Guitar strings from the nineteenth century to the advent of Nylon Print E-mail
Article Index
Guitar strings from the nineteenth century to the advent of Nylon
A Brief Explaination of the Physics of Strings
The Production Process
Criteria for Assessing the Quality of Strings
String Types and Diameters
Standard Pitches
The Twentieth Century
The Advent of Nylon
All Pages

by Mimmo Peruffo


By Mimmo Peruffo (from 'La Chitarra di Liuteria', by Stefano Grondona e Luca Waldner, Ed. L'officina del Libro, Sondrio, November 2001, pp.168-176; see 'Las cualidades sonoras del mejor instrumento desmerecen si está provisto de cuerdas mediocres.' (Emilio Pujol, Escuela razonada de la guitarra, Buenos Aires, 1934).


A material that has been in use for centuries (strings made of gut have been found in ancient Egyptian plucked string instruments dating from the third dynasty), gut has always been the principal source of strings for musical instruments in the West. Although the process necessary for the production of a gut string had been defined some centuries earlier (in Catalunia, for example, there were detailed written regulations governing the production of vihuela strings as early as the middle of the sixteenth century), it was not until the second half of the seventeenth century that overspun bass strings were invented, consisting of a gut-core (nowadays of nylon multifilament) completely covered by a fine metal wire. Although the earliest manuscript reference to such strings dates from 1659 (E. Hartlib:'Ephemerides'), the diffusion of these efficient bass strings took longer than might be expected: the viola da gamba player Sainte-Colombe, for example, introduced them to France only around 1675. The discovery was of considerable importance, both in terms of construction and musically, such that it is certainly possible to speak of a real dividing line between what came before and what came afterwards. It seems reasonable to suppose that as soon as musicians had much more brilliant bass strings at their disposal, the first thing that came into their minds was to reduce the vibrating length of cumbersome bass instruments, rendering them much more agile. This opened the way to new musical forms, and was also the real driving force behind the addition of a low sixth string to the guitar towards the end of the eighteenth century, with a simultaneous reduction in its vibrating length by comparison with that of a typical five-course instrument (i.e. 68-73 cm). This led directly to the gradual abandoning of courses in favour of simple strings. Thus, far from being mere accessories of the guitar (as they are often regarded today), strings actually conditioned its evolution - to a not inconsiderable degree.