Tips on playing gut strings?

Edited: July 23, 2017, 5:52 PM · I just got my violin repaired and had the luthier set it up with my first-ever set of gut strings. I'd never even seen them up close before, but I have known for awhile that inevitably I would try them, so that time has come. I've had the violin with gut strings for 9 days now.

Here's the set I've got:

* Equal Tension Violin G-4 Pistoy Gut Heavy
* Equal Tension Violin D-3 Pistoy Gut Heavy
* Equal Tension Violin a-2 Gut Heavy
* Equal Tension Violin e-1 Gut .52mm

I know I'll have to experiment with different gauges to eventually find what sounds best on my fiddle, but I had to start somewhere and these were as close to a matching set as I could get from Gamut's "Overstock" page where prices were about half of their normal. I don't have a lot of money and in fact still owe the luthier a few more payments of $100 per month.

BACKGROUND: I've been teaching myself to play for about 27 months, and after the first year of omnivorous samplings of sheet music, I decided to focus on baroque because that is the period/style that most touches my soul. I especially like early baroque, 17th century stuff, but I also have some Handel sonatas I play. I concentrate the most on the Corelli op.5 sonatas, but have a bunch of less well-known 17th century stuff I turn to to keep variety.

I have the benefit of living close to New Haven, so I have been to hundreds of concerts and recitals at the Yale School of Music, observing up close many baroque ensembles (including baroque opera) where I sit up front to study the instruments and how the musicians hold and play them. I'll never be like them, as I work full time as an electrician and I'm a single dad so I'm lucky to practice almost every day --and I don't have a teacher and I have no one to play with-- so its all just me and the sheet music. But I persist and I know how much progress I've made.

Gradually I've been trying to move into a more authentic approach to playing baroque violin, so about a year ago I abandoned the shoulder rest and soon thereafter I also removed the chin rest. When I did this on my 1924 violin it exposed several cracks that were hidden underneath, so I took it to a local luthier and paid him $1,000 to fix the cracks, replace the existing block with one made of willow wood, and custom fit a new bridge. Since he was going to set it all up as part of the rebuild, I figured that would be the time to try gut strings, so I bought a set online from Gamut strings and had them sent direct to the luthier, who put them on but, to my surprise, expressed some unfamiliarity with them and so never tightened them to tune it. (Surprise because he won a prize for a violin he made that is a reproduction baroque violin, and he explicitly advertises his new built-to-order $18,000 - $20,000 violins as copies of a certain stradivarius instrument).

In fact when I got the repaired violin back from him, the bridge was slanted under the loose strings, and got worse as I first twisted the pegs to tighten the strings. Pretty soon I loosened all the strings to move the bridge myself and try to stand it up. Not long after (maybe the next day), as I was tuning I was startled by a loud crash and thought a string had broke but to my relief what had really happened was the bridge had fallen down. So again I loosened the strings and stood it up, and now the bridge seems pretty vertical and stable.

EXPERIENCE SO FAR: After maybe a week of spending much of each session just tuning (stretching) the strings, in the last few days they've been almost in tune when I pick up the instrument, so I more quickly tune and get on with actually playing.

Mostly these strings are not so much harder to play but they seem less responsive (ie, slower to do what I tell them to do, delaying the catch of the bow and the sounding of the tone). Especially the big fat G string really wants to screech and I have to slow down a lot to get real musical tone out of it. Usually it takes some fraction of a second or more to catch, so first it screeches and then I get tone. The bow does not seem to naturally grip it so hopefully this is an exercise in developing better technique. Already I've discerned that the closer to the bridge my bow runs, the screechier it gets, so I'm moving towards the fingerboard more than I used to play.

Another issue I'm addressing is that G string is so fat that when I play a double-stop with the G and D, I can't press with the tip of my finger because the top (finger touch point) of the G is so much higher than that of the D. So I end up hitting it by bringing my index finger down on a slant so I have a wider finger surface (the side more than the tip) I can use to also press the D. It works, but I'm not used to playing that way!

PLEASE any tips on playing gut strings will be most appreciated!

Replies (35)

July 23, 2017, 6:44 PM · Will, I'm surprised, has you were, that the luthier did not take the time to tune the strings and position the bridge for you. How would he be certain all was good? What about the sound post position?

