Gut strings for the beginner

August 20, 2007 at 03:15 AM · I am somewhat new to the violin, being some 6 months into the process of learning the instrument, and I have a question. How do I go about getting into gut? I began with Helicore strings as they were the set that was handed to me by my luthier when I bought my first set of strings, and the limitations of such strings have become pretty apparent. Actually, they sound alright on my darker-sounding violin, but I find that they do have limitations and I have been DESPERATE to try gut strings. I love the tone and the character of gut. When I listen to Nathan Milstein play Bach on his violin, I am taken by the rich texture of sound emanating forth. Of course, I understand that he was first of all a supremely masterful violinist, and that he was playing a nearly 300 year-old Stradivari instrument, but of course the gut strings he chose must have contributed much to his sound as well.

For some reason everyone I speak with concerning strings seems to be trying to steer me away from the use of gut strings, which I presume to be due to the fact that I am a beginner. However, I really want to give gut a try and see no reason why I as a beginner should shy away from gut. Yes, I know there will be more tuning issues, and that some of the strings may not last as long (the A seeming to be the one that goes first and most often, at least when not using a gut E as well). However, I simply do not know where to start. The setup I am contemplating is a gold-plated steel E (such as a Thomastik gold-plated E, the one I currently play), an unwound A and D and a wound G. I had thought that I should also get varnished gut strings as the climate in which I live does vary with respect to humidity, especially this time of year. I have also thought of getting a heavy-gauge set, one that comes as close as possible to the tension of the set I play now (although I realize that gut will not have the same tension as the medium tension Helicore set I currently use). Another reason I have thought of trying to get a set of high-tension gut is that I’d rather not find my journey into gut resulting in work needing to be done to the setup of the instrument, such as to the soundpost and bridge. I also like being able to apply more bow pressure now and then, and when close to the bridge the Helicore set I now play lets me dig in good when I want, all the while holding true. Of course, there is a fine line!

Anyone have any suggestions to a gut-crazed beginner? Please let me know if you can. In my mind, more beginners should spend some time with gut. It seems that all but the advanced and very serious are steered clear of the opportunity to use gut, as if to say “Why on earth would you want to do that? Gut is not a beginners string!”

Replies (64)

August 20, 2007 at 05:02 AM ·

I absolutely love this subject, please forgive me if I ramble a little. Gut strings first of all are an excellent choice. Anyone who is steering you clear of these strings does not know the history of violin playing. Stradivarius, Guarnerius, Amati, Testore etc. all made their instruments with the sound of gut strings in mind. Sheep gut has been used on musical instruments dating back to Ancient Greece. There are a few references from Homer’s Odyssey about a lute strung with none other than yes sheep gut strings.

Most critics of these strings, I do not believe have any experience with them. Part of the art of bowing, has been lost in my opinion with the advent of synthetic strings. The sound of a synthetic string to my ear, is a lot more monotonous than a gut string. With the general shift to synthetic strings, players (due to the lack of contrast in tone with these synthetics) I think have gotten into swooping the sound and speeding the bow up at ends to give the sound the much needed colors. This would be unheard of in the days of Heifetz, Milstein, Kreisler etc. where it was considered a technical fault to change speeds in the middle of a stroke or give away the change of direction. These mannerisms are not necessary at all with gut strings, the sound is already full of expression and color.

It is never too early to start with gut! You will be able to teach yourself where the sounding point is. Unlike synthetics, gut strings, have a smaller "sweet spot", but when you find that right part of the gut string to play on, the sound simply cannot be matched by any synthetic string. Also if your bow is not straight the string will speak differently and let you know that you need to get back to the right angle.

The string set up you are interested in is actually the one Heifetz used. He had all his students use this string combination as well. It is very important to note, Heifetz used very large gauges cause he used quite a bit of bow pressure. Smaller gauge strings will crack under the same pressure and are more geared towards period baroque players. Heavier gauge gut strings have quicker response. Since you like Milstein so much, he used a wound gut G&D, plain gut A, and a steel E. Later on (according to this luthier that knew him) Milstein switched to all Eudoxas for G,D,A, and E.

For a plain gut A, I would not recommend getting anything under a 16 ½ PM (Pirastro Measurement) gauge, and for the D-string I wouldn’t go much under 21 ½ PM. To convert the PM to millimeters multiply the PM by .05. The best plain gut I’ve tried is made by Gamut (gamutstrings.com), I would also recommend getting varnished strings. It will prolong your string’s life for a few weeks. There are a lot of good steel E strings out there. The best of them all I think is Goldbrokat, which incidentally Milstein, Heifetz, and Menuhin used. Hope this helped!

August 20, 2007 at 06:19 AM · Nate Robinson wrote: "Part of the art of bowing, has been lost in my opinion with the advent of synthetic strings."

Bravo for saying it so clearly. Gut strings demand more of the player, but it is so worth the effort of bringing one's playing up to the demand. One is repaid for the effort with precious additional reserves of expressivity, and voice-like beauty of tone.

Nate Robinson also wrote: "...it was considered a technical fault to change speeds in the middle of a stroke "

Here I completely disagree. It is simply not true. All fine violinists (including you!) change bow speed during strokes in order to play accents, diminuendos, crescendos and infinite varieties of expressive nuance. You have only to watch Heifetz, Milstein and Friedman on any video to see all manner of bow speed changes virtually all the time. Very elegant ones. I am sure that you do bow speed changes during a stroke as well! There must be some momentary confusion of words....I hear you doing beautiful bow speed changes in your recordings on the internet! Play a whole note with a forte first beat and a big diminuendo during the next three beats. Surely you will observe that you have changed your bow speed during the stroke. As a matter of fact, elegant designs of bow speed are especially encouraged by the response of gut strings.

August 20, 2007 at 12:23 PM · Nate,

I have decided go to with a set of Eudoxas, the "stiff" version. I believe this is a 13.75 A, 16.75 D and 15.75 G (and I was going to use a 26, or medium, Goldbrokat E). Would you recommend that I go stiffer still with the Eudoxas? Apparently, the set I quoted is the standard stiff set, but there are of course stiffer gauges, and any of these is less stiff than the Helicore set I have played up until now.

Thanks,

Chris

August 20, 2007 at 01:20 PM · Nate,

Actually, I see that Gamut Strings are not terribly expensive, which I found suprising. I think I am still going to go with a set of Eudoxas to start, and buy a varnished plain A from Gamut Strings. I am thinking that if any, the A will be the most tempermental of the lot.

