN: Anweisung zum Violinspielen […], Waisenhaus- und Frommannische Buchhandlung, Leipzig 1774, p. 9.

Thanks to these sources, not only we know that there were three types of wound strings on gut core (open wound; close wound; double wound), but we also learn on which instruments such strings were used, at times having also written documentation on how they should be built.
To all this, we also find information about wound strings on silk cores, which began to appear after the middle of the century, but they won’t be discussed here.

For more details on historical wound strings:


Deducing from what Mr Besnainou wrote (but we may be wrong), whether it’s a painting of a 7-stringed Bass Viol, a 5-courses guitar, or a painting of a Cello of the last decade of the 18th century, he notes that the strings, low ones included, are ‘bumped’ or with a ‘tightly twined appearance’.
Once again we repeat the question: is he affirming that those are all gut strings, twisted in a rope structure like a hawser?
We really don’t have another explanation to give, since in all the 18th century examples he gives, he never mentions wound strings (if not for the fourth string of the Bass Viol in the portrait of J.B. Forqueray, introducing his personal theory based on the twisted shape of the columns of the baldachin in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome).

1.2.6 El Majo de la Guitarra, by Lorenzo Tiepolo, is interesting because it concerns the guitar and it shows that in the middle of the 18th century the practice of twisted strings was still alive, and not only for the bass strings which confirms the following quotation. More than a century after the invention of spun or overwound strings[4] we find this comment in « L’Encyclopédie Méthodique » [5] : « … the spun bourdons have the disadvantage of dominating too much over the other strings, and to cause the loss of the final sound by the their duration, mainly in guitar batteries ». Which means that the only acceptable strings for the guitar of that time were all gut.

Figure 9 a&b : Lorenzo Tiepolo (1736-1776), El Majo de la Guitarra, Palacio Real, Madrid

The painting shows a 5-course Guitar painted by Lorenzo Tiepolo around 1770 (fig 9 a&b). From an iconographic image like this, Mr Besnainou declares that ‘the only acceptable strings for the guitar of that time were all gut’.
But it is not like that at all (the only player agaist the use of wound strings was Robert De Viseè: see in Diderot ‘Encyclopedie’ 1755 etc) . The truth is however given by historical documentation and not by personal opinions.
Following is a list of some methods that describe the use of wound strings (the iconography of the time is not considered here):

-Francois  Le Coq (‘Recueil Des Pieces de Guitarre composées par Mr . Francois Le Cocq, musicien Jubilaire de la Chapelle Roÿalea Bruxelles e presentées par l’Auteur en 1729.

-Juan Guerrero (‘Methode pour aprendrè a joiler de la Guitarra’ Paris, Le Menu; Madrid 1760).

-Michel Corrette (‘Les Dons d’Apollon’ Paris 1763).

-Pierre-Jean BAILLON : ‘Nouvelle méthode de guitarre selon le sistème des meilleurs auteurs, contenant les moyens les plus clairs et les plus aisés pour apprendre à accompagner une voix et parvenir à jouer tout ce qui est propre à cet instrument…’ Paris, l’auteur, 1781).

These methods not only indicate the types of wound strings to be used (i.e., whether cores should be silk or gut, or whether open wound or close wound should be used), but they also explain how they should be made.

For more details on five-courses guitar strings (Italian only):


Besnainou states that ‘the practice of twisted strings was still alive’: what does this generic statement mean? It is quite obvious that gut strings are twisted: is he referring again to the twisting technique used for ropes and hawsers?
As we have already said before, the string-making technology used in the mid-eighteenth century is now more well-known, and so is the twisting technique used. The strings shown in that painting were probably made with the twisting technique used on unsplit gut , that anyway was the only technique used at that time. It is known that the technique of cutting gut into strips became popular in Germany only around 1785, and its creator was awarded a prize by the local municipality
(KLAUS OSSE: “Highly strung in Markneukirchen”, The Strad, October 1993, pp. 964-7).

One of the typical aspects that distinguishes whole lamb gut strings from those obtained from strips, is in fact to behave as shown in the next photograph: they look ‘curly’.

Unlike what we thought in the past, this behavior does not derive at all from the fact that they are soft and fluffy (i.e., roped); on the contrary, it is a typical behavior of strings that have a certain internal ‘nervousness’, so that once they have undergone a bend or even a minimum traction, for example, they do not return to their initial state in a linear way, but showing abrupt changes of direction and therefore show a ‘curly’ appearance. 

Do we have a possible explanation for this phenomenon?
Not yet, but we can still try to give one, without having the presumption that it’s right.
The ovine and caprine intestine presents on one side of the ‘intestinal tube’ a sort of curb with a rather rigid and hard ‘tendon’ appearance, which acts like a sort of anchoring point inside the body and also between the various convolutions and bends of the intestine, creating connective tissue connections between groups of adjacent spirals.

The presence of this sort of rigid, scarcely elastic curb would create a sort of asymmetry of the material, which is reflected in the physical behavior of the string: after it has been put into traction, or even simply stressed, once returning to a relaxed state this asymmetry in the structure will give the string a wavy and bizarre profile, as the result of the poor mechanical homogeneity of the structure.
This ‘bizarre’ behavior, with abrupt changes in the direction of the string, does not show on gut strings produced from strips (where the internal structure is perfectly symmetrical).

Figure 10 a&b : Anonymous, Haydn playing quartets, Anon, Staatsmuseum, Vienna, reproduced in « La légende du violon », Yehudi Menuhin, Flammarion, Paris 1997.

1.2.7 Haydn playing quartets, Anonymous, Vienna.

The sureness of the hand of this painter is attested by the whole composition of the painting. So if the C string of the cello is marked with ‘punctuations’, it is certainly not a hand trembling, but a detail that the artist wants to suggest.

Mr. Besnainou does not indicate what is the typology of string that makes these alleged ‘punctuations’ come into view on the 4th string of the Cello (given the size and poor quality of the photo, it’s quite a mystery how he noticed these dots). Considering that this is a late eighteenth century painting, we strongly hope that he’s not supporting again the idea that, just a stone’s throw from the 19th century, the string is still a roped pure gut string.

These arguments would be fine if it were not discovered that this painting (which according to Charles is by an anonymous author and dates back to 1796-7), is actually by the painter Julius Schmid and dates back to the early twentieth century, not an anonymous late eighteenth century (see: https://www.kunst-fuer-alle.de/english/fine-art/artist/image/julius-schmid/16165/1/154259/haydn-quartet/index.htm).

But let’s pretend for a moment that the painting is really from the late eighteenth century: it has been known for a long time that the cello of the historical period in which Haydn lived already had third and fourth strings of the spun type: there is detailed information on the subject of ropes dating back to the court of Esterazy around 1760 ‘s (James Webster: ‘Violoncello and doublebass in the chamber music of Haydn and his viennese contemporaries, 1750-1780. J.A. M. S. n 29;  1976), as well as other information found in various methods for Cello, especially of French authors like Raul, Paris 1770-90: je prends pour troisieme une corde filèe dont le boyau soit ègals a la canterelle; et pour quatrieme une égale à la seconde, sans y comprendre le laiton qui la file, avec cette precaution, il est rare que les quintes soient fausses.).

Anyway, let’s move forward.

After dealing with the Middle Ages, Renaissance, Baroque and the 18th century, Besnainou then follows an unexpected journey through time and space, starting back from the lyres and citharas of ancient Rome and Etruscan (a thousand years before the Lute) and going all the way forward to ethnic African and Oriental instruments of the 20th century (four hundred years after the Lute itself).
If we understood correctly, the purpose of this apparently bizarre operation should be the following: if an Etruscan low-relief, carved on stone a thousand years before the lute of the XVII century, shows the twisting of the strings, not only we can assume that they were certainly made like a roped hawser, but we can also affirm that this technique, being already known, must have been used also to make the basses of a lute, a thousand years later.


1.3 Photographs

Photographs, despite their reputation as direct testimony, must also be carefully analysed.

1.3.1- Pluri-arc, Pierre Sallé, Musique du Gabon
The use of twisted two-stranded strings of vegetable matter is very common in the African musical instrumentarium. This multi-bow is a typical example.


Figure 11 : Pierre Sallé, Deux études sur la musique du Gabon, Travaux et documents de l’ORSTOM n° 85, Paris 1978.

We still meet today many African instruments such as the cora with such twisted ropes as examplified by the next picture.

1.3.2 In this photo we immediately notice the helical structure of the strings. The wide pitch of the helix suggests that to be functional the string must be re-twisted again on the  instrument to obtain tight spirals related to a sufficient tension on the instrument.


Figure 12 a&b : Cora strings, snapshot by the author at the First Arts museum, quay Branly, Paris.

1.3.3 The well-known koto silk strings made as ropes


Figure 13 a&b : Korean koto, musée de la Musique, Paris.

1.3.4 This picture of Nepalese sarengy strings is to be compared with Paul de Vos’s painting (fig.6) of the cello strings, Triumphant Cupid, the resemblance is astonishing. Which suggests the persistence of the techniques of twisting musical strings in time and space !


Figure 14 : Nepalese sarengy, photo Jean Galodé (1978) in La légende du violon, Yéhudi Ménuhin.

We consider this statement to be revealing: ‘…which suggests the persistence of the techniques of twisting musical strings in time and space !’ .
Therefore, if in a Korean, Nepalese or African ethnic instrument of the twentieth century we find strings that are intertwined like a rope, since there’s a ‘persistence of the techniques of twisting musical strings in time and space’, by necessity also European Lute bass strings of four hundred years earlier had to be the same.

In order for this reasoning to be shared even in the slightest, however, it would be necessary to find documentary sources – even of a general nature – that link the strings of an ethnic instrument of today from the African savannah or the East, made with roots or other intertwined fibers, to those of the refined and complex Lute of the 17th century, built four centuries earlier. The same reasoning should also be applied between the stringed instruments of Etruria and Imperial Rome, and the Lute that was built a thousand years later.
Such documentary evidence, however, does not exist, at least to the best of our knowledge.
Besnainou should therefore be able to demonstrate, on one side, that there has always been a certain technological continuity between ancient Rome and the 17th century string-makers, and, on the other side, that there has been a transfer of technology from Africa, Nepal or Korea (from the 16th-17th centuries, however) to Europe of the Lute era, and that such technology remained unchanged in those countries until the 20th century. Otherwise, only pure conjecture remains.

1.4 Sculptures

And last but not least sculptures from Antiquity. As with engraving, the sculptor’s gesture goes to the essential. The two following sculptures, two thousand years old, are as precise as a pen drawing.

1.4.1 A Etruscan bas relief from antiquity in marble with a musician and his lyra; the structure of the strings is obviously that of ropes.


Figure 15 : Etruscan urn II-I century BC, Strings in detail of a cithara, Etruscan, Museo «Garnacci», Volterra, Italy.

1.4.2 We notice here the alternately opposite twisting of the strings.


Figure 16 : Engraved silver cup, Roman Empire, 1st century AD, Trésor de Berhouville, Normandie, Cabinet des médailles, Bibliothèque Nationale de France.

All these documents are not irrefutable proof in themselves, but clues that should not be overlooked. Nevertheless, the preceding figures show that the manufacture of bass strings (at least) in the 16th and 17th centuries had features in common with the texture or structure of marine ropes. This is a fact that needs to be explored more deeply. Does this mean that they were made in that way? We will show later that that is not the case, but first we will study all the techniques of making ropes and (re)discover a completely forgotten technique that goes back to ancient times …

The idea that, in order to talk about the strings of the European lute of the seventeenth century, one must first pass through African, Nepalese or Korean ethnic instruments of the twentieth century, or Lyras of ancient Rome dated more than a thousand years before the lute, has in fact a precise purpose: to demonstrate that the roped string structure was a commonly adopted technique everywhere in the world – even in very different historical periods, and even for musical strings.

But – please allow me the joke – this is like to reinvent the wheel: ropes have always been used since the Neolithic age, in all regions of the world, and for very different applications, including musical strings. And all the more so, when materials such as silk, hemp, roots, hair, etc. (that do not have any of those spontaneous aglutining/gluing properties that only fresh gut has) are used to make musical strings: with such materials, the only structure that can keep the thin fibers together in a cylindrical form is the roped structure.

Let’s go over the point once again: no one has ever denied that the twisting of gut strings, in imitation of ropes, was potentially used to make certain types of musical strings in Europe between sixteenth and seventeenth century.

In our various articles, lectures, live events on Facebook, etc. we have several times remarked that some types of music strings – especially those for the basses of bowed instruments – were most likely roped (according to the inventories of Roman string workshops of the sixteenth/seventeenth century, as already highlighted by Patrizio Barbieri back in 2005).
Both our company and our fellow stringmakers of other companies have always made them this way: where, then, is the big news?

Let’s now take a look at the history of the hypothesis on twisting the gut in imitation of ropes. Between 1970 and 2005, the only argument supporting the idea that gut-only bass strings were made like ropes, was the name given by the ancients to a certain type of bass strings: Catlins, or Catlines. Such words use the term ‘line’ that, according to Ephraim Segerman – the first promoter of such hypothesis -, refers back to the nautical ropes, that has a bumped structure (see Djilda Abbott, E.Segerman: “Catline strings”, F.O.M.R.H.I. Bull nº 12, comm 138, November 1978).
In the mid-90s, after several other researchers investigated in depth such connection between the name Catline and nautical ropes, without finding any evidence, it was Segerman himself who confirmed that there was no connection, advancing a new hypothesis that ‘Catlins’ was derived from ‘Catalugna’, without however reporting any historical document/evidence proving this (see EPHRAIM SEGERMAN ‘More on the name Catline’, comm 1289  FOMRHI n 76; July 1994). I wonder if Mr. Besnainou knows in detail the complex evolution of this debate (I have intentionally omitted to mention the large amount of Comms published on the FOMRHI Q. by John Downing, J.Catch, and others), considering he never mentioned it. From what he wrote, it seems that he is still stuck on the first 1970s’ hypothesis introduced by Ephraim Segerman, where bumped catlins were made twisting togheter two or three dried and polished gut strings.

Let’s make this point definitively clear: a roped structure and the loading of gut with heavy, insoluble thin mineral filler are not in opposition to each other, at all.
As I wrote many years ago during my exchange of views in FOMRHI with Ephraim Segerman, the two solutions can (or maybe we should say ‘must’) coexist, with great advantage for the acoustic performance at the low frequencies: in our company, for example, the so-called ‘loaded gut strings’ manufactured in the period 2007-2010 were exactly made in this way.

A gut string, where elasticity and density are combined together, is very elastic, flexible and powerful enough to compete with a wound string, at least in bowed instruments.

The seven points in our list do not seem to offer alternative solutions (at least we haven’t found any), and some of these points would remain unanswered without a procedure of density increase applied on a very elastic structure, such as that of a rope.

Please note: such ‘densification’ is not necessarily achievable using only heavy mineral powders, or thinking of gut as the only matrix: there are other working hypothesis, which I have never publicly spoken about, up to now, but which I have nevertheless experimented with for almost a decade in the years 1983-1990, such as the loading of silk, or the incorporation of very thin metallic flat and round threads into the fresh gut mass, or mixing silk fibers and metallic microfilaments, spun together etc.) and which I have then neglected to continue.

During a period of approximately 7 years, I carried out almost 1500 experiments on the loading of gut, following the ancient techniques used with silk, of which I still have all data and pieces of strings.


