Gut Strings

January 21, 2014 at 06:40 PM · I’m considering getting a set of pure gut strings for my violin, and I had a couple questions for those of you who use/have used them.

I have used Evah Pirazzi strings for many years now. I’ve been fairly happy with them overall, but I don’t really like their response (the A and the E in particular), especially after the first month of playing them. They quickly become dull and lose their color. And for the amount of time they last, they’re rather expensive. Recently, I got to thinking that it would be a good idea to experiment with other strings. After researching it, I thought, what about pure gut strings?

I love the warm tone that they give, and I’m thinking maybe I should give them a try. I have heard that they are difficult to play on because of their different tension and response to bow pressure. Is this correct? Do they hold up for any length of time, or do you have to replace them often? Do they require extra care to stay in shape? Also, my understanding is that the top three strings come without ends on them, so that you have to tie them yourself. Is there a certain way I need to attach the E string to the prong on my fine tuner?

Lastly, what brand of strings would you recommend? I’m looking at Kurschner and Chorda. Do you have any preference, or other suggestions? What gauge do you prefer?

I’d appreciate any ideas you have for me! Thanks!

Replies (20)

January 21, 2014 at 09:05 PM · Hi,

there are many threads on this site concerning this topic that discuss the questions you ask in great detail.

Cheers,

Buri

January 21, 2014 at 09:13 PM · They're wonderful, but I only use them on my baroque violin. Only because they are finicky, need constant tuning, and are very sensitive to temperature changes and humidity. They also have to be changed often because they fray and I don't want to spend money to keep changing so many strings on 2 violins. And I do really enjoy moving from one violin to the other and enjoying the power of both. They're also not as "loud" as synthetic strings so if you're playing chamber music with other musicians who are using synthetic strings you'll have trouble blending your sound and being heard.

But they are worth a shot and I love my gut strings. I favor Aquila and Toro strings and order them here http://shop.stringking.net/ I used to use Dlugoleckis and they are good too, you'll have to contact him directly to order those. I've tried Gamut as well, not a huge fan for my instrument. The world of gut strings can be confusing and you may have to try a few different gauges before you find what's right for you. There's some terminology you'll come across that may be confusing but I found that the guys at stringking are very helpful via email.

If you want to use a gut E you'll have to remove the metal brace from the tailpiece.

January 21, 2014 at 10:13 PM · Hi Emma,

I've been using the Tricolore pure gut D&A strings (same strings/setup Heifetz and my teacher used) made by Gamut. They also make a very good silver wound gut G. http://www.gamutstrings.com/catalog.html?Tp=2&Vl=89&submit=Go%21 I recommend using a wound gut G string such as the Tricolore or Eudoxa with this setup as opposed to a synthetic G, and a medium steel E such as the Goldbrokat or Wondertone by Pirastro (which Aaron Rosand says is very good).

I don't have much experience with plain gut E's. I've used a gut E, maybe once or twice. They do have a very sweet sound and blend very well when you play open strings. Players around the beginning the 20th Century, began using steel E's with the other 3 gut strings. You will find lots of period baroque ensembles using the gut E still, and I think they really can make baroque music sound especially nice.

Gamut's pure gut, is in my opinion the very best on the market for a modern/non baroque setup. I tried Dlugolecki, but the pitch stability and touch is not as desirable in my opinion on my violin. The Chorda strings by Pirastro aren't good at all for the most part. They have absolutely no pitch stability whatsoever, and go false. Many of them just sit around for years in a warehouse (these strings have a shelf life). With pure gut, you need to get them fresh. Pirastro's wound gut strings, on the other hand, are very good from my experience.

If you get your pure gut strings from Gamut, you can have them add varnish to the strings, which protects the string against any humidity or moisture and they stay very in tune (even during the summer). Once stretched, it is not a problem to play in tune on them. Some great artists of the past seemed to find a way to play in tune on gut (so there's a way).

You can get the strings made with a loop end or if you want to knot your own ends they can come as plain ends. If you do go with gut, you will have to remove any fine tuners.

From my experience, having used Evah Pirazzi before, the string life for Tricolores is actually longer. I've had my current set on for about 2 months now.

The sound is also tremendous in many aspects. They are very powerful, focused, and sound more vocal in my opinion compared to synthetic strings. Contrary to the (incorrect) popular belief, these strings work very well on modern/non baroque setup (listen to Heifetz, Milstein, Erick Friedman, or Aaron Rosand recordings for affirmation).

January 21, 2014 at 10:20 PM · Hi,

so anyways I love gut strings and have even gone as far as using a gut e. That is a unique and beautiful sound that has virtually disappeared from the world of the violin. a gut e has a kind or warmth and depth which is utterly ecsquisite. I once had a theory that composers such as Dvorak wrote a lot of passages which could only be played easily with open e string sound because at that time you could play them in orchestra and you wouldn't be fired on the spot..

