Plain gut strings on a modern violin: Which gauges?

August 4, 2009 at 04:12 PM ·

As a player of the viol da gamba I’ve used plain gut strings for several years. Recently I was curious to try them also on my primary instrument, the violin.
Up from the first tones I was amazed about the new tonal range these strings were offering and finally decided to keep it up with this setup. I decided for a plain gut D&A with wound G and steel E.
After reading previous threads about this topic I tried gut strings of Gamut. My question now is concerning how to find the best matching gauges. I tried the medium gauges (D 1.04mm, A 0,76mm, corresponds to 21 and 15 ¼ in the pirastro scale). The D-string seemed to perfectly match to my instrument and playing style, however, the A-string seemed to thin to me. I would really appreciate if those players using this type of setup could share their experience.
I also wonder what gauges have been used historically, i’d be particularly thrilled to know the gauges that Heifetz used. If anyone knows it would be great if it could be posted here.

The other question is what G and E string to use. After trying several I ended up with Eudoxa stiff G and Kaplan Spriral Solo E. Any better suggestions?

 

Replies (32)

August 4, 2009 at 05:11 PM ·

1) Is your violin set up and adjusted for plain gut strings?

2) What does your Luthier recomend?

Royce

August 4, 2009 at 06:59 PM ·

Not sure where I picked this info. up, I think it was in another thread here, but the typical gut A string diameter for people like Heifetz and Milstein was apparently .8 mm, this gives a tension right about the same as a modern medium Dominant A.

 ...although a poster named Joe Maj said on February 6 of this year:

"If you want to string like Heifetz:

Bare gut A - Pirazzi gauge 14.5 - 15 or 0.72 to 0.75 mm

Bare gut D - Pirazzi gauge 19 or 0.95 mm."

 Bottom line on this is that you are already in the ballpark and must find what works best for you and your violin by experimentation.

August 5, 2009 at 03:34 AM ·

For technical information regarding the suitability and use of gut strings, you might contact luthier Daniel Larson, who makes violins as well as gut strings.

http://www.daniellarson.com/ will bring you to his main website; there's a link there to Gamut Strings which is chock full of info. (You might be interested in the fact that he has an extensive line of strings for historical instruments; he also builds them).

August 5, 2009 at 06:12 AM ·

August 5, 2009 at 10:32 PM ·

Thanks a lot for the replies, i'd like to quickly comment on them:

Royce,

yes, i had my instrument at my luthier and let him make a new bridge for the string setup. The new one differs mainly by the depths of the grooves (esspecially on the D string which is a lot thicker than a wound string). The tension of my plain guts is quite similar to that of synthetics, I think other than that no adjustments are necessary, playability of the instrument is fine.

 

Andres,

thanks a lot for this info, i wasn't aware that this was posted here before. I understand that the info is somewhat controversial.

"If you want to string like Heifetz:
Bare gut A - Pirazzi gauge 14.5 - 15 or 0.72 to 0.75 mm
Bare gut D - Pirazzi gauge 19 or 0.95 mm."

These gauges seem very weak to me, probably rather matching to a baroque setup.

An A string with a gauge of 0.8mm makes more sense to me. That would correspond to a Gamut heavy gauge.


Nate,
very interesting, that encourages me that I might be on the right track by assuming that a medium D and a heavy A is a good combination. Have you tried a lower gauge A, if so, how do they compare?

regards,
Chris

August 5, 2009 at 11:23 PM ·

 

 

Hi Chris, I think the heavy A with the medium or medium + D would work (it depends on your instrument).  I would not recommend going too low with the gauges; as you pointed out those gauges posted above are more of a baroque violin set up.  I seriously doubt those are the Heifetz gauge numbers.  What I understand from my teacher (who was Heifetz's student), Heifetz used pretty large gauges in order to give the bow extra threshold to dig in.  The smaller gauges can't take as much bow weight.  Good luck with the strings!

All best,

Nate

August 5, 2009 at 11:37 PM ·

For me an excellent exercise for evaluating gut string gauges is Kreuzer #22, anything more than a medium D would be brutal. My violin is strung with Gamut medium D, heavy A, heavy E.  What with 5 gauges per string it takes a while to work through the combinations.

The Heifetz gauges were reported to me by Joseph Gold, student of Heifetz and translator into English of Guhr's book on Paganini. I asked him twice just to make sure the message wasn't garbled. Guhr reported Paganini used very thin strings, so Heifetz would have been following a good example.

