Pure Gut E string & fine tuners - success!

April 20, 2007 at 11:18 PM · I have recently been trying pure gut strings, thanks to the many threads on the subject. I have started with Damian's strings.

So far, I am a total convert, including the E-strings. I don't care how long they last, the sound is heavenly (and LOUD. who'dathunkit?)

However, it really concerned me that fine-tuner are theoretically verbotten. Damian won't even discuss the possibility. I realized rather quickly that I still need fine-tuners with gut strings. Yes, they give a little bit more resolution in the peg, but not THAT much. At a minimum, I require tuners for the E and A, and those are the strings more prone to breaking.

I saw the "fishing line" solution, but that's pretty ugly. A last-ditch solution. I tried filing the edges of a standard (2 prong) fine tuner smooth, but sure enough the E cut through immediately, even when looped around it. The A survived for about a day.

Tried a medium E on a Hill mini fine-tuner (single prong) using a loop. Same thing, popped immediately. Ughh.

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Then I had my brainstorm: Superglue.

I re-knotted the strings, and soaked the knot & loop in superglue. Let them dry for a good hour. Bingo, no problems.

At least with the Hill mini tuners, using the superglued loop, I have an E and A holding fin now for 24 hrs, and I've tuned them several times with the fine tuners.

I haven't tried this yet with the standard 2-prong tuner, but It should work, at least if looped over the prongs.

One other possible solution would be to pass the string through a tiny washer before installing it. That would act like a ball-end, so no actual gut would receive heavy pressure against the tuner itself. I will try that if the superglue eventually fails.

Anyway, worth a try if you dislike that "fishing line" look.

Replies (27)

April 21, 2007 at 03:38 AM · I'm quite interested in trying a gut e. I might order one the next time. What are the main differences Allan between the gut e and steel e in tone quality?

April 21, 2007 at 07:11 AM · Various points:

* Sound of gut e is very rich with lots of overtones in comparison to steel E (I went from Oliv gold to Dlugolecki's gut). Despite short life, I have no intention of going back to steel.

* Thicker gauge e's last longer and have bigger sound. Thin produces too wiry a sound for my taste. I am currently using a Dlugolecki 12.75 gauge, and am about to put on a 13 as a trial. 12.25 (= Gamut medium) was too thin for standard repertoire.

* I first tried (in my ignorance) a gut e on a fine tuner. It broke in 24 hours. Damian D. (on phone): didn't I tell you? !!

* Grease up the tuning peg with peg chalk when you change the string, and I don't think you'll need a fine tuner. I don't miss it (and I like the look of the instrument without it!). The e is pitch stable, breaks in within 48 hours, and tunes easily (less tension so slower pitch changes than with steel).

* No harm/risk in trying gut e's - they are cheap and don't last long (2 months at max, much less if humid). Removing the fine tuner is easy.

* If you order from Damian D., remember to ask him to cut the string (they come as two in a double length) and tie the end knot, both of which he does only if asked.

* One problem I've had is that the tailpiece notch from which the fine tuner has been removed is too wide for the knotted gut e, which slips through. Extra knots are needed until it holds. I wonder if anyone has devised a plug/insert for this.

April 21, 2007 at 07:38 AM · Eric,

The superglue trick is working. Been almost two days now. I just tuned up the strings again (they're still breaking in) and so far so good.

As for e string gauge, I've tried 12.25 12.75 and 13, all three gauges on three very different violins. I expected to prefer the heaviest, but the 12.75 seems to sing a bit more. The 12.25 was indeed thinner, and not to my liking, but I'm going for fat & rich.

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Nate,

The pure gut E is definitely fuller, though I wouldn't personally say it has more overtones. I'm not really sure about that. Compared to a Dominant or Tzigane med E, the 12.75 gut is MUCH fuller, louder, and alive somehow. However, the Dominant has a little more high end, which I personally would call overtones. Still, the gut "blooms" more.