Thanks again for all your help. Have a great day.

Chris

August 20, 2007 at 01:22 PM · I see that Gamut Strings is in Duluth, MN! I was just in Duluth 2 weeks ago!!! Ugh, I could have spoken with the man in person and brought my instrument to boot. Well, Duluth is only a 2-hour drive away from my home so I will have to see if I can make the trip some time. At any rate, I am going to give them a call today. Thanks again so much!

August 20, 2007 at 01:27 PM · Chris - I do think the Eudoxas would be a very good string for you. The stiff Eudoxa would be a better string in my opinion and will be a very good transition for you if you do some time decide to go to plain gut. Also the Pirastro Gold Label (which I use for my G) is quite a beautiful sounding string in my opinion. According to a few friends of mine the Pirastro Oliv is also worth considering. Yes Gamut strings are very reasonably priced. I think there is a misconception that gut strings are more expensive.

August 20, 2007 at 01:29 PM · Hi Mr. Steiner, thanks for the response. You are right about bow speeds, I think I might have exaggerated a little bit to get my point across. I didn't mean to say the speed should stay the exact same all the time, I was referring more so to this trend of exaggerated "squeezing" and swooping on every note that I hear in a lot of today's performances. I remember Mr. Friedman told me he was at Meadowmount one summer when a very well known violinist (who now teaches at a few big conservatories) started studying with Mr. Galamian. This violinist according to EF was swooping and giving away changes of direction so Mr. Galamian had this violinist play the pieces he was working on without the left hand and was able to get this violinist to play with a seamless leggato. I marvel at violinists that can create a seamless leggato like Milstein, Heifetz, or Kreisler which I don't hear as much of today. Maybe it could be the shift towards synthetic strings, maybe it is just a stylistic shift in teaching.

August 20, 2007 at 02:33 PM · Nate,

Thank you for the reply. I just placed an order for a set of Eudoxa strings and should have them in a day or two.

Gut is something I have wanted to try for a while now, and with your help I made the leap!

Chris

August 20, 2007 at 02:43 PM · Nate Robinson wrote: "I marvel at violinists that can create a seamless legato like Milstein, Heifetz, or Kreisler which I don't hear as much of today. Maybe it could be the shift towards synthetic strings, maybe it is just a stylistic shift in teaching."

A very interesting, though somewhat frightening, perception. Perhaps there is somewhat of a vicious cycle going on: When certain precious musical values are less appreciated, the compromise caused by the lesser tools (i.e. synthetic strings) is not perceived as a compromise. Then, when large numbers of violinists no longer play with the advantages of the better tools, certain qualities are less and less heard--therefore fewer violinists get inspired to seek these qualities. Thank God for recordings!!!

August 20, 2007 at 03:00 PM · I'm not going to argue the gut thing, but I am curious about why a beginner would obssess to this extent about string material. If you were my student, I'd probably tell you to worry less about your gear than learning how to use it. By trying different strings, and especially by switching to gut and unwound gut, you're changing the parameters of the instrument: tension, string guage. You will be tuning constantly. How will you learn to play in tune if you start changing things? How will you learn to use your bow if it feels differently? (Bowing gut is an entirely different experience.) If you get obssessed with some other string, things will change again. If you had played for a number of years and were advanced, it would be one thing, but a as a teacher, I just think you're better off with consistency at this point.

August 20, 2007 at 03:08 PM · Oliver, you are correct. Despite the technical proficiency of some of today's top artists, none seem to be able to match the beauty of tone heard in the recordings of earlier artists. I have always thought this must due at least in part to the fact that most have left gut strings in favor of sythetics. This is the main reason I have wanted to give gut strings an honest effort, to be able to capture at least a portion of the tone I have grown to love.

August 20, 2007 at 03:16 PM · Chris Dolan,

Milstein once said, by way of a rather abstract analogy: "Today they are growing more tomatoes and bigger tomatoes....but are they better tasting tomatoes?" I applaud you for having the courage to set your sights high.

August 20, 2007 at 03:14 PM · Scott, once upon a time all anyone had was gut...from the feeble student to the seasoned master! The reason I want to use gut is that I earnestly desire the rich tonal texture of gut, of which none seem to argue. Even the string makers themselves, who work tirelessly in an effort to find the next replacement for gut, acknowledge the fact that gut has a sound as of yet unmatched. So, why not learn to play upon this string if this is the sound I desire? And, what is so difficult about tuning? I used to play classical guitar, and even sythetic strings (which are usually Nylon, wound and unwound) were in constant need of attention. It is rare that one can pick up a classical guitar after a day's absence and not have to tune the instrument. Heck, you may even have to tune as you play. Also, synthetic strings on a classical guitar have a break-in period as well, usually lasting a few days, so for me having to deal with either is nothing new. Yes, the bowing will be different, but this is why I want to work with gut now, so my skills develop as a player in line with the skills needed to succeed with gut. And, if in the end I do not like them, at least now I will know. I am not after a string, but a sound.

August 20, 2007 at 05:10 PM · Hi,

I haven't read Nate or Oliver's responses yet. I will give you my take on gut from the non-professional and thoroughly amateur (more beginner than expert!) player.

1. Why not gut?

2. You have to tune more, but not as much more as the anti-gut pundits will have you believe.

I don't use fine tuners, so I have a bit of Dove soap on my pegs to make them easy to turn. Or you can use Finn Moericke's clever way of using gut on fine tuners! (See old thread).

3. I live on the Sound and use varnished Dlugolecki. I haven't tried unvarnished.

4. They are noticeably more difficult to play well than Dominants.

They sound totally different from Helicores. Helicore are more mellow and bass than gut. BTW wound gut D and A are also more mellow and bass than plain unwound gut. Only unwound gut are really "gut" sounding, though Dlugolecki's wound G is much more raw sounding than a Eudoxa G.

5. They force you to be more discerning of

bow speed

bow pressure

sounding point

bow grip

bow slant.

I can play much sloppier on Dominants. I can pick up my mom's Dominant fiddle and it is "easy" to play!

This last point is interesting. Gut in some ways is probably the *best* string for any beginner other than brand new. They amplify the differences between good form and sloppy form.