In the end, the best technique of all turned out to be the incorporation of very fine powders (metal/oxide/sulphur), that are insoluble in nature, directly into the fresh gut, so to bring its density from 1.3, typical of a low-twist string, to about 2.6, its double.
In Comm 2095 we have spent several pages dealing with the practice of incorporation, which was a very common practice at the time and involved, for example, the technique of mixing (i.e., incorporating) heavy and insoluble pigments, as fine powders, into different base matrices, some of which were very similar to gut (such as ropes, silk, animal hair, fabrics, leather etc).

On this regard, Mr.Besnainou preferred not to make any comments and simply ignore the subject. One of the main reasons why it’s difficult to accept the idea of such ‘incorporation’, is the lack of familiarity that most people have with the ‘chemistry‘, merceology, technology and the arts of the time, making people mistakenly believe that an ‘incorporation’ procedure has an esoteric, magical if not ‘alchemical’ nature, therefore reserved for very few chosen ones and not available to artisans and artists of the time.
In fact, anyone who was involved in any art or technology at that time could not help but be familiar with these preparation techniques and with the manipulation of ingredients, which were mixed together (i.e. incorporated).

Let’s digress for a moment, and talk about loaded silk strings as a possible historical solution for lute basses.

The hypothesis that Lute basses of late sixteenth and seventeenth century may have been made using silk instead of gut (see John Downing comm 2013: ‘Gansars, Catlines, Pistoys and Lyons – Those Silken Lute Strings?) is certainly interesting but, in our opinion, it’s not convincing for a simple observation: in two centuries of Lute essays, silk is never mentioned, and not only this is true in Lute related treatises and methods, but also in literature of that time.
It is true that the word ‘gut’ seems to be omitted in some passages of the essays (we prefer to say it was implied and taken for granted), and it is also true that there are some types of string of the ‘Meanes’ whose name would seem to recall the type of strings made with silk, such as the Ganzier of Capirola and the Gansars of J Dowland (see in: Mimmo Peruffo: ‘More on Ramelli, loaded gut strings and Gansars’; in F.o.M.R.H.I. Quarterly bulletin 79, April 1995, pp. 53-6), but these can also be made with fresh gut, respecting the silk cordonet technique (one of our commercial varieties of thin gut string used for Meanes is indeed made in this way).
There are, however, several other elements that indirectly lead to refer to gut only, such as the clear description that such basses for Lute were smooth, and that the best time to buy those strings was in a particular season, and not in other times of the year, and other details such as the iconography (which shows that the basses are smooth, not bumped).
How can a theory based on silk be supported, if silk has never been mentioned in the whole corpus of written sources concerning the Lute? The only exception seems to be Lana Terzi (‘Magisterium Naturae et Artis’, Brixiae 1686; vol 2, 433: ‘fides sericas crassiores in testudinibus aliqui maxime approbant’), but a new debate should be triggered regarding silk core wound strings, already mentioned by J. Playford in 1664 (JOHN PLAYFORD: An introduction to the skill of music […]. The fourth edition much enlarged, William Godbid for John Playford, London 1664).

The hypothesis that cities where silk-making flourished were also cities where the production of bass Lute strings bloomed, is an old hypothesis we introduced in the 1990’s (Mimmo Peruffo: “The mystery of gut bass strings in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries: the role of loaded-weighted gut”, Recercare, v 1993, pp. 115-51), but we no longer support it today: in fact, we have realised that there are also many other European cities that were famous for silk-making that never saw any production of Lute strings – just think of the cities in Belgium and northern France, for example.
I currently live in the former state of the Serenissima Republic of Venice, and precisely in the city of Vicenza, whose territory, around the middle of the 16th century, was devoted by the Serenissima to the cultivation of silkworms, allowing this city of mine to become so rich to be able to allocate a lot of funds to the construction of sumptuous palaces, including the famous Olympic Theatre, designed by the architect Andrea Palladio. Well, 95% of both raw and processed silk production was mostly shipped to Northern Europe. Tens of thousands of citizens of Vicenza and surroundings were employed in this process.
In spite of this flourishing trade that lasted from the middle of the sixteenth century to the end of the following century, in the whole state of the Serenissima it doesn’t seem to have been any collateral production dedicated to Lute strings, basses or not.

Eight years ago, we decided to finance the researchers of the chair of Musicology at the University of Florence, with the precise aim of finding all the information concerning the production of strings for lute in the historical period 1550-1710 in Tuscany. The results were unfortunately poor. In all those documents, silk was never mentioned.
We then personally went to Pistoia a couple of times, in an attempt to find out something about the famous Pistoys red basses mentioned by Thomas Mace in 1676 and by Luthier Desmoulin just a few decades before Mace, but always returned with no findings. Instead, we discovered that in the seventeenth century this city was more famous for iron working than for silk.
A silk bass (whether loaded or not) necessarily has a very bumped aspect, typical of a rope. Well, in the whole corpus of iconographic details concerning bass Lute strings, I never came across strings with such typical bumped aspect, and also all written documentation concerning the surface of Lute strings describes only smooth strings.
The suggested ‘braided’ structure is interesting in itself, but before one can say that it’s also historical it is necessary to discover historical documents that justify it.


Let’s get back to Besnainou.
After lingering over many examples, ranging from African, Nepalese and Korean ethnic instruments of the twentieth century, to the lyres of the Etruscan and Imperial Roman period, dated a thousand years before the Lute, or to bowed instruments form late sixteenth century to the end of the eighteenth century, Mr. Besnainou finally comes to the specifics of the Lute bass strings and the related written and iconographic documentation.

This is where we have a surprise. The so called ‘rich/whide’ iconographic documentation presented by Charles is summarised in just two iconographic examples: one is Caravaggio’s painting, that we’ve already examined; the second is a painting by Rutilio Manetti, dated approx. 1623.
The photograph of Manetti’s painting that he used was taken by the writer in 2009 when I went to the National Gallery in Dublin for the first time.
At note 6, he formulates an accusation affirming that I would have gone so far as to falsify this photographic image, after I realized that it would have invalidated my hypothesis.
Caravaggio’s picture, in our opinion, is of no use in this discussion, as I have already stated earlier on.

The only written historical documentation he presents can be condensed in a single argument found in Dowland (i.e. the way the strings are packaged, that is the ‘knots’) while he completely ignores the full dissertation made by Thomas Mace – which, by the way, is the most exhaustive historical source on Lute strings – to focus solely on the ‘true’ meaning that Mace would have meant with the word ‘smooth’.

Now let’s examine ‘Part 2’ of Mr. Besnainou’s work.  

Part 2

2- Mimmo Peruffo’s theory

I use the word theory here in the sense that it is more a hypothesis based on information or limited knowledge, in a word, a conjecture, not a set of statements or principles designed to explain a set of facts or phenomena, in particular that have been repeatedly tested or are widely accepted. So, from the diameter of the holes, he infers = > that the diameter of the strings are necessarily at more than 85% (why not 95% ? – a mystery!) of that of the holes, then he infers => that to get the right pitch and the right tension with such diameters, a denser material is needed, otherwise the strings are slack, unplayable and false (inharmonic), finally he infers = > that it is necessary to densify the gut, without giving any recipe, to complete its demonstration. By the way, he tries to criticise the supporters of the structured strings that look like ropes.

The value of 85% was introduced by Ephraim Segerman, the most severe critic of the gut loading theory (E. SEGERMAN: “On historical string tensions on lutes)”, F.O.M.R.H.I. Bull. nº 75, comm. 1255 .p 42; April 1994). We simply accepted such percentage. On the other hand, so far we have not found any historical source that tells us how much oversize the holes of the bridge had to be made compared to the strings (!).
We believe that this percentage is a reasonable value: it also takes into account the greater excursion of the average diameter along the length of the string caused by the less accurate manual grinding system in use at that time.
Arguing whether it’s 85% or even 91% remains, however, a useless speculation: even at 91%, the deduced tension values remain, on average, too low to make an unloaded gut Lute string work properly.

Besnainou states ‘he tries to criticise the supporters of the structured strings that look like ropes’  . Well, yes: we make use of our right to be critical.
Anyway, let’s move on: our criticism is not regarding the idea of the roped structure itself, but on the idea that the roped structure ‘alone’ is enough to satisfy all the seven points we listed (not for nothing, in our final hypothesis we are directed towards a roped structure – made on fresh guts – that is then densified by means of appropriate mineral fillers, and finally smoothed).

2.1 -The lute bridge holes question

In such an important article that purports to definitively prove the correctness of his theory   (« the only possible hypothesis… »), it is surprising that Mimmo Peruffo provides us with so little detail about his measurements. Nowhere is the least histogram of its measurements in relation to the number of courses, the date of manufacture of the instruments or the length of the diapason. The only elements he provides tell us that about 50% (!) of its measures were eliminated, without giving any criteria. It would have been very useful to describe what are the significant elements which knocked out 50% of the measurements taken. Is there not a confirmation bias here that focuses solely on some data to approve its initial hypothesis ?

Besnainou is surprised by the fact that we did not report here all the measurements on the holes of Lute bridges: we certainly could not bring an old 30-page article in our Comm 2095 in full. The articles dealing with the measurements we collected, and the related tables, have been mentioned in footnotes 1,2,3 of our bibliography: it is enough that Besnainou looks for them (as we all do when reading other people’s works), for example here:


Anyway, here’s a short list:

-M. PERUFFO: “New hypothesis on the construction of bass strings for lutes and other gut strung instruments”, F.O.M.R.H.I. Bull. nº 62, comm. 1021, January 1991
-M. PERUFFO: “Il mistero delle corde gravi del liuto: nuove ipotesi di lavoro”, Bollettino della Società Italiana del Liuto nº 2-3, October 1991 – January 1992
-M. PERUFFO: “The mystery of gut bass strings in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries: the role of loaded-weighted gut”, Recercare, v 1993, pp. 115-51.
-M. PERUFFO: “On Venice Catlins, Lyons, Pistoy Basses and loaded-wighted bass gut strings’, F.O.M.R.H.I. Bull. nº 76, comm. 1288, July 1994

On FOMRHI’s website, Segerman’s various critical comments on our measurements can be found, complete with its own calculations:

E. SEGERMAN: “On historical string tensions on lutes)”, F.O.M.R.H.I. Bull. nº 75, comm. 1255, April 1994
E. SEGERMAN: “On historical lute strings types and tensions (incl. a resp. to Comm 1288)”, F.O.M.R.H.I. Bull. nº 77, comm. 1307, October 1994
E. SEGERMAN: “An analysis of the bridge hole data on lutes in comms 1288 and 1350)”, F.O.M.R.H.I. Bull. nº 107-8, comm. 1807, April-July 2002.

Here are some examples of our datasheet regarding surveys of bridge holes:

Besnainou states that I didn’t want to expose the reason why I discarded 50% of the measures, because it would be very embarrassing for me: according to his opinion, I would have noticed that some measures would invalidate my hypothesis and therefore I would have suppressed them.
His conjecture does not correspond to the truth, at all.

I clearly explained the reason of my decision, but he did not notice it.
The discarded measures concerned bridges that were found not to be original, or even when there may have been doubts on their origin. As a practice, I have always asked the various museum curators and restorers whether the bridge under examination was original or not: based on their answer, I decided accordingly.

Adding data from non-original bridges would have supported even more my hypothesis, considering that many bridges were mainly from the 19th or early 20th century, and holes for the basses were very thin, sized for wound strings on silk core.
On the other hand, in the tables I have published there’s evidence of a few measurements of holes on allegedly original bridges that do not support our hypothesis at all (they are, however, a very small part). Statistically, these results do not change the results, and, after all, larger holes can hold thinner strings as well.

Why would it not be possible to attach a string with a diameter larger than the hole? It suffices, for example, to split in two strands the twisted cord (polished or bumpy), then to tie  a strand passing through the hole – whose diameter corresponds to the hole – with the other strand, as evidenced by many iconographic sources, for lutes and viols. However, once again iconography brings us elements that can not be neglected on penalty of completely missing the essentials.

This is how Besnainou comes to expose his theory of overcoming the thin hole diameters found on ancient Lutes, adding that it is ‘evidenced by many iconographic sources, for lutes and viols’.

Before discussing his technical solution, we’re seriously asking ourselves where’s this abundant iconographic evidence he’s talking about.

In his long article, in fact, we can only find: example 6a and 6b, regarding a Bass violin; Baschenis’s painting of a Violone; one painting of a seven stringed Bass viol, a picture of a catapult taken from Agostino Ramelli’s book, and, finally, a couple engravings taken from Mersenne and Praetorious.
Regarding the Lute, the only iconographic evidence are the paintings of Caravaggio and Rutilio Manetti (which we will soon examine).

In our opinion, the remaining ‘iconographic evidences’ he presents are not to be considered, both because they are not referred to the historical period of the Lute (that is 16th and 17th centuries), and they are referred to territorial areas too far away from the one where Lutes were actually used.

Let’s examine his suggestion of dividing in their supposed two brins the bass string.

He takes for granted that the ancient Lute basses were made of two brins twisted together in order to make a rope structure (but we don’t actually know this).

Unfortunately this theory is contradicted by the entire corpus of historical documentation that is in our possession, whether it is iconographic or written: where did our iconographic evidence of the details of smooth basses tied to the bridge with the commonly used system go?
He simply does not comment them.
In the examples he brings, such as Praetorious and Mersenne, the method he suggests is never mentioned; moreover, there is not a single treatise for Lute that deals with, or at least describes, his way of fixing the strings at the bridge

One might ask: and what happens on the peg? Should the string be divided in their supposed two brins as well?

So, once again, supposing (but not granting) that ancient bass strings were effectively made in that way, why couldn’t luthiers simply enlarge the bass bridge holes? Please allow me these two jokes: were there no proper tools? Or maybe did a Royal decree banned a such practice?

It is not acceptable to say that there is not enough space on the bridge or the tailpiece: nowadays, everyone installing roped bass gut strings enlarge the holes of the bridge of their lute up to 2.0-2.3 mm in diameter (and in some cases even more).

Occam’s Razor theory states that when presented with competing hypotheses about the same prediction, one should select the solution with the fewest assumptions.


So, applying Occam’s theory, which is the simplest way? Opening the string in these supposed two brins, passing one brin through the hole and then tying it externally to the other, or simply widening the hole, as shown in the majority of the iconographic examples?
Such a complicated solution arises from the rigid stance of denying the possibility that fresh gut could have been loaded/charged with heavy, insoluble mineral fillers, whereas we believe that if holes had been made so thin, it was for a very specific reason and certainly not to force people to invent non-linear solutions such as this one.
Occam’s rule directs us to the simplest solution: widening the holes would have been preferred to opening the string in two halves.

An idea like this, driven by a pure dogmatic principle, that totally closes to the hypothesis that in the seventeenth century people were able to realize mixtures of fresh gut and heavy pigments, seems to be a ‘negationist’ attitude towards the whole history of technology and arts of that time, which constantly made use of very complex mixtures/incorporations of heavy pigments, based on oxides and sulphides of Lead or Mercury (Litharge, Cynnabar etc) , together with glues, resins etc., in matrices of various heterogeneous nature, not least silk and hemp. Some of these arts are close relatives of gut processing: the tanning of skins and the dyeing of fabrics, for example. The same ability was found in households (we have dozens of cookbooks of that time that testify it).  

