Mad cow disease fears over violin strings

November 27, 2011 at 11:26 PM · Here is an article about the EU possibly banning gut strings:

Mad cow disease fears over violin strings

Replies (69)

November 28, 2011 at 01:05 AM · Oh how unfortunate and silly. This is what happens when completely ignorant "suits" are allowed to make laws on issues which they know nothing about.

November 28, 2011 at 01:27 AM · Good heavens, that's so stupid.

November 28, 2011 at 03:51 AM · i want to reserve calling it stupid after some inquiry:)

for instance, forgive me for being gross, but how does the gut get processed and cleaned?

one thing with this virus is that it is quite resistent to heat treatment so to really rid it may not be that easy...

i am not sure what to make of those comments from musicians. is it really the end of the baroque world, that there is no reasonable substitute?

for now, it is probably prudent not to lick violin strings no matter the excuses:)

November 28, 2011 at 03:53 AM · Don't they know we are already mad?

November 28, 2011 at 04:16 AM · It's the brain and spinal cord that are affected in a cow with bovine spongiform encephalopathy. Other parts of the body can also be contaminated, but I doubt anyone is going to ingest violin strings when hunger pangs arrive.

If the beef industry weren't feeding cows the remnants and remains of animals from slaughter houses then bse would likely not have appeared on the scene. Cows are by nature herbivores after all.

November 28, 2011 at 04:39 AM ·

November 28, 2011 at 05:16 AM · I use sheep gut strings which are the more popular type of string that has been widely used for centuries. To my knowledge according to this article, this new regulation doesn't effect sheep gut?

Regardless, it's a ridiculous regulation. This is what happens when ignorant politicians get too much power - they overly regulate and dismantle the private sector by doing so.

November 28, 2011 at 06:18 AM · so taht would result in turning gut strings into a black market commodity, like drugs? shadey gut string junkies hanging out in dark corners trying to pedal their ware to desepeate musicians after late night baroque music concerts?

yes, its stupid. i don't see the connection; one might as well ban detergents in case someone decides to drink them. don't they have more relevant things to worry about?

November 28, 2011 at 06:57 AM · No comment about those "..." regulations.

But music is about information, not material. Luckily performing great music is not dependent on using parts of animal bodys.

Maybe the research for a perfect replacement should still be enforced, but I doubt that any even better result would be accepted, because many musicians choice is not based on facts alone.

November 28, 2011 at 08:43 AM · It could simply be of course that from the date the law comes in it will mean we will hear all that period of music performed properly!! (Wink)

November 28, 2011 at 09:33 AM · Just read the article. Quote:

"We wouldn't be able to play music any more. I wouldn't be able to play Bach, and we can't live without Bach," she added.

Mrs Mullova, 52, who uses a 1750 Guadagnini violin with gut strings, added: "You can't avoid using gut strings for the Baroque repertoire.

"It would be like telling pop stars they couldn't use microphones at a concert. Putting metal strings on old instruments would produce a horrible, distorted sound." Unquote.

My god. This must be mad cow disease.

November 28, 2011 at 10:01 AM · "This must be mad cow disease."

That is absolutely right!! It's too late, all these people have already got it from the strings!!

Those statements you quoted are unbelievable. As if Bach can't exist without gut strings! Bach is far greater than that.

November 28, 2011 at 12:17 PM ·

November 28, 2011 at 12:23 PM · well, eventually if it comes to choosing between putting musicians' life in jeopardy and listening to baroque music on shoe strings, i will choose shoe strings.

November 28, 2011 at 12:40 PM ·

November 28, 2011 at 01:16 PM · per your wish bill! :)

here is a video on gut string making, less cows.

November 28, 2011 at 03:29 PM · On the UK side of the Pond I've today started up a discussion on this topic on, a website devoted to Irish folk music.

Since EU-bashing over here is seen as a sport second only to soccer, I expect a fairly lively discussion.

