The Italian method of making strings from whole unsplit lamb gut: story of a rediscovery



by Mimmo Peruffo

Download PDF version

1) Foreword

For what I know, it was probably only in the 1970s that the research on the gut strings of the past became popular. Before then, this problem doesn’t seem to have emerged yet, both because everyone was mainly addressed to the performance practice, and because the gut strings that were generally available at that times did their duty nonetheless: nobody could imagine that strings could have been made differently in the past, and no accurate documentation regarding the ‘historical’ diameters was available.

It was generally believed that the sounds of bowed instruments in the past had to be feeble, and that the string diameters had to be very thin, even if there was no supporting documentation.

Starting from the 1970s, however, as the research delved into the subject of historical performance and instruments, new attention began to be paid to the issue of the strings: in fact, new documentation regarding the average diameters of strings and the settings used in past centuries began to be discovered; moreover, the most famous areas of string production were brought to light, together with the names by which the various types of strings were called (Catlins, Lyons, Pistoys, Minikins, Gansars etc.), and finally new assumptions were introduced that led to related discussions, principally regarding the strings in the low range (loaded strings, roped, etc.).

Thanks to this newly found documentation, it began to be understood that the diameters of the strings used on bowed instruments in the past were not generally as thin as people thought, and therefore modern strings could not meet the acoustic standards required by the restored settings of the past. For example, it was impossible to employ a third string in pure gut on the violin or on the cello; similarly, there was no way to use gut basses on the family of the viola da gamba or on the lutes. Modern string were too stiff, therefore they were difficult to play under the bow and gave poor acoustic performances.

In those years, several articles were written starting to describe the historical productive cycle used in the past, mainly referring to Italy and France of the second half of the 18th  century, when the Age of Enlightenment finally began to emerge (information from previous centuries is in fact very incomplete or scarce).

The period from the 1970s to today has also been marked by some changes in the manufacture of modern gut strings, as a result of discoveries of new historical documentation, and more recently we are witnessing the appearance of amateur string-makers.

2) My experience

I began my research in mid 1980s as a simple enthusiast, spending about ten years working on the problem of Lute gut basses, developing theories, doing practical tests at a string-making company, and finally accurately measuring the holes of the original lute bridges in museums.

To learn more “The theory of loaded gut”
To learn more “Why the loading of gut for lute bass strings is the only hypothesis that fulfils the requirements of seven criteria arising from a consideration of historical evidence”

I then moved on in my research on musical strings, starting to look for documentation in european libraries, state archives, museums of musical instruments and private collections (including works by other scholars), and managed to collect a fair amount of historical documentation (which, for the most part, I have not yet had time to publish) along with a few hundred measurements made on samples of gut and wound strings, that I simply call ‘ancient’, found on musical instruments in museums (especially on not yet restored instruments) for which I always released a report and calculations to the museum.

Survey card example
Survey card example

My profession as a string-maker derives from all that was handed down to me between 1991 and 1992 by Arturo Granata, a professional string-maker that, if I recall correctly, worked for 30 years in Savarez before coming to Italy, where he introduced a lot of modern string-making technology and other novelties in the Italian string-making industry that was still hanging most of the old methods, and he started his own string-making company near to Milan, aimed at the industrial manufacture of musical, tennis and surgical strings, using modern techniques (stiff and transparent strings, similar to Nylon).

Arturo Granata and me

However, what was passed down to me was mainly focused on how to produce strings in the “modern way” (beef gut serosa, modern chemical process, constant use of hardening salts, centerless grinding machine, very stiff strings).

The documentation found by me and by others, the old strings found in museums, and my background as a chemist, allowed me, at a certain point, to introduce some technological changes in order to make gut strings more relevant to the historical procedures, without sacrificing the advantages of the modern method (speed, quantity and reliability). The strings that are now produced are much more elastic (i.e. high twist; no hardening salts). I still based my production on the use of beef serosa strands but I sometimes passed indifferently to those of sheep (I do not find any appreciable differences, when using strands).

Finally, I changed the way I rectified the strings: I no longer bring them to the smoothness level typical of modern stringmaking, but I keep them partially polished: this idea came to my mind after having touched and measured the Paganini strings, handled hundreds of old strings, and having discovered some written sources.