Figure 17a : Rutilio Manetti (1571-1639), Victorious Love (Siena, 1624), National Gallery, Dublin.

In a painting, richly composed with several musical instruments, Rutilio Manetti (Victorious Love, Siena, 1624) offers us a close-up view of the bridge of a lute with strings affixed. We can immediately observe the diameter of the strings from the bass to the treble which confirms the observations of Mersenne, namely a big bass that contrasted with the chanterelle can well measure between 2 or 3 mm. But the most interesting thing to note that the strand coming out of the bridge hole is much thinner than the string itself. If the painter actually represented what he saw, then the conclusion is that the string was divided (split) into two pieces to allow one strand to penetrate the hole while the other passes by the outside to tie the knot. Thus, the mystery of the diameter of the holes in the bridge of a lute is lifted.

Figure 17b : Detail, strand coming out the bridge hole is finer than the diameter of the big bass string.

This simple observation and the fact that we can easily reproduce even today this kind of fastening with gut strings is likely to completely invalidate the theory of Mimmo Peruffo. The fact that in his article Mimmo Peruffo published this view without realizing that he had in front him the answer to his holes’ hypothesis of the diameter constitutes a blatant cognitive bias that speaks volumes about his blindness to prove his theories [6] [48].

In note 6 of his article, Besnainou claims that, in order to prove myself right, I would have altered/falsified the photo of this painting using Photoshop: before making this accusation publicly, wouldn’t it have been better if he had first gone to the National Gallery in Dublin to personally verify the painting? Or maybe send someone he trusted? He would have thus realized that there has been no fraudulent alteration on my part.

In a series of private communications, dating back to late 2018, Besnainou  came to doubt that I have ever gone to Dublin, demanding from me, as proof of my honesty, to provide the original airplane ticket, dating back ten years earlier (ticket that I have not obviously kept: because of my job, I make at least a dozen air trips every year, and I certainly do not keep physical copies of my tickets).

I went to Dublin several times, in 2008, 2009 (the year when I took the photo he used), 2012 and 2018. In 2009 and 2012 I also attended Ukulele Hooley (I’m also ‘popular’ in the ukulele world, and I’m sure hundreds of people can remember me there). Should I really need to provide dozens of photographs that testify my presence in Dublin, as proof of my honesty? That would go beyond the scope of this debate, but I’m ready to show photos and videos of my trips to anyone who will contact me privately, including some pictures of me at the National Gallery.

Here I’m visiting the Guinness factory, in the outer belt of Dublin, in 2012:

In 2018 I had been invited to a classical guitar symposium, in Dublin:

During my free time, I had the chance to visit again the National Gallery, together my daughter, Anna, that helped me take pictures (also details taken at only 10cm of distance from the paintings):

And here’s the lute, with the cittern painted at its side:

Here I’d like to show you how near the instruments are:

Let’s examine a few details of this painting.

As already highlighted in my Comm 2095, in this painting we see a Cittern whose bass is made by taking a metal wire (probably silver, since it was painted ‘white’ and not ‘yellow’ like brass) that, once bent in half, was then twisted on itself, as indicated by Mersenne, le Roy etc.

In the same painting, an eight-order lute appears, where the seventh and eighth bass are simple strings (you can see the shadow projected on the soundboard).
These basses all have the same identical and homogeneous brown color (which makes them chromatically different from the first 4 highest strings that are ‘white’): they have an apparent flexibility and softness that is evident in the detail of the knots and the folds they have at the bridge (this factor led us to believe it could be a smoothened roped structure). Violin 3rd and 4th are also brown (and recall to us what James Talbot, 1695 ca written about the Violin all gut setup)
Finally, the basses are painted perfectly smooth; there is not the slightest sign of fiber or twisting. They are in total contrast with the markedly bumped ones you can see in the Cittern (for which I would like to remember that we have at least two contemporary written descriptions that explain how they were built, and that lead exactly to the type of structure as highlighted by Manetti).

Given the great precision of the Sienese painter, if the bass strings of the Lute had also been partially or totally bumped (because they were made like a rope), would he not have painted them exactly like those of the Cittern? The reader should dwell on this point, because it is of great importance.

In contrast to what Besnainou says, the diameter of the basses is not reduced in any way behind the bridge, past their own hole; moreover, there is no evidence of the curious system of fixing the string to the bridge by dividing it into two brins and tying them back once one element passed through the hole of the bridge.

Given this overwhelming iconographic evidence (characterized by the co-presence of two instruments, where Lute has smooth basses while the Cittern ones are bumped), it is easy to understand that the only way Besnainou could resolve the issue was to say that the photo was altered by me, so as to muddy the waters.

This painting, therefore, contains the proof capable of collapsing his theory, and the proof is given by the simultaneous presence of these two instruments and how the relative bass strings have been represented: smooth in the case of the Lute; bumped in the case of the Cittern.

To distract the reader’s attention, he goes so far as to say: ‘is likely to completely invalidate the theory of Mimmo Peruffo’.

Instead, considering the above considerations, this example completely invalidate his theory.

On the subject of iconography, related to Lute bridges, we noticed that he did not spend a single word in commenting on the various iconographic examples of the details of Lute bridges that we had attached to our work, where one can notice that not only bass strings are smooth (and not as bumped as a rope) but it is also clearly visible how they are tied to the bridge, and that the string portion behind the bridge has the same diameter of the portion towards the fretboard.
In a few moments we will show these images again.

Let’s summarize the various points:

  1. It is not true that I have never been in Dublin: I have been there on several occasions (I have photos and videos available to any skeptics). 
  2. It’s not true that in order to be right I would have altered my photo of Manetti’s painting: I have attached new and more detailed photos here, so one can make comparisons, verifying that there are no changes. In case of doubt, instead of making sterile accusations, I suggest to go directly to the National Gallery in Dublin to verify in person such painting. 
  3. Looking at the photos, the bass strings coming out of the bridge are not thinner than the incoming strings.
  4. The method of fixing the strings to the bridge as indicated by Besnainou (by separating them into two portions and then knotting them back) is never noticeable.
  5. In the same painting, both a cittern and a Lute are shown: while the Cittern strings are clearly bumped (as a consequence of the construction technique that was clearly described by Le Roy and Mersenne), Lute strings, instead, are perfectly smooth and without any visible twisting.

Being on the same painting, if Lute basses were made with the same technique used for the Cittern, the painter would have certainly painted them adopting the same details.
Before concluding this point, we would like to report once again the images showing the details of the Lute bridge, where one can see that: 1)  strings are smooth; 2) strings are fixed to the bridge using the traditional technique; 3) strings keep their diameter unvaried, before and after the bridge holes.


Finally, we also report some evidence taken from Mersenne: in his engravings referring to the Lute and Tiorba, bass strings are not only perfectly smooth, but also there’s no division into two portions/brins, as suggested by Besnainou. The loop used to fix the strings to the bridge remains the same both on trebles and on basses (on the high strings the division into two portions/brins obviously would make no sense).

Mersenne basically reproduces what can already be seen in the above examples of Lute bridges.

There are, of course, many other iconographic examples concerning the details of lute strings (while there are only a few that are related to the details of the bridge): in all the many dozens of examples we have examined, we have never reported ‘bumped’ basses, but only smooth ones.

Here are some examples:

Regarding bowed instruments, the iconographic examples are really abundant. We therefore suggest to the curious reader to search on the web personally, using terms like ‘baroque instruments’, ‘baroque bowed instruments’, etc.: many examples in high definition can be found quite easily.

It is very rare to find highlights of the pattern of fibers and the type of twisting also in the examples concerning bowed instruments (the exceptions of our knowledge are just the engravings of Praetorius and Mersenne, and the detail of that painting of Baschenis highlighted by Besaninou, that however no longer appears in other replicas of the same subject, and can’t be found in any other painting by Baschenis).

The strings of the seventeenth-century bowed instruments appear smooth, and they are attached to the tailpiece regularly. There’s no evidence of the unlikely system suggested by Besnainou: the strings pass through the hole of the tailpiece at full diameter.
Only on the highest strings, a sea knot called ‘Bowline’ is sometimes used, but that has nothing to do with what is proposed by Besnainou.

For further details: https://aquilacorde.com/en/blog-en/early-music-blog/how-to-correctly-install-gut-strings-avoiding-breakages-and-assuring-tuning-stability/

It is not possible to report here the several dozens of iconographic examples, therefore we limit ourselves to only a few:

In Mersenne and Praetorius’ prints, it is evident that the bass strings pass through the hole of the tailpiece with their entire diameter – without any division into two portions/brins of the string:

The bass strings of the Cittern are sometimes represented bumped, a direct consequence of the fact that they were made by twisting together two metal wires of the same gauge (as evidenced in written historical documentation) and it happened that the painter wanted to emphasize this.

Here are a few examples:

2.2 The question of the maximum diameter of the bass strings

Indeed, why say that the bass strings of the lute were necessarily less than 1.3 mm diameter. While one of the most reliable sources of the 17th century says the opposite?! Marin Mersenne, Secretary of a circle of leading European savants of his time and whose scientific results still demand admiration today [4], gives in Harmonie Universelle (1636) in the second book (pages 7 to 72), the relationship between diameter, pitch and string length. On page 51, he even gives the diameters of the gut strings he measured on the lute, as engraved; the 11th bass C has a diameter of one line, which corresponds to about 2.5 millimetres (yes, gut…), which confirms the evaluation that we made with the painting of Manetti. By following its calculation of proportion, we obtain a chanterelle of 0.37 mm, which is very easy to obtain. Unfortunately, Mersenne, generally so precise in his observations, gives no indication of the string length. So I made a calculation with a length interval between 72 and 67 cm and I  found tension around 4.5 kg with a tuning standard of A=415 Hz, with 398 Hz, I found 3.5 kg. Which allows a good playbility. I rather trust the Mersenne measures [7]; all his treatise is based on measurements, rejecting speculations.

Besnainou here mentions a diameter of 1.3 mm: it was not proposed by us, but is a result of Ephraim Segerman’s calculations, based on our measurements of holes in historical lute bridges (please remember that Segerman, being the creator of the current modern Catlines, has always been against the theory of loaded gut strings).
We simply brought back the diameter measurements calculated by Ephraim, that referred to a medium density of 1.3 (therefore low twist), to the typical average density value of the roped ones, with bumped or smooth structure.

Mersenne is undoubtedly of utmost importance for all of us, but we suggest Besnainou to read the several Comms of the various years of FOMRHI where he can realize the number of mistakes made by Mersenne (he is human too), discovered in these years by researchers.

-Cary Karp: “Strings, twisted and Mersenne”. FOMRHI quarterly no.12, July 1978,    comm.137.

-Ephraim Segerman & Djilda Abott: “On twisted metal strings and Mersenne’s string data”. FOMRHI quarterly no.13, October 1978, comm. 164.

-Cary Karp: “On Mersenne’s twisted data and metal strings”. FOMRHI quarterly no.14, January 1979, comm. 183.

-Ephraim Segerman: “Mersenne untwisted-a counter-Carp to comm.183”. FOMRHI quarterly no.15, April 1979, comm.199.


Based on what Mersenne wrote, Ephraim Segerman (E. Segerman: “String tension on  Mersenne’s lute”, F.O.M.R.H.I. Bull. nº 11, comm. 129, April 1978) has calculated that gut would have had a breaking load of only 19 Kg/mm2, against an average value of 34-36 Kg/mm2, that can be deduced not only from the current gut chanterelles, but also from the tables of musical instruments represented by Praetorius: here we have the various intonations of the plucked and bowed instruments and the possibility to measure their vibrating lengths (thanks to the unit of measurement reported in the book itself) and relate them to a possible pitch standard of reference (there are no major critical elements: even changing a semitone does not produce a significant variation on the value of the gut breaking index).
If what Mersenne said about the gut breaking load was true, then the Lute, as we know it, could not exist at all (these are Segerman’s conclusions, which we fully share).

There are several errors and oversights in Mersenne’s work, not only in the metal wire data or gut’s breaking load, but also in the chapter where he describes the relationship between the various parameters, when introducing the string formula.

For example, after enunciating the string formula (for which we are very grateful) he introduces a corrective numerical factor of 1/16 without giving any explanation of why it is necessary; this fact did not get away from Daniello Bartoli who criticises him (DANIELLO BARTOLI: Del suono, de’ tremori armonici e dell’udito, a spese di Nicolò Angelo Tinassi, Roma 1679, p. 157. Copy consulted: private library of Roberto Regazzi, Bologna).

Mersenne’s chapter about the strings of the Lute should be placed in a context that is certainly not to provide practical data about a real setting, but it must be considered as a teaching tool, to demonstrate the rules of proportions introduced by the formula of the strings: in fact, after having introduced the existing mathematical proportions between frequency, diameter, vibrating length and density, he uses the Lute as a concrete example to show in practice how the rules of proportions work (and in particular about the proportionality that would exist between diameter and frequency). If it was instead a suggestion of a real setting, we should ask ourselves why the different qualities and types of strings are not mentioned (as Dowland, Burwell and Mace do, for example), without considering the fact that Mersenne would be ‘contradicted’ by the holes of the bridges of historical lutes (unless they are all considered unreliable).
But there’s more: Segerman (I can’t remember in which FOMRHI Comm) reports that Mersenne, at a certain point, makes it clear that in the real world of musicians the rules of proportions in terms of string set ups are not followed at all (see Eph Segerman).

Before continuing, it is necessary to correct the units of measurement reported by Besnainou: a line does not correspond to 2.5 mm but approx. to 2.3 mm; therefore, the first string is not 0.37 mm but 0.34  mm (E. Segerman: “String tension on  Mersenne’s lute”, F.O.M.R.H.I. Bull. nº 11, comm. 129, April 1978). As Segerman says: 1 line = 1/12 di inch. In Paris, in Mersenne’s time, 1 inch is 1/12 foot, and a foot is 32.8 cm).
Based on these proportions, the first string has a diameter of 0.34 mm. Mersenne states that the chanterelle of the Lute breaks at 3 1/2 pounds; therefore, 0.34 mm will break at 0.490 Kg.

If we bring back the data to a section of 1 mm2, we obtain only 19 Kg, to be compared to the average value of 36 Kg calculated by us on modern gut and ancient lute chanterelles.

The range of vibrating lengths, and the corresponding working tensions as suggested by Besnainou for the lute used by Mersenne are, in our opinion, objectionable: they are not the result of a reasoning that starts from a hypothesis of a possible standard pitch of Mersenne’s time, from a possible type of instrument (tenor? bass?) and from a possible FL product to be assigned to the instrument.

Instead, they are the result of an empirical criterion he established, that led to a range of vibrating lengths (67-72 cm) referred to the chorister of 415 Hz (which is presumed to be the one adopted today for early music) where, in his opinion, a value of 3.5 kg   ‘allows a good playability’:  but this is just a personal opinion.