6. They are noticeably affected by changes in weather--not the tuning, but the sound and how they play. You have to go with the flow and that is part of the unique joy as well as frustration.

7. They are not expensive. Fancy synthetics are expensive.

8. They seem to sound good right up until they break or are badly frayed.

9. String tension. Be careful here. Modern strings are not necessarily "hi tension." To get the right gage to get the right force on the strings to match your existing, tell Damian exactly what you are playing and he will give you the appropriate gage to start with. I have played two different weights and I am not sure I really know the difference so much, though they do feel different. The gut makers offer a very wide range (infinite) of string gage--so you can have gut that is much higher loaded than metal or synthetic, or much lower.

10. I use a gut E.

11. Take very good care of your nails (short and smoothed) and learn to play with the pads of your fingers. They don't tolerate fingernails (puts dents in the string leading to frays and bad "false" playing sounds).

12. I like the sound of Helicores, too. Variety is the spice of life :-)

Update:

In my experience, the difference in sound going from Dominants to Eudoxa is about a 2 or three, while going from Eudoxa to Plain Unwound Gut is a 7.

The difference between Helicores and Dominants is like a 2 or 3.

In terms of technical sensitivity, I find that Helicores and Dominants are more or less the same, the Eudoxas noticeably more difficult, and the plain gut considerably more difficult--more difficult than eudoxa is to dominants.

August 20, 2007 at 05:31 PM · Bilbo,

Thanks for the detailed reply. I have already ordered a set of "stiff" Eudoxas, and will play these with a Goldbrokat medium E. For the first go-around with gut this is going to be my setup, but who knows where it will lead. I may one day find myself experimenting with a plain A or plain D. One thing's for sure, we are not short on options with gut, are we?

I have to say, I am really exited to enter into the world of gut! Over my noon hour I listened to Nathan Milstein's 1950's recording of Bach's Chaconne. I have never heard such a rich texture of sound in my life as I have on this set of recordings. The sound is remarkable, and the tone absolutely stunning. It really, truly is breathtaking. I have many other recordings of Bach's Sonatas and Partitas from various artists, but I always find myself returning to this set as well as Nathan Milstein's 1970's recordings. Of them all, though, the set Nathan Milstein recorded in the 1950's is my favorite. I just cannot get the sound he brought to life out of my head, and this is the sound I seek as I learn the violin.

Chris

August 20, 2007 at 05:55 PM · I agree with Nate and Oliver's suggestions above. I have only to add that at some point, you may wish to try the "Carl Flesch" setup: two wound gut lower strings, and steel upper strings.

Cordially,

Adam

August 20, 2007 at 06:39 PM · A few more quick questions, if I may:

1. I have been using Hill dark rosin, and had the intention of continuing to do so with wound gut. Is this a good match?

2. Will I need to oil Eudoxa strings? And, if so, is olive oil or almond oil a good susbsitute for the oil Pirastro has available?

3. Does anyone know if beeswax is a good alternative to Hill's peg compound?

I have used beeswax for other similar applications (as it reduces friction, yet holds well) and thought that perhaps back in the day (before we had Hill's peg compound) such a material was used by others to help stubborn pegs along (back when everything of need was not to be found on a store shelf for a share of one's worth). Even though I have fine tuners that will work with gut (the voilin I play has a Wittner carbon fiber tailpiece), I was planning on tuning via pegs. Yes, this may sound stupid, but the reasoning behind this is that I feel as though it will be easier on the strings, to draw the longer portion in need of adjustment over the nut as opposed to the bridge as the pass over the bridge seems more harsh (just look at what Pirastro did with their new line of Passione strings). Plus, I actually prefer tuning with pegs. I had planned on using some mild soap or graphite in the grooves of the nut to help the strings along as well.

Any answers to the above, especially with respect to oiling the strings, would be greatly appreciated.

Thanks,

Chris

August 20, 2007 at 06:54 PM · Chris,

I doubt switching strings will get you any closer to a sound you've heard on recordings. Of course I haven't heard you, but I still think your priorities should be developing dead-on intonation and a good vibrato on all fingers. If you want to spend money, constantly change strings, and obssess--by all means go ahead. Most violinists are a little OCD anyway (we pretty much have to be). It's kind of like guys over in the photo forum obssessing about this lens or that lens, or whether to dump their Canon systems for NIkons, or to go back to a view camera because that's the way Ansel Adams did it.

August 20, 2007 at 08:28 PM · Scott,

Yes, many of us violinists may seem a bit OCD, probably because we earnestly seek that which we desire, sometimes to an extent too great for our own good, or for the good of others. I do agree that perfecting intonation and technique is paramount, and that nothing can take the place of doing the work required to make it so. But, I have a goal, and from my perspective the use of gut strings is a step in the right direction toward meeting that goal. In my mind the sooner I learn to get along with gut, the better. Whether or not that proves to be the case remains to be seen.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

Take care,

Chris

August 20, 2007 at 09:09 PM · Chris,

If you're determined, then go for it. Just a couple of observations:

that sweet sound you hear on old recordings isn't necessarily the result of gut strings--it's due to the limited response of the recording equipment. I'll bet some of those old mics and amps didn't record above 8-9 kilohertz. The squeaks and surface noise of the strings were still there, but didn't get recorded. Also, you seem to discount the experience of probably 99% of all professional string players out there. Look around any orchestra and you'll see 80% of people playing on Dominants, and the rest using some other combination of synthetics. You say you're not afraid of tuning, but it is a real hassle if you're a professional and you have to constantly tune during lession and rehearsals.

Comparing gut to Helicore isn't a fair example--I've tried them and found them to be colorless and lacking in elasticity. There are lots of synthetics that are much better than Helicores.

In posting about gut, you're likely to get a very enthusiastic response from the very few, but there is a silent majority that has determined through years of experienc that gut is a major PITA. You might as well go up to a real estate agent and ask if it's a good time to buy a house.

August 20, 2007 at 09:31 PM · I suspect that many people who tried gut strings, but concluded that they need to be tuned every few minutes, were those who tried them for only 2 or 3 days. After they are stretched out, they do need to be tuned more often than synthetic strings, but not all that much more often. Those who try them will be rewarded for their patience.

August 20, 2007 at 09:55 PM · Baloney. I grew up on gut strings. Compare their stability to Visions, which are really amazing in how fast they tune up and stay in tune. In a perfect environment, gut eventually gets more stable. But what about a hall where the temperature goes up during the concert (as does ours)? What if you need to change strings? You'd need a week before the concert.