I too experimented with gut strings a few month ago. I liked them but found they did not hold tune very long at all and had a fairly short life span. I have decided to compromise and experiment with strings that are supposed to be similar sounding to gut but synthetic. I am currently trying Jargar Superior Medium and I like them.

Good luck with it all and let us know what you think.

Edited: July 23, 2017, 7:30 PM · A few year ago my luthier shrugged on my question regarding the equal tension strings and said: they sound like a goat's fart!
I am not sure that your violin will sound good with tension re-distribution; in modern setup, e-string is the most tense, but with equal tension, pressure, well, tends to equalize. This, in turn may be hit or miss, depending on violin's design and bridge setup. It is very important that the overall tension does not exceed previous tension or the average tension of modern strings! I hope that with those heavy strings you did not try to tune to 440Hz!
Apart from that challenge.... one quickly learns that one can not push violin with gut strings - violin plays on itself if we know how to find the best contact point and speed. Pressure never works with gut strings and they are your best friend when it comes to improving bow technique.
Practice open strings with metronome set to 60/min and play 8 beats - 2 beats per 1/4 of your bow. Change "tracks" (the width of bow's hair) from the one closest to bridge to the last one just above the fingerboard.
Once that works, increase to 10 beats, experiment with crescendo and diminuendo. Once you find that good sound, try to remember and keep producing it once you start playing something else. Go back to open strings at least once per practice, in duration of 10-20 minutes.
July 23, 2017, 7:35 PM · Agree with Rocky, and most violins, including those of strad etc were built with scaled tension,where the E is most tense, just like a modern violin. :)

So, make the next set non-equal temsion. :D

But, also pure gut needs to be sunk in with the bow a bit, like an elastic band that needs to be pulled on to shoot at an annoying acquaintance. :D

No skimming over like with synthetics. Also, stickier rosin, and apply a few light swipes before each practive session, ensures optimum sound without all the effort (stickiest rosin is Oliv).

And, use of speed over pressure, but also use quite a bit less bow (since you are pulling the string, not gliding on them).

To get accustomed, practice on the D string by trying to play ppp with light slow bows. Once thisis consistent, since the D is the tricky string, it establishes the "feel" for the whole set.

Good luck!

July 23, 2017, 8:23 PM · Timothy, I agree that it was strange he did not tune the strings even just to prove the violin sounds good after his repair of cracks and installing a new block and bridge. Hence my surprise, especially since it seemed to me someone who builds reproduction baroque violins ought to be well-acquainted with gut strings. But I tend to be a non-interrogational person, so I just accepted his explanation that he was not very familiar with the strings ("maybe you'll oil them before tightening", etc) and I should get advice from an expert player we both know (who I took 3 lessons with last year).

Rocky, YES, but since I'm not yet a good player even on "easy" synthetic strings, and only tried these gut strings about 7 times so far, I attribute the "goat's fart" sound to my own lack of skill. Regarding tension, the luthier commented that this violin could take a lot of tension, but I did not develop that discussion because I have no idea how to compare the tension of these strings to the Dominants I had on it before. Regarding tuning, I calibrated my Tascam tuner to a 415A and selected Pythagorean scale and tuned to that. So all in all, I'm not worried there is too much tension but I understand that different instruments sound best under different tensions. In fact, I noticed Gamut has a calculator online

and I read in one of their articles (read at least the 2nd half to understand the method):

that a way to determine the best tension for your instrument is to ignore tuning for an experiment: just keep changing the tension of a string while playing it open to find where your string "feels most responsive" and then plug in that string and frequency and nut-to-bridge length to the calculator and it will determine the tension. (Unfortunately I don't have that kind of frequency meter!) Then tell the calculator what frequency you want in your A and it will recommend the gauge string for your pitch, length and tension combination. Its something I will eventually get to, perhaps to select my next set of strings. Thanks much for the exercise in tracking and dynamics...I've never tried anything like it and will try it as soon as I finish posting this comment.

