Does the afterlength rule apply to gut strings?

August 22, 2018, 3:55 AM · Generally, the afterlength on a violin is set to 1/6th the playing length or adjusted until the afterlength on the D string rings in A. I set my violin up this way with synthetics (both 1/6th and the D afterlength tuned to A), but it's obviously all out of whack now with plain guts.
Should I keep it the same or tune the afterlength for this specific kind of gut string?

I would just sit down and experiment, but I don't want to fray my strings. Their life is hard enough as it is.

Replies (9)

August 22, 2018, 5:24 AM · I prefer changing it according to the instrumet and the player, if the player wants the instrument more aggressive, I'll use a long string afterlength, if the player wants to calm down the instrument I will do the opposite .
August 22, 2018, 6:02 AM · Cotton, I originally tuned all my instruments by the same D/A rule as you. Actually, since the silk windings on all metal-would strings affect the afterlength tone (ring) I will accept the pitch match for either of the two lower strings. However I have not checked nor reset the afterlength when changing to different brands.

I might rethink that if I were changing to bare-gut strings and thought the change would be permanent, maybe just move the bridge a bit to see how it affected the sound rather than mess with the tailpiece. I use Kevlar tailcord and changing the lengths (or installing a new one) is a "real piece of work,"

As far as what Manfio said, I would want to bring out EVERYTHING possible from each of my instruments - unless that EVERYTHING sounds unpleasant.

Edited: August 22, 2018, 3:21 PM · Nowadays I take a fairly pragmatic approach to the 1/6 playing length theory, leaving it to my luthier to set things up as he sees and hears fit. Gives me more time to play the violin. The problem with 1/6 playing length is that it is a mathematical concept that "works" fine with mathematically ideal strings (which don't exist in the real world), bridges which don't distort, move or vibrate (again which don't exist), and tailpieces that aren't mathematically perfect.

Things that would have to be taken into consideration when applying the 1/6 "rule" in the real world include, a bridge that may be slightly distorted and perhaps not accurately installed (this is where we need the luthier), strings with windings (which we already know about), and the significant "dead" regions at ends of the string where it leaves the bridge and the tailpiece. The dead regions should in theory be taken into account when measuring the vibrating length of the string. The length of the dead region depends on the thickness and stiffness of the string, so you're looking at at least 1mm at each end of the afterlength that isn't contributing to the perceived pitch of the string. This is a significant proportion of the afterlength, which is of course much shorter than the bridge-nut length.

What it boils down to is that with a lot of fiddling around you "may" be able to get the A/D afterlengths as per the magic 1/6, but probably not the theoretically equally important G/D at the same time; and vice versa. Forget about the E's afterlength - its vibrating frequency is in the region of 4kHz (depending on the winding) and is too weak to be heard as a resonance.

I should also mention that anyone considering applying the 1/6 "rule" to plain gut strings should consider whether they're using tied loops or securing knots analogous to a ball end. A gut E has to have a loop end (a knot end is impracticable for that thickness), but the others can be used with either. A gut A with a tied loop end isn't uncommon. A wound gut G usually comes with a pre-installed loop end, so it can be used either way. The wound gut G normally has silk winding on the afterlength, but I've come across, and am using, a copper wound gut G by Savarez. This comes in double length, so when you use the other half which has no loop and afterlength winding you have to tie your own knot in the end. It's quite effective.

August 22, 2018, 8:53 AM · Those are, in fact, the only strigs when one can have a 100% proper after-length. There is no winding to affect the distance.
Edited: August 22, 2018, 11:13 AM · That was very kind of LUIS CLAUDIO MANFIO, a Luthier, to provide useful and informative information.
August 22, 2018, 1:02 PM · Mr. Manfios violas are beauties and anyone that wants to see pictures of them can go to Maestronet.com and search for Manfios Bench.
August 22, 2018, 3:51 PM · In my experience, there can be many different afterlengths which enhance the tone and playability of an instrument. The various major "sweet spots" tend to be about two millimeters apart, and all give slightly different outcomes.

The 1/6th (or about 54.5 to 55 mm afterlength is a good starting spot on most violins, and then you take it from there..

August 22, 2018, 9:17 PM · I adjusted mine today to 55-ish mm and I hated the sound. I went back to 52-53mm, which was a sweeter sound. As David and Luis said, it’s instrument and player specific.
August 22, 2018, 9:30 PM · 1/6th rule to make the after length especially resonate with the played length is fine if you are just playing open strings. As soon as you drop a finger on the string the after length ceases to be 1/6th the playing length and all your careful setup ceases to cause any special ringing.

Mostly, the after length is used to adjust the resistance of the bridge to the bowed strings. As Luis and David mentioned, 1/6th is just a starting point to find a resistance that works "best" for the violin and strings.

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