If we really have to carry out a reasoning that is as much as possible ‘grounded on earth’ (variables and uncertainties are considerable) we must first establish which pitch standard Mersenne was possibly referring to.
Which one should we choose? Researchers worldwide have extremely different positions and opinions on this matter.
Since we have made it clear in the introduction that we are making a pure speculation let us take as reference what Haynes (Bruce Haynes: ‘A history of performing pitch’ Oxford 2002 p 97.) and E. Segerman (‘Mersenne’s pitch standard’. FOMRHI n 80, July 1995) reported, both of which substantially agree that the ‘Ton de chapelle’  in Paris, at Mersennes’ time, was in the range of 380-390 Hz. Let’s assume an average value of 385 Hz.
It is now necessary to decide what size this hypothetical Lute should be (Mersenne says nothing about this; which makes one think that he took the Lute as a pure didactic example). Let’s consider a Tenor Lute “in G” (the most common model). 

Let’s now determine its hypothetical vibrating length.

At a pitch of 385 Hz, the G note has a frequency of 343 Hz. What we need now to establish is the FL product of this lute, and then we can calculate its vibrating length. let’s assume a value of 230 (the link below explains why).

Learn more about the FL product:

Let’s calculate the vibrating length:

230 FL / 343 Hz = 0.67 m

Starting from these values, we can therefore deduce that a tenor lute in G (to one of the supposed Parisian standard pitch of Mersenne’s time) would have had a vibrating length of 67 cm (which incidentally is also the lowest vibrating length value empirically proposed by Besnainou).

Once established the hypothetical vibrating length (which we based on a certain reasoning criterion, and not on a purely empirical reasoning), now we can finally calculate the working tension, but not using a diameter of 0.37 mm, as Charles proposed (which is wrong), but using a diameter of 0.34 mm, which is precisely the value obtained after correcting the unit of measurement.

The value of tension we obtain is 2.54 Kg: is it low? Is it high?
The evaluation of the tactile feel of tension is subjective in nature, just like…. the number of teaspoons of sugar one wants in his/her cappuccino. Having said that, a value like this for a cantino (which is single) at a vibrating length of 67 cm seems a rather low value, at least with respect to current criteria.

Learn more on equal feel/equal tension:



2.3 The question of the traces left by the strings inside the holes

It is now necessary to examine the hypothesis of the densification of gut by metallic loading of the strings to complete Mimmo Peruffo’s reasoning. Indeed, this hypothesis can be seriously considered to go in search of historical documents that would confirm it. But, faced with the reasonable question: « Can holes contain traces of metals or oxides added to the string ? » Mimmo Peruffo refuses to jump the Rubicon by deciding « … not to take samples », probably fearing « … to make mistakes », which would contradict his hypothesis. What a shame!

So far, having written a quantity of articles on the subject, Mimmo Peruffo has not found any historical documents. The absence of such historical documents does not mean that it does not exist and that its hypothesis is definitively closed. The fact that he himself managed to densify gut with which he made strings probably proves that this is plausible; why would it not have been possible for the elders? For scientific research lack of response to a question does not remove the interest of this question, we simply have to find another point of view and above all ot to hesitate to take samples when they are needed.

probably fearing « … to make mistakes », which would contradict his hypothesis. What a shame!’‘ Besnainou here suspects that I have deliberately avoided analyzing the inside of the holes of the bridges, in order not to be confronted with elements that could come to disprove my hypothesis. This is not the case, of course.
I decided not to analyze the dust on the inside of these holes because some of them were almost filled with dirt (dust and various junk, etc) that had accumulated over the centuries: the risk of contamination and false measurements was therefore very high. The cleaning procedure, before taking the measurement, was rather simple, but also delicate: fortunately, the dirt came out very easily.
At that time, I asked for an opinion not only to the director of the chemical laboratory where I worked, but I also phoned the Institute of Restoration in Florence (I don’t remember the details of the phone call well, many decades have passed): both advised me strongly against this verification because of the high risk of making mistakes.

After all, the diameter of the holes was the real information we needed.

Besnainou is an expert in musical acoustics, while I have been in the distant past a chemist who has worked for 25 years in a laboratory for the analysis of water and solid artifacts, using equipment such as mass gas, atomic absorption and analytical balances up to the sixth digit after the decimal point etc.: to each his own job, as is said in common sense. I never express opinions on musical acoustics, because I am incompetent and the risk of saying nonsense is high.

2.4 The suggestion of the string colour as a proof of gut densification

Mimmo Peruffo suggests that the colour of the strings could indicate various treatments, among which is the densification of gut. He even thinks that the strings in brown or black hues would be the most convincing sign of densification results. Guts as well as animal skins consisting essentially of collagen are likely to be tanned. This tanning has the effect of increasing the mechanical strength. Tanned modern intestines used as surgical sutures have a more or less brown colour. This treatment allows slower resorption than untanned sutures, but there is no significant change in their densities.

He even thinks that the strings in brown or black hues would be the most convincing sign of densification results’. From this sentence we understand that Besnainou either did not read well what we wrote, or he simply ignored it. Let’s summarize in one sentence what we have written in Comm 2095: the coloration of the strings is NOT considered the decisive proof of the loading of gut (in Comm 2095 we explained the reasons in detail).

Tanned modern intestines used as surgical sutures have a more or less brown colour’.
From the way he expresses himself, Besnainou sounds like he’s a professional string maker;  we doubt, however, that he has spent more than a few hours inside a professional gut string’s factory. He will hopefully have realized how complex our work is, including the many chemical steps required
We must therefore necessarily contradict him: in the production cycle dedicated to musical gut strings, there is no so-called ‘tanning process’ corresponding to a tanning action, as he claims. In fact, we are not in the presence of leather and skins.
This ‘tanning process’ exists only as a jargon, used by professional string makers to identify a certain chemical phase among the twelve sequentially used in the production process, that is applied to the strips of cow serosa, according to modern production technology. These phases are followed when making tennis strings and harp strings (like the ones made by Bows Brand and Babolat) or the ones made by Granata Sutures of Milan (the company of my master stringmaker), and Sofracob.
Technical jargon, in our profession, is very common: for example, there’s a certain chemical phase that’s called ‘milk’, while another is simply called ‘drug’. Nothing to do, of course, with real milk and real drugs.
I don’t think the reader will be surprised if we state that the chemical treatment phases used on gut are the industrial secret most closely kept by the string companies (I therefore doubt that Besnainou knows any details).

The technological/constructive phases and the chemical formulas of the modern industrial production cycle of their beef serosa for use in sutures, music, tennis and harp, have been handed down to me by stringmaker Arturo Granata, who spent about twenty years at Babolat, together with Mr. Lenoble (who was the director of Sofracob until the shutdown of his factory). Also, the technician (that I will not name for privacy reasons) who set up the production cycle of what later became English ‘Bow Brand’, worked for the same company. In short, they were all colleagues.
I visited Sofracob several times and finally bought some machines before its definitive close down.

This is a picture of me with Daniela Gaidano and the former director of Sofracob, Mr. Lenoble

The modern production cycle, as we said, consists of at least twelve different chemical baths where EDTA, polyphosphate, sodium carbonate, benzoyl peroxide, hydrogen peroxide, sodium alum, etc. are used. This production cycle, in other words, is rather complex and highly standardized.

Let’s ask Besnainou: does he know in depth all these things, so that he can make a judgement, based on real technical knowledge of all the phases of this job that takes years to be fully understood? The reader must be able to trust his judgement.

Let’s get to the point at hand: the brown color of some strings, the ones Besnainou refers to, concerns the surgical catgut, and it is precisely a treatment process with Iodine, whose purpose is certainly not to strengthen the string -as he claims- but to obtain a disinfectant effect of the suture thread. A second treatment that is used with these surgical threads is the chroming one (suture threads become green/grayish) and it is used to avoid the suture thread to be absorbed by the organism.

It really is a whimsy exercise when it is simply said that browned suture strings do not undergo density changes, and comparing them to seventeenth-century lute basses. Besnainou should kindly explain what would be the connection between a suture thread from beef serosa that gets brown by an iodine treatment, and a lute bass string of four hundred years ago.
Simply the fact that they share the same brown color? Applying the same principle, a lemon and a canary could be very similar for the only fact that they are both yellow.
I would like to remind the reader that we have dealt with the subject of the coloring of the strings in a sufficiently extensive manner, summarizing some aspects of the practices of “chemical” technology, merchandise, dyeing and tanning techniques in use in the 16th and 17th centuries, specifying the nature of the pigments in use in the past and their characteristics and methods of use. We also clarified the possible distinction between the colored strings that are observed in the treble and middle strings (for aesthetic purposes) and the coloration that is observed in the low strings, which could instead be an indication of a possible mineral filler process in order to increase the density.
We have also mentioned that it is possible to load/charge the gut with insoluble mineral fillers that have a coloration similar to natural gut, having shades of yellow/light brown. But Besnainou did not want to deal with all this, preferring to limit himself to making an improper comparison, just like comparing a “lemon” and a “canary”.

In the published article (FoMRHI 143, p24), Mimmo Peruffo honestly acknowledges: « it is true that at the moment there is no direct evidence related to a process of loading of gut (a string maker’s recipe; a document that mentioned that the basses was treated in some way to make it denser, for example) ». So, in the current state of our knowledge, the practice of the densification of guts remains a hypothesis

Besnainou writes: ‘the practice of the densification of guts remains a hypothesis’
We are pleased that he finally noticed it: the title of our work speaks of hypothesis, not certainties.
The day we’ll find a recipe that explains how to make the bass strings of the lute, left by some 17th century stringmaker, then perhaps it will become a certainty.
But the same thing also applies to the rope structure: we do not have any document, left by string-makers, that gives us a clear manufacturing indication, so that this remains a hypothesis too (which, however, alone does not stand up to the seven points we have listed). As we’ve already explained in Comm 2095, the reality is that we only have inventories of the Roman string-makers’ workshops discovered by Barbieri, where the equipment and some “chemical” substances are listed
(PATRIZIO BARBIERI: ‘Roman and Neapolitan gut strings 1550 1950’.  In GSJ Maggio 2006; pp. 176-7).
And we are already lucky enough: before this evidence, we were wandering in total darkness.

2.5 About the surface condition of large lute basses

Peruffo Mimmo says: « It is only today that we find bumpy strings described as historical » ignoring all the iconographic examples (cf. §1) that attest to structures resembling marine ropes. He probably kindly wants to make fun of me by attributing to me the making of strings directly (!) on the bridge of the lute by the musician himself … [8]

ignoring all the iconographic examples’:  Once again he insists on this abundance of iconographic examples: why insisting?
As I’ve already said before, most are related to different time periods and different instruments (such as examples of Cello, Bass viol, 5-course Guitar of the seventeenth century, or the Roman and Etruscan examples, not to mention the ethnic instruments of the XX century found in Africa and Far East), and the only painting of Baschenis he refers to was copied so many times but never showing again roped structures, not even in other works of Baschenis.

The only truly interesting example that is related to the Lute is Rutilio Manetti’s painting, which is then what completely disqualifies his theory.

Once again we must remember that statistics in iconography has its own weight: a hypothesis that is based only on a very few iconographic evidences cannot take over dozens of other examples where we can clearly see that the strings are smooth and fixed to the bridges according to the most traditional systems, not the one proposed by Besnainou and never described in music treatises and manuals of lute and strings.

Unfortunately his belief that the bass strings were all smooth (polished) comes from a restrictive definition of the word smooth which has many different meanings depending on the context. The common sense in the 17th century is that of a supple and soft texture under the finger.

In Thomas Mace’s Musick Monument [9], we find dozens of occurrences of this word as adjective, adverb and verb; with the sense of a flat surface [MM p.59]; the action of cleanly cleaning a glued joint [MM p.59]; as well as the action of marbling the end of a string to soften it to fasten the knot of the frets more easily [MM p.69] ; to draw a bow without shaking [MM p. 248]; to sound his lute with tenderness [MM p.130]; to drag a fret onto the neck [MM p.50] ; to describe a properly cut rose [MM p. 49] ; the lute playing technique that Mace calls « close play » allowing flawless speed [MM p. 85] ; to find a flexible string without « hull » (without knots) [MM p.67].

To answer the question whether there were large, smooth (polished) or bumped bass strings, we must first examine the various meanings of the word « knots » that we often meet in the description of these Venice-Catlins. In the context of a visual description it is certainly not real knot (yaw knot) but a spiral shape that winds along the axis of the string. We are helped in this by distinguishing two kinds of spiral loops: long and short : « Venice-Catlins are  made up, in short double Knots » and « The Lyon String, is made up in a double Knot; but as Long as the Minikin » [MM p. 66]

This means that visually two spirals (double Knots) wrap around each other with a wide (long) step for the Lyons or with a tight (short) step for the Venice-Catlins

It is also understandable that Minikins are not made up of two elements but with a skein of gut simply twisted: « Minikins are made up always, in long-thin-small Knots », which is the usual way to make gut strings.

Lyons would consist of two elements such as wet and still ductile Minikins that are smoothed during drying to give a smooth final surface (see fig. 42).

The Venice-Catlins, they would consist of two elements already strongly twisted in the final phase of drying which give a dented surface (see fig.42). We will see in § 4.1.3 why these ropes are radically different from marine ropes. Indeed when T. Mace characterises them mechanically by “the Smoothness, and Stiffness to the Finger“, he speaks of suppleness (flexibility) and elasticity (stiffness).

Which are the main mechanical properties for musical strings (see § 5.1.3)

Not being able to deny what is written in the sources dedicated to the Lute that we have reported in full, where it’s clearly stated that for Lute basses (Lyon, Catlins, Pistoys) ‘the string must not be full of knotts or gowty or rugged… (Wellesley (Mass.), Wellesley College Library, “The Burwell lute tutor“, manuscript, ca. 1670, facsimile reprint with introduction by Robert Spencer, Boethius Press, Leeds 1973, the chapter 4 “Of the strings of the lute […]”), as also confirmed by the contemporary iconography, he now tries to get around the obstacle by explaining what would be instead the ‘true’ meaning of the word ‘smooth’ used by Thomas Mace: ‘supple and soft’  (THOMAS  MACE: Musik’s monument […], the author & John Carr, London 1676, pp. 65-6)

Let us therefore deal with the word ‘smooth’ as found in Mace, but confining ourselves to the question of the strings, and not going on to deal with other topics as Besnainou does.
It is therefore argued that, for Mace, the term ‘smooth’ does not refer to the quality of the surface of the string, but to a more generic ‘supple and soft’ texture. We understand well why: this word puts at great risk the hypothesis that the bass strings of the Lute were bumped. As it is not possible to affirm that Mace made a false statement, there is no other way to proceed than that of an alternative truth, as indicated by Besnainou.
Let’s look at how Mace described the Catlins, though: he uses terms like ‘smoothness’ and ‘stiffness‘. If the meaning of ‘smoothness’ was the one indicated by Besnainou (where ‘smooth’ would mean ‘soft’ and ‘supple’ instead) how is it possible that a string is simultaneously soft and stiff? Logic is logic: what he supposed, is dismantled by Mace himself. The word “Smooth” is therefore referred only to the type of surface of the string.
We therefore contest his unclear explanation: ‘Mace characterises them mechanically by “the Smoothness, and Stiffness to the Finger”, he speaks of suppleness (flexibility) and elasticity (stiffness)’. How can he say with certainty: ‘he speaks of suppleness’ ?
Allow me a joke: did Mace speak to Besnainou during a séance? 

The matter regarding the surface of the strings is a rather critical element for his theory, and we understand well why; fortunately there are many other sources that are not only lute methods, such as Talbot and also Mersenne (strings are polished with an abrasive grass until they become smooth cylinders), or documents coming from Roman string makers of the sixteenth/seventeenth century (presence of pumice and an abrasive grass) and finally the vast iconographic documentation that leaves no doubts.