AO, this violin was made in 1924 in Chicago (though the luthier says he suspects it was made in Germany and shipped to Chicago for final assembly and varnishing there so the local label could be affixed), so its neither a Strad nor a copy of a baroque instrument. But I bet your comment on uneven tensions is valid with this instrument too, so next time I'll try a more mixed set. Meanwhile I will soon take your advice and ask the local string shop (Audubon Strings" in New Haven) for their stickiest rosin. Also I so far (which isn't yet very far for me) agree with you that the gut strings need real engagement with the bow, which I would call pressure and which you call "sunk in with the bow a bit," which seems to me a contradiction to Rocky's obviously highly experienced comment that "one can not push violin with gut strings - violin plays on itself if we know how to find the best contact point and speed. Pressure never works with gut strings..." Certainly I already believe him that "they are your best friend when it comes to improving bow technique" because suddenly I've been forced to pay very close attention to my bowing whereas for all my time before (on synthetic strings) I never understood why everybody seemed to talk and concern themselves so much with bowing when it seemed to always work without much attention from me. Now I am studying how to use the bow so the strings will actually sound musical instead of...well, ...what Rocky said.

OK, now I'll close this computer and pick that fiddle back up and see what my ears hear my fingers doing with the bow under various pressures and tracks and speeds....

Edited: July 24, 2017, 9:13 AM · I'd just like to post a quick notice here that might help with the terminology controversy.
I think that "pressure" refers to hand pressure, which is when we use the muscles in our hand to purposely press on the bow stick and push it into the string that way. This behaviour is not appropriate at all, even when we play on synthetic strings. Actually, and this applies to synthetic strings too, the weight of the arm should push the bow in to the strings. The fingers are the middleman. They are firmly against the bow stick. However, all of the arm and hand muscles are relaxed—the weight of the arm is pushing the fingers against the bow stick. In other words, we lean on the bow.
By the way, do you use a Baroque bow.
July 24, 2017, 11:34 AM · Yes Ella, I do have a baroque-style bow. It's short and light and wispy-quick, like a little sports car! I procured it for $200 through an expert professional violinist who has a dealer friend. I know nothing of its origins but I love it!

And thank you for the explanation of bow-pressure, all coming from the weight of the arm and hand "leaning on the bow" rather than from any muscle exertion pushing the bow down onto the strings. Later today when I pick up my violin, I'll pay close attention to what I've been doing and try to make any adjustments if necessary. All I can say now by remembering playing is that the big fat G string (it looks like a little rope!) certainly requires bow pressure from some source! Otherwise the bow glides as if glancing right off, with the most horrible screeching sound.

All 4 strings can give a little "crunch" before the bow takes proper grip, probably desirable to bluegrass players but in classical it makes me grimace!

Edited: July 24, 2017, 11:51 AM · @Will: By "sink in", I mean the slight depression that the bow has to make into the strings to get them to speak. Often, people playing on gut think response is slow and volume bad because they skim over them like synthetics.

Similarly, their flexibility means that a small but nice sounding chiff should be present at the start of each detached note, which only happens if the "sinking" motion is engaged. This does not mean unneeded pressure or weight, but the bow must lightly flex the string down in terms of contact to get it going (thus the elastic band analogy). :D

It is similar to lightly pressing down something against a grater with the wrist right before you apply all the force to it. :)

Edited: July 24, 2017, 12:02 PM · You'll get much better sound with a silver wound gut G, which is the authentic type of string for baroque. Unwound Gut G strings are only authentic for renaissance music and are rather disappointing from what I've heard

Does your baroque bow bow flat or slightly outward under tension, if not, and it bows inward like a modern bow, its one of those cheapo Chinese rip offs, not baroque style at all.

Edited: July 24, 2017, 12:11 PM · You can pay a lot of money for a baroque silver wound G from the best suppliers, or you can save money and just use a Eudoxa G (silver wound gut core), the difference is not that much, of course with heavy stringing you'd want to use the Stark.
July 24, 2017, 12:07 PM · Equal tension is a load of crxp, you want equal volume to the four strings, not equal tension.
Edited: July 24, 2017, 1:44 PM · Thanks for the tips, Lyndon. Surely over time I will experiment with different strings and different gauges of those strings. I want to approach authentic baroque music as best I can, but it will always be as an amateur with very practical limitations of money and education.