Paganini 1st violin string (.71 mm) Genoa 2004


Giuseppe Antonelli, Venezia, Nuovo dizionario universale 1846: the violin 1st string must be not polished


These changes finally allowed us to install without any problem a third string in pure gut on the violin and on the cello; historical diameters could finally be proposed and, as a result, the acoustic performance of an orchestral ensemble began to change for the better.

This was not an easy transition: when I started, the average diameter used for the first string of a violin was a stiff .52-.54 mm: in this conditions it was not possible to switch abruptly to a string with a diameter of .66-.68 mm – as recovered from historical sources and findings – because of the resistance of musicians, but above all of the luthiers. At the same time, some instruments could not physically support larger diameters (in general, the problem was that the angle formed by the strings on the bridge was too sharp so the pressure on the soundboard was actually too much).

Therefore, I decided to increase the diameter of the strings we offered year after year, making sure to start from the initial 52 mm, and then gradually increasing to 56 … 60 … 62 until we reached the current 64-66 a few years ago. This way, any potential conflict was avoided, and I also noticed that other few string-makers followed the example of increasing the diameters, to the benefit of the overall acoustic quality of the bowed instruments. However, some of them had already introduced the high twist strings in their own process.


At this point, I realized that I possessed:

  1. a considerable amount of historical documentation, both personal and from other researchers,
  2. I had taken several hundred measurements of pieces of old gut strings
  3. I had gained a strong professional experience as a professional string-maker
  4. I  was able to modify  my modern way to make gut strings in a way that was ‘more historical’ (high twist, no hardening salts,  the imitation of the manual polishing etc.)
  5. Thanks to  point 4. we had finally the access to the ‘historical’ thicker gauges, it was possible to install a plain 3rd gut string on violin and cello; the gamba 4th  with a general benefit for the performance


Therefore, I thought it was time to try and recover the manufacturing method that was used in Italy, firstly starting from the comparison between all the sources that described it (and that I could fully understand thanks to my chemical background and direct experience on the field), integrating it with an initiative that proved to be the most decisive lead: filming interviews – including real simulations of the various phases of the productive cycle – with the last elderly string makers in Abruzzo, who were still living in Salle/Musellaro/Bolognano villages, the famous gut string production centers since the middle of the 16th century.

The great fame enjoyed by the strings produced in Italy between the second half of the 16th century and the 1930s is well known: I have often wondered if this was just a fashion or if there were practical motivations instead.


The three fundamental key points to be developed were:

A) recovering the Italian historical productive cycle, comparing all the historical sources that were describing it;
B) recovering the formula for the preparation of the potash or tempra, and its proper use;
C) solve the dilemma of the whole unsplit lamb gut;
D) recover the criteria used in the past when choosing the raw gut.


A) Recovering the historical production cycle used in Italy:


1) comparison between all the historical sources that describe it

2) interviews to retired elderly string-makers of Salle/Musellaro/Bolognano villages (Italy)

Comparison between all the historical sources that describe it

Most of the sources that describe the production cycle of strings were related to Italy and France. Certainly, being a craftsman and chemist (not just a pure researcher) gave me an advantage when comparing all the historical sources that describe it (I also took into account the valuable lists concerning the equipment/tools and ‘chemical’ products reported on the inventories of Roman workshops, found by researcher Patrizio Barbieri, just to see if there were substantial variations/news).

The conclusion was that there’s a substantial alignment between all the sources (with few differences, of little importance), therefore allowing us to finally understand the function of the various phases.

The most reliable sources are certainly those dated after 1760, but also the previous ones, even if brief, have confirmed a substantial alignment (for example, the presence in the shops of the scraping table, the degreasing brass thimbles, the sulphurisation process, the sulphur, the mobile frames, the ashes used to make potash, the twisters or wheels, the shelves to place the bowls, the shades where to dissolve the ashes for the potash, the splash guards for the workers, etc.).

Interviews to retired elderly Abruzzo string-makers

In this work of careful reconstruction, the interviews with several elderly string-makers mostly in the village of Salle in Abruzzo that I was able to film, before their passing, were decisive (some of them were simple workers, but at least a couple of them were owners or Masters).