November 28, 2011 at 03:35 PM · Knopfler plays non-strats since 30 years. That is not the question. The question with electric guitarists is: can you play your music on a guitar that was made after 1959 ;-)

November 28, 2011 at 03:37 PM · In the art world there is a sharp divide between professional and amateur materials. For instance, if you buy children's paints you expect them to lick their fingers, paint their face and maybe stick the brush in their orange juice. However if you buy a professional series of paints you are expected to have a professional knowledge, even if you are not professional. This is why pigments such as cadmium red are only available in professional artists paint.

If there is a risk with gut strings (which there isn't) then just make sure they are only sold as professional strings.

November 28, 2011 at 03:48 PM · i think there is difference there between elements in paint and potential deadly infection from violin strings.

it is reasonable to assume that prof painters in reasonable state of mind can handle potentially dangerous elements in the paint and not knowingly harm themselves.

mad cow disease is different because the string makers may not know the condition of the cow from which the string is obtained, and down the line, the violinists may not know. may be some sick cows look sick and a few sick cows have not looked sick enough to be considered sick so they may miss detection (assuming on my part that those who feed mad c disease contaminated meat to healthy cow will have enough integrity to know what is right or wrong). there is a chance to get infected,,,unknowingly.

IF mad cow dz becomes rampant, to ban the use makes sense, unless some musicians love to play till they drop.

November 28, 2011 at 04:14 PM · She's 52? Wow! Looking good.

I really hope that we can still live and play Bach though...

November 28, 2011 at 04:21 PM · Since it's lamb gut and not cow gut what's the problem? Sounds like the usual political hysteria or as Shakespeare said, " Much ado about nothing!"

November 28, 2011 at 04:40 PM · The article shows a major lack of understanding of prion disease. Cooking or bleaching has no effect on prions. Continuing with the hysterical reporting, I would imagine the real danger, slight though it may be, is to people involved in manufacturing rather than playing. As far as it killing off old JSB: oh, please.

November 28, 2011 at 05:53 PM · Sheep can be infected with a disease called Scrapie that is similar to Mad Cow. So just because your strings might be made from sheep gut does not get you off the hook. It's the whole idea that one can catch a disease from one's fiddle strings that seems absurd to me.

November 28, 2011 at 06:02 PM ·

November 28, 2011 at 06:04 PM · Lamb gut would be presumably just as risky as cow, and for the same reasons.

Should policy makers consider gut a strings a risk for a prion disease, then by definition they would have to admit that the entire industry is at risk due to feed practices, in which case the food supply is tainted and no beef or lamb should be consumed, as the risk from consumption would be orders of magnitude higher.

They would also have to ban Italian shoes, Spanish handbags, and all other animal products. The only reason for banning gut strings would be a cluster of BSE amongst the early music wackos (they'd still be wacky anyway, though).

November 28, 2011 at 06:40 PM · Bill, living without the sound of pos. 2 and 4 - impossible!!!

But keep in mind one of the most typical solos ever played on a 59 Les Paul, Stairway to heaven, was in fact played on a Tele. And Samba Pa Ti is Strat, so what...

In many cases when musicians claim there would only be one possibility no-one would hear the difference. Musicians are rather prone to wishful thinking, snake oil, reputation, or even vanity.

Some perform Beethoven on period pianos, even though he never was really satisfied with the instruments his time had to offer.

November 28, 2011 at 06:53 PM ·

November 28, 2011 at 07:39 PM · When I was a kid, my mother was the secretary to a world famous doctor. He used to say, "If your time's not up, not even a doctor can kill you."

In general, there is so much medical and scientific misinformation in this world, that it staggers the imagination. And some of this applies to music.

Here are some additional musical urban myths you may not have heard:

1. You can die laughing by listening to the Ode to Joy.

2. Playing an electric violin can magnetize your teeth.

3. Playing an electric cello can magnetize your entire body.

4. Playing on gut-wound strings from California will give you a high.

5. Playing on Beethoven's piano can cause a hearing loss.

6. Playing in 5th position causes wrist arthritis.

7. Rosin from Burma will give you malaria.

8. Mozart received a Nobel Prize because his music both cures cancer and increases the intelligence of a fetus.

November 28, 2011 at 08:26 PM · I imagine that when the suits have banned gut strings from all sources, the next one on their list will doubtless be horse hair, quickly followed by natural sourced rosin.