I can understand why many prefer a steel E for concert use. The gut E is louder, but it's power is in the midrange. It records like a dream, but I dont' know how it would cut in a hall.

One other good point: Although it takes days for the gut E to pitch-stabilize, sonically it's ready to go within a few minutes. Same goes for the A & D.

April 21, 2007 at 12:43 PM · Superglue terminals: clever idea.

The biggest difference that I notice with the gut [e] is that it blends with the other strings, which is especially noticeable in open string and pizz. work. If you listen for it you hear this difference on recordings. Steel [e]'s sound like steel. How else to say? That's not to say they sound bad, just that they do not blend at all with any non-steel [a] strings.

Basically I think most people have simply come to accept the non-blending nature of the steel [e]. I don't think there is superiority/inferiority of sound. After all, the violin has these rather marked tonal variations going across each string, not just the steel to gut transition, though I think that one is quite extreme. To me the [G] string also is a distinctly different animal, even on an all-gut set-up. I haven't played a plain gut [G] though, only flat-wound (eudoxa) and roundwound (Dlugolecki).

April 24, 2007 at 01:37 AM · Have you tried a carbon fiber tuner for the E string? Luscombe violins carries one. Considering you thread the string through a much smaller hole than the slot in a tail piece it might actually hold. http://www.violins.on.ca/tailpieces_carbon_tuner.html

April 24, 2007 at 02:25 AM · Emmanuel,

I've been wanting to try those tuners (they are made by B&C)

Indeed, they would be much safer for the string. They have an additional advantage, that they don't change the afterlength when tuned. (the Hill mini also, on some tailpieces) That's important to me since I may want to use four, though with gut that may not be necessary, even for my intonation-picky self.

The problem with the B&C's is that they require a very precise-sized hole and slot, or they dont' work. The holes on all my tailpieces are already too large. Luscomb has actually stopped selling them because of all the returns, though you can buy them direct from B&C in Europe.

BTW- The superglued gut strings are still holding fine.

Suprisingly, I had a heavy gauge gut E, knotted by Damian and inserted into a good Ebony tailpiece with no tuner, pop yesterday. Snapped right where it contacted the tailpiece, and there are no sharp edges. These things must be uber-fragile. I'm gling to superglue all of my knots from now on, whether or not I use fine tuners.

April 27, 2007 at 01:04 AM · Actually I just bought mine only a few weeks ago...I also happened to buy two of them just in case. Are you still interested in trying one?

April 28, 2007 at 07:02 PM · I don't know if you are at present satisfied with your superglu solution, but another route might be the tuning pegs with the built-in planetary gearing. They look like regular tuning pegs, but they're capable of very fine tuning action, with no slipping. I suspect they run about 200-250 installed, which is not cheap, but then again, neither are gut strings.

Another advantage is they are said to be very useful for older and younger players, whose joints are not up to exerting varying pressures in varying directions simultaneously.

April 28, 2007 at 08:38 PM · I just placed an order today for a few 13 1/2 gauge varnished gut e-strings. I believe that is the largest available gauge. I'm also going to start using a 17 gauge [A], a 22 gauge [D], and stick with the 18 1/2 [G]. I'm looking forward to trying them. I think, I am going to take the fine tuner off completely when I do use them. What's everyone's favorite gauge setup?

April 29, 2007 at 12:22 AM · Very minor point about the price of gut e-strings.

Bob Annis said:

not cheap, but then again, neither are gut strings.

Actually, Dlugolecki charges $11 for his thickest gauge varnished e-strings, for which you get 2 (i.e., $5.50 each), plus a small shipping charge. Mine have lasted 4-8 weeks with 2.5 hrs playing/day (I keep string records). So even with their short life, I think they are pretty cheap. My A-D-G gut strings have lasted a minimum of 10 months, so cost isn't much of an issue. As I said, a minor point.

April 29, 2007 at 01:02 AM · Expense is a relative concept. I myself am relatively cheap.