During these interviews, I was taught in practice the following points:

-How to choose/distinguish  the best sheep/mouton/lamb intestine and how to take out it from the animal’s body;

-How to handle correctly the fermentation’s bath process;
-How to build the scraping table and scraping cane, and how to scrape correctly;
-How to build and use the brass thimble, and how should the various phases be organized and divided;
-How to build and use the splitting horn;
-How to build the mobile frames and why they are better than the long and fixed ones;
-How to make the braided horsehair, what it’s for and how to use it on the strings;
-How to dry the strings on the frames in the proper way;
-How to handle the  sulphurisation process;
-Which is the special hand movements to correctly smoothen the strings (otherwise they might get faulty) together with the materials and tools to be used, and how to choose them;
-When was the centerless grinding machine introduced in Italy, by whom;
-When the transition to beef serosa took place in Italy, together with the related modern chemical processes (French industrial method).

I would like to underline the importance of the fact that all information has been transferred from technician to technician, and most importantly all through practice (to put it short, it was not simply read on a book). Knowledge and craftsmanship is notoriously transmitted through direct apprenticeship and long experience in the workshop: the simple view or description of the scraping cane, or the degreasing brass thimble, found in the old sources will never be able to transmit all the information, not even to an expert industry technician or an academic researcher.

As an example, the scraping cane and the degreasing thimble I had prepared before the visit by carefully examining all the images found on the historical sources, were immediately discarded by the elderly string-makers, telling me that I would never be able to make any string with what I prepared . Even the simple choice of the proper wood to be used for the scraping table must follow precise criteria, handed down from father to son for generations: the fir table I prepared was in fact immediately refused (!)

Scraping process


Thimble rubbing and potash bath


Manual polishing with oliv oil and dryed Equisetum plant

From these interviews, I realized that the method used in Abruzzo since a few decadies ago was fortunately maintained crystallized since the beginning of the 19th century; the technical terms used by these elderly string-makers were often the same found in the historical documents, even on the lists of the inventories of late 16th century. For example, they would say “break” the gut , i.e.‘spaccare le mazze per mezzo’ (just like it was written in the statutes of the string makers of Rome of the late 16th century); they called the twisting machine simply wheel, i.e. “ruota” or “rota”, as in the historical sources; thwe potash was still called ‘Tempra’ etc.

The only differences that were found during these interviews concerned the use of pure potash from chemical process instead from vegetable ashes, and abandoning the whole gut in favor of cutting it into two strips, as was instead traditionally used outside Italy (apparently starting from the end of the 18th century). Only one of these old string-makers, Astro Di Russo (who was the owner), remembered that when he was a child, they still used burned white wine- lees to obtain potash (Savaresse, in the second half of the 19th century, was already using the pure chemically produced potash).

However, no one had ever heard of the use of whole gut, let alone of the strict criteria for selecting the raw material, as copiously described in historical sources.

Moreover, no one was able to tell me anything about the concentration of the basic potash bath: this preparation was in fact only in the hands of the Master or Maestro (the owner). In documents of the 19th century, it is reported that the potash was only prepared by the Master, in a large barrel, mixing it with a pole, and that next to this barrel there was another identical one, filled with pure water only, to be used for the various dilutions during the production cycle.

I found a picture that shows this:


The Maestro with the two barrels and the pole used to mix the potash solution in 1930s (source: La Bella website)

Corderia italiana, 1920’s (courtesy of Daniel Mari, New York):

Thimble rubbing and, at the back, the  gut splitting; on the left the barrels with the potash are visible

Final manual polishing and oiling : note the mobile frames

The sulphuration room 

French string-makers, mid 19th century: the  gut splitting; the  intestine scraping; treatment tank

Tools  (Pinaroli, Rome 1718)


Tools (Pinaroli, Rome 1718)


In conclusion, the only difference between the production cycle in German-speaking countries, and the one in use in Italy, seems to be the use of whole lamb gut; the particular quality of the raw material and perhaps (perhaps) the use of special/different potash baths (from wine lees instead of plant ashes). In fact, there does not seem to be any particular difference in the various phases of the production cycle, except for the fact that sometimes there are fixed frames (typical of the modern stringmaking) instead of mobile frames:

1678 Germany (Wenger)

Diderot 1765 ca   

We can summarise the Abruzzo production cycle as follows:

1) The intestines are collected and manually emptied of the manure directly at local slaughterhouses, as soon as possible after slaughter by the ‘Mazziere’. If the slaughterhouse was not located in the surroundings of the string-making companies, the intestine was emptied, scraped on site, salted and then sent to the string manufacturers in closed barrels;

2) Controlled fermentation: intestines, collected in bundles, are soaked in cold water for a few days in order to start a slight fermentation, that allows an easier scraping action. The duration of the bath depends on the season: 1-2 days in summer; 3-5 days in winter. The water must be changed frequently.

3) Scraping treatment, made by passing over the intestine on a tilted table using a specially designed cane: only the useful membrane remains. This operation removes the useless membranes and the fat, but not completely

4) Passages with the brass thimble: in this phase, each gut in its whole length (20-25 meters) is first left to soak for a period of a few hours up to half a day, in the most diluted solution of potash, and then undergoes a rubbing process using a thimble placed on the index finger agaist the thumb of the ‘Lavorante’; each gut is scraped from four to six times a day (depending on historical sources) and for about eight to ten days. After each day, the concentration of the potash bath is increased until reaching the pure potash (some historical source mentions that the last bath has a double concentration, but there are no substantial differences in the final string; sometime the rubbing process is done in dry conditions i.e. ‘a secco’). The concurrent mechanical abrasive and alkaline action using an increasing concentration, eliminates the last traces of residual fat and submucose, but also modifies the nature of gut, making it suitable for becoming a good string for Music.

5) Gut gauge selection: this operation is extremely important and starts already at the slaughterhouse, but is carried out much more accurately in the string-making company, during a phase that comes immediately before the combination of the intestines, that will be then followed by the twisting, and is called ‘capatura’; the worker is called ‘Capatore’.

6) Twisting: the selected guts are cut in the lenght, in order to obtain the right length for the frame, and then combined together, according to the desired range of diameters of the final string. The general rule adopted in string-making is as follows: for thin strings, small intestine gauges are used; for thick strings, larger intestine gauges are used. The use of high-quality, strong and more expensive lamb gut, purchased and processed in summer months, was reserved only for the most stressed strings: the Violin trebles.

7) First twisting: using the “wheel” or “twister” (by the worker called torcitore), the strings are first twisted on a frame that is firmly placed on a table, that also has space for the bowls, called ‘rinfrescatore’, that are filled with guts. The number of turns varies from source to source, and also depends on the ratio of turns between the wheel and the rotating hooks (they are generally two, sometime just one)

8) Rubbing of the string using a braided horsehair soaked with potash: this treatment is not used to smoothen the string, but to remove the bubbles inside the whole gut by squeezing it, and also to remove most of the water contained/trapped in between the guts, improving the bonding between the fibers. Some documents indicate this as polishing, but it is a misinterpretation

9) Sulphurization: The freshly twisted strings, stretched on the mobile frame, are brought in a hermetically sealed room, with a very wet floor, and treated with  burned sulphur fumes

10) Second twisting (‘ribattitura’): the sulphured strings lose traction, therefore they are then restored by a new twisting action, and then returned into the sulphur room

11) Third and last twisting: the almost dry strings are twisted for the third time and then left to dry completely in open air; the thicker strings are simply twisted by hands

12) Final manual polishing: after being dried in open air, the strings (except violin first strings, that sometimes were excluded, depending on manufacturer and historical source) are polished using a cloth containing pumice powder or a dried abrasive herb called Equisetum, moistened with olive oil. This phase is very critical, and perfect manual skills are required.