August 20, 2007 at 10:25 PM · Scott,

Well, I have often been aware of the fact that recording technology of old has an effect upon what we hear. However, this is certainly not the reason for the sumptuous tone!!! The artist's skill, the violin, the choice of strings lend a hand, of course! I am working on acquiring the skill, I will only ever be able to afford so good a violin, but the strings I can get into right now, and learn their proper use along the way so I will one day have this much-needed skill! As for tuning, many (those who do not use gut) seem to be of the opinion that gut is an endless source of frustration. While others (actual users of gut) say it is really no big deal. (Read between the lines on that one.) As for needing a set on hand ready for use, keep a broken in and pre-streched set around for those rare moments when the pressing need for a quick and ready set arises. So, the way I see it the whole situation is not as difficult as some make it out to be, and all seem to agree that gut strings carry the sweetest tone of all. The above is, in my opinion, a small price to pay for the luxurious tone of gut. Some just do not like inconvenience. Times have changed, but bigger, better, faster, stronger is not always bigger, better, faster, stronger. Along the way, something gets lost.

Chris

August 21, 2007 at 12:25 AM · Wow, when I think of it, this is akin to the shoulder rest vs. no shoulder rest debate!

By the way, I do not use a shoulder rest, and it seems as though non-shoulder rest using, gut string playing, violinists certainly are a rarity nowadays!

August 21, 2007 at 02:32 AM · Ooh! Me! Me! I'm a rarity! Little red sponge in place of a shoulder-rest, AND a preference for gut strings. Quite the dinosaur, ain't I? ;-)

August 21, 2007 at 02:58 AM · Scott Cole wrote: "But what about a hall where the temperature goes up during the concert (as does ours)? What if you need to change strings? You'd need a week before the concert."

You portray gut strings as being completely impractical for concert use. However, Heifetz, Milstein, Menuhin, Elman, the entire string section of the NBC orchestra, the entire string section of the London Philharmonic, Ysaye, Paganini, Mozart, Vivaldi, etc., etc. ad infinitum all seem to have done quite well in their musical careers despite their use of gut strings.

August 21, 2007 at 04:37 AM · Oliver,

I wouldn't say gut is totally impractical for concert use. I'd just say it's more of a hassle, especially for a beginner.

August 21, 2007 at 10:32 AM · Consider for a moment why we as humans do as we do, why we strive for something bigger, better, faster, stronger. Gut may be more of a hassle for a beginner, but is that a bad thing? If gut causes one to have to work harder at perfecting their technique, is that a bad thing? If in the process of using gut one becomes quite proficient at tuning due to the need to tune gut more often, is that a bad thing? If one needs more bow control to work with gut, is that a bad thing? If using gut from the start creates a more disciplined violinist because of the difficulties, is that a bad thing? Why is easier always better? What is so bad about suffering a little inconvenience in order to be able to experience the sound of gut? You know, it actually used to tick me off that others would tell me that I, as a beginner, should not bother giving gut a try, as if to imply I was a fool of sorts to even consider doing so. Now I understand that others were trying to help, but what is so bad about gut? Why do we feel the need to always tinker? Why is something never good enough? My goodness, for centuries people made beautiful and wonderful music while using only gut strings. They got along quite well saddled by the perceived problems associated with gut. Why is it that every single synthetic string is compared to gut, yet all fall short? It is foolish to think we can improve upon all that already exists. But, this is what we as humans do. We all the while strive to build a better mousetrap, never content with the perfectly suitable one we already have on hand. It becomes a never-ended spiral, fed by a lack of contentment.

August 21, 2007 at 11:50 AM · RE: tuning and string changing.

I changed the D on my fiddle a few weeks back (plain gut). After putting it on and playing on it vigorously for 10 minutes (retuning every minute or so), I retuned it up to pitch, then I put it away. The next day, it was less than a semitone down.

Compare this to a brand-new kamaka ukulele c-string on my alto uke. That string fell a semitone low repeatedly for over a week.

The uke string is synthetic and the peg doesn't slip--it is a machine tuner and the wrap was put on with a reversing start.

A synthetic string does not stabilize faster than gut on the basis of being synthetic! Rather, it is a function of the viscoelastic response of the material--and there is no general rule about the viscoelasticity of synthetic strings.

August 21, 2007 at 01:32 PM · I do not understand what the term viscoelastic means, but I do know that sythetic (nylon) classical guitar strings take a while to settle in, and that they always need some tuning from day to day. Even steel strings on a regular acoustic guitar have the same problems. I would suppose that the greater span of a guitar string makes this so, or at least contributes.

The main point I wish to make with respect to gut vs. synthetic is that newer is not always better. Newer may be easier, but easier does not imply better!!! There is a lot more at stake than the length of time required for a string to settle in, or the pitch stability of a string once it has settled in (even though those who use gut claim this is not as large a problem as it is made out to be by those who do not!).

In the end, what we are all after is a sound, not a string. For me, personally, I believe gut strings will bring me closer to the sound I seek. Even more important, I believe very firmly that the only way I may ultimately realize the sound I seek is with gut, as a suitable replacement for gut does not yet exist. Yes, it would likely be easier for me to learn the violin while using sythetic strings, or with Helicore as I use now, but in the end will I become a better violinist? I would argue not, and the sound I seek would continually evade my grasp. I want to start with gut now, so that my skills as a player develop in line with those needed to succeed with gut. There are alternatives to gut, many of them, and I do believe that in embracing these alternatives for the sake of convenience, and without taking into consideration all that is forsaken, we loose something along the way. This is why I feel compelled to give gut an honest effort. For my needs, it is the superior string.

August 21, 2007 at 01:52 PM · Oh guys, just let him try it out himself!

I grew up with gut. As soon as I got my first full-size, I started using Eudoxas, and moved to Olives as I got older. I switched over to synthetics when I was at university because of price, humidity (Montreal in the summer and winter can be a bit disastrous), a day when the Sound Post brought their string lab to NYO so we could try out all sorts of different strings, and curiosity about the new strings on the market (back then Obligatos and then Evah Pirazzis. I've never been a fan of Dominants). I played on unwound gut as a baroque violinist for several years, and what deters me from going back on my modern fiddle is really humidity. I travel a lot (by plane and train), and my violin reacts quite extremely to such changes. Gut strings tended to exacerbate that problem. Add weather here that isn't the same for two days straight (in contrast to the Northwest), and you see why I seek stability - even at the cost of response and subtlety. I may go back, but only when the rest of my life settles down.