In the light of the amount of information we have collected, it becomes inadmissible that he comes to explain, in the absence of any information of a historical and technological nature, how he believes the Venice-Catline are constructed:
they would consist of two elements already strongly twisted in the final phase of drying which give a dented surface’.  How does he know they were made just like that? If he holds documents that we don’t know about, he should share them.
Here one has the impression that the following principle is being applied: ‘because I think it, then it is certainly so‘. 
But this is certainly not a scientific criterion, it is necessary to show evidence of historical documentation: where is it written that they did it this way?

Here’s the point: investigations we made in Bologna about 20 years ago led to nothing (according to Dowland, the ‘Venice catlines’ were manufactured in this Italian city) . We still don’t know how – both in Bologna and in the rest of Italy – these ‘Venice catlines’ were called (a name given only by the English) nor the slightest information on how they were made (I recall that the link between the name Catline/Catlins and a possible nautical origin was definitively abandoned by Segerman in 1995 in favor of the ‘Catalan’ hypothesis).

Let us now address the last issue; the ‘knots’ quoted by Mace (but also by Dowland several decades earlier).

Besnainou believes that the term ‘knot’ is related to the type of manufacture with which the rope was technically made: however, he does not have any documentation to support this, therefore it remains a simple opinion.
Carefully reading the mentioned treaties, however, it can be observed that the word ‘knot’ is used only where there is a commercial context and/or type of packaging, i.e., it never enters manufacturing contexts.

The hypothesis that we feel to support (hypothesis, not certainty) is that the word ‘Knot‘ is equivalent to the Italian term ‘tirata‘, which is the term used by the stringmakers of this Country over the centuries to define the commercial lengths of the strings, and which in turn indicate the size of the drying frames. So ‘double knot‘ could mean that the ropes are in ‘double tirata‘, while ‘knot‘ means that they are only one ‘tirata‘.
A ‘tirata’ is defined as the number of instruments of the same type that such given length of string is capable of covering: thus, a string of “due tirate” for the Violin means that two mounts of cantini can be obtained. If it were intended for the Lute, it would be only one string, instead.
In the Rome of the seventeenth century the frame was set to be 10 Roman palms (2.23 meters); it means to say that it produces ‘two tirate‘ of lute strings. Similarly, a knot should correspond to a single string, while the double knot means that from that given length two strings are made. (for more details, see PATRIZIO BARBIERI: ‘Roman and Neapolitan gut strings 1550 1950’ in GSJ Maggio 2006; pp. 156).
That this is the more likely explanation comes from Mace itself, when, with regard to the Minikins, he wrote:
‘Minikins are made up always, in long-thin-small Knots and 60 are to be in a bundle’
It’s a rather difficult interpretation, but we’ll try anyway:  ‘Minikins show up as tirate of thin strings, with 60 of them are combined in a bundle’: 60 strings per bundle is the system of making and selling lute chantarelles, commonly used in Rome in the seventeenth century; 30 strings were used for the Violin. Dowland though is much clearer
(JOHN DOWLAND: “Other necessary observations belonging to the lute”, in ROBERT DOWLAND: Varietie of lute-lessons […], Thomas Adams, London 1610, paragraph “Of setting the right sizes of strings upon the lute“):

‘Also open the bouts of one of the ends of the Knot, and then hold it up against the light, and looke that it be round and smooth’

Dowland, here, is referring to the 1st string: he says to check one end of the knot (i.e. the ‘tirata/length’ of string) and see if it is round and smooth. This is a visual check, not a tactile check of the degree of smoothness, therefore the word ‘smooth’ refers to the visual quality of the surface of the string.

‘Yet also there is another sort of the smaller strings, which are made at Livornio in Tuscanio: these strings are rolled up round together, as if they were a companie of horse hayres. These are good if they be new, but they are but halfe Knots. Note there is some store of these come hither lately, and are here made up, and passe for whole Knots’
Here Dowland is keen to warn his readers: ‘be careful, these strings are only good if they are new but beware that they are only half knot (half tirata, Ed.) but they sell them as if they were whole knot (full tirata, Ed.)’: it’s quite evident that Dowland is dealing with a mere commercial question of how the strings are packaged and sold, not how they are made, as it would make no sense if the word ‘knot’ referred to how they are twisted.

The seventeenth-century practice of composing bundles of 60 and 30 strings coming from different varieties of “tirate” remained alive until at least the 1930’s: here, for example, is a 1931 catalog by the Italian stringmaker Roberto Salerni where we can see that violin strings are sold in bundles of 30 strings (as was done in the seventeenth century) both in the two and three tirate variety:

2.6 Mimmo Peruffo invents a new scientific paradigm

He states : « There are rather indirect clues and that can give a clear vision of how things probably were done at the time. » Probably the word clear is exaggerated… He continues

«… indirect evidence that became direct evidence through calculations, like some of the arguments here, I believe ». For him, a clue or indirect evidence is transformed into direct evidence simply because the calculations that support it are correct. It is not enough for a hypothesis to be logical for whatever to be true. Mimmo Peruffo in his approach confuses the internal logic of his demonstration with the proof of the demonstration. He calls on LeVerrier and Tombaugh who perfectly conjectured the existence of the planets Uranus and Pluto before their actual observations (material fact); as long as they had not been observed by their fellow astronomers, their existence was hypothetical. The internal logic of their demonstrations was based on very complicated mathematical calculations which could not be disputed by their peers. And it was thanks to their calculations that telescopes could be pointed in the right direction. This does not mean that that is always the case. For example today, the « String Theory of the Universe » which has already been gratified by hundreds of papers in peer-reviewed scientific journals –i.e. verified by intransigent referees on the rigour of calculations– has received no confirmation by cosmological facts that astrophysicists could have observed. These theories remain hypothetical – the quest continues. [10]

What Mimmo Peruffo offers us is not the result of a calculation or any « thought experiment »

of the 17th century » [and] « Containers with red-dye are [also] able to [be] mentioned » and he adds « we cannot know whether that was employed for dye, or loading the gut. », nevertheless he argues that « I can say that glue was never used in the traditionnal or even in the modern gut stringmakers’s art; instead, it is absolutely necessary, for many reasons, when one is making loaded gut strings today ». QED !? But what artisan workshop does not have a hide glue pot?

For him, a clue or indirect evidence is transformed into direct evidence simply because the calculations that support it are correct’.  We don’t find this strange at all: mathematics is an exact science, verifiable in time and space, and is commonly used in many other scientific fields, where no one is surprised by it and criticises it.

But what artisan workshop does not have a hide glue pot?’
The statement that a glue pot would always be present in every workshop is of a disconcerting superficiality. We are not talking about a carpenter’s store, but rather about a Roman stringmaker’s factory of the early 17th century. As a professional stringmaker (and I would like to see which professional stringmaker feels comfortable contradicting this), I confirm that glue is never used in the common/standad production of gut strings (there is a patent of  late XIX century  that describe the use of pumice powder and hyde glue in order to make gut strings harder, but it was not followed by the common practice).
What appears in workshop inventories of late sixteenth century until the end of the nineteenth century are almost exclusively: olive oil (or almond oil if you are outside Italy or Spain); wine ashes or wine-lees; rock alum (not always in use)
, pumice or Equisetum grass for the final polishing of the strings, yellow sulfur powder for the bleaching process. These basic elements remained in use in the Italian stringmaking tradition until about 1965, a period from which the French and German modern technology of making strings from beef serosa began to take hold in Italy with its complex chemical steps.
Animal glue definitely appears as an “extraneous” element and therefore suggests some possible working hypotheses (in Comm 2095 we clarified that these are hypotheses, not certainties).


2.7 Mimmo’s demonstration can be summarised thus :

Premiss : bass gut strings were made of loaded gut, because they allow smaller hole diameters in the bridge.

Fact : the holes shown in the historic bridges are too small to accept a larger diameter – to a non-loaded gut – which means that only a smaller rope diameter is suitable for these holes.

Conclusion : bass gut strings were made of loaded gut., which has the effect of reducing its diameter.

This is typical circular reasoning.

Circular reasoning is often of the form : « A is true because B is true ; B is true because A is true. ». Circularity can be difficult to detect if it involves a longer chain of propositions. see more at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Circular_reasoning

It is exactly the same process Mimmo uses ; he accumulates a huge number of documents, quotations, iconographies, and personal thoughts [12] without logical links to arrive to what he desires. Like the Sophists of ancient Greece, he prefers to ask questions that are formulated in such a way that an affirmative answer to his hypothesis is given. He looks for the consequences that one would observe if their hypothesis were true, rather than what would happen if it were false. Fortunately for us now, Aristotle created « LOGIC » against Sophists who used circular reasoning for political purposes to muddle unsuspecting minds.

Things did not take place according to the circular sequence that he reports here, and that foresees that I have already formulated the idea that the bass strings have been loaded even before being confronted with a whole series of historical and experimental elements (the poor sound of the gut strings; the holes of the bridges, the iconography; the written evidence etc etc).
Besnainou actually never bothered to ask me how the various stages of my research unfolded; so if we never talked together we are still faced with the situation: ‘since I think so then it must have certainly happened that way‘.

The fact that the solution to the problem of the basses of the seventeenth-century lute may be to make the gut heavier is not the starting point at all, but rather the final synthesis that sums up all the heterogeneous elements of that historical period that we have collected.
Only at the end we carried out a certain practical experimentation of what was supposed, which also had a series of evolutionary/improving phases (this does not mean that the basses of the seventeenth-century lute were recreated; it means, instead, that we recreated a particular type of string that does not conflict with the seven ‘historical’ points of our list).
Ultimately, comm 2095 is certainly not a heterogeneous collection of data ‘without logical links‘, as he claims, and the reader can verify this at first-hand.

On the contrary, I find his work to be an authentic, illogical collection of heterogeneous data seasoned with a certain tiresome rhetoric.
Isn’t it true that he starts from a thousand and more years before the Lute and then rushes to deal with Asian and African ethnic instruments of the twentieth century (this time four hundred years after the Lute)? Isn’t it true that he then goes on to deal with hunting/war bows of the Middle Ages and then rushes to deal with the bowed instruments of the same period as the Lute, finally reaching the threshold of the nineteenth century where the subject is not yet the bass strings of the Lute, but those of the cello and the five-order Guitar?

I wonder: is this a logically structured work?

In order to know something about the strings of the 17th century European lute, do we have to take a plane and go to the state archives of the African savannah?  

Our Comm 2095 revolves exclusively around the historical, technological and iconographic sources of the XVI-XVII century concerning the lute exclusively, and follows step by step a certain expositive logic, without any useless rhetorical aspect.

The following is the succession of events as they actually happened:

1. We know that lute basses before about the XVII century were made of gut and not of other materials such as twisted silk/twisted metal wires/wound strings (verified by written historical documentation and paintings).
2. We know that modern high twist gut strings -even if they are highly twisted- when installed as basses in a lute do not perform well at all; when we switch to using those made like a marine line or a rope (i.e. the modern ‘Catline’/Venices/Pistoys etc) the situation improves of a bit but not as well as it should be following what was written in the historical sources (T. Mace 1676 and Burwell Lute Tutor 1670 ca): that they cover and confound the sound of the upper strings (an observation of an experimental nature).
3. t is observed that the holes for bass strings on the bridges of dozens and dozens of Lutes of the past are very narrow (concrete observation: these measurements can be verified by anyone).
4. The calculations made on the basis of the diameters of the bridgeholes mentioned in point 3) show a range of working tensions between 0.9 and 1.5 Kg. If a modern roped gut string does not work well already at a tension of 2.8-3,0 kg, at lower tensions such as those that were calculated (they were calculated by Ephraim Segerman) we have to expect and verified an even more unbearable situation (concrete observation derived from calculation and practical tests).
5. In order to do practical test basses at the tension of 0.9-1.5 kg as mentioned in point 4), a 10-order lute in G (pitch standard of 440 Hz), with a 60 cm scale, and with modern roped, bumped Catline basses previously calculated at 3.0 kg has been lowered by 10-11 semitones: in this condition we reach 0.9-1.5 kg tension. If already at 3 kg the acoustic performance is almost non-existent, at 0.9-1.5 kg no sound was heard but noise only while the thumb no longer controls the attack on the strings (a concrete observation derived from experimental verification).
6. We know that in historical documents prior to 1570 (Tinctoris; Virdung; Galilei) there were complaints about the poor performance of the basses of the six-course lute and that the paired octaves serve as an acoustic support/help. We have therefore asked ourselves: if the six-course lute basses were already so bad/weak to their contemporaries (making the paired octaves necessary), how come after 1570 additional basses were added on the same vibrating length? (this observation is derived from written historical documentation).
7. The documents of the seventeenth century (T.Mace; Burwell Lute tutor), as opposed to those of the first half of the sixteenth century, wrote that the lute all gut basses were so powerful and efficient that they were able to confuse the sound of the trebles so much so that they were forced to go back to the typical French lute without the short extension. The eleventh bass was then eliminated because of its strong sonority (observation derived from two written historical documentations).
8. The iconography of the seventeenth century shows cases where the series of bass strings (after the 6th enclose) are all presented with colors such as dark red / homogeneous gradations of reddish brown / dark red / blackish, all of identical color among them and apparently thin diameter starting from the sixth order down to the last bass (observation derived from iconographic documentation).
9. We know that the problem of the poor acoustic quality of a high twist/roped gut string begins to manifest itself right starting from the sixth course down (observation derived from experimental verification).

10. The series of omogeneous colored gut basses as from point 7 is very often found exactly where we today install wound strings or equivalent solutions (all denser than gut): from the sixth course down  the last  bass course (finding derived from iconographic documentation).

11. The colored strings described in the Lute treatises (Dowland, Mace) concern only Trebles and Meanes, and are only blue, green, and red, where the most delicate color varieties are suggested. The only coloring described for the bass strings in one treatise is deep red (this observation is derived from historical written and iconographic documentation).
12. The merceology of the seventeenth century shows that pigments endowed with a very high density, with the possibility of being reduced to a powdery state and with characteristics of insolubility, are all dark red, various shades of brown, various shades of yellow or blackish. There are no substances with very high density that are green and blue. It turns out that they are of very common use both in home practice and in the various technologies of the time through the technique of incorporation in hair, silk, horsehair, fabrics, leather, wax etc etc (observation derived from written historical documentation)
13. In iconography and written sources (Mersenne, Talbot; Mace, Burwell, Dowland), bass strings are described/represented as smooth (finding derived from written historical documentation and iconography), not bumped.
14. The bass strings of the lute are generically represented as ‘soft/pliable’ at the points of loops at the bridge (an observation derived from iconographic documentation).

And we’ve come to point 14: as you can see, the idea of loading gut has not yet been introduced.

At point 14 we asked ourselves: what could be the possible technological solution that could put together all this heterogeneous information that is verifiable by anyone and is NOT based on the concept: ‘because I think so, then it is certainly true‘?

Occam’s razor rule is clear:  ‘between all possible solutions, choose the simplest one’ 
And so we did: it has been assumed that the ancient basses of the Lute were therefore probably made by an initial loading of the gut strands -prepared and still in a fresh state- with very fine insoluble mineral powders characterized by very high densities (the highest among the substances known at the time); then the loaded guts were twisted together imitating the structure of a rope, so as to ensure great mechanical stability to the structure, and a high degree of elasticity. Finally, drying and smoothing followed (in homage to Mersenne, the iconography and methods for lute).