13) Oiling: the polished strings are then passed with a cloth soaked in olive oil (Italy) or almond oil (Germany, Austria, England, etc). Siccative oils are never mentioned. In the 19th century some author states that oiling destroys bow-hairs and therefore advises to avoid it (for example: Heron Allen, 1890)

14) Cutting and packaging: starting from the mid-eighteenth century, strings are cut directly from the frame and then packaged in circular coils using a tool called ‘Bussolotto‘; before that time, they preferred the shape of a bunch made with a tool called ‘Forma’, ‘Banco da ingavettare’ or even ‘Forchetta


  • the cores that were then covered with silver or silver-plated copper wires were never subjected to sulphurisation and oil.
  • string makers of the past also produced gut strings for different uses such as: beating cotton; elements for mechanical transmission; for hatters; for watchmakers; for sports use; for whips for horse riding
  • Strings were sometimes coloured with vegetal pigments dissolved in water
  • Rock Alum salt: it is mentioned around 1670 by Skippon during a visit to a Paduan stringmaker; in late 18th century it was also described as an ingredient in French and Italian encyclopedias, explaining that perhaps its possible function was to precipitate the impurities present in the potash derived from plant ashes.
    It was only in the beginning of the XIX century by Labarraque and then second half of the 19th century that the French string maker Savaresse made it clear that the Rock Alum salt was sometimes used to make stiffer gut strings. This salt is now widely used in the modern cycle. We have not used it (it does not appear to be in use in the Abruzzo, Neapolitan and Roman historical stringmaking).


  1. B) The basic potash (also called in Italy in different ways: ‘acqua forte; griepoli; liscia; lescivo; potash, perlash; ranno; tempra’): the reconstruction of the basic formula.


One of the most important elements – if not the most important – concerned the reconstruction of the basic potash preparatory formula: the modern string making company uses different and more complex chemistry. If you do not follow the right chemical steps, the reconstruction of the historical cycle alone does not lead to quality strings (they break, they are stiff even if they are very twisted, the fibers are not well bound together, etc.). There aren’t many historical sources that tried to describe how to prepare it; moreover, being often written by non stringmakers, there’s always a reasonable doubt for errors  maybe intentionally introduced by the stringmakers themselves in order to keep safe their secrets.

A further element of difficulty are the units of measurement used in each Italian small kingdom of those times and the fact that we do not know the percentage content of the potash in the plant ashes used, which ranged from the best product, which were the white wine lees, to the worst in terms of concentration of potash, which were the common ashes of plants properly passed to the gravello/clavello   (i.e. the sieve) called ceneri gravellate (or clavellate). In the nineteenth century the potash was also distinguished by different impurities degree (the best and pure was the so-called Perlassa, but it’s mentioned only starting from the beginning of the nineteenth century). In short, there are many uncertainties.

The comparison of all the sources we have of the late eighteenth century and those of the nineteenth century, however, reserved us a pleasant surprise; the variation in the concentration of the basic potash bath obtained from the calculations considering all the related sources was within a narrow range (+- 15%): we can conclude that the strings production cycle, at least from the mid-eighteenth century, was already highly standardized and continued likewise until 1920’s and that the informations were right.

The detailed analysis of why increasing concentrations of the potash during  the thimble rubbing  is easy to explain (it is a methodology that is also used in certain preparatory steps in modern chemistry): we start with a low concentration of an alkaline agent, which removes the portion of fat that is easier to remove, reserving the maximum concentration of potash for the smallest residual quantity that is more tenacious. The alkaline treatment, however, is not only used to remove the fat: it also alters the structure of the gut making it more elastic, softer and more prone to bindings between the fibers. A string obtained directly from perfectly degreased casing, but without an alkaline treatment, will be stiff, fragile, dry and with weak bond between the fibers of the gut string.

Wine lees


Burned whine lees- ashes


C) The whole unsplit gut

In the Italian production cycle of the XVI, XVII, XVIII and XIX centuries, the animals whose intestines were commonly used in the string-making industry were both goat (mainly in Naples) and sheep intestines (in the eighteenth century: 7-8 months lambs, middle-age lambs up to the adult sheeps. It is also frequently mentioned ram and wether).

In the slaughterhouses they used to treat any animal, always for alimentary reasons only; it was then up to the string-maker to select the intestines  (coming from different sources and sometimes from very far away) according to their gauges, following the rule, that we have come to know, that the stronger guts of smaller gauges (more expensive) had to be used only for the thinnest strings (Violin 1st only), and vice versa.