August 6, 2009 at 01:55 PM ·

Christian- That's great!  Let us know how it turns out!  There is nothing like a violin set up to your loving it!

August 8, 2009 at 07:50 PM ·

Thanks Nate, i appreciate your comments a lot. I will order a couple of heavy gauge A strings and i'm yet excited to try them. The Gamut strings i've used so far seem to be of very high quality, surprisingly durable and pitch stable for a plain gut string.

Thanks also for your info Joe, i don't want to question that, but at least it is surprising. On the other hand Heifetz certainly had such a unique bowing technique that he might have managed to get along with gauges that are more or less unplayable to most other players.

I found an interesting article at http://www.aquilacorde.com/articles3.htm concerning the gauges that Paganini used. According to this article his gauges were really on the heavy side. So if Heifetz used these low gauges he wouldn't have followed Paganini.

regards,

Chris

 

May 30, 2010 at 10:20 PM ·

According to this article from Aquila the strings that were found of Paganini's were very thick and he was extremely specific about how they were to be made in the letters he wrote to the makers. 

He used an A-string around 18 PM and a D-string around 23 PM:

http://www.aquilacorde.com/en/researches/our-works/nicolo-paganini.html

Below are the diameter ranges found from Paganini's strings:


String         Diameter                Note


E                 .70 - .72 mm        Medium twist
 
A                 .87 - .89 mm        High twist

A*                .80 - .83 mm        High twist

D                1.15 - 1.16 mm     High twist


May 31, 2010 at 12:42 AM ·

In the original edition of the Art of Violin Playing, Flesch recommended the following as the standard string gauges for plain gut strings:

E - 13.5

A - 16.5

D - 21 or 22

G (wound) - 16.5

Then he was also the first to advocate using a wound D and a steel A and E, so I guess things changed in time.

When I played on plain gut for romantic period projects I used pretty much the gauges above except with a thicker G (18 1/4).

Cheers!

May 31, 2010 at 03:59 AM ·

June 1, 2010 at 07:25 PM ·

If one is using gut strings for the first time, I think the first thing to do is play them for a few days while having the patience to refrain from evaluating them.  They require a few days to stretch before they have decent pitch stability, as Nate Robinson describes in his post.  Then the player who is new to gut strings requires time to learn how they want to be played.  They demand greater precision of contact point control.  By taking the time to adjust to this greater demand, the player is rewarded with a greater range of expressive nuance and a range of colors that is more like the color range of the human voice than that of synthetic strings.  The examples, of a great artist  using these color changes in the most dramatic and emotionally gripping way, that come to mind immediately are many moments in Heifetz performances when there is suddenly a very intensely felt tenderness.  Often, studying his phrasing with repeated listening reveals that after he had been maintaining a very concentrated tone he, at the exactly right moment, changed to a very sospirando (breathy) quality.  Another favorite example of this specific emotional effect is in Erick Friedman's recording of Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso. --He takes one of the appearances of the principal theme of the Introduction as a ppp sospirando together with a very intense vibrato.  Nobody else does this (not even JH!). -- The effect is incredibly tender and moving.  Gut strings lend themselves so well to this sort of artistry.

After one has taken the time to adjust to playing gut strings, it's best to experiment with various gauges, as the best gauges for one violin, or one set up (sound post tension etc.) may be different from another. On my violin, I found that a somewhat thinner gauge than the thick gauge I was using at the time gave me a little less loudness under the ear, and more beauty, complexity, richness and quickness of response.  I prefer the qualities of the not so thick strings. The only way to know what works best for you and your instrument is to experiment over time with a variety of gauges.

June 1, 2010 at 08:52 PM ·

Hi Christian,

Perhaps Arto's new String Calculator may be useful.

Bart

September 20, 2010 at 01:27 AM ·

 I strung an older violin up with plain D and A (Gamut) a few months ago an have become a strong advocate of their sound, which to my ears becomes almost a 'substance' in the air, and I do feel there are some great expressive possibilities for me.

I have a newly commissioned violin arriving in a few months and would love to use plain gut D&A strings, but have heard that some believe plain gut strings are better suited to older violins. Wonder why this is?  