August 21, 2007 at 10:24 PM · First an additional thought about all of this- correct me if I'm wrong- but I was told Heifetz and others who used gut strings would have a second violin strung up with gut strings stretching/acclimating them appropriately for a week so that if a string broke or was not up to par on their first violin a switch could be made with a string that had been broken in long enough from the second violin.

Also, though I readily appreciate the beauty of the gut string and have been pleased with the new Passione strings by Pirastro that are gut but with some kind of process that has enabled them to be more stable in holding their pitch, it seems that perhaps an even greater effect on tone production and the variety of colors and shadings is the extended index finger and heavy into the string sound that has become the norm among many a player today. That, coupled with a very wide arm vibrato, seems to have given greater projection of sound but less variety in the tone. I cite two examples: Ilya Kaler told me that he had been taught the Franco-Belgian bow hold as amplified by Galamian/Delay but that he switched to a more classic old Russian bow hold, like Heifetz, because he felt he could get greater variety in the tone, especially so in the upper half of the bow. Also, in watching some of the Ivry Gitlis videos, there is an apparent change in his bow arm and bow hold as evidenced in the performance of the Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso, earlier in his career which has a wealth of variety in tone color and nuance, compared with his performance of the Bloch Nigun later in his career in which his elbow is kept lower and the bow is held with a broader hand and there is less variety and color in the tone and a more monochromatic sound. Even given the difference in age and the difference in the pieces, I still feel one can hear something in the tone that can be accounted for by the change in bow hold.

Finally there is Ginette Neveu who, according to her own admission, varied her bow hold at will to get the kind of sound she wanted,her prime objective being the search for the appropriate sound at any given moment in the musical phrase. This is also quite evident in the singular performance of the Sibelius Concerto with Camilla Wicks who employs a wide variety of colors and subtle and not so subtle rubati to convey the unique sound world of Sibelius.

August 21, 2007 at 09:54 PM · The musician is first and foremost, all else a tool, a means to an end.

I came across something today that was written by a Ironman Triathalon competitor. He said:

"The path one travels when undertaking any difficult endeavor, if taken to fruition, will show just how strong, and at the same time, how fragile one can be."

I thought this fitting when also applied to the student of the violin. Learning the violin is a worthy endeavor when done well and for the right reasons. It is up to each and every one of us to decide what constitutes our own personal finish line, our ultimate goal, and then place our foot upon the starting line as we await the sound of the gun.

August 22, 2007 at 03:13 AM · Some brief comments. There are several gut strings threads on this site from the recent past for you to read.

* I see no reason why you shouldn't use gut strings. What you learn on is what you get used to. The advantages/disadvantages have been extensively discussed here already (this & past threads). I played primarily gut core strings (mostly Eudoxa and Oliv) since I started long ago, plus steel e. I didn't feel at a significant advantage or disadvantage in doing so.

* Some of the comments in this thread are talking about different things. There are strings with a gut core covered by wound metal (e.g., Eudoxa). And some of the comments have been about "bare" gut strings (which come both varnished & unvarnished). The two are (in my experience) as different from each other as gut is from synthetics. You apparently are going for the gut core. That's much closer in playing characteristics to the synthetics than the bare gut strings. On balance, I'd say that's better for someone in the first few years of study than bare gut.

* Don't worry about gut strings going out of tune. That's a myth. My bare gut strings are very pitch stable.

* Don't worry either about gut strings breaking, though the e's tend to unravel and don't last very long, but you're going to use a steel e anyway. One proviso: gut strings don't like sudden extreme temp/humidity changes. I've found that out the hard (and expensive) way. If you typically take your instrument from very cool low humidity settings to hot humid locations, you might not find gut strings ideal.

* You aren't considering bare gut now, which I think is a good thing. IMHO you can't realize the potential of these strings without some finesse in your technique, and they do introduce some other issues.

Just so you know, I've been using varnished bare gut (Dlogolecki's strings) e-a-d for the past 15 months, keeping a Eudoxa g. I wouldn't consider going back to anything else - very satisfied.

Main thing - have fun! For most (all?) of us, that's what this is all about.

August 22, 2007 at 04:05 AM · If no one minds a brief tangent--what does it feel like to play on bare gut strings? How do they feel under the bow, compared with metal-wound gut or (ugh) synthetic core? I'm intrigued to try some bare gut sooner or later, but just how drastically different ARE they??

August 22, 2007 at 08:46 AM · Mara they're a little a bit different (plain gut). It's quite easy to adjust to them, it's really just a matter of listening and making those quick adjustments. The feel is pretty much the same with the left hand. If you get unvarnished gut you wlll probably feel a tad more friction during a shift than with varnished -- which I highly recommend. I found when switching to plain gut, I had to pay greater attention to my string crossings and keeping my bow straight. I worked a lot on arpeggios when I first started using plain gut to get the string crossings to be more smooth. Also plain gut will be a lot more sensitive to swooping at the frog on the up bow. Lots of the old school players avoided this bulge in sound by coming up only to the winding and no further. You'll see Heifetz doing this if you watch his videos.

The end result really is quite awesome I think once you make those small adjustments which should only take a few hours. I think every violinist at one time or another should try some plain gut strings. I personally don't like using plain gut E's. Also a wound gut G is much better than plain IMO.

August 22, 2007 at 04:05 PM · In answer to Mara, add to the list that plain gut is clearly easier on the left hand fingertips. No more black marks, I can play for hours without any finger fatigue.

Nate said "I personally don't like using plain gut E's. Also a wound gut G is much better than plain IMO."

The unique sound of the gut E was a major reason I shifted to gut. I have had more success with thicker gauge E's than thinner; they last longer, and produce a fuller sound in repertoire ranging from Bach to Brahms. They don't last long (1 to 3 months has been my average), but they give you plenty of notice prior to the end of lifetime (they start to shed fine hairs, and then the string goes dead, no resonance). I enjoy the sound of the plain gut E so much that I wouldn't ever consider changing (and no more whistling, of course). I am using varnished gut, didn't notice a major difference from unvarnished, and varnished lasts longer.