The common situation that is found in many Italian documents of the XVIII and XIX century is that with three or four whole guts you should get the range of diameters typical of the Violin 1st string (diameter of  .65-.73 mm, approximately summarizing the historical sources): the starting intestines must therefore have been very thin. In some cases it was possible to make the diameters mentioned above also with 4 guts: in this case the cost of the product was higher (in exchange you had a greater stenght, gauge eveness and longer life time)

Typical gaussian curve concerning the violin 1st string production


 De Lalande, 1765 Paris: violin 1st = 3 whole guts

The use of whole guts was therefore the rule in those countries (such as Spain, Portugal and Italy) where there was availability of small animals that allowed the use of three, sometimes four of their coupled and twisted guts, to obtain the range of diameters suitable  for the Violin 1st string.

In other countries (France, Austria, Germany, etc.) the situation was quite different: their lambs, either for the breed, the climate or the type of feeding, were larger than those of Italy and Spain, and were never slaughtered at an early age, as opposed to what happened in Italy because those animals were precious for the wool. Because of the thicker intestine gauge, it was impossible to obtain the suitable diameters for the Violin first string (was mentioned: 3 whole guts = .90 mm!): this is the main reason for the huge orders of Lute and Violin first strings addressed to Rome and then to Naples by the various European nations in the XVII, XVIII and XIX centuries. There are several documents from the XVIII and XIX centuries, especially from France, which tried to analyze well the situation and conclude that, because of their type of lambs and moutons, it was impossible to imitate the quality of the Neapolitan first strings.

This type of problem gave origin to the ingenious solution of splitting the intestine lengthwise and halfway in order to obtain thinner strips so as to circumvent the obstacle, a technique that is still used today by virtually all string makers, whether they deal with cow’s casings or sheep’s casings: rom the documents that were found, it would seem that this technique was introduced in Germany only in the late XVIII century (the inventor, a certain Israel Kampfe, even won a prize from the municipality of Vogtland in 1785 and the acceptance of German string makers into the corporation) while its use was actually indirectly known as early as the second half of the XVI century in Italy, at least: in the statutes of the string makers of Rome in 1587, 1591, 1642 and 1678 it was in fact forbidden to make gut strings from intestine bundles that were splitted in the middle along the whole length; i.e. ‘spaccare le mazze per mezzo’ (term still used today by the elderly string makers of Abruzzo), under penalty of heavy fines or even whip and jail and the  expulsion from the roman stringmaker’s corporation for a few generations.

Cover of the roman stringmaker’s statute of 1642


Roman stringmaker’s statute, cap VII, 1642: it is forbidden to spilt the intestine in half

In the statutes of Lisbon string makers of 1679, it was also stated that a string maker who was discovered mixing whole guts with guts cut into strips would be forced to pay a hefty fine:

No artisan shall make a string with sheep guts, nor goat guts. Every string that they make, thin or thick, shall be made of lamb guts. And they shall not make them split (longitudinally). Those who do no such thing will pay one thousand reais, being half for the works in town and the other half for the one who accuses them. And those strings shall be considered false and deceptive, and they’ll all be burned.’

Statutes of Lisbon’s string makers of 1679: it is forbidden to spilt the intestine in half

The production of strings from gut strands and not from unsplit gut is definitely considered in Italy (and Portugal) a serious commercial fraud and many were probably the Italian string makers who acted illegally.

An Italian document from the middle of 1846 states that the use of strips to make strings instead of using the whole gut, is to be considered a fraud and it also explains how to detect it

Giuseppe Antonelli, Venezia: New universal dictionary 1846


But why in Italy (and Portugal, Spain) were so strict against those who split the gut in strands? Wasn’t it an ingenious system to be able to use even the larger and more available sheep’s intestines?

The paradox is that while in Italy this kind of fraud was severely punished, in Germany in the late eighteenth century, the (re)discoverer of the technique of spitting the gut into two distinct strips was rewarded, thus allowing the creation of the cellars for Violin and Mandolin and freeing himself from the yoke of having to import them from Italy. The problem was particularly accused by the French who, at the beginning of the 19th century, commissioned scholars such as Labarraque to understand how. They continued for almost all of the 19th century to discuss this problem then definitively solved on one hand by the Savaresse and with the fall of the Italian stringmakers on the other.


