Gut String Problems

November 22, 2016 at 04:25 PM · Hello,

So I am having problems that I haven't been experiencing before but now the e on my period violin is snapping and I assume it is because of a sharp corner on the scroll or the tailpiece since that is the area it seems to be snapping. This also happens a day or two after installation and this has happened with two strings. I was wondering if anyone can give any advice to help with this as well as preventing any other sources that might lead to the string snapping.

Replies (21)

November 22, 2016 at 04:55 PM · Where is it breaking, that would probably be where the problem is.

November 22, 2016 at 05:04 PM · i mentioned that it was breaking near the tailpiece and scroll so I was assuming that there was a sharp corner somewhere and I was wondering how to prevent that.

November 22, 2016 at 05:24 PM · Sharp corners or edges and long finger nails are about the only things that can cause a gut E (or any gut) to snap. The answer is to take the instrument to a luthier or skilled technician to find out exactly what is causing the problem and to smooth off sharp edges and corners where necessary. It shouldn't be a long job. Note that the E is quite a long string, and if it breaks at the tailpiece end there should be enough string for you to cut off the broken end, tie a new loop, and re-use it.

What I always do when I install a new gut string is to rub soft pencil lead into the bridge and nut grooves so that the string can slide easily without catching during tuning.

In my experience gut Es give ample warning of when their day is coming to an end - fraying starts at various points along the string where the fingers are most active. For a while I find this to be no problem, but eventually it gets to be a distraction in my playing, and that is the stage when I change the string. I have no doubt the string could continue on for quite a while before fraying finally causes it to snap, but I prefer not to explore that region - although, on second thoughts I might try it as an experiment on my practice violin.

The onset of fraying can be delayed by applying a thin smear of almond oil (NOT essence!) to the string, or olive oil if almond isn't available. Or you could try gut strings that have been pre-lacquered. I can't comment on lacquered strings because I've never used them.

Provided there are no sharp edges or corners around, the plain gut A and D last for a very long time. For me I'm talking about 12 months or more, and there's no fraying. There's little significant change in tone, either, unlike covered strings of any kind whose tone usually goes south well short of 6 months. The wire-wound gut G, being a covered string, will start losing its tone sooner than the plain A and D, but, in my experience, nothing like as soon as covered synthetics with their more complex inner structures.

The two or three occasions when I've had a metal E snap weren't at nuts or micro-tuners, but in the peg-box. I can only put those breakages down to metal fatigue brought about by re-using a string transferred from another violin. Moral: never re-use a steel E.

Another thing with the gut E is that it can withstand over-tuning far better than its metal counterparts. I'd be very hesitant about taking a metal E beyond 660Hz, whereas it shouldn't bother a new gut E if it were taken up to F or even F# (as required I believe in one of the Mahler symphonies).

November 22, 2016 at 05:57 PM · A nut groove made for the usual steel E may need to be widened and deepened so the thicker gut E will not get stuck, causing excessive tension in the pegbox as we tighten up to pitch.

November 22, 2016 at 06:19 PM · If this violin is designated for period performances only, it is worth investing in a baroque bridge and tail-piece. In that case, the only possible point of breakage is the nut.

If your pure gut string is not varnished, apply a very little amount of pure almond oil 48 and 24 hours (1 drop of oil & swipe the string between 2 fingers) before installing it. Make sure that the string is not soaked in oil, but just slightly lubricated. Return it to the envelope overnight.

The best way to stretch gut string upon installation is:

1. hold your violin with your left arm securely on your lap

2. place your thumb on the bridge between your point and middle fingers (just like in a fig sign!).

3. Gently pull the string few millimeters up with index (right side of the bridge) and middle (left side of the bridge) fingers, keeping your thumb on the bridge as the opposition.

4. Re-tune.

Repeat in 30-60 minutes.

I replaced varnished e string (Gamut) the other day in the morning and with 3-4 stretches was able to play on it by the end of the day.

November 23, 2016 at 04:06 PM · A couple of useful strategies for first-time users of gut E strings:

This one's important - never pull on a fray thread, you'll only weaken the string and upset its intonation in that area. Use a fine nail scissors to cut off the fraying as close to the string as you can. Doing this will extend the useful life of the string. If you make an unfortunate mistake in the cutting, then the good news is that you won't make it again :)

When musically and technically appropriate I'll often play in higher positions on the A-string instead of using the E. This can save the E unnecessary wear.

