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1) Why are gut strings so expensive?
Because their manufacture is still mostly handwork and require a high degree of specialization: there are only a few of us left, worldwide, who know how to make the appropriate gut strings for historical stringing.
Moreover, the whole string making process requires at least 10-12 uninterrupted days of work.
2) Why did it take so long for the strings to arrive, this time?
Probably because of one, or more, of these reasons:
- You changed, or added to, the original order.
- You ordered strings for a particular type of instrument, you did not know exactly what gauges you wanted.
- You gave an incomplete or incorrect address.
- You did not give your telephone number, which is required for carrier or express delivery in general.
- A given gauge was temporarily out of stock.
- You were put on a waiting list because we had to cope with more orders than we can meet at one time.
- The mail service failed (which happens, on average, twice a month).
3) How important is, as far as quality is concerned, the colour of gut strings?
The colour of a gut string has no influence whatsoever either on acoustic performance or playing life.
Natural colour varies from gut to gut. Extremely white strings (looking like nylon) could betray too energical a bleaching, though.
4) What is the difference between a high twist and a low twist string?
A very important one: a high twist string is much more elastic and that means an increased reactivity: the string will respond more easily both to plucking and to to bowing and produce a wider dynamic excursion and timbric variety.
On the other hand a low twist string, being stiffer, is less reactive but more resistant under stress and thus suitable for all trebles in general.
The material being the same, elasticity and resistance are inversely proportional and that is why it is not possible to use high twist strings as trebles, since they would easily break.
Low twist strings are best suited for Trebles - but not best suited for the mid-register strings, where the acoustic performance would be impoverished.
5) What care do gut strings require?
No particular care.
But in the case of the Doublebass it is advisable to treat the length of the string subject to the action of the left hand with deer fat.
This will extend their playing life.
Lacking deer fat, booth grease will also do successfully tested.
6) What is a string's Breaking Index?
The Breaking Index is the higher frequency a gut string of any diameter can reach at a string length of 1mt.
For both gut and Nylgut a mean value of 260 Hz.mt is a good reference parameter.
In other words, a 1 meter long string - gut or Nylgut - will statistically always break at 260 Hz, i.e. about 'C'.
Hence we deduce that the product of the pitch of the treble and by the string length (more properly called 'Working Index') must always be below this value, under pain of immediately breaking the string at values over 260 or a very short playing life at values between 240 and 260. No problems below 240.
What is its practical use?
Example: can I tune in A 440 a lute with a string length of 62cm?
.62 mt (62cm) x 440 (Hz) = 272.8 Hz.mt
The answer is: no, I can't.
What should the appropriate string length be?
A safe index should not exceed the 240 value.
So: 240/440 Hz = .545 mt.
In practice the appropriate string lengt (at A-440) should not exceed 54 cm.
Rule of thumb (assuming the system bridge-string-nut is free from any so called 'cutting effect'):
- Working index within 240: green light.
- Working index between 250 and 260: amber light (the treble could break in a few hours/days, especially by high humidity).
- Working index over 260: red light (the treble will break immediately or within minutes).
7) How do I measure a string's diameter?
Today you can do it with a high-precision micrometer.
One must zero it exactly and be careful not to squash the string while measuring to avoid false readings.
And in the past?
From about 1830 into the mid-20th century they used a gauge (the first description of one is in Luis Spohr's Violinschule, Vienna 1832).
Luis Spohr's gauge is a metal plate with an acute ‘V’ with gauges scored on the edges: the string slid in until it touches both sides of the V. at this point we read its gauge value.
This method, obviously, allows for a certain margin of approximation. We have no record of similar methods being used in the 18th century.
Marin Mersenne (Harmonie universelle, Paris 1636) suggests winding the string around a small cylinder a given number of times, measuring its length and dividing by the number of spires.
8) What benefits brings the oiling of a gut string?
Oiling is the last step in the string manuifaturing process and makes the string more stable to humidity changes. After a protracted immersion in oil - the coiled string is kept in oil for at least one month - the string develops a longer playing life and a better acoustical performance. The oils traditionally employed were olive or almond.
9) What care should be taken with the nut and bridge grooves?
A large number of strings break because of the cutting effect of sharp edges on bridge and nut.