I have done a few recitals using the e string . But they were ultimately abandoned with good reason. they are not quite up to the demands of modern bowing and break just once to often. Szigeti once said that in the old days it was quite normal for a violinist to stop in the middle of a piece when his string broke, wander off and put a new one on and then start again where he left off......

The snapping noise is interesting by the way....

The climate here does not suit gut that well but I don't think gut strings are as unreliable as some people say.. it also use to be a feature of older player that they could adapt their intonation very quickly as a string went out. With today's mode strings a majority of players do not have this skill and whine about 'my violin went out of tune' when they should have dealt with the problem instead.

at the end of the day I can get the best of both worlds by using

Passiones but then it does depend on the instrument blah blah blah

cheers,

Buri

Sorry Marina, didn't know you were going to post they were unreliable ;)

January 21, 2014 at 11:20 PM · They're very reliable. But they don't last long. And when one has a lot of gigs they don't hold up for long. Baroque players are more forgiving when you have to tune 17 times in the first 20 minutes of rehearsal, modern orchestra conductors are nt so understanding.

January 21, 2014 at 11:36 PM · I used pure, unwound gut strings on my baroque violin. They were expensive and only lasted two weeks before they started falling apart. I don't know how to take care of gut strings, so maybe there's a way to make them last longer. I don't know.

January 22, 2014 at 12:03 AM · From my experience, If you get the right kind of gut, with varnish added guys, there's no reason they shouldn't last for 2-3 months. The problem is that these strings have varying levels of craftsmanship and freshness depending on where you get them from. Pirastro. Chorda (being probably the worst plain gut string in my opinion), is what many of my friends have tried 1st, because it is the only pure gut string sold at the big online string retailers, and they form their opinion about gut unfortunately this way.

January 22, 2014 at 12:40 AM · Nate, the Pirastros are what I used. I guess I'll need to try something else next time.

January 22, 2014 at 01:49 AM · I cannot altogether agree with Nate's perception of Pirastro plain gut. For the past few months I've been using on my orchestral violin the same set of plain gut A and D, a covered gut (Chorda) G, topped with a Goldbrokat E. The A and G are Pirastro, and the D is Savarez because for some reason the Pirastro D doesn't sound as well on that particular violin. The combination projects well in orchestra.

Regarding stability of tuning I have no complaints whatsoever. For instance, last Saturday I played in a 2-hour concert with no need to adjust the tuning except for a slight tweak to the D once or twice between pieces. The strings have behaved just as well in three 2-hour orchestral rehearsals since.

I look after my strings on more than one level: I have a light finger touch on the strings, a fairly low action (but not too low), and I regularly rub the strings down with a fine chamois moistened with almond oil. I used to use olive oil, but a respected source here recommended a change to almond oil. Many drug stores (pharmacies in the UK) should stock it; if not, an aromatherapy store certainly will. The result of this attention is that there is no fraying of the strings, and the tuning is stable. No change in tone, either.

I have considered the Gamut strings, of which I've heard nothing but good reports, but where I live they are unfortunately not all that easily obtainable, whereas my respected local violin dealer (who repairs and makes, as well) always has in stock the strings I use.

I am primarily an amateur orchestral player (with some ceili band playing on the side), while Nate, I understand, is at the concert master/soloist level, so I would expect him to use the best. Why then should I, an amateur orchestral player, use gut? I suppose it's because I like the tone and playability better than any other string I've use; they are reliable, last well, and are relatively inexpensive.

Perhaps Nate and I are looking for different things from our strings. Horses for courses, perhaps.

January 22, 2014 at 01:58 AM · Stephen, I have it in mind to have another go at the gut E, which I have enjoyed using as much as you do, and have stopped using them for much the same reasons. And this time I intend to use a heavy gauge gut E, which I would expect to last longer. But first, I'll ask the advice of our new chamber orchestra conductor, Dennis Simons, who knows rather a thing or two about violins!

January 22, 2014 at 03:06 AM · Chorda strings don't seem to like being tuned up to modern pitch - Gamut and Aquila strings are easier to come by in higher gauges than Chorda, which are better able to withstand modern playing (whereas heavier gauge Chorda strings would have to be special ordered, and the ones that are readily available in shops are not meant to be tuned to A440 and will only last most players a day or two at their best)

January 22, 2014 at 03:27 AM · Greetings,

nice to hear Dennis Simons is still alive and kicking. Great player.

Cheers,

Buri

January 22, 2014 at 04:08 AM · Emma,

you have got quite a few very good advices so far....