November 25, 2016 at 07:59 PM · ... and in a case of emergency, apply a really small amount of nail polish to hold the string together for a couple of hours....

November 26, 2016 at 12:15 PM · Any suggestions for color?

November 26, 2016 at 04:30 PM · Colour? Of what?

November 26, 2016 at 05:50 PM · Quite funny Trevor.

November 26, 2016 at 06:02 PM · transparent, oil-based!

November 28, 2016 at 10:38 PM · I would check the tailpiece. It could just be a matter of filing down a sharp edge. You might already know this, but for those that don't, you cannot use fine tuners with gut strings (only pegs). Fine tuners will certainly snap gut strings. I remember someone who posted on here a while back had this issue.

November 29, 2016 at 09:33 AM · I used Eudoxa strings with a Composite Wittner tailpiece and I had no problems with them. The plastic, perhaps nylon-ish, is fairly soft without sharp edges. I used the knot, not the loop.

November 29, 2016 at 09:56 AM · The knots are generally stronger, and also there are no sharp edges on the Wittner, so you shouldn't have problems in that regard.

November 29, 2016 at 05:02 PM · Aditya: Unless you use a gut E that has to be looped around. That WILL snap, as the Wittner has sharp bumps under the fine-tuning mechanism that is part of the tailpiece.

Dennis: We are talking about pure gut, so no metal winding to protect anything. Just plain ol' cooked spaghettis! :D

November 29, 2016 at 09:35 PM · With all due respect I must say that fine tuners for gut strings are rather impractical, unless the violin's pegs are somewhat unusable (which would generally be very rare). The pitch alteration would be so small so as to miss their point. (This is also the case for synthetics, even if a few performers use a fine tuner for their non-steel core A.) It's not an elitist comment on my part-do what works for you and your instrument-but one really doesn't "need" a composite tailpiece, in my opinion.

If one can't afford a new tailpiece and its fitting, then I understand. You don't need to spend that much to find a working one, though.

There ARE good composite tailpieces, but as far as I remember they are priced in the hundreds, and likely beyond the scope of most players.

As always, it's fair to disagree.

November 30, 2016 at 03:25 AM · Everyone on here is well meaning and has their heart in the right place but what Dennis and Aditya are proposing above is completely wrong. The original question was about a pure gut e string which would either come unknotted or with a loop. You cannot use a tailpiece like Wittner that has fine tuners with pure unwound gut or a wound gut string with a loop end. They simply are not made for gut strings. It would be like trying to drive a golf cart onto the highway or wearing pajamas to a job interview. No, just no. A normal Hill style tailpiece will do the job. Sorry for the rant. :)

November 30, 2016 at 04:22 AM · Well, you could use the ball of the loop as a knot no problem, but, as I said above, the E will snap because Wittgenstein have sharp bumps on the underside, even after removing all the fine tuners. :)

November 30, 2016 at 12:59 PM · A baroque tailpiece is designed for the job of handling pure gut strings. On my Jay Haide I have an ebony one made by a local luthier. It improved the tone and projection immediately, and is also admirably suited for playing without a chin rest, should someone wish to go down that road.

With that baroque tailpiece (which has the traditional thick gut attachment) the A and D have simple knots which are all that are necessary to hold the string, the E is looped, and the loop end provided on the wound G is used as the knot.

On my old violin, also strung 100% with gut, I use the standard Wittner tailpiece which does not have integral tuners. No problems with fitting the strings in the same manner as on the baroque tailpiece, and there is no sign of wear on the E string in the loop area. In view of my success with a baroque tailpiece on the Jay Haide I am considering one for the old violin, thereby pushing it back closer to its original setup.

November 30, 2016 at 03:35 PM · Edit: I was referring to the Wittners that come with four screw-in tuners. They have a sharp ridge on the bottom to catch the end of the fine tuner, which is what damages a gut E.

Other types of Wittner, I don't know what they would do to a gut E (I though there was one kind of "Wittner" that we were referring to). :)

November 30, 2016 at 04:51 PM · For those who are still using fine tuners even for gut/synthetics, I would further add-invest in working pegs whenever that's a problem. Fine tuners were originally designed, as far as I know, for steel strings, whether they are single tuners or integrated tailpieces. Properly working pegs will make you happy, and help you get rid of the need for fine tuners-which are still good for common steel options such as the A and E string, whenever applicable.

If interested in a Baroque setup, the tailpiece suggestion above is good, though the OP may already have one.

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