At times here in Aquila we are told: “I installed the first string and it broke, so I tried with a second one and it ended up the same way. I have been playing the [violin/viola/cello/gamba] in the last thirty years and I sure know how to install a string…


But being expert musicians and performers is enough to be considered expert installers of gut strings as well?


Critical characteristics of gut strings

As a matter of fact, due to its natural origin, at times a gut string can present a problem: in this case we talk about defective strings.

A string can be called defective when:

  1. it has been excessively polished: at touch and at sight the string may appear good and perfectly smooth, but in fact the external fibers have been excessively damaged, so, little after its installation, the broken fibers will raise from its surface as tiny hairs.
  2. it has very small whitish marks (fat spots) on the inside: such strings tend to break during the initial tuning
  3. it suddenly breaks once installed, far from its constraint points (bridge and nut)

A gut string in itself is very  strong to traction, but it also has some weak points:

  1. the material is not hard, so it suffers from potential sliding or contact points that are even minimally sharp (sharp edges)
  2. it easily absorbs humidity, so in humid environments the string becomes less compact, softer and therefore gets even more delicate on the sliding points
  3. it leads to high friction on contact points, at times it squeezes on the nut and bridge slots, or it may not slide smoothly.

Common solutions, like applying some graphite on the nut grooves, are pretty useless if the slots have not been appropriately created following the criterions suitable for gut strings, like in these examples:

The most important things to be observed, is that the slots are slightly cut and they never have clear bending points, and lastly that the nut is mirror-polished. Only at this point using graphite on the grooves becomes truly effective.

The historical essays, such as Thomas Mace’s Musik’s Monument (London 1676), suggest how the nut of a Lute should be prepared in order to avoid breakages and obtain tuning stability:

Finally, iconographic sources of the XVII century often show a particular nautical knot, called Bowline, that divides in half the traction of the string in two distinct points at the hole on the tailpiece (such use can be limited to the first and highest pitched string)

This is how to tie a Bowline knot:

There are also some other best practices to follow:

  1. tune the string keeping it out of the nut slot and, for bowed instruments, every now and then lifting the string from the bridge: this prevents the sliding on friction points, and assures an even tension on both sides of the constraint points. Put back the string in its slot only once tuned (or very near to its final tuning);
  2. Once in a while, it’s good practice to gently pull the string at half of its length, in order to unload its not recoverable elasticity and at the same time clamping it on its constraint points (this way the string will be almost immediately ready to be played);
  3. Put the string in tension slowly: the material needs time to reach its final state of stretching;
  4. The portion of the string wound on the peg should be as small as possible, making sure that on the first loop the string passes on top of itself, and then closing the spirals without further overlaps: see the indications of Thomas Mace on Musik’s Monument (London 1676).


The following videos summarize all the above mentioned recommendations:

Vivi felice


Mimmo Peruffo