Elasticity and density finally work together in synergy, thus merging the two hypotheses – which were opposed for years – in a single comprehensive hypothesis.

All other solutions not only do not accommodate all the points but also follow very complex paths, far from Occam’s razor theory.

As the reader can see, this succession of 14 points is of a historical and experimental nature, based on documents and measurements: it has nothing to do with circular reasoning or with the assumption that ‘since I think so, then it is certainly true‘.

The solution proposed by Besnainou contradicts the principle of Occam’s razor: it follows in fact paths that – at least to us – seem illogical and twisted, totally losing the sense of the practical: why instead of making a bigger hole in the bridge they should have invented this more complex system of fixing the string?
A joke goes that there are two ways to screw in a light bulb: the first involves just rotating the bulb; the second involves holding the bulb still and rotating the entire room.
We choose Occam’s principle; we prefer to rotate the light bulb.

Finally, having found no historical sources to his densified gut theory, Mimmo Peruffo for good measure adds : «Actually, no direct information [13] exists at all from the 16 and 17th century string makers concerning their art in general; this is not just true for the bass gut string technology. For example, we do not even have a clear, direct description concerning how roped strings were made by string makers; we just have just proof of the presence of the ‘orditori’ or ropewalk machines in some 16th and 17th string makers’ workshops.» . Thus, he returns to his two initial assumptions. After lengthy developments where he says one thing and its opposite, he decrees the results of the « World Strings Championship: Loaded Gut vs Roped String = 0-0 ».


Part 3

3.1.1 And the light bulb moment !

Twenty years later, the lutherie school of Puurs in Belgium asked me to give a lecture on the mechanical and acoustical properties of musical strings [20]. It was then that I connected to the Internet, since the web now existed, to complete my bibliography. Great was my surprise to discover dozens of references to the questions posted about the strings of instruments of the 16th and 17th century. One of them left me completely stunned! John Downing had discovered a text by Agostino Ramelli, dating from 1588, which enigmatically mentioned the big strings of big violins ! [21] Thanks to the Internet, a digitisation of Ramelli’s book makes it possible to consult it [22]. Ramelli thus descried this string: “… crossing through the middle of these ones: a big rope & double, made in the way of the big strings of bass-contre of the big violin which is well retorted and taut“. We understand that we are here in the presence of some clues that if they are intelligible, would give the key to building of musical strings during the 16th century.

The engraving of the plate CXC shows, in the chaos of a battlefield, a trebuchet whose ropes are finely drawn. At first glance, thanks to my experience in rope laying, I realized that the fiber organization of the rope designated by Ramelli had an unusual orientation for those who are familiar with marine ropes (fig.20a&b).

a) b)


Figure 20 a&b : In Ramelli’s, a) regular laying ; b) rope in the manner of big string violin

The resolution of digitization does not allow to be absolutely affirmative. I had the chance to consult directly this 16th century book preserved in Paris in the library of the Museum of Arts and Crafts.

Figure 21 : Trebuchet by Ramelli (photo Ch. Besnainou)

Figure 21 shows a very small area of a few centimetre within an In Quarto book of more than 50 cm in width; the engraver very carefully drew what he saw (or what Ramelli asked him to represent). The fineness of the lines, without any redundant lines, attests to the invaluable importance of this document. Ramelli’s rope anticipated my so-called invention by several centuries.

Comparing the different directions of the components of Ramelli’s rope with my cotton replica, they coincide in all points. What matters is its structure, like that of a helical spring, which gives this rope its hyper elasticity. The nature of the material only adds a little more to its astonishing properties, in increased strength combined with elasticity: hemp, silk, gut, ox nerve, sinew, etc.

Figure 22 compares the engraving with the string I had known how to make for twenty years!

Figure 22 : Details and comparison of fibre and strand directions with the author’s response

Ramelli explains, in a convoluted way, that this rope is used to brake and dampen the fall of the balance of the machine which otherwise would be destroyed by the violence of the shock. Indeed, Figure 23 shows the extreme elasticity of such a rope manufactured by me ; it is easy to obtain more than 40% elongation. [23]


Figure 23 : Ramelli’s cordage hyper-elasticity

N.B. 1 : The replica of fig. 22/23 is not of course a big string of big violin, but a replica of Ramelli cordage ; to obtain such a structure we must understand and master techniques behind SUPER WINDING which are those used to make big musical strings.

The fact that I had rediscovered, by chance but also by perceptual and musical necessity, an old process which had a link with the musical strings and war machines such as catapults, ballistas and trebuchets meant that this way of twisting fibres had a very old history and pushed me to look for historical traces.

In 2008 Besnainou discovers the book of Agostino Ramelli of 1588 , but this interesting document has been discussed among us since at least 1995 (see John Downing: ‘ Roped gut bass strings – a 16 th c. reference’; in FOMRHI Q. n 78; January 1995 comm 1318. Then:  Mimmo Peruffo: More on Ramelli, loaded gut strings and Gansars’; in F.o.M.R.H.I. Quarterly bull 79, April 1995, pp. 53-6. See also comms 1394 and 1395 by John Downing  e a seguire comm 1394; 1395 etc etc ).
In 1995 (following John Downing’s Comm 1318) I found both the original book in Italian and the French edition here in my city library.
This is the Italian part:

And this is the French edition:

In the translation from Italian to French, the sentence ‘…le grosse corde de i bassi di violoni’ becomes  ‘des basse-contres des gros violons’. The French translation of the word ‘violoni’ according to Ramelli is ‘violons’.
But here Besnainou incorrectly reports the following: ‘the big strings of bass-contre of the big violin’. 
So, what is written in Italian as ‘bassi di violoni’ , translated in French as ‘violon’ gets wrongly translated in English as ‘violin ’.
In short, what is the largest instrument in the bowed instruments family now becomes the smallest.
I understand that the linguistic proximity between ancient Italian ‘bassi di violoni’ and French ‘violon’ is really misleading, however precision is due when doing research, even more so as the French edition was available.

How, from an engraving such as this one, Besnainou can deduce without hesitation the string-making technology behind it, is a mystery; instead, we prefer to remain cautious, limiting ourselves only to recalling that there is not a single string-making document of the 16th and 17th centuries that says (or even suggests) how these ‘… grosse corde de i bassi di violoni’ were made.
Following the same reasoning, one could conclude that starting from a simple engraving of a Violin one should be able to reconstruct all the construction phases, up to the realization of the aforementioned Violin. I do not think it is possible.
We do not deny, of course, that what is represented is a string that is clearly twisted in a more complex way than a simple structure in high twist, but we cannot understand which was the technology used.

Part 4

4. Seeking for historical documents

In Vitruvius (1st century BC) we find a particularly interesting description that combines music and the art of war machines. He recommends that both arms of ballista be stretched out equally so that the projectile is pushed straight; the shooter must make sure that the bound guts or cords make the same sound under tension –the same pitch – when they are struck, before shooting [24]. It is the oldest quotation that indicates that the twisted ropes of ballistas would produce a pitched sound like musical instrument strings. Neither Vitruvius nor Ramelli give any explanation as to how to obtain such ropes, which can probably mean that it was obvious to their readers and that it was perfectly well known [25] [26].

Here is a surprising sculpture in a castle in the south of France, which I could not show in the paragraph on iconography, before having established that a hidden link existed between stringed musical instruments and instruments of war (24). It is an archer bending his bow. The hidden link lies in the hyper elasticity (see fig.23) of Ramelli’s (presumed) rope whose elastic force comes in addition to the elastic force of the two arms of the bow (the same as the ballista) which increases its propulsive power [27]. For a musical string, elasticity is the determining factor that guarantees harmonic sounds.


Figure 24 : Archer, Archery Museum, Saint Izaire Castle, France

Besnainou states: ‘ having established that a hidden link existed between stringed musical instruments and instruments of war…

Well; that’s not how it is: Ramelli (1588) is not affirming that basses of all musical instruments were made as a string of the ballista.
Ramelli actually limits the field a great deal: he says that the string of the catapult was made like the big Violone basses; it does not extend to all musical instruments at all, as Besnainou writes.
This precise delimitation of the field to a single instrument suggests, if anything, that that particular type of string was made only for this large instrument and that this specific way of making them for this large instrument was also suitable for the catapult string.

The connection that should exist between the figure of the medieval archer and the basses of the 17th century lute remains, to me, a mystery.
If it is sufficient to have any visible twisting of a string to have automatically a “hidden link” – as he writes – with the Music strings, at this point we can also add the lianas of the jungle. The figure of the archer presents however an anomaly: on the bowstring the twisting direction is right-turning on one side and left-turning on the opposite side: this is technically impossible.
Quite correctly, Besnainou points out that neither Ramelli nor Vitruvius say how these strings are made.


Figure 29 : Diagram of LANG laying

Under these conditions structural stability of the string is obtained. Lang laying is mainly used in the manufacture of metal cables. This procedure was known to the ancients. We find the proof in Mersenne [HU, second book, p.99]: « the biggest chord of the 3 & 4 rank [of the cittern] is twisted, & made of a doubled and folded cord, so to make sounds more filled, and fed. »(fig.30a). Just like Manetti who gives a striking image of it on the cittern (fig.30b) in the painting Victorious Love (Fig. 17a)

a) b)


Figure 30 : a) Cittern strings, Mersenne ; b) Cittern stings Manetti Love victorious

We do not agree with these conclusions:  Mersenne’s language (just like the Italian language) does not distinguish the various types of strings as does, for example, the English language (‘strings’  ‘wires’ etc): metallic wires, just like gut strings, are indistinctly called ‘chordes (Marin Mersenne: Harmonie universelle […], Livre premier,  II proposition, pp 5-6; Cramoisy, Paris 1636)
About the manufacture of basses for the cittern, Mersenne (just like Le Roy in the second half of the 16th century) simply says to take a metal wire (some pages before suggests brass), bend it in half, twist the two halves together until you get a braided strand (Marin Mersenne: Harmonie universelle […], Livre second, proposition XV, pp 98-99;  Cramoisy, Paris 1636)

This technique is also suggested by Giovanni Fouchetti (Méthode pour apprendre facilement à jouer de la mandoline a 4 et a 6 cordes […], n.p., Paris (ca. 1770) where he explains that the third strings of the Neapolitan mandolin are obtained by braiding together two brass wires gauge n 6 for harpsichord.
Mersenne makes no reference to the manufacture of… ‘metal cables‘: figure 29 and the twisting direction of the two individual elements are therefore not relevant to what the French Jesuit described. They are two normal metal wires.
We string makers have always made strings for Citterns, exactly woven in this way, and there are also evidences of ‘ancient’ strings made in this way in some citterns found in museums. 

In fig 30a you can see a thick “waviness” of the two lower strings that we curiously don’t notice in the original anastatic document that we found in “Google book” (and that anyone can go and verify in person): what are the explanations about this?
Here is how an enlarged version of the image of the cittern looks like:

4.1 And how to interpret the descriptions that Skippon reports in his travel diary?

In the travel diary of Skippon [34], a young English aristocrat travelling through Europe in  the 17th century, is found one of the few descriptions of a viol string maker’s workshop, in Padua, Italy.


Figure 33: Schematic of the twisting of gut reported by Skippon

A skein of gut strips is hung at i in its middle, while its ends are hooked on the hooks V and V, hooks that are driven by the gear S which implies that the two elements are rigorously twisted with the same number of turns. Some have concluded that two strings were simultaneously made with identical characteristics. We can ask ourselves the question : why not design a gear system with more hooks (2, 4, 6…) that would increase productivity ? This was common practice at SOFRACOB [35], until a few years ago.

4.1.1 Attempt to extend what Skippon did not see . . . or was not allowed to see

It is likely that Skippon did not attend all the big bass strings operations. By not revealing the entire manufacturing process, the craftsmen often protect themselves, thus to keep their secrets.

Remembering the video n ° 6, one can imagine the following process which takes exactly the same elements reported by Skippon and completes them.. The following video n° 8 is perfectly explicit, especially, by comparing the return in « i » of the skein of gut of figure 33 with the « a » of figure 34 !

Video 8: Proposal that completes Skippon’s description for making large strings, at http://www.luthandco.com/. [This video is not yet available at the website]

To be mechanically perfect, it must be taken into account that when, in a first step, the two strands previously prestressed by twisting (I) are laid together, in a second step (II), the strands not yet laid take on an additional torsion each turn, it is therefore necessary to release this increase by an opposite movement of the hooks b and c (fig.34).


Figure 34 : Alternative process from Skippon. in two steps : (I) prestess ; (II) stranding

This example makes it possible to understand that between Lang’s process and the garochoir there is simply an additional twisting pre-stress that is used to « straighten up the fibres like springs » (Duhamel du Monceau).

What is reported here sounds rather naive to any professional stringmaker: the system of simultaneously twisting two gut strings is in fact the normal practice of all string makers of today and of those of the past. Descriptive examples of the twisting wheel equipped with two hooks can be found from the late sixteenth century to the present day. 

Besnainou furtherly asks:  ‘why not design a gear system with more hooks (2, 4, 6…) that would increase productivity?
The answer is: because as human beings we have only two hands. In the real stringmaking practice there are two people: a worker is positioned at the opposite side of the frame (which is sometimes 12 meters long) and holds the two proto-strings stretched with his two hands; at the other side there is the worker who is at the twisting machine; once the twisting is finished the worker who is at the opposite side of the twisting machine loads them on the frame and so does the worker in charge of the wheel. In this way you work very fast.

Besnainou then cites as an example a machine equipped with many hooks that he saw at SOFRACOB.
We report here the still image of one of our videos (the machine was then purchased by us):

The above-mentioned machine, however, equipped with many hooks, is intended for the production of tennis strings only, using beef serosa, and it’s a modern industrialized process, not the one used to make musical strings. At the end of the twisting (which in tennis is minimal; i.e. low twist) the strings are put directly into the frames for the various stages of drying. I don’t find space here to explain further details of how the gut is industrially worked, and we frankly don’t see any sense in explaining further the reasons why it is not at all useful to work with more than two hooks for music strings.

If Besnainou thinks it’s a good idea to produce music strings using more hooks, I invite him to try and suggest it to my fellow string-makers of other companies, as a technical consultant, and let’s see what response he’ll get in return.
Does he believe, perhaps, that no company owner has ever thought about it already decades ago? In an industrial production, everything aimed to increase the speed of execution (and, above all, to lower the costs of production) gets immediately adopted: if it has not been adopted yet, there surely is a precise motivation.

Besnainou discovers how to achieve an hawser structure using Skipon’s two-hook wheel: he will probably be pleased to know that we have been making gut strings in exactly that way since ever ( as well as some of our competitors).

He then writes: ‘It is likely that Skippon did not attend all the big bass strings operations’.
The answer is: we simply don’t know if this was the case.

The entire point 4.1 reveals how he is very far from really knowing the working cycles of a string-maker, both ancient and modern; in spite of this, he does not hesitate to give his opinion even if he is not of the trade, receiving in return the answers we have given (and that he would have received from any other string-maker). It would have been appropriate to stop at what is really known, not at what is supposed to be known, simply for a sense of responsibility towards the reader, who has the right to receive correct/real technical information, coming from someone who practices the profession (that’s why we don’t deal with musical acoustics): if we hadn’t corrected some of his statements here, the reader would have mistakenly trusted him.