November 28, 2011 at 08:33 PM · And they will limit dynamics to mf to avoid hearing loss.

Still before that, stringed instruments get a sticker saying:

Playing music can cause serious quarrel with your neighbours.

November 28, 2011 at 08:38 PM · You know the saying - "The only good politician is a dead one."

Mind you, seeing some of our politicians almost makes one believe there could be life after death!

November 28, 2011 at 09:39 PM ·

November 28, 2011 at 10:00 PM · Wasn't the use of bone meal in livestock feeds banned after the BSE outbreak?

November 28, 2011 at 10:08 PM ·

November 28, 2011 at 10:15 PM · Peter Charles wrote: 'Those statements you quoted are unbelievable. As if Bach can't exist without gut strings! Bach is far greater than that.'

I agree completely Peter. Even though I do use gut strings and think that they add a certain dimension to my sound, it is ridiculous to say that Bach can't exist without gut strings. I personally have no interest in listening to Mullova. She's an okay violinist but there are certainly many people that play as well as her (or better) who aren't as well publicized.

November 29, 2011 at 09:30 AM · Nate

I would certainly agree that gut strings could be important, after all one of my favourite violinists used them, namely Jasha Heifetz!

I agree about Mullova too - she's OK but not my kettle of fish!

I do think outstanding musicians will re-interpret Bach and all the great composers on whatever strings and instruments they may have available, be it gut, synthetic, metal or whatever, and modern or Baroque instruments.

In the end great music and great musicians win out whatever the obstacles. Great to talk with you again.

November 29, 2011 at 10:20 AM · If I understand correctly from the article, the issue is mainly with Italy not having done their homework with the EU yet:

"The company says the Italian government has not yet brought into legislation the latest EU diktats on the issue and that this means the bureaucratic burden of seeking a renewal is now too great."

November 29, 2011 at 12:14 PM · it's actually pretty cool to see this forum this cool about it. sorry for the interruption, now back to practice:)

i do wonder if a violinist one day somehow catches the bug whether people will scream: where is the govt regulation/intervention when you need it! how can we play bach now!

November 29, 2011 at 12:36 PM · I don't see that anyone involved is thinking about violinists in that matter. The mentioned regulations are affecting musicians only as a side effect, and it may become a problem because politicians are not interested in helping special interest groups.

November 29, 2011 at 02:29 PM · Tobias, I expect you're right. It's the infamous "unintended consequences" effect.

November 29, 2011 at 03:01 PM · The thing about strings is OK, because pretty soon we won't be allowed to have violins. As the law apparently stands now in the US, I can't legally build a bench unless I can certify that the wood was obtained legally (guilty until proven innocent: the new American way). Of course this is impossible, but the laws aren't there to be enforced except on someone who's offended the government in some way not related to wood or violins, just the same as with many of the laws we now have which are being misused (check out how police are using civil asset forfeiture laws, for instance).

November 29, 2011 at 11:28 PM · No one should cross the street because cars drive in roads and that there is a statistically mesurable risk of getting hit. In fact no one should handle a violin because the strings are under tension and it is possible that a string may break and blind a person holding the instrument. Playing on many stages is very dangerous because one could step off the edge. It has happened.

November 29, 2011 at 11:59 PM · Greetings,

finally all the `nostalgia ain`t what it used to be` violin diehards on this site can say :

`tosay`s players are gutless.`

And get away with it....



November 30, 2011 at 12:50 AM · Now I know how they make wiener philharmonikers...

November 30, 2011 at 01:30 AM · Scott,

never fill your harmonica with a wiener. It plays havoc with the sound.



November 30, 2011 at 04:11 AM · I wanted to get the cows perspective of this issue and traveled to cow country to see if I could get an interview with a couple of the bovine policy makers.