I agree about the G: I have a Eudoxa G which sounds so good, I can't bring myself to take it off, even though I have a new Gamut wound G sitting in the case waiting. I did try the feel of plain gut G's in a shop off a violin, and felt they would be too thick for me to play enjoyably, so I agree on that.

August 24, 2007 at 01:16 AM · Just want you all to know that I put on my new set of Eudoxas today with the Goldbrokat E. All I can say is that I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE this new set of strings!!! They play with A LOT more ease and with A LOT more character than the set of Helicore I just removed. Of course they are still settling in as they're only a few hours old, but they already sound so wonderful and have opened up in even the few hours I've been playing them. All in all, I am very, very happy with the set and quite impressed at how much more easy it is to play on this set of gut strings.

For you other beginners out there, don't let others put you off the experience playing on gut. Give a set of gut strings a try, they're the bomb!

August 24, 2007 at 03:56 AM · Well, Chris, I guess it's good that you trusted your gut feelings on the issue.

Ha ha. Just had to say it. I must confess, I almost didn't have the guts to say it.

Second ha ha. Sorry. Anyway, as a beginner, I must say I'm more inclined to follow the attitude/words of Scott Cole. God's sake - I don't NEED anything more to worry about. I'm deeply grateful for my reliable Dominants. The tone - jeez, it improves each week as I improve. Intonation, just as Scott commented, that's what it's all about for me, even after two years. That and a thousand other things on my beginner's brain. The string issue - I'll address it when I've got a good grip on the other stuff. Fortunately, I have no complaints with instruments/strings/bow/set up. if I did, perhaps I'd be singing a different song right now.

Anyway, glad you're happy - congrats on a successful change.

August 24, 2007 at 04:37 AM · Each person's drive to play the violin has a different flavor. There's obviously no need for one person (i.e. Terez) to emulate another's passion, but there is every reason for teachers and mentors to avoid closing doors and placing limits on the things which a particular student finds inspiring and exciting about the violin. Way to go Chris, congratulations on sidestepping a limitation and getting closer to what excites you about the instrument.

August 24, 2007 at 02:55 PM · Andres, you are right in that we each have our own path to tread.

Terez, I agree with you 100%, but don't let the sun set upon your life with the violin never having given gut a try. The beauty of tone is indescribable. Gut really has a quality all it's own. Yes, the violin can be as a wild mare, and the taming of her does at first require a short lunging line, but some point along the way you've got to hop on her back, open the gates and let her run, to let her show you what she can become. She is beautiful.

August 24, 2007 at 05:27 PM · Andres,

As a teacher, I have to object to your statement "there is every reason for teachers and mentors to avoid closing doors and placing limits on the things which a particular student finds inspiring and exciting about the violin." It makes it sound like those of that teach are conspiring to keep people like Chris from using gut. As if we're nuns at a Catholic schooI who refuse to discuss sex for fear the students will go bonkers. I don't discourage my beginner students from using types of equipment for any reason except for common sense, and the experience that 30+ years of violin has taught me. What should be inspiring and exciting is not equipment, but the repertoire. Gut is not perfect, and has its own advantages and limitations. I wonder at this point if Chris would even admit if he were less than thrilled at gut in two weeks....

August 24, 2007 at 06:49 PM · Scott,

Time will tell, but for now I am a convert. I played again this morning and at noon today. The strings are settling in well and were off less than a semi-tone after having sat overnight. The G and D are coming to life quite nicely, the A having been alive more or less from the start. The E is steel, so there is nothing new there.

I know that you used gut for many years, and maybe after a while some of their finer qualities may have become taken for granted and neglected for the sake of minor inconveniences, but there is a quality to this set of gut strings that I find very difficult to describe. The tone is more pure, and has a resonance that is quite amazing. The strings are very much alive, and I have found them actually easier to play than Helicore. Maybe this is not saying much, but this set of gut strings responds so well to the touch of the bow. The violin as a whole responds better to pretty much everything I do. Yes, the violin is of course more temperamental to tune, but even this seems to show a fine quality of gut, that is the way in which gut makes even the slightest of subtleties known.

I decided that I wanted to try gut somewhat out of a feeling of instinct, that it was the direction in which I needed to go. Was this realization made known in much the same manner a small bird knows where to find its food, or where to travel to and from when winter is near at hand, or by the same means I knew of my father’s passing before I was ever told? Far be it from me to know, but I am inclined to think so. I do not travel, am an amateur (of course!), so I will admit that I can let some of the problems people speak of concerning gut slide, and revel in the beauty of their tone.

Take care.

Chris

August 24, 2007 at 08:40 PM · Chris,

If they work on your violin that's great. I've had violins from the 18th, 19th and 20th c. and gut brought out qualities I didn't like.

Just one more note: Don't overlook Kaplan Golden Spiral gut strings. They're reasonably priced and sounded pretty good the last time I used them.

Scott

August 24, 2007 at 09:01 PM · On that same note, at some point you should also try pure gut. They are quite different from wound gut, both in sound & feel. Both have advantages & disadvantages.

For wound gut, IMO nothing can touch the new passiones. However, I'm a pure-gut kinda' guy, at least oion the D & A strings. I go back & forth with the E, depending upon the violin, the genre of music, the phases of the moon ....

August 24, 2007 at 09:08 PM · "What should be inspiring and exciting is not equipment, but the repertoire."

1. Why shouldn't equipment be exciting? Why don't we play piano--it isn't the repertoire, it is the equipment (the sound). Every violinconcerto has been transcribed to piano, and yet we persist in playing this thing called fiddle.

2. Repertoire: this is a problem, as not everyone is thrilled to play the "repertoire" that 88% or 95% or whathaveyou teachers teach. If you like bluegrass, you are on your own--and Jazz, you are really on your own, not to mention the bizarre but current concept of hip-hop violin.

Why shouldn't a person be drawn to the sound (that is equipment+technique) and his own feelings for repertoire? Why always the same repertoire for teaching? (I know, there are alternative types, but they are rare and difficulty to find or get for the demand on them!).

If gut sound is a "love" thing, and the student is told, "fuggedaboudit" then where comes the motivation for the student? What, is gut too difficult on the teacher?