Thomas Mace in 1676 advises: ‘take a knife and make a little impression upon the nut ... [which] must afterwards be filed down deep enough for the string to lye in ... after you have marked the places for all strings to lye in, which may be done with a pencil or pen and ink ... you must take it [the nut] and polish it very well (but especially the notches) ... take a piece of new neats-leather and a little scraped chalk wet in spittle, which with good pains must be rubbed so long till ... the notches be very smooth’.
All sharp edges and angles must be accurately eliminated.
Only after this operation apply some soft pencil lead or very dry soap to the groove. this will not only help tuning and keeping in tune but also prevent the string from squashing and jamming in the groove, increasing the probability of breakage. Robert Dowland, in his ‘Varietie of lute lessons’, London 1610, suggests:’ ...when you set them on the instrument they will sticke (and rise by starts) in the nut, and there breake, even in the tuning: the best remedy when the strings sticke so, is tu rub the little nickes of the nut (in which the strings slide) with a little oyle, waxe, or black lead’. (i.e. a pencil's graphite!)
10) I checked the diameter of a gut string a noticed that it sometimes is slightly different from that declared on the string envelope: is the string faulty?
No, gut is an extremely hygroscopic material and the amount of humidity absorbed can slightly alter the string diameter. on humid days a string will probably present a slightly thicker diameter, on dry days a slightly thinner one.
Practical tests show that a .82mm string on a humid day can measure .84, or .80 on a particularly dry day.
The diameters shown on our string envelopes refer to a standard condition of 20°C and 60% relative humidity.
Such variations influence the string working tension only minimally.
11) How should I store my gut strings?
The main enemy of gut strings is humidity: keep them in plastic envelopes or in air tight boxes. A carefully stored string will keep its quality for many decades.
12) What is Nylgut and why is it white?
Nylgut is a synthetic material we discovered and copyrighted in 1997: it has the same mean specific weight as gut and a low degree of humidity absorption - ony 10% that of nylon.
We could even call it 'synthetic gut'.
In theory a gut string and a Nylgut one should have the same diameter.
But since nylgut is quite 'stretchy' we advise using a slightly thicker diameter.
Pull carefully but resolutely and repeatedly the string with your fingers while tuning it for the first time.
Concerning the 'cutting effect' follow the suggestions given for gut strings at faq 9.
The white colour is simply a commercial choice, an image.
Because of its particular colour the strings catch immediately the eye both in concert and on CD covers, magazines, websites or TV. And that is good for business.
Unfortunately, because of the bow 'slips' on it, Nnylgut cannot be used on bowed instruments.
13) What should I do when I put a new string on?
Once checked that all points of contact are smooth and free from sharp edges, when tuning a string for the first time, pull it with your fingers until it stays in tune: moderately the trebles and wound strings but with a bit more energy the thicker ones.
This applies to both gut and synthetic strings, especially to Nylgut.
14) What should I do when I am not going to play for some time?
Tune the treble a bit lower, thus reducing string-stress.
15) How do I work out the right working tension?
Finding the right working tension for each instrument is basically an empirical process, depending on tipe of instrument, type of string and personal musical attitude.
In other words, there are no specific mathematical furmulae for it.
What we do suggest is: put a 2nd or 3rd string on the instrument of a diameter you consider adequate (bowed or plucked, the process is the same).
Tune the string to the wanted pitch and check whether it feels too slack or too taut according to your own perception.
Lower or raise the pitch by as many semitones as necessary to bring it to the right tension, that is to the point where it feels right to you, neither too slack not too taut.
Now apply the following indications:
-The string was originally too taut: multiply its diameter by .944 by the number of semitones by which you decreased the starting pitch (.944 reduces a given diameter by a semitone).
-The string was originally too slack: multiply its diameter by 1.059 by the number of semitones by which you raised the starting pitch (1.059 increases a given pitch by a semitone)
Example: I put an .82 third string on my lute (or any bowed instrument) and it feels too slack.
Solution: starting from the string tuned at the wanted pitch, raise it semitone by semitone until the tension feels subjectively right.
Let us suppose you raised it by two semitones: multiply 82 by 1.059 twice: the diameter you want is 91.9(6) mm, i.e. a 91 available as standard on the market.
16) Why did the string break as soon as I put it on the instrument?
There are three possible reasons:
- The string is faulty.
- The string length is too long (exceeding the Breaking Index).
- Some point of contact between string and nut, bridge or string holder has a sharp edge or is lacking appropriate lubrication (i.e. pencil-graphite etc.).