One cow I spoke with on condition of anonymity told me, "I feel like someone punched me right in the gut. ... I mean, we give the world milk and cheese, but they want violin strings too. Where will it end?"

November 30, 2011 at 04:16 AM · load of bull...

November 30, 2011 at 02:43 PM · What's all this angry bull over mad cow?

In spite of what you may have herd, it's all udder nonsense, with which it pails in comparison. I'd steak my life on that. (Are we milking this one for all it's worth?)

November 30, 2011 at 02:52 PM · i bowel or cow-toe to sandy for moo-ving in the right direction

November 30, 2011 at 02:55 PM · I wonder what thoughts Gamut Music are having on this.

November 30, 2011 at 02:58 PM · A correspondent of mine thinks that string players should be getting themselves informed about the changes that are already affecting the movement of instruments across borders, and wonders why they're being so complacent. Right now it's dealers and auction houses who are being hit, but few violinists are aware of the trouble they can get into carrying, for instance, a bow across international borders.

Read this in the worst possible way, because you can take it as certainty that the worst possible way is the way it will be enforced, sooner or later:

November 30, 2011 at 04:38 PM · Chances are gut strings will be around longer than the EU.

November 30, 2011 at 08:13 PM · Michael, are you familiar enough with these laws to summarize them? I've been told it is technically illegal to take a pernambuco bow across borders. True? Is anyone actually enforcing this? How about the ebony fingerboard and fittings?

November 30, 2011 at 08:45 PM · I am not well enough informed to say much. People who are assure me that according to the law as it is written it is literally not legal to make any object of an organic material whose source has not been certified to be legal. No problem for Ikea, using commercial lumber, but virtually impossible for an instrument maker using a stash of wood acquired from multiple LEGAL sources over the past decades.

It is also definitely illegal for me to plane your fingerboard if it is of certain now-embargoed species of ebony, and for your piano repairman to take the 100-year-old ivory covering off an old key to repair one on your piano: recycling, repurposing (using the old piano key), or renovation (dressing your board) of any now-illegal material is specifically prohibited by these laws.

As always, enforcement is at the whim of the enforcers, who are always functionaries working under CYA rules, more concerned about their jobs than your property. For instance, I had a friend whose $25,000 antique bow was seized by customs because he could not certify the origin of the hair. They recognized the exception for the antiquity of the bow, but not the hair. Finally they agreed to let him have the bow if he would cut off the hair and let them keep it. That was about 10 years ago. Now the stick and frog would be subject to similar rules, possible impoundment, and ultimately the trash.

You think that the most draconian of absurdities will not happen, until they happen to you, by which time it's too late to do anything. If I had told you a year ago that gut strings would become outlawed, you would have called me Chicken Little, wouldn't you?

These laws are a dangerout ticking time bomb, and you can bet some very valuable antique instruments and bows will be destroyed before the law gets fixed. . . if it ever does get fixed. You can be sure that your congressman is not losing any sleep over this: he's taken care of his constituency, large corporations using and producting lumber--those are the folks HE works for. You're just a bothersome pest, not a cash-carrying constituent. Think about that as you're saying bad things about Occupy Wall Street.

December 1, 2011 at 12:30 AM · On a slightly different train of thought, did anyone else notice Viktoria Mullova's comment about pop musicians?

"It would be like telling pop stars they couldn't use microphones at a concert. Putting metal strings on old instruments would produce a horrible, distorted sound."

That's what happens when pop stars don't use microphones!

just kidding :P

December 1, 2011 at 01:41 AM · Erika- especially if the mics run through AutoTune on the way to the amps!

Michael, I suppose it's still perfectly legal to cut down a huge stand of Pau-Brasil or ebony to make room to run cattle to keep the double-cheeseburger price at $1 or less. It's just using the wood that's the problem. Besides, those damned violinists are so profligate, buying bow after bow, using them to light their cigars even. I heard about one who lit a bow in Reno just to watch it burn.