April 30, 2007 at 03:05 AM · I have been strongly considering gut strings on my violin. The problem is that my model 65F Franz Sandner violin has fine tuners on all four strings. The tailpiece was made with these four fine tuners, and there is now way to go without them except to switch to an ebony tailpiece. I do not mind having the four fine tuners, but I have wondered how they would work with gut strings. I REALLY want to give gut a try to bring more warmth and character out of my instrument, and I especially hate the way the E string cuts through all the others. In my opinion it is too harsh. I think I will contact Damian and see what he has to say about gut on my violin.

April 30, 2007 at 05:32 AM · Chris,

Fine tuners unfortunately break gut strings by cutting through them.

April 30, 2007 at 09:40 AM · Interestingly, since using the superglue I've now had two breaks, but neither was due to the tuner per se. (Without the superglue, fawgeddaboudit)

I had one break at the bridge. Odd. Another snapped yesterday, near the tuner, but the loop and knot were still OK. The string snapped just north of the knot.

I'm very disturbed by this. It seems pure gut E's are extremely fragile. I had used Damian's prescribed method for tying a knot,. All I can think is that using the loop puts a different amount of stress on the knot, vs catching the knot in a tailpiece slot.

More experimentation needed. I'm trying a hangman's knot today. We shall see. I could also be that Damian's E's are more fragile than others. -Or maybe not, but there are differences in how each maker twists them, dries, them, etc, so it's possible.

One way or another, I'm sticking with pure-gut E's. Man, I just love 'em.

April 30, 2007 at 09:15 AM · BTW,

I agree with Bilbo- Pure gut blends well when you play open strings. -Not that any of you would ever do such a thing, but you know us pop guys. (g)

April 30, 2007 at 02:04 PM · Perhaps by putting the string on the fine tuner (even though it is not breaking exactly on the fine tuner) it can be putting a bit of stress on the string. I might be wrong.

Chris - if you are going to use plain gut you should really switch tailpieces.

April 30, 2007 at 08:13 PM · Yes, Nate. That's exactly what I was saying. When the loop goes over the prong, it stresses the knot in a different way than if the knot buts up against a tailpiece. That's probably the problem. I suspect that a different type of knot (in conjunction with the superglue) will yeild success. Let's see how this hangman's knot holds up.

I suppose a 2-pronged fine tuner would also solve the problem, since it wouldn't stress the loop, but then you'd be stuck with a large fine tuner, which I want to avoid. The B&C carbon is looking better all the time, or quite possibly pegheads.

-I'm a bit hesitant about Pegheads, though. I've been a strong proponent of them for a while. However, I now own a very nice old Italian violin worth around $20K, and suddenly it's not so easy to say, "sure, why NOT Pegheads?" It's really only an issue of resale value, but that's definitely a consideration.

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Regardless, I'm still really freaked out about my one E-string snapping at the bridge. It was less than a week old. Just how fragile ARE these things?

April 30, 2007 at 10:04 PM · Allan

Can you give us a correct figure for how many minutes or hours of play these e strings are seeing before they break?

May 1, 2007 at 03:54 AM · Allan I suspect, even the string breaking around your bridge could possibly be a result of the fine tuner.

May 1, 2007 at 04:08 AM · ???

How so?

May 1, 2007 at 04:23 AM · Allan,

When I played gut strings on my baroque violin the E definately lasted longer than a week. Most of my practice was still on my modern violin, but I did play the baroque violin most days back then. I had Dugoleki strings and loved them. As for the superglue thing, that may not be necessary. If I remember correctly think you can use fire to fuse the knot a bit - like a candle lighter or a cigarette lighter.

Besides the stress of using a fine tuner, you may need more protection to the string at the bridge since that's where it broke. Maybe your bridge has edges that are too abrasive?

One week is definately too short. The strings aren't THAT fragile.