4) The problem of the raw material and the best season to manufacture the strings

Until a few months ago it was commonly believed (by deduction only) that a string made of whole unsplit gut should have the same acoustic properties as one made from strips. Unfortunately, the various attempts made by the various contemporary string makers – including us – to make Violin 1st have always failed: the strings were very uneven and with a rather low breaking point. For the thicker strings, this problem does not really exist, but is well known that stringmaker’s capacity is primarily measured in the mechanical holding of the violin 1st string.

In short, no one has ever succeeded in this task.

The solution to the problem came once again from both the examination of ancient sources and animal biology: since the time of Mersenne (1636) they have been arguing about the breed, type of diet and age of Italian lambs whose guts are used to make strings: all this was not available in northern Europe.

Attanasio Kircher (Rome 1650) deals with this topic in an interesting way and so few others in the course of the 18th and 19th centuries which however often repeat concepts already mentioned by previous authors.  Until a few years ago I thought that this issue was irrelevant (working with gut  strands the problem does not show much) but a thorough investigation lasted a couple of years made me change my mind: living beings are flexible, they adapt to both environmental conditions and food and in the same way their intestines (instead, it is not important if the grass is a little polluted or if the animals takes some medicines). The characteristics described by Mersenne and Kircher and other authors are therefore true.

What instead about the most suitable season for making gut strings?

In Italy it is very clear that the production of strings made in winter is the worst in terms of  string strength compared to those that are made in summer and more specifically between June, July, August, September till early October (i.e. the most suitable months for the Violin 1st strings). Some 19th century sources mention, for example, that Neapolitan stringmakers dedicated the winter season to the manufacture of any kind of string – Violin 2nd  included – except the Violin 1st only, which were exclusively produced between mid-summer and early autumn. John Dowland (1626) also takes up the point about the best season to buy strings; i.e. summer (and Paganini too: August). The explanation is simple: the forage in the dry season in the mountains and arid areas is hard and poor; during the winter the pasture is green with plenty of water: the gut changes depending on the food.


5) Mechanical and acoustic characteristics of unsplit gut strings compared with strings made from strips: conclusions

Our unsplit gut strings are made following the historical method we reconstructed, using the correct chemical procedures, using unsplit lamb gut carefully selected (as we speak of ‘resonance fir’ particularly suitable for soundboards, you could introduce the concept of “resonance gut” suitable for making strings), surface are again smoothed by the centerless grinding machine  but with a still slightly rough surface (even if we know  very well the manual polishing process):  nowadays it is totally impossible to carry out again the polishing manual process because of costs, waiting times, risk of false strings but above all for the impossibility to guarantee the scaling of the diameters as today is commonly in use.

These factors have shown a completely different reality from what has been theoretically assumed (i.e. invariance compared to the gut strings made from strips): strings of this type have greater acoustic performance, quickly reach a stable tuning, are more resistant to traction and also much more stable to climate change than homologues made from strips. Finally, there are no tension decreases over time.

These results are remarkable considering that we have not yet experimented the treatment of whitening by sulphurisation (from the mid-nineteenth century some of the well renowned  Paduan stringmakers omitted it).

These evidences would definitively explain why the strings produced in Italy enjoyed the reputation that has always been celebrated in European documents from the late sixteenth to the first half of the twentieth century. Explain exhaustively also why they checked so carefully that the Italian string makers did not do fraud.

We asked ourselves what the reason for this better sound, stability and mechanical resistance is: if we make two identical strings from the same gut (but one obtained from strips) we get quite different results, both mechanically and acoustically.

A possible explanation is linked to the natural conformation of the intestine, which has a sort of robust and thin longitudinal ‘lace’ on which anchors the thin and delicate ‘tubing’ of the intestine.

During the twisting phase it spreads around the lace which results in traction at its ends to create a hypothetical coated string whose core is the ‘lace’.

Vivi felice