Lastly, Besnainou states: ‘the craftsmen often protect themselves, thus to keep their secrets’. Often? The right word is: ‘always’.
String-makers have always kept their manufacturing art strictly secret; in Rome, in the sixteenth/seventeenth century, anyone who violated rules or committed commercial fraud was severely punished with whip and jail or pecuniarily, if not actually expelled from the guild for life and for further three generations.
Today there are certainly no punishments of this kind, but the production cycle of our corderie is covered by the most impenetrable industrial secret; the assignments among the workers are fragmented so that none of them knows the entire production cycle, while the preparation of the chemical baths is the responsibility only of the owner or someone he trusts (usually a family member), it has always been done this way. In order to minimize the risks of industrial espionage, the preparatory recipes of the whole series of chemical baths are never saved digitally on file, but only on paper.

Cases of espionage are unfortunately common: my master stringmaker told me that towards the end of the 60’s of the last century some Italian rope makers from central Italy, having learned that near Milan cow intestines were being industrially cut by means of Bitterling’s semi-automatic machinery, convinced one of them to disguise himself as a priest and present himself at the company in northern Italy where the intestines were being cut in order to bless the premises: they succeeded in understanding what kind of machinery it was and its manufacturer.
That’s why, if you’re not in the business, you risk saying improvised things because you don’t really know them.

4.2 How to increase the flexibility of a string ?

Let’s take the time to see what physics can teach us. For a homogeneous material wire, the flexural modulus is deduced from the tensile modulus (Young’s modulus) [40]. The challenge is to increase the flexibility of a large diameter rope regardless of the Young’s modulus of the material constituting it…

A first solution is given in Figure 37 showing a 10 mm diameter gut string that was found in the case of a 17th century violin double bass (Musée de la musique de Paris). It is observed that the gut strips are not glued to the core which allows the helical loops to slide one part relative to each other and thus increase the flexibility and reduce the radius of curvature, so a better harmonicity of the string.


Figure 37: The helical shaping of the strips thus becomes a deformable structure that gives elasticity and flexibility to the string. The marine rope is a particular helical shaping. Musée de la musique, Paris. (photo Ch. Besnainou)

The explanation that Besnainou gives here lacks any technical foundation.
What we see here is nothing more than a normal thick, very high twist old gut string for double basses, of which we know perfectly well how it was made from the end of the 18th century up to our days.
It is simply a gut string that, due to the effect of the age, has lost its spontaneous glue and adhesive properties between the fibers: therefore, even a small amount of twisting in the opposite direction of the fiber will open the structure destroying the already weak cohesion.
Examples such as this are very numerous: for example, here is a photo we took at the museum of Innsbruck in 2007 during the surveying operations performed on similar strings to the one in his example:

In the light of what we have explained, it is not clear which can be the possible link between the string of his photo and the concept he expressed that ‘The marine line/rope is a particular helical shaping’.


Figure 41: The radius of curvature of this lute bass en garochoir is the size of the diameter of the string (2.9 mm)

A 2.9 mm string? This is almost thick like a double bass 2nd string: is this considered reasonable in a Lute?
Now we understand better the unavoidable necessity of dividing his strings in two halves (this means that the average apparent density of such a structure is rather lower than the average density of the low twist gut – which is 1.3- but also the average density of a modern roped Catline – which is 1.1-).
No matter how hard we try, we just can’t find any aesthetic similarities between these big, bumped basses and those in this example dating from the second half of the 17th century:


We have noticed how Besnainou energetically supports the hypothesis of the rope made as a hawser and with a bumped appearance. The examples we see in his films and photographs -limited to gut- are in fact all conspicuously bumped.
Why is that?
The explanation could be maybe simple: because he is working in ‘laboratory’ conditions and with ‘ready packed’ already dried and polished commercial gut strings, not with fresh gut strands (which is instead the common situation in a string workshop, both of the past and of today), otherwise this pronounced bumped structure does not occur at all.

But my question is, can it be scientifically acceptable to compare experiments carried out in an acoustic laboratory (where no one is constantly handling fresh gut strands) with the reality and materials found in a string factory of the past or present?
The strings that reproduce the structure of a rope that we make in the string factory are always made from fresh and chemically prepared gut strands, a material that is absolutely not accessible outside of a string factory.
The fact that he strongly defends the bumped structure (which, as we have seen, only occurs when using dried, polished commercial strings, that do not flatten during subsequent twisting) seems to suggest that the bass gut strings were not made by string makers, but by the musicians themselves. In our comm 2095 we also touched on this point, but we did not get a clear answer.

But the loaded gut strings produced by Peruffo Mimo offers a remarkable example that deserves to be included in all physics books. The sonograms in Figure 46 show that all the partials of the string have frequencies that are lower than the harmonic series (red equidistant line). Damping is an added inertial force (i.e. mass) that lowers the frequency of the mode.

a) b)þÿ

Figure 47 : Two loaded strings by Peruffo M. a) density=2290 kg/m3 ; L=60 cm, d=1.25 mm, f=69Hz, T=2.8 Kg and b) density=2650 kg/m3, L=60 cm , d=1,65 mm, f=54 Hz, T=2.9 Kg (Red lines are the harmonic series to the fundamental)

This inertial force, which confers a virtual increase in mass lowering the mode frequency is different from the restoring force due to stiffness (§ 5.1), which increases the spring term of the mode, which has the effect of increasing its frequency.

By analyzing sonogram fig 47b) (the lowest sound), a trained eye will notice that the first eleven partials are lower than the harmonic series, while the 14th, 15th 16th partials are  higher than the harmonic series [46]. This means that the inertial force due to damping no longer acts and that the upward shift is due to stiffness. The laws of physics stay awake…  even for extremely short durations.

These strings certainly do not correspond to John Dowland’s recommendation that the basses of his lute should not be doubled by octave [47] because these sounds (audio 3) are short, very weak and without sustain.

because these sounds (audio 3) are short, very weak and without sustain’
I really find this series of measurements very interesting.
I hope, however, that the loaded strings that have been used in these tests are our most recent version, which is a roped structure, loaded with metal powders, and which is very different from the first, much stiffer version (which was a simple high twist made with fresh gut strands hardened with alum salt and then dried, polished and varnished).

If this was not the case, these measurements should be repeated and updated, and so should be his conclusions regarding Dowland. The sonority of this second version is in fact much better: these are strings where the gut is not hardened with alum salt, it is loaded with metal copper powder and then twisted like a rope, polished but omitting the final varnish that acts as a damper.
In order not to make mistakes, we remind you once again that these strings are only an interpretation of the ancient lute gut basses; they are not loaded bass gut strings reconstructed through a lucky rediscovery of a recipe of the time.


From iconography to craftmen’s know-how, mechanics and acoustics, the common thread of this research was twisting. By replicating Ramelli’s enigmatic rope in the organization of its intimate fibers and strands as well as in its elasticity qualities, we have shown that under certain conditions, instead of ruining the qualities of the rope, the solenoid phase (super- coiled) –correctly used– allows us to obtain ropes of very large diameters which remained remarkably supple (elastic), and therefore conducive to harmonic accuracy essential for musical use

Without being absolutely affirmative, it is conceivable that craftsmen of the 16th and 17th centuries who were familiar with the art of twisting in the making of gut string had one day the experience of the super-coiled phase and that they had it then applied to « big strings of big violins » and lutes; that they kept the secret is in the spirit of their time [Skippon].

What is remarkable about the solenoid phase is that it can be applied to a wide variety of materials (gut, cotton, synthetic polymers, DNA… etc.). Today, we prefer to set up on our lutes and viols with these polyester strings, indistinguishable by the ear from gut strings and much less sensitive to humidity.

We were also able to remove an ambiguity of language. Both, Thomas Mace [9] and John Dowland describe their « catlines are double knots joyned together », which, in our opinion, would mean two strands entangled together, inside each other, in super-coilling“. Indeed, even today, in the model-making community, speaking of twisted rubber motors, Anglo- Saxons use the same formula: “double knots” ; so “knot” must be taken not in the sense of “tie” but “loop“.[16]

We have rediscovered that there had existed since time immemorial a technique, today completely forgotten, of laying ropes « en garochoir », whose main property was to confer a phenomenal and adjustable elasticity to the strings so laid; that the energy accumulated in this kind of springs could be used for ballistic weapons; for mooring ships; but also as a suspension for carriages instead of the commonly used wood or metal blades [23]; that the musical strings of very large diameters retained a correct intonation (harmonics) thanks to elasticity

We showed that we could hang very big strings in the small holes of the lute bridge, it is true with a little imagination… We also showed that one could be “a university graduate” [Peruffo dixit …] to know how to enlarge the holes in the bridge of a lute [48] to allow big strings and to check that the big nodes thus obtained were a big source of damping of the vibrations and inharmonicity. To close this file, we showed that one could make the strings of his lute himself in his kitchen (private joke with Mimmo) [49].

Retired, researcher-engineer, Laboratoire d’Acoustique Musicale du Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS) ; Université Pierre&Marie Curie, UPMC-Paris 6

Former professor of the musical acoustics class at the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique et de la Danse de Paris (CNSMDP).

Note: Our findings can be found at the end of Appendix 2 below.



Here, I too would like to issue some questionable thoughts … about the so-called « half-spun strings ».

During my iconographic research, I discovered two paintings with extraordinarily precise details that clearly suggest spun and half-spun strings. These two paintings represent viols or seven-stringed gambas from the 18th century.

a) b)


Figure 49 : a) détails « Nature morte, gibier, fruits et viole de gamble » by François Desportes (1661-1743), Château de Giens, Musée International de la Chasse, France..

2. Violiste « Jean-Baptiste Forqueray » by Jean-Martial Frédou, 1745 (photo Pierre « Mathias » Jaquier, private collection)

These representations (fig. 49 a&b) are remarkable : the 7th and 6th strings of the two instruments are obviously strings spun with a fine silver thread, moreover the 5th of a) and especially the 5th and 4th of b) have much wider ‘punctuation’ suggesting a large diameter silver wire. Could this be the clue as to wide-angle spinning as it is commonly practiced on the strings of clavichords, spinets and fortepianos ?

In the opinion of the current musicians, the half-spun chords in imitation of the strings of clavichord are extremely fragile, the rubbing of the bow ruins them in a very short time because of the metallic ridge lying on the thickness on the gut ; they are barely used today.

A comparison between J-B Forqueray’s viol strings and those in Boyer’s painting (§ 1.2.5) indicates very different manufacturing techniques (fig. 50 a&b). For my part, Boyer’s are made with the « garochoir » twisting while Frédou’s makes one ask how such a large metallic wire – about the size of the diameter of the core gut on which it is wound – can hold, and above all not hamper the moving bow and not wear out quickly ?

a) b)

Figure 50 : Comparison of the textures of the strings painted by Boyer, right, (17th century) and Frédou, left, (18th century) ; while all the strings at Boyer are in twisted gut, Frédou’s is based on spun and half-strung strings.

It was on this occasion that I made the connection between the torso columns of the altar of St. Peter of Rome and the designation of the torso hand (french) to describe the garochoir. Indeed, when one applies oneself to stretch well a gut garochoir during the drying process, one obtains a stable structure in all points identical to that of a torso column (fig. n°51 a&b).

a) b)

Figure 51 a&b :a) Altar of Saint Pierre of Rome ; b) garochoir stretched

Remembering that during some services the torso columns are decorated with garlands of flowers wrapped in the furrow, everything became clear, including the size of the spinning line.

The string made of half-threaded garochoir (fig. n°52) became perfectly obvious to built !

Figure 52 : The half-wired string with a varnished copper wire wrapped on the garochoir (silver is too expensive)

For bowed instruments (viola da gamba, baroque cello, cello da spalla) these strings are of remarkable sound quality, excellent underhair pickup and as the line is embedded in the groove of the garochoir the wire does not tend to slip and wear.

There would still be a lot to write, but we really need to stop.

We are pleased that Charles recently discovered the portrait of the violist J. B. Forqueray: to tell the truth, this painting has been discussed for at least 20 years. (Ephraim Segerman: Forqueray’s strings and 18th century wound string sound’ comm 1558 in FOMRHI bull n 90; January 1998), especially in comparison with what Forqueray wrote on the subject of strings in a letter of 1768 (Forqueray’s letter (late 1767-early 1768) to Prince Wilhelm on bass viol stringings, cited in YVES GÉRARD: “Notes sur la fabrication de la viole de gambe et la manière d’en jouer, d’après une correspondance inédite de J. B. Forqueray au prince Frédéric Guillaume de Prusse”, Recherches sur la musique franfais classique, n 1961-1, lettre 7 “A son altesse royale monseigneur le prince de Prusse

The idea taken from the twisted columns of the canopy of St. Peter’s in Rome is interesting as a modern solution, but has no relevance with what is reported in historical sources and ancient strings findings: here we are discussing historical strings, not possible modern solutions.
We have in fact at least one source that tells us how a open-wound string is made; some presumably original artifacts and finally some iconography.
The written source is the method for 5-course guitar by Le Coq/Castillion (Paris 1729): the bass string is made by covering a normal gut string with a metal wire (brass), spacing it by its same diameter or a little more: hence the word ‘a demì’

Then we have Antonio Stradivari:


Queste sono le mostre delle corde grosse: quella che mostra che sono di budella va filata à vidalba.

The ‘translation’ from ancient Italian is:
these are the examples of the three big (i.e. bass) strings: the one that shows the gut through the metal wire (i.e. the spaced one, Ed.) must be wound in imitation of the Vitalba plant i.e. open wound like the example’

A Vitalba specimen

We have personally handled on a couple of occasions these Stradivarius wound strings in order to take measurements: the spaced strings are made on top of a normal high-twist gut string.

Raphael Mest’s lute in Linkoping (Sweden).
In 2019 I went to Linkoping for the purpose of taking measurements of the most likely original string pieces found in this lute:

These are the details of the strings:

On direct observation of 2019 with strings in hand: these are demi strings made on normal gut strings.

Harp (18th century):

There does not seem to appear at all a winding made within a torso core as suggested by Besnainou
As can be seen, examination of the written documentation, iconographic examples and samples of presumably original strings leads to the conclusion that the solution suggested by Besnainou -although interesting as a modern solution- was never adopted.
Incidentally, to limit the ‘rail’ effect for the bow hairs – but only for those to be used on stringed instruments – it is common to fill the grooves with rosin, near the bridge and where the bow hairs touches the string.
The open wound strings were probably made in two different ways: with a spacing equal to the diameter of the metal wire, or slightly more, for plucked instruments, and with very wide spiral spacing for stringed instruments (this way the ‘trail’ effect for the bow hairs is avoided).
Of course, we don’t have any constructive details from that time, except for Le Coq’s and Stradivari.

Final conclusions

Of the entire 56 pages of his work, only the first 18 are dedicated to the problem of lute basses. The remaining part is devoted entirely to expose to the public his interesting experiments with some reference to historical documentation.