September 22, 2010 at 04:30 AM ·

The people giving you that advice don't know much about gut strings.  The founding fathers of the violin designed the instrument to be an amplifier of gut strings (they certainly did not have Dominant Strings and Kun shoulder rests in mind :) ). 

I agree with you on Gamut, they are the best plain gut strings.  I use the Heifetz setup: Wound gut G (Eudoxa), Gamut plain gut D&A, and steel E.  

Here's one of my performances with the Heifetz setup: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fNl3zIEAj9c

September 22, 2010 at 10:00 PM ·

 Another BIG thumbs up for Gamut.   I tried several types from Dugliecki & Aquila, but the Gamuts tend to be richer & easier to play.  Gamut also has more choices as far as type. (winding, tension, etc)  - I also prefer Gamut's customer service, FWIW.

Also, Daniel Larsen (the owner) is one of the world's experts on both gut strings & older instruments. Give him a call & discuss your needs.  He will even hand-pick strings off the "assembly line" for you, if you are super-picky.

 

As to "pure gut" (non-wound) strings in general, do a search. We have had many good discussions here about them.   I'm a huge fan, except for the e-string.  

FWIW, I prefer them as thick as possible. This gives a wider timbral range, lessens that annoying gritty sound you get with less than perfect bowing, and feels GREAT under the fingers.

You may prefer a wound G-string, to get more cut & presence. Eudoxa & Olive, of course, Gamut also has some interesting wound & semi-wound (Gimped) G-strings also, but I haven't tried them. 

The downside of wound-gut is that they take FOREVER to break-in (esp Passione)  This is a big deal for me, so I switched to synthetic G's.  Dominant is surprisingly good match, and fairly cheap.

September 23, 2010 at 11:09 PM ·

I agree with all of your points, Allan, except for putting a Dominant G on with the plain gut D&A.   This will in many instances distort the sound and timber (especially in string crossings) when mixing synthetic strings with gut (synthetic and gut have such different qualities of sound).   It would be like (in my opinion) pouring Coca-Cola into a glass of Bordeaux and stirring the two. :)

http://www.nate-robinson.org

September 24, 2010 at 01:05 AM ·

 I think an Obligato G might be a better choice than the Dominant, if you want to use synthetic core instead of gut.  Obligatos seem to last halfway to forever in my experience.  
In my chamber orchestra there are several players, including the leader, who swear by the Hill E. I certainly prefer it to the Pirastro Es.

September 24, 2010 at 10:49 AM ·

 I stand by that recommendation, Nate.  It's surprising, but the Dominant G blends very well with the thick D.  

I tried Obligato, but there was some reason I didn't like it. (can't remember.)  Maybe long break-in time?

IIRC, Vision regular was also good. 

September 24, 2010 at 02:52 PM ·

 Interesting point about a long break-in time for the Obligato G.  The G is of course the string that gets the least use, but is still important nevertheless for the harmonics it generates when notes higher up the violin are played.   Perhaps the Obligato does indeed take longer to break-in than some other brands; I don't know.  The solution is to spend extra practice time in exercises specifically for the G string, over, say 1-1/2 octaves.  It will also be good for technique in that area.

September 24, 2010 at 09:09 PM ·

Not long ago, I inherited the strings of my paternal grandfather (1872-1956). There was a bobbin of gut E string, and a single D. The D varied between 1.04 and 1.08 mm in diameter, and the E material was so decayed that nothing could be measured. I put the D on my violin to try it out, but the varying thickness ruined the sound. Still, it was touching.

Hope this helps,

Bart

September 24, 2010 at 09:17 PM ·

This is a valuable and interesting thread.

I'm a gut string user, except, just  recently I'm trying the pirastro passione and figuring out that I prefer the plain gut strings which give me good traction on the fingers and a richer and more beautiful (in my mind) tone. 

What I use is:

 

e” 12 ¼
a’ 15 ¼
d   21
g silver 18

I also get my strings from Mr. Dlugolecki

 

September 25, 2010 at 12:04 AM ·

 Trevor, let me be clear, re the Obligato G:  I was only guessing as to the quality I didn't like, I just knew I chose not to keep using it.  I have no idea how long they take to break-in.  I always give strings 1-2 weeks before testing, just to have a level playing field.

More likely, it was too dark for my taste. (Dominant is a tad brighter.)  I like a lot of definition on my G-string.  