Seriously, are you supposed to go get a degree in botany so you can tell whether or not you can plane my fingerboard for me? The consortium of bow makers, of course, are the one group who have been trying for years to replant, to discourage clear-cutting, and to find ways to make it worth it to landowners to keep the trees growing.

December 1, 2011 at 02:31 PM · In London I frequently see 15 year olds smoking. Strange, the EU consider young teenagers mature enough to decide for themselves if they should smoke, even though the damage smoking causes is now proven. However, even though the link between violin strings and CJD is so tenuous as to be non-existent, adult professional performers are not considered mature enough to make that decision.

The problems in Britain are not violin strings but STIs, drug addiction, smoking and alcohol related illnesses, knife crime, obesity etc. The EU however always concentrates on trivia; anyone remember the ban on curved bananas?

December 1, 2011 at 07:46 PM ·

December 1, 2011 at 09:19 PM · Great! We're seeing some sense at last!

December 1, 2011 at 09:26 PM · Even better news here.

December 1, 2011 at 09:32 PM · coming to their senses is something this bizarre form of non-government does only temporarily. They come up with doozies pretty regularly:

and of course, they are going Bananas over in Brussels or wherever the hell the EU is headquartered:

oh, and don't forget, it is illegal to claim that water helps prevent dehydration;

December 2, 2011 at 04:17 AM · Michael, I share your concern -- indeed, your deep distrust as well ("if they can, they probably will") -- but the OWS bit seems like a non sequitur to me. I have more faith in the AFM, and I know this is on their radar screen.

December 2, 2011 at 06:27 AM · Aquila Corde has blamed its own bad business management on EU regulations. Violin strings are made from sheep gut, which is not banned by EU. *

Some surgical gut may be made from cattle intestine.

*Felis domesticus intestine is serviceable if cattle or sheep are not available.

December 2, 2011 at 06:29 AM · Aquila Corde has blamed its own bad business management on EU regulations. Violin strings are made from sheep gut, which is not banned by EU. *

Some surgical gut may be made from cattle intestine.

*Felis domesticus intestine is serviceable if cattle or sheep are not available.

December 2, 2011 at 07:19 AM · Bill, what about opening a new EU-bashing thread, so those who enjoy this can go there and others can stick to violins.

December 2, 2011 at 12:00 PM · This *is* an EU-bashing thread!

Sorry to hurt your feelings. They are only politicians. Sheesh!

What, where in this thread is the violin prominent?

The actual title says it all: "...d Bach may never again be heard as their composers intended – because of EU rules..." (edited for 'clarity' haha)

I have friends and relatives who are both citizens and residents of EU countries. For some reason, they don't mind bashing the EU...why do you?

December 2, 2011 at 10:35 PM · ...why do you?

It's stupid, and therefore it's boring.

December 3, 2011 at 01:17 AM · then don't read the thread, if it is boring for you...

This discussion has been archived and is no longer accepting responses.

Facebook Twitter YouTube Instagram Email is made possible by...

Shar Music
Shar Music

Yamaha Silent Violin
Yamaha Silent Violin

Pirastro Strings
Pirastro Strings

Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases
Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases

ArmSymphony AI Violin Competition
ArmSymphony AI Violin Competition

Find a Summer Music Program
Find a Summer Music Program Business Directory Business Directory

AVIVA Young Artist Program

Antonio Strad Violin

Bay Fine Strings Violin Shop

Bobelock Cases


Los Angeles Violin Shop

Nazareth Gevorkian Violins

Metzler Violin Shop

Leatherwood Bespoke Rosin



Johnson String Instrument and Carriage House Violins

Potter Violins

String Masters

Bein & Company

Annapolis Bows & Violins

Laurie's Books

Discover the best of in these collections of editor Laurie Niles' exclusive interviews. Interviews Volume 1 Interviews Volume 1, with introduction by Hilary Hahn Interviews Volume 2 Interviews Volume 2, with introduction by Rachel Barton Pine