But while our comm 2095 is entirely dedicated to the bass strings of the lute and to its historical period, reporting a conspicuous documentation of iconographic nature, paper, recipes and pigments in use at the time, calculations etc., in the 18 pages in which Besnainou challenges our arguments, he unexpectedly does not focus on the precise problem under discussion.
He then goes on to deal with ancient Rome and Etruria and then, immediately afterwards, with 20th century ethnic instruments from Africa and Asia, trying to explain that since these instruments used intertwined strings like the rope, as a consequence, also basses of the European lute of a thousand years later or of four hundred years earlier must obviously be too, because, as he himself says, the structure of a rope is a technology “out of time and space“.
When we finally seem to be getting to the heart of the matter – that is, we are finally dealing with sixteenth/seventeenth-century Europe – he spends most of his time discussing bass strings of bowed instruments (not those for plucked instruments), maybe making it clear that, in his opinion, bass strings are the same thing whether if they are for bowed instruments or basses of the Lute.

He also uses inappropriate terminology (Violoncello instead of Bass violin; Violon that gets translated to Violin); there are also real calculation errors (the value of the ‘Line’ of the Mersenne time for example, and the relative calculations).

At this point, since we have finally arrived at the historical period pertaining to the Lute, one would expect to deal with the topic in question, and yet not: it is now the turn to deal with the eighteenth century, but strangely enough the topics taken into consideration are the five-course Guitar and the Cello, proposing, in the middle of the Age of Enlightenment, improbable gut settings when it’s well known that the eighteenth century is the century symbolizing wound basses taking as an example a painting made in the early twentieth century.

Wound bass strings are never mentioned at all by Besnainou, except in the case of J. B. Forqueray, where he advances a theory that starts….. from the twisted, torso colonnade of St. Peter’s Basilica.

When after this long wandering we really get to deal with the basses of the Lute, we discover that the material presented in support of his arguments is really scarce: an iconographic image of Caravaggio (disputed by us), a painting by Rutilio Manetti (that, so to say, plants an ash stake right at the heart of his theory), a couple of arguments taken from Dowland and Mace where, instead of analyzing all the documentation found in these two important treatises inherent in the strings of the Lute, he limits himself to giving his personal interpretation to Dowland’s word ‘knot’ (which we have placed in another way), and finally the presumed meaning given by Mace to the term ‘smooth’ (which we have reconsidered, in the light of the written evidence).
Wherever he finds points in our work that he considers to be ‘too pressing ‘, he simply overlooks the subject; all of this is sometimes seasoned with a rhetorical vein that, frankly, he could have avoided.

What is the overall picture we get?  

This work, that in the section concerning the experiments remains indeed very interesting (and we recommend everyone to follow it carefully), reminds us of certain animals that present themselves with a considerable size, but once they have been sheared, at the end they reveal a rather small body.
The historical and iconographic arguments brought by Charles are often weak and poorly supported, giving the impression of a lack of knowledge of the history of string making of the past times, lack of knowledge of written documentation related to the types of strings that were used in the past, and lack of knowledge of treatises for Lute.

When he is uncomfortable in answering, he simply moves on: for example, our iconographic examples concerning the details of the Lute’s bridge do not receive any comment, and he then glides over the statements found in Lute treatises regarding the smooth surface of the basses used in the Lute.
Mersenne’s own statement that gut strings are polished by abrasive grass like ‘smooth cylinders’ goes totally unnoticed.

A single iconographic example for him seems to be valid for the entire seventeenth century, while there are dozens and dozens of others that report an entirely different statistical reality. But he ignores them.
He doesn’t even dwell on the matter of the coloring of the strings, and how we have dealt with it in detail: the only example he gives concerns a modern surgical catgut treated with Iodine, which is brown in color, comparing it with the brown color of the basses of the lute used four hundred years earlier.

But it is Manetti’s painting that definitely puts an ash stake through the heart of his theory: in this remarkably large painting (the details are therefore very clear) we see two different instruments painted in the same canvas: a Cittern – with the wire bass strings intertwined and bumped (and of which there are various written sources that tell us how they were made) and an eight-courses Lute, where the bass gut strings, all brown, are instead perfectly smooth and without the slightest sign of twisting. If the basses of the lute had been twisted like a rope just like those of the Cittern, wouldn’t the painter have shown it?

But the most disconcerting fact is that he seems not to have taken into account that our final hypothesis foresees the confluence of the two hypotheses -which were once in opposition- making them merge into a single one.

So, we ask ourselves: what was the point of all this discussion, at the end?

Much Ado About Nothing’
William Shakespeare


  1. Mimmo Peruffo , « Why the load of gut for bass strings is the only hypothesis that fulfils the requirement of seven criteria arising from consideration of historical evidence » published in FoMRHI Quaterly n ° 143 pp 4-31, september 2018. Article that can also be found « The Lutezine n°126, july 2018 », cited in the Dutch Lute Society magazine pp 37-84.

  1. All quotations in square brackets and in italics are taken from the article by Mimmo Peruffo (MP)

  1. Edwin Hubble, « A Relation between Distance and Radial Velocity among Extra-Galactic Nebulae », Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, vol. 15, 1929, p. 168-173

  1. Introduction to the skill of music, John PLAYFORD. London 1664.

  1. L’Encyclopédie Méthodique : l’Art du faiseur d’instruments, Paris 1785.

  1. During the round table organized by the Dutch Luth Society (August 31, 2018) in Utrecht on the question of ancient lute strings. Mimmo Peruffo having learned my invitation at the last minute and having probably understood his cognitive dissonance, was quick to show us a photo of Manetti’s painting grossly made up to make us believe that the strand coming out of the bridge had the same diameter as the string and that he pretended to have himself taken during one of his travels to Dublin National Museum. Since then I challenged him to publish this « piece of evidence ». What he does not know is that with the Photoshop software we are perfectly able to go back to all touching up of an image.

  1. Marin Mersenne, l’Harmonie Universelle, Paris 1636, livre second p. 99.

  1. May be even in his kitchen after making sausages out of sheep’s guts? On reflection, it is a simple way to weigh down gut especially if these sausages are heavy to digest on the stomach…

  1. Thomas Mace, « Musick Monument, the Lute Made Easy », 1676, London.

  1. “The proof of the pudding is by eating it …”! What are the indirect proofs of pudding? Stale bread, brandy, sugar, raisins as indirect proof, do not make a pudding.

  1. The general approach that presides over experiences of thought is formulated by the question: what would happen if …? https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Expérience_de_pensée

  1. That it would be too long and tedious to dissect here !

  1. Once again here M.P. replaces the notion of evidence with that of information when it suits him.

  1. Djilda Abott & Ephraïm Segermann, On twisting gut strings, Early Music, Vol. 4, No. 4 (October 1976).

  1. Henri Bouasse, “Cordes et membranes“, Albert Blanchard éditeur, Paris (1927). Particularly prolific author who left to posterity more than 45 volumes, dealing with mathematics, physics, mechanics with hundreds of examples drawn from the operation of musical instruments, and in particular on musical strings.

  1. Robert Morris « Twist and Writhe near Max Turns in Rubber Motor », Free Flight Quarterly April 2011 ; https://www.hippocketaeronautics.com/downloads/Twist_and_Writhe- Morris_v2-2.pdf . Quote : « I do remember noticing the rows upon rows of knots that formed during winding and dissolved during the power run ». Which discribes perfectly the process.

[17]A. Ghatak & L. Mahadevan, Solenoids and Plectonemes in Stretched and Twisted Elastomeric Filaments, Physical Review Letters, vol. 95 ; 2005 (figure above)


[18] Patents, FR 8303921 (10/3/1983) ; FR 8320763 (26/12/1983 ; EU 84400493(12/3/1984).

  1. Charles Besnainou, « Les cordes et leurs mystères », in Tablature, revue de la Société Française de Luth, Juillet 1987.

  1. Charles Besnainou, « La fabrication des cordes et en particulier comment répondre aux questions posées par les cordes anciennes », lecture, Corde Factum, Puurs, May 2008.

  1. John Downing, « Roped Gut Bass Strings », FoMRHI Quaterly, C-1318 Jan. 1995#77 and « More on Roped Strings and other Knotty Problems ». FoMRHI Quaterly, C-1318 April 1995#79

  1. Agostino Ramelli, « Le diverse et artificiose machine », Paris, 1588. http://cnum.cnam.fr/SYN/fDY3.html

  1. This property of phenomenal elasticity will be resumed in the 18th century for

« substituted these strings for the springs [metal] of post chaises & other carriages, and they have done very well » which « M. le comte d’Herouville used It particularly, either to collect what the ancient Greek and Latin tacticians had on catapults, ballists, and other machines of war to which they used the cords of sinew » in Encyclopedia Diderot & d’Alembert, see volumes III & IV, pp. 18 & 207-208, Paris (1752)

  1. Vitruve, « Les dix livres d’architecture de Vitruve », dans la traduction de Claude Perrault en 1673, éditeur Bibliothèque de l’image, préface de Antoine Picon, Paris 1999

Quote from Vitruvius: « As for Music, it must be consumed so that it knows the Canonical & Mathematical Proportion for the proper bending of war machines like Ballistas, Catapults & Scorpions (trebuchets), whose structure is such that, having passed through two holes through which the arms of the catapult (a ballista) are also stretched, and one of which is to the right and the other to the left of the capitals of these machines, cables are made of gut strings that are banded with vindas or reels & levers; these cables must not be stopped to put the machine in a state of unchecking, that the master [of shooting] does not hear them make the same sound when we touch them, because the arms that we stop after being bound, They must strike with equal force, which they will not do if they are not stretched equally, and it would be impossible for them to push straight up what they must throw. »

  1. There is a rich iconography that supports this thesis, but has no place here.

  1. The quotation from Vitruvius close to Ramelli’s text fully justifies John Downing’s hypothesis (Catapult Cordage – PART 2, More Speculation, FoMRHI Quaterly # 81, Oct. 1995, Comm 1395, p.21) that the word “catline” refers to catapult cordage as a contraction of the word “cat(apulte)line” and of course the word “catgut” has retained the prefix “cat” (perhaps for the twisted structure) and to indicate the material, the gut. It is a shame that some

opponents have tried to debunk this great idea, which today finds consistency elements ! See : Ephraim Segerman, On Downing’s speculations on catgut in Comm 1751, FoMRHI Quaterly #106, January 2002, Comm 1791, p30.

  1. Saint-Izaire Castle and Archery Museum, 12480, Saint Izaire, France. https://www.saint-izaire.com/archerie/

If one observes the rope well, it is formed of two twisted segments in opposite direction When hanging a rope with a load, it tends to untwist. Having the two segments of the bow string twisted in the opposite direction means that when the archer strikes his bow the two segments go to untwist in the opposite direction, that is to say, to prevent the rope from rolling. under the fingers.

  1. Henri-Louis Duhamel du Monceau, L’art de la corderie perfectionné, seconde édition dans laquelle on a ajouté ce qui regarde les cordages goudronnés, Reproduction facsimilé de l’édition de 1769 : https://ia800304.us.archive.org/17/items/bub_gb_gROUgnp92V4C.pdf

  1. Birbent, Résistance des fibres végétales filées ou commises, Annales de la faculté des sciences de Toulouse, 3ème série, tome 21 (1929), p. 43-137. Birebent was professor Henri Bouasse’s assistant [9]. http://www.numdam.org/article/AFST_1929_3_21 43_0.pdf

Here we have the very example of a phase transition. When we inject energy into a system, it tends to return to its equilibrium position; but depending on the boundary conditions it can switch to another more or less stable equilibrium. Figure 26 shows the different bifurcations that appear when a wire stretched according to a certain force is subjected to twisting. The example shows four almost stable states..

  1. I did not find in the English specialized literature the description of such a rope, so I keep its word in French en garochoir.

  1. From Dutch langslag (same direction) contrary to kruisslag (oppossite direction), formerly Albert’s lay, Wilhelm Albert (1787-1846) German engineer who adapted this concept to mine cables

  1. I live a few kilometers from the Corderie Royale de Rochefort, and when I asked the curator of this museum to show me a garochoir, he was completely unaware of its existence. As they say, oblivion is the worst of purgatories. https://www.corderie-royale.com/

  1. The need for elastic moorings is still current, we find on the market this type of spring system for pleasure boating. (photo, www.bateaux.com)

  1. Philip Skipon (1641-1691), An Account of a Journey Made Thro’ Part of the Low- Countries, Germany, Italy, and France, London 1732.

  1. SOFRACOB, Société française de cordes en boyaux, ZI 38121Reventin-Vaugris, France

  1. In music, inharmonicity is the degree to which the frequencies of overtones (also known as partials or partial tones) depart from whole multiples of the fundamental frequency (harmonic series). Acoustically, a note perceived to have a single distinct pitch in fact contains a variety of additional overtones which contributed to pitch and timbre.

  1. Pierre Schaeffer, Traité des objets musicaux, édition du  Seuil. 1966, Paris

  1. C. Valette & C. Cuesta, Mécanique de la corde musicale, Hermes éditeur, Paris 1993. https://exofessubhe.firebaseapp.com/2866013638.pdf

  1. Marin Mersenne, l’Harmonie Universelle, Paris 1636, livre second p. 99.

  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Young%27s_modulus https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flexural_modulus

Ideally, flexural or bending modulus of elasticity is equivalent to the tensile modulus (Young’s modulus) or compressive modulus of elasticity for homogeous materials. In reality, these values may be different, especially for polymers (by non-linearities) and textured ropes.

  1. A simple analogy makes it possible to understand this notion of elasticity under tension: consider a metallic chain, this one is very flexible not tensioned and becomes inelastic and non-flexible when it is under tension.

  1. The spectrographic analysis (sonagram) of sounds is a time/frequency representation that can be read as a musical staff. Moreover, this representation shows the intimate spectral composition of the sounds simultaneously to the pitch. See free software :


  1. For a beam embedded, the deformation f under a load P is given by the formula f=PL3/3EI (E Young modulus ; I moment of inertia) https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Formulaire_des_poutres_simples

  1. For a simple calculation, see : http://www.formules-physique.com/categorie/306

  1. C. Valette & C. Cuesta, opus cité, pp 83-132

  1. The lack of the 12th and 13th partials indicates that the string was plucked exactly between 5 cm (60/11) and 5.5 cm (60/12) from the bridge. It is inferred that the string was plucked with a 5 mm wide plectrum ; with a thumb an inch wide, the contact would have been much wider (about 20 mm) and the absence of components would have affected more partials…

  1. in Robert Dowland, A Varieties of Lute Lessons, London, 1610. John Dowland, « Other necessary to set a small and a great string togetheris left, as irregular to the role of Musicke. » p.14

  1. To definitively close the question of the holes that haunted Peruffo Mimmo for years, the following figures should reassure him:


On the left, evidence that a « graduate of the universities » can make a hole 2.5 mm diameter in the bridge of his lute to tie a gut string 2.3 mm diameter ; in the middle, the same rope 2.3 mm unwrapped in two strands (time : 2.5 minutes) to achieve a knot as in the painting of R. Manetti ; on the right, still in gut, a 3 mm diameter en garochoir string tied to the bridge in a

1.3 mm diameter hole. QEDþÿ

To conclude: this sectional picture of a lute bridge indicates to us –red arrow– that the overhang one meets very often on the historical instruments can be used to better block the other strand previously burned to make a small anti-slip ball .

  1. « Hello Peruffo… Scientia sine humor, quam odiosis »… that definitely puts an ash stake through the heart of his theory