As someone who have used pure gut string in past 7 years, and compared them to Eudoxa, Olive, Passione and Lenzner Supersolo, I would say that there are 2 major areas worth attention when switching to pure gut strings:

1st - instrument setup and the instrument itself; most of the modern violins are setup to support strings based on synthetic or metal core. This does not only mean higher average tension, but also the action (string clearance), the shape of the bridge and the nut. In other words, if you are serious about switching and want the best sound of your violin, pay a visit to a trusted luthier experienced in this type of setup. If you are happy with current sound, the gauge of pure gut strings should produce similar tension to the strings you have been using.

Total string tension in Kp for Evah Pirazzi is 22.2 (E= 7.8, A=5.6. D=4.4, G=4.4) So, to replace Evah and keep the same tension, you will need the following diameters: E 0.64, A 0.82, D 1.08 and G 1.62 ( this is on a rather thick side!)

(http://www.gamutstrings.com/calculators/calculator.htm)

(http://www.gamutstrings.com/catalog.html?Vl=1&Tp=2)

2nd - the player; you will have to adjust your bowing technique and perhaps the way your fingers fall on strings. Depending on the setup, response time may or may not be very different from other types of strings, but the sound production is different. You can not force your violin (the way you can with synthetic core strings) and that is a good thing. Pure gut strings are very beneficial for developing a good bowing technique. As with any other type of strings, a proper combination of speed, contact point and natural heaviness of your arm applied trough the system of springs (shoulder, elbow, wrist and fingers) is essential for a good sound production. Regarding your left hand, playing with finger pads instead of tips is more important with gut strings.

The choice of brand is a very personal one; I have had mixed experienced with some brands, but mainly because of poor setup (wrong gauge) or the poor storage condition of strings. Some of them lasted quite a long, while the others fried as soon as I put them on and there was nothing I could do to save them.

Almond oil used sparingly, especially before you put the sting on the first time, can extend their average life span. Nails can damage pure gut in no time. If acidity of your sweat is high, go with varnished strings.

Using pure gut strings is something I would encourage every violinist to do. Despite of their instability, the richness of the sound is worth all the troubles. Our instrument was designed for them. Lastly, try to find other players with same setup; if your are surrounded with Evah Pirazzi lovers, sooner or later you will start pushing your violin and your sound will deteriorate.

February 24, 2014 at 10:17 PM · Thanks so much for all of your responses! I went with Tricolore strings, as Nate suggested, plus a Goldbrokat E.

Wow!

I had seen many threads on strings where you guys talked about the Goldbrokat E, but I never tried it myself. I've just realized what I've been missing out on all these years! I love the tone and response, and it compliments my violin's sound very well. I don't think it will ever be necessary for me to experiment with E strings further. It's perfect.

The Tricolore silver-wound G was rather pricy, but definately worth it for the beautiful sound. It is warm, rich, and full. It's a lot thinner than I had expected (although I honestly didn't know what I was up for when I ordered my strings!), so it will take a little bit to adjust to the slightly softer tention.

Since I just got this set today, none of the strings are fully "broken in," and the pure gut strings especially (A and D) are sounding- well, like new strings. Besides the "new string" sound, they are very well focused, and I am able to get a good amount of volume from them. I had expected them to be extremely warm. They are, but at this point I probably wouldn't describe them as a warm string. I'd say that they're very focused, with a wonderful dynamic and range and a beautiful tone color that I have not seen in synthetic or steel strings.

If this set of strings continues to work well, I will probably continue using them. I may experiment with different string tentions (particularly on the D string), but I've got something to work from.

It was very helpful to have help from all of you. I don't know anyone who uses (or has used) gut strings, plus I don't have a teacher at the moment, so your suggestions are extremely valuable to me.

February 25, 2014 at 03:58 AM · I used an all-gut rig for the first time last summer-- a modern instrument tuned down to about 430 for a Rossini opera. The only really annoying part was getting the E tuned without the metal tuner. Other than that, they were surprisingly stable after break-in, and quite durable. Of course, that's just me. My stand partner went through something like 7 A strings over the production, including about one per performance (a change being required during the show). He said he sweated a lot, although he also used unvarnished Pirastros which might have had something to do with it.

An unexpected benefit-- by having a well-focused but less obviously brilliant sound under the ear, it became easier to get pitch right. That is, if it was even slightly wrong, it sounded awful. So if you tend to work sharp, this can be a useful corrective. Modern strings give the same information, but it's often hidden under flashy overtones.

An interesting tidbit I found on a manufacturer's website (or the leaflet they sent with strings)-- apparently, there were German orchestras that put a requirement for gut E strings into their violinists' contracts as late as the 1920s. Those steel strings could really clang if you were using the old-style fingerings and bow technique!