Also note:  Gut strings are rich & full, but they are NOT dark.  - just listen to Nate's fabulous performance, linked above!  Also note the harmonic complexity, the variations in timbre he is able to pull from that fiddle.  Granted, he has wonderful technique, but the strings are helping as well.

I intend to try Vision Orchestra G soon (and a 1/2 viola C, if they make one) as they are reputed to be very gut-like.   At the ame time, they may be too low in tension for me, which is the main thing I don't like about the pure-guy G's. 

I'm also dying to try Gamut's gimped G.   Has anyone else tried these yet?

September 25, 2010 at 12:10 AM ·

 Hey, Nate-

Which E string is that?  The sound of you high notes is absolute Heaven to me. Just what I'm after.

(Yeah I know, violin & technique, but I still wanna know.)

Also, which gauge of G?

Do you find the Eudoxa going bad a lot sooner than the pure-gut strings?  

Thanks.

September 25, 2010 at 02:55 AM ·

Hi Allan, thanks for your comments!

I use a Goldbrokat steel E-string thick gauge (although during the summers I usually use medium).  Milstein, Heifetz, and Menuhin used this E.  It's really a fantastic E on my violin and it only costs around a dollar.

I absolutely love the Eudoxa G.  I use 16 1/4 PM.  It fits my violin a lot better than Olive G's (which are also quite good).  Eudoxas on my violin last up to 6-7 weeks practicing 3-4 hours a day.  I usually change after about a month.  Although I had my last set that I used for that performance (in the video above) on my violin for about 8 weeks.

Nate

 

September 26, 2010 at 04:07 PM ·

The people giving you that advice don't know much about gut strings."

Thanks for the link Nate, really enjoyed the youtube vid, lovely tone. Glad you have confidence in fitting plain gut on a new violin - I mean this will literally be off the bench. I wondered if modern makers constructed instruments with modern strings in mind...

Anyways I guess I'll just need to cross my fingers and try different combinations :)

 

September 26, 2010 at 08:26 PM ·

 "I wondered if modern makers constructed instruments with modern strings in mind..." 

None that I know of.  There was no radical change made when synthetics were introduced.

Theoretically, you want a hair more string height for gut, some sites even say a tad more at the nut, though that makes no sense to me.   Gut strings (esp pure-gut) have lower tension, so they flex more, so there's more chance of buzzing.

Of course, you can minimize this problem by using very thick gut strings.  - As long as you don't mind the slower response.

September 27, 2010 at 07:33 AM ·

 Wow,

Those are great questions, John.

I never thought about trying different types of hair, for a better match with gut.  That would be an expensive & tedious experiment, but surely there is a difference.  Hmmm...

What I do know, for sure, is that gut strings sound better when you have a little LESS hair on the bow.  I don't remeber the details (I'd have to dig through my old notes) but I am very sure of that conclusion, based n several bows & several instruments. (lots of recordings made back when I was testing strings)

I'm not sure about a "Woody" sound, though. That makes me think more of body type. Guaneri vs Strad,  etc.   - or maybe slightly over-driven tube mics, but I doubt that's it.

September 28, 2010 at 09:28 AM ·

 Wow, that's great info, thanks!

- But I'm checking my bows, and not really sure what's a bad hair.  It's doesn't seem as obvious as your post makes it seem.  Is there anywhere to find pictures or video of good vs bad hair? 

-And if you have a bow re-haired, how can you ensure that you'll get only selected strands?  What does that typically cost?

--------------------------------

BTW -  check out this tour of the Aquila "factory"

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2_Cwe_pz0Uo&feature=related

Looks like the exact same machines used in Antonio's time.

September 29, 2010 at 05:19 AM ·

 I use a Gamut Medium + gauge for the A and D.  This raises the string tension a bit and power of the violin.   You have to experiment and see what works.  I agree with the commentary from many about the superior quality of Gamut strings.

June 4, 2011 at 02:04 AM ·

One further comment.  The gauges I like (on a bright, strong-toned modern instrument) are

.26 Goldbrokat steel E

.75 (15pm) plain gut A.  I use Aquila or Larsen strings; both are v, good

1.04-1.06 (21pm) plain gut D.  I like Aquila's semi-rectified High-Twist gut.  It holds its pitch better, IMHO.  The frequent recommendation of a 19 or 19 1/2 seems to be too low a tension, giving a weak tone.  The 21pm string gives a better sound.

16 pm Eudoxa brilliant G

 

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