- Faulty string: generally it does not break cleanly but through progressive fraying, usually announced by little hairs raising along its length.
- Excessive string length: check whether the product string length by frequency is in excess of 240, regardless of type of instrument: lute, baroque guitar, fiddles and medieval instruments in general.
- The cutting effect of sharp edges usually results in a sudden and clean break. It can also be caused by nicks in the string, as consequence of careless.
Notice: the string breaks under tension: if the damage took place at the nut edge, for instance, the breakage will seem to correspond to, say, the second or third fret, since the string is no more under stress. likewise, if the damage took place at the bridge, it will seem to have broken somewhere between it an the string holder.
17) Is it true that in the 19th century wound on gut core strings were used on the Guitar?
No, historical evidence has proven that both six course (in late 18th and early 19th centuries Spain) and six string guitars were only strung with wound on silk basses. silk was used until nylon multifilament was introduced about 1950s.
18) Is true that the Guitar in the 19th century was noticeably lighter strung than today?
No, presently available evidence (with particular reference to the tutors of Sor, Carulli and Aguado) shows that the same diameters were used as on the violin; string tensions are practically comparable to those of the modern classical guitar.
The one exception is the 19th century neapolitan guitar (Fabricatore, for example): some documents point to tensions slightly lighter than on the violin.
Besides, the tension profile was less scaled than commercially available guitars sets suggest today.
We advise to always carefully check whether the bridge is soundly glued in place before stringing an original guitar with a modern string set.
19) Is it true that a sharply bent gut string completely damaged?
A gut string that has been sharply bent shows a whitish 'nick' at the bending point.
This indicates a slight loss of fibre cohesion but does not mean at all that the string was damaged. The string is still perfectly intact.
Signs of serious damage are:
a) the string has been indented
b) the fibres became untwisted to the point of coming apart and the string is not cylindrical anymore.
20) I though that giving you the diameter of my wound string for replacement, but I heard that is useless: is that true?
Yes. Knowing the diameter is useful for strings made of only one material, like plain gut, Nylon, Nylgut or any metal.
Wound strings are composed of different materials and so they can be defined according to the following parameters:
a) 'Equivalent Solid Gut'
b) 'Metallicity Index'
Equivalent Solid Gut
Since wound strings are made by coupling different materials we decided to define them in terms of equivalent solid gut: in practice we refer to the diameter of a theoretical gut string possessing the same weight per unit of length as the wound string in question. For the same pitch and string length we'll thus have the same working tension. And this is important to work out our string diameters.
How can we work out the ‘equivalent solid gut’ of a wound string we want to replace and we know nothing about?
Answer: we weigh the string on a scale reading weight in grams and we measure the length of the string. We then divide the weight in grams by the length in meters and then take the square root of the result: that will give us our equivalent in millimeters.
Example: the wound string weighs 35.5g and is 98 cm long: 35.5g/0.98 m = 36.22, whose square root is 6.05. In practical terms our wound string is equivalent to a 6mm thick plain gut string.
The same equivalent solid gut can be reached by numberless percentage relationships between gut and metal. Obviously increasing the one implies decreasing the other by the amount that is necessary for keeping the weight of the string, i.e. its equivalent solid gut, constant.
The higher the gut component, the duller will the sound tend to be, the higher the metal component the brighter the sound. So the 'correct' metal-to-gut ratio mainly depends on the particular timbric/dynamic mixture any given combination can produce and is subjectively felt as 'aesthetically pleasing'.
In other words, there is no objective formula in deciding what the right mixture is. Once decided what the gut equivalence, i.e. the correct working tension, of a string should be, the ratio metal to gut can only be worked out through experience.
The Metallicity Index is also connected with the position of the string on the instrument. The third string on a cello must clearly have a lower Metallicity Index than the fourth, which must have a higher percentage of metal in order to compensate the loss in brightness caused by the lower Acoustic Quality Index for such string position (see Q 15).
Two strings of the same gut equivalent value can possess a completely different Metallicity Index.
Let us take, for example, the third string of both a viola da braccio and a cello.
On the viola da braccio C we will find a noticeably higher Metallicity Index than on the cello G. And this is why we cannot use a cello G in place of a viol C: the working tension might even turn out to be correct, but the acoustical result will be completely unsatisfactory.
Mimmo Peruffo 2007
"FAQs" by Mimmo Peruffo is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribuzione-Non commerciale-Non opere derivate 3.0 Unported License.
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