According to Oliver Webber,

metal-winding of strings was invented in the 1650s to improve resonance on lower-quality lower strings, and the invention was "by no means universally taken up." Webber argues that equal (longitudinal, not finger pressure resistance or "feel") tension was the practice until the mid to late 18th century, when violin design changed (higher bridge, more angled neck, larger bass bar) to accommodate higher tension in the higher strings as the range of notes also went higher. Before that, the use of equal tension necessitated fatter low strings than we are used to today. Certainly the "equal tension" Gamut set I have bears that out, as the G looks and feels like a miniature rope, especially due to the "Pistoy" winding method used by Gamut.

Regarding "equal volume," Webber also says that "Equal tension naturally alters the balance of the instrument, because the increased tension on the lower strings means that they make a greater contribution to the overall sound of the instrument. In other words, the instrument is equally balanced throughout its range, rather than being biased towards the treble."

I expect I'll never have an "authentic" baroque violin, nor an authentic baroque style, because I am a full-time electrician of modest means, who never has and probably never will go to music school, so my foray into playing baroque is purely out of love and adventure, not to be confused with a non-existent pretension towards pure authenticity or professionalism. My "good" violin was made in 1924 and thus is not of baroque design, and based on your criteria of bow shape, neither is my "baroque-style" bow of authentic design, though both feel great in my naive and loving hands. My 2004 Romanian student violin actually feels and sounds just as good to my naive ears, though the luthier says my 1924 Chicago violin is worth 20 to 30 times as much! No doubt the twisting of the bow tension is also inauthentic in my "baroque" bow, as I've seen on some bow-maker websites they used to prop the hairs with a little thumb lever to give tension. Soon I will at least have an authentically shaped bow, which will come with a very inauthentic lira da braccio another luthier is now crafting for me. Inauthentic in that it will have a sound post and is not fashioned from a single piece of wood, but it will look beautiful and have 7 strings (5 on fingerboard plus 2 drones) and will challenge me to find a way to make pleasant improvisational chordal accompaniments to poetry of mine own and of others, whose lines I will find melodies of my own to sing.

July 24, 2017, 1:33 PM · When humans put their mind to it, they can accomplish wonderful achievements that often they didn't expect or know they were capable of. Keep up your violinistic ventures-age is overrated and technically not a real obstacle.
Edited: July 24, 2017, 1:52 PM · You have to be really careful who's advice you take when it comes to baroque instruments, for instance it sounds like someone charged you $200 for a fake Chinese baroque bow that sells for $40 on ebay, you can easily find "experts" who recommend ridiculous stuff that makes playing much more difficult, the heavy string craze is another dead end IMHO. I order my strings from Damien Dlugolecki and specify that the tension matches dominant mediums, with silver wound G and plain gut D A and e. Stringing heavier than that can damage some instruments, for others it may work just as with heavy strings like Evah Pirrazi, it sounds like there is a reason the strings you bought were in sale on the overstock category, Damien charges me about $75 for a set with double length A and e strings

There is no such thing as a baroque bow that bows in like a modern violin, except under no tension, the Tourte invention around 1800 was a bow that bowed in not out. I suggest you get a proper baroque bow, I think Shar sells one that bows out for around $200, still Chinese but made to bow properly. You'll never learn proper baroque bow technique with a bow that bows in like a modern. Good Luck, sounds like you're going to need it.

July 24, 2017, 2:21 PM · Well Lyndon, I've been an idiot dupe for 51 years now and loving it most of the time, but thanks for bringing in pomposity and purity, it balances us out I suppose.
Edited: July 24, 2017, 3:25 PM · I'm definitely not calling you an idiot, I'm just warning you that not all people in the baroque scene give sound good advice, like the person that sold you that bow. You'd be better off to get advice from the performers that are actually making really good sounding baroque music and ask them what strings, bow etc they use. Internet experts are dime a dozen, I'm not even a player but I do run a violin shop and I specialize in Baroque, transitional and Modern violins. I know how to set them up, and have sold quite few. Sorry if I come off as pompous or pushy, I'm just trying to be informative. For instance if you were to interview a prominent baroque ensemble, I don't think you are going to find anyone using plain gut G strings, maybe if their specialty was renaissance music, but not with baroque IMHO
July 24, 2017, 3:32 PM · Will, gut strings were the _only_ strings available from the Renaissance, and then through the Baroque, Classical, Romantic and Modern periods, well into the middle of the 20th century. Gut worked very well for centuries (and continues to do so), and was the basis for learning how to use the bow. So don't feel constrained to use gut only for Baroque!
Edited: July 24, 2017, 3:49 PM · Yeah but wound gut was available from 1650 according to his quote.