August 24, 2007 at 09:37 PM · Allan,

I've already got a varnished plain gut A on order from Gamut Strings (0.74 mm Treble Gut). I was so impressed with wound gut that I was interested to see how a plain gut A played and to hear the character of it's sound. I'm not sure when I will give the unwound string a try, but at some point in time I am going to put it on. Since it appears the A string is the first to go on a set of wound gut, I may just wait until then to try the unwound A.

Allan, I have a question for you, does the honeymoon with gut ever end (as some suggest), or does it just keep getting better and better like a good marriage? Well, I guess when I think about it maybe the answer for each is the same, and requires the same approach. When commited, a good marriage can lead to a lifetime of unspeakable fulfillment, and perhaps it is something of the same with gut strings (and, of course, the violin for that matter).

Chris

August 24, 2007 at 11:05 PM · Chris,

The answer depends upon what you are after sonically. You can only answer it for yourself, after much experimentation I do not play live, only record in the studio. thus, I do not care about the elusive "carrying power" and am free to experiment soley for the sake of tone. Additionally, warmer sounds work best in my situation. I doubt my situation is very typical of the members here.

I can give you my personal thoughts, in brief and in no particular order, though I doubt it will give you the answers you seek:

PG = pure gut. WG = wound gut.

First: PG reacts very differently to the bow. I've written this before, but it bears repeating: You must make sure you have a bow that "likes" PG in order to give PG a fair audition. Rent or borrow a few bows if at all possible. WG doesn't seem to have the same finicky-ness.

PG is much richer than WG, but is significantly harder to play. I think the best thing a teacher could do is force young students to learn on PG, as this will force better bowing technique. Easy for me to say, since I don't teach (g)

WG is closer sonically to synthetic, and so is an "easier" and safer transition for many players.

PG breaks in almost immediately, both sonically and stability-wise. It is only WG that causes fits. This includes the Passione G, which continues to detune for weeks. Note: This may not be the case if you tour, or play out in many non-controlled rooms. I have no idea.

PG also lasts an incredibly long time, compare to synthetics or WG, unless you have acidic skin and don't use varnished gut.

I SERIOUSLY dislike the sound of varnished gut, as it is a bit "hard." I also find the higher positions to sound slight off. Supposedly this has to do with the harmonic structure. I dunno, but I can here that something isn't right. My skin is, thankfully, very un-acidic, and unvarnished E strings have lasted 2 months.

PG sounds & responds best when the humidity is relatively high. My studio is kept at 45 - 50% humidity, which is a problem. thankfully I discovered that rubbing-down the strings with olive oil solves this dillema. You would this the oil (literally everywhere) would dull the sound, but it does not. It makes it richer and increases dynamic / timbral response. It probably also protects from acidic skin, though I wouldn't know personally. I imagine olive oil would also help with WG, but I have not tried that yet.

Of the WG, Passiones are by FAR my favorite, but I wish the heavier guages were available. So far, the are not.

As Nate has written many times, pure gut seems to work best in the heavier guages. Unlike with synthetics, heavy PG does not have the "fisty," overblown & hard midrange. I have no idea about WG, but I am DYING to try the heavy Passiones.

For me, the honymoon will likely never end, but my favorite fiddle is rather bright & boistrous, so soft PG (Gamut) is a perfect match. Another fiddle is a bit dark and reserved (French) so I kind of prefer the Passiones. Sort of.

E strings: I love love love PG E's, but only Gamuts as they are very soft. The Dlug is a bit strident. I also love love love synthetic E's, preferring to use a heavy gauge Vision as it matches the heavy PG well. Sometimes the rich, warm PG E is a dream to play, other times I am jonesing for the cut & excitement of the synthetic. Luckily, it is a very inexpensive switch.

As Nate wrote, forget PG G-strings. They are tough to play, and don't really match well. I'm not even sure there is a need for a WG G-string. Several heavy-guage synthetics match the PG D & A surprisingly well, perhaps even better than the WG G's.

the Eudoxa WG G is decent, not amazing. The Passione (med gauge) WG is dismal, IMO. The Gamut is OK, but there seems to be QC issues. The Dlug might be the best G of the WG offereings, but very expensive considering that a heavy gauge Tzigane actually sounds fuller & richer to my ears. This opinion could easily change in 6 month.

Gamut vs Dlug vs Aquila:

While I have serious issues with Dlug's customer support (he lost my business for life) he does make a very good string. comparing the unvarnished variants, his are much like the Aquilas, but maybe a tad stiffer (more twist?) Both the Dlug & Aquila are closer to synthetic in overall tone. Prolly better for a soloist.

The Gamut are noticeably softer & richer, and are my clear preference for close-mic recording. They would likely be best for chambr music in a small setting as well. Just lovely, but perhaps not enough "cut" for a soloist. Hard to say, and of course it would depend upon the specific violin. One nice thing about the Gamut is that they are VERY reasonably priced. However, because they last so long, all PG are effectively much less $$$ than any synthetic or WG.

OK, that's enough of one man's opinion. Your mileage will undoubtably vary.

Have fun.

August 25, 2007 at 01:25 AM · Allan,

Woa! Thanks for all of the great and insightful information. I'll bear in mind what you have said as I continue down the gut string highway.

I just got done with my evening's practice session, and this set of gut strings just keeps getting better. They're still coming around and settling in, but they're doing just fine. However, as I've said before this is nothing new to me having played classical guitar for a spell. Nylon strings on a classical guitar take a few days to settle in and stabilize, and always need some amount of attention throughout their life. By the way, I bet unwound gut settles in much sooner than wound gut due to the fact that the gut is much thicker on an unwound string, not having a wire wrap and all. This is just my opinion, but it makes a lot of sense.

I've got a lesson tomorrow morning and I think my teacher will be exited about the new set of gut strings. Of all of the people I have talked to in my area (shop proprietors, players of the violin, luthiers and such), my teacher is the only one that did not try to steer me away from gut, even though she plays Dominants (I think, but not gut whatever it is).

Thanks again for all your advice. Have a great weekend!

Chris

August 26, 2007 at 08:50 AM · One more thing, Chris.

When you try the PG A-string, remember that PG requires a lighter touch. Less pressure & more bow speed, with perhaps a slightly "feathered-in" attack.

August 26, 2007 at 04:30 PM · I'm not really sure about using a lighter touch - that will be the case however if you do not protect the sound. The harder you dig in especially with gut strings you have to learn to match that with your vibrato. If you haven't developed a good vibrato yet, I would not suggest using too much bow pressure.