February 25, 2014 at 06:57 AM · I think oliv stiff are amazing strings. On my instrument they are actually louder and more responsive than say evah or vision solo.

The tuning isn't so bad, my issue came from other musicians I play with (cellists especially) using spirocores or evahs and just drowning me out.

I feel the quality of sound is unsurpassable however.

March 13, 2014 at 12:28 PM · Pure gut strings? Ask Paganini! He should know a thing or two about using gut strings!(Okay, I kid. Also, I don't believe in that urban legend.)

I have violinist friends who have used and are using pure gut and your concerns are valid. They've complained about the unreliable tuning for a few too many times. Somehow they always prefer using it, especially those with lots of ancient music in their repertoire. It just sounds more authentic on these pieces. Otherwise, if the downsides of using pure gut inconvenience you more than they should, go for synthetic core - it has a gut-like tone and also benefits from a more stable intonation.

March 13, 2014 at 08:30 PM · As I may have mentioned some time ago, I've been using a heavy Goldbrokat E with Pirastro gut Chorda A, D and G orchestrally for quite a while now. I have no concerns about tuning stability over at least a 2-hour rehearsal or concert. I find the gut strings require no more tuning attention (perhaps even less) than synthetics I've used in the past. Anyway, I take the view that it is always the player's responsibility, by controlling finger placement, to play in tune despite what the strings may decide to do at the time.

A previous poster commented that Pirastro plain gut strings don't last, apparently only a few days in some cases. From personal experience I cannot agree with that. I am using the same Chorda strings I put on last summer. They show no significant sign of wear or tonal deterioration despite a weekly playing schedule comprising 8 hours orchestral rehearsal (at A-440 of course), a 1-hour lesson, and a resultant several hours of practice. I expect the strings to last well into Spring before replacement.

If a player gets poor usage out of plain gut (other than the E!) there are a number of explanations, including: damage by finger nails, pressing the strings down too hard, and the grooves in the nut/bridge are ill-shaped and not lubricated well with graphite. I find it helps the life of the plain gut string to rub a little oil into it using a fine chamois; I used to use olive oil until I was advised here to try almond oil, which is definitely superior. I also attach the strings to the tailpiece with a loop, rather than a single knot, on the grounds that by wrapping the string round an area of the tailpiece the holding friction is distributed over a longer length and there is less stress on the string when it makes a sharp turn at the hole in the tailpiece. Whereas, with the knot system the knot is the sole means of holding the string in place and the whole tension of the string is concentrated at the edge of the hole.

March 14, 2014 at 09:45 AM · Greetings,

>go for synthetic core - it has a gut-like tone

Respectfully suggest this is absolutely not true.

Cheers,

Buri

March 14, 2014 at 01:05 PM · Re Whiskers on gut strings (to say nothing of "whiskers on kittens"). I must say that my current Chorda A and D show no signs of whiskers in the bridge-nut region after several months of playing. There are some small whiskers on the A's after-length, but these are evidently due to the use of the Tourte mute. I put the absence of whiskers in the main part of the strings down to: a soft and light finger touch on the strings (my nails are short), a lowish action (but not too low), and treating the strings regularly with sweet almond oil. Pirastro Chordas are not varnished, although polished during manufacture. Savarez gut strings, on the other hand, are described as "oiled", but my tonal preference is for the Chorda.

The new conductor of my chamber orchestra, an eminent violinist and teacher, remarked that in his day they would shave the whiskers off the strings, although he didn't say whether the razor used was a cut-throat, a safety, or an electric.

Steven, I thoroughly agree with your comment that synthetic cores do not sound like gut. Despite what the manufacturers say in their marketing, they are not there yet, and nowhere near. I don't think they'll reach that objective until a material is designed that is 100% identical to animal gut in all respects down to the molecular level - a very expensive and quite unnecessary exercise, given the easy availability of animal gut and the reliable centuries-old technology of making gut strings.

I haven't used covered gut at the levels beyond Eudoxa (an unnecessary expense since I'm not a soloist) but, having used Eudoxas in the past and comparing them with plain gut, I get the impression that a little of the magic of plain gut is missing if it gets covered with a metal layer, although Eudoxas are clearly and unmistakably gut.

The Chorda G has a different sound and feel to the Eudoxa G - a beautiful low purr, reminds me of a contented cat. I think a possible reason for this that the Chorda is wire-wound, unlike the Eudoxa which is flat-wound; and the Chorda winding may also be structurally simpler than that of the Eudoxa, although I have no definite information on this. Anyone who has played guitar will be aware of the different tonal qualities arising from the two different kinds of winding.

Finally, I always say "Thank you!" when passing by a field of sheep.

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