The problem is they didn't sell him gut like they used in the baroque, classical, and modern era, they sold him super heavy gauge gut that probably never existed till some dufus string maker dreamed it up, and they are harder to play than standard gut diameters with wound low strings. And put undue and unneeded stress and tension on the instruments.

July 24, 2017, 4:01 PM · If you're going to play baroque, do you have to saw off the last bit of your fingerboard?
Edited: July 24, 2017, 6:15 PM · If I'm restoring a transitional instrument (classical era) I'll often leave the fingerboard full length, or 1/4" shorter. For baroque violins I compromise using a 10" fingerboard, somewhat longer than many early fingerboards, because players don't want their baroque instruments to be radically different from the modern instruments they might play, baroque performers are notoriously not historical, they usually don't want a flatter arch to the bridge, which makes playing individual strings harder, but chords much easier, even though this was presumably the historical practice, they also don't usually want their sounding length to be significantly shorter than modern, even though this is what most original condition instruments we find have. They also don't want to be historical about the lower than modern bridge height we see on baroque instruments, because all of these factors lead to a quieter instrument if we stick to historical, and baroque musicians are in the same power, volume game as modern violin soloists, they want a loud instrument and if that means not being historical, they don't care. Then the strings, they want heavier gauge strings because they are louder, even though they put fragile 1700s instruments under dangerous stress, I would say a lot of baroque musicians that are playing successfully are actually putting there instrument under more stress than modern players; with higher bridges, heavier gauge strings, and steeper than historical neck angle.You might be surprised how many well know baroque musicians play basically modern set up violins with heavy gut strings, because that gets the loudest tone.
Edited: July 24, 2017, 4:51 PM · From what I've encountered you're 100% correct Lyndon, unfortunately. Real Baroque setup is just not commercially viable. And you've nothing to apologise for - I welcome your posts!
July 24, 2017, 5:14 PM · Thank you, Bud.
July 24, 2017, 6:29 PM · Well Lyndon, maybe I really am feeling...if not like an idiot, then something not much better. And like Bud, I too have appreciated your posts in many threads, including this one.

My problem these past 11 days is already I wasn't that good of a violinist but now I positively sound like shit. I'm trusting Rocky is right, confirming my instinct that gut strings, so new and exotic to me, will turn out to be my "best friend when it comes to improving bowing technique." So I don't quite really feel like an idiot for switching out of those easy Dominants, but how exactly would anyone feel who sounds like they just lost a year when they only had 2 in?

And again, maybe I'm an idiot for trying to teach myself, but I could blame money except good old A.O. himself once emailed offering free lessons via skype! Maybe my schedule is too erratic, maybe I'm afraid of exposing my lack of ability, maybe I'm just a crusty old personality not very teachable...maybe I have a stupid and counterproductive pride in "teaching myself." I don't even know. Surely I have taught myself a lot, but certainly also since I got these new gut strings I sound atrocious. Something for me to overcome, not give up, and come out the other side with a "breakthrough" into being a better player I can only hope....

And not really an idiot but feeling a bit possibly screwed on the bow but don't really know and maybe don't want to know. The story goes like this. My son had for years a music theory teacher at a local music school, a man who is also the principal 2nd violinist in a professional excellent orchestra. He's a doctor of music from Yale, a superb violinist, and he knew we had very little money so he dropped his price and gave me lessons 1 hour for $50. I only took 3, partly due to money and partly because the things he showed me and goals I formed were enough to set my agenda for months without another lesson. But at one of the lessons he showed me his baroque bow and even let me try it and I LOVED it! So light and maneuverable and graceful...and BAROQUE LIKE ME. He said I could find a cheap one (his was probably over $1,000, he tells me