August 28, 2007 at 07:54 AM · Lucky you. Where I live the choice is between Dominants and China-made steel strings. Doms are nice, but a little experimentation would be nice too.

August 29, 2007 at 02:58 AM · Hi Guys,

A couple of things have got me wanting to try Gut strings, but not sure exactly where to start. But first, some background.

The main reason for wanting to try out Gut is that I've got to do a performance/talk on performing Brahms in a Historically Informed manner. Having found an article that talks about this manner exactly (my talk's half done!), I read that the strings used in Brahms' time were all plain, unwound Gut. Having an instrument that was made around 1900, and a bow that's about 100 years old, I thought I might give gut a shot to see how it affect the tone I produce and my interpretation of Brahms.

The other benefit is that I'm working on my bow use at the moment, and from the comments in this thread, I've read that Gut strings have a smaller "sweet spot" and that my bow use will need to be much better, which is a good thing as it will mean I really need to get it right.

The only problem is my tailpiece. I've currently got a tailpiece (that I do want to replace eventually) that has 4 in-built fine tuners. (I quite like it, and when I replace it, it will be with a wooden one with the in-built tuners, as my current one is metal :( oh well). However, having had a look at the Gamut strings, they're all loop ends, which won't really work on my tail piece... correct?

So, I guess what I'm asking is, will Gamut strings work in a tail piece such as mine, and if not, are there any unwound gut strings that have ball ends. If not, what are some good wound Gut strings that I can try out with ball ends? Eudoxa, Oliv... what about the new Passione from Pirastro? Anyone tried it?

August 29, 2007 at 03:23 AM · Hi Ben,

My understanding is that you cannot use bare gut strings with fine tuners. They cut through the more delicate gut string. I empirically proved this the first time I put on a gut E, and THEN read the advice on Dlugolecki's web site about mounting gut strings without fine tuners. The string lasted 2 days.

But I have found fine tuners totally unnecessary. Bare gut strings tend to be pitch-stable, and require only small adjustments, easily made with the pegs.

If you are going to use a gut E and are doing Brahms, use a heavier gauge (I currently use a 13-gauge by Dlugolecki, very satisfactory for Brahms' first sonata I'm currently working on). The thinner gauges can't produce the sound and response needed in the Romantic repertoire.

Finally, you mentioned Gamut strings as a source. Don't overlook Damian Dlugolecki. I've used both, found Dlugolecki's strings at least as good. Specifically on the gut-E (which last no more than 80-90 days, and that's if you're lucky) Dlugolecki's gut e-strings have outlasted Gamut by about 2:1 for me. He gauges his strings differently from Larson (Gamut); there's a converter on one of their web sites (I forget which).

August 29, 2007 at 09:47 PM · Ben,

As long as the pegs on your violin are well-fitted you should be alright without fine tuners. I actually prefer to not use fine tuners because for me personally it is easier to tune when bowing.

Take care and have a good evening, and I wish you all the best as you give gut a try. It is not for all, no doubt, but it is perfect for some.

Chris

August 30, 2007 at 11:44 AM · Ben,

Finn Moericke posted a set of fotos and sketches about a year ago, showing how he uses plain gut on all four strings, with fine tuners.

August 30, 2007 at 02:01 PM · Bilbo - did a search and couldn't find anything. Maybe you remember where it was?

August 31, 2007 at 12:37 AM · It does look like the Finn Möricke post on using fishing line to meld gut to fine tuners has dropped off the forum. There are some useful experiments mentioned in Allan's thread on the topic.

August 31, 2007 at 03:51 AM · Yeah, the super-glue thing works pretty well. (I'll let the OP do a search)

Funny thing, I just had an E pop today, but with pure-gut E's on three fiddles, all into Hill mini-tuners, that's the first pop I've had in at least two months. Maybe three.

The string was pretty much ready to go anyway. -my un-varnished E's last a while as I keep them swabbed with olive oil, something I recommend but that not everyone will like the tone of.

FWIW, I've never lost a D or A, and yes I use four fine-tuners, even with gut. (call me anal-retentive, but I like to be REALLY in tune.)

September 4, 2007 at 09:53 PM · Just to let you all know, the strings have settled in and are sounding very, very good. The D string took the longest to stablize, followed by the G and last the A (the steel E settled in and stabilized pretty much from the get go). I should mention that our climate at this time of year is about as unpredictable as any, and we do not control the environment of our home, so this has been a rather severe test. I do, however, use Pirastro's string oil sparingly from time to time.

I do not for a moment regret my decision to use gut as the tone this set of Eudoxa gut strings is capable of is remarkable. The sound is very alive, as it should be. The power of this set is as well remarkable and more than I exptected given that many seemed to think I would lose power and projection to some extent when I turned to gut. However, from what I can hear I have not lost any power at all, and I would guess that given the unique character of the sound, the very resonant quality, the projection has actually improved.

All in all, it was a good move and if any of you out there has an inkling to give gut a try, wait no longer!

September 4, 2007 at 10:32 PM · Yeah, that's it...I'm ditching these obnoxious Evahs.

September 5, 2007 at 02:10 AM · Mara, once upon a time it was a toss-up between Evah's and Eudoxa's (or some form of gut). Obviously, gut strings won out. I guess I just could not resist them any longer, and am glad I finally caved.

No doubt, over time I may continue to experiment (with other wound gut strings, un-wound gut and synthetics), but for the time being the rich tonal texture of Eudoxa strings has me in their trance, and I have no desire to look elsewhere. I find myself in good company with these srings, and it is in some small way a link to the past, to the past masters whose music, whose sound, I have come to know, and love.

September 5, 2007 at 02:32 AM · I used gut strings on my old violin and loved them. My new violin came strung with Evahs and I was too cheap to change them right away; and they sounded pretty good. But after a while I noticed that I really missed the subtleties and shadings I could get with gut: my dynamic range for one is a lot worse on synthetics. Now my strings are officially old, false and gross, so I'm off to order a new set of Passiones. :)

September 5, 2007 at 03:33 AM · Oh yeah I agree Mara, Evahs vs. gut is like a night and day comparison. I was using Evahs for a while until my "rebirth" with gut strings. I still have a few free sets of Evah D, G, & A's; I will send them to the first person that e-mails me, I'd like to see them put to good use as I am no longer playing on synthetics.

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