As for pegheads, while they are wonderful to use, I hear that after a while they will damage your scroll. Can't remember where I heard that though...In any case, I wouldn't want them on a nice fiddle.

May 10, 2007 at 03:11 AM · Hi Allan, sorry for the late reply. I think perhaps the tension of the string is probably distributed unevenly when a fine tuner is hooked to the gut e. These strings aren't designed to hook onto a fine tuner.

I just put a 13 1/2 gauge gut e string on one of my fiddles yesterday. It took me a while to get the fine tuner off. My initial reaction to the gut e-string was quite similar to what already had been said on here. The gut e blends well with the other plain gut strings. As much as I like the difference of sound with these gut e-strings (more sweet sounding compared to the steel e) I think I am probably going to stick with the set up I have been using (silver gut g, d&a plain gut, and steel e). This setup gives the tone great balance and power.

May 11, 2007 at 08:01 PM · Hi Allan! About my fishing line knot: it is ugly. But it just really works! Why I actually invented this manner is to 'hang' the E knot on some softer material than ebony or finetuner-steel. Men can use fishing line or a piece of plain gut D or A or whatever. I don't have any problems with snapping there. (to make it less ugly: keep the fishing line as short as possible and cut the loose pieces, after the breaking in)

Something else you can try: make a piece of leather like there is at the knot of pirastro's wound guts, and put it on your E.

I will try your superglue-idea! Greetings, Finn

May 11, 2007 at 09:32 PM · Hey, finn.

So far I am having very good luck in general.

A few knots failed, but they failed just ABOVE the knot, not at the knot nor in the loop. That has me quite puzzled. I think it had to do with the type of knot itself.

The standard Baroque knots fail this way, as did the hangman's knot. I'm using a different knot now which has held perfectly, on three violns, for over a week. I feel very confident in this knot.

It's a VERY simple knot to make. I have to figure out how to draw it, then post a pic. I suspect the knot you use with the nylon would also work, if it leaves a small loop at the end (without the fishing line) but you MUST use the super-glue!

May 3, 2012 at 05:06 PM · Old thread, I know. But instead of starting a new thread, I thought I'd pose a question here. I actually meant to post in this thread (www.violinist.com/discussion/response.cfm?ID=22425), but this one will do fine.

What about using a gut E in conjunction with synthetics? Theoretically, I would guess that the tonal transition from wound nylon/perlon/whatever wouldn't be as dramatic as from synthetic to steel, or from gut to steel.

Alot of synthetics sound an awful lot like gut but not quite, which is good enough for me. Obviously I haven't tried this but I think will now! If anyone else tries or has tried this, I'd love to hear your thoughts, or better yet, your playing.

May 3, 2012 at 07:33 PM · re: Eric Godfrey's problem with the gut E pulling through a tailpiece notch that is too wide (as modern ones tend to be), my solution is to make a 1/4 inch square of double thickness chamois leather, punch a fine hole through it with a fine bradawl or similar, and pass the string through the hole. The hole should be small enough so that the string just gets through. You'll find that the knot will be held effectively by the chamois, which is also invisible, being tight under the tailpiece.

An alternative, which some would consider to be more elegant, both visually and engineering-wise, is to invest in a baroque style tailpiece, which just has circular holes and not slots (i.e. designed for the job).

May 4, 2012 at 07:19 AM · Ron -- A month ago, I was using a heavy gauge gut E (Pirastro Chorda) with Evah Pirazzi's. I have since read on this site that Chorda is probably not the best choice for gut, but it seemed to blend pretty well with the other strings. The best thing about it was that the whistling-E problem that I had with the full set of Evah's went away completely. The bad thing was I had trouble producing a good tone up high on the gut E. You can hear me playing with that setup here (I tuned to A-415 for this recording):

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MOMYCBCaizI

I switched to a Goldbrokat E about a week ago and so far I like this setup a little better, except that the whistling-E problem has returned (albeit not as bad as it was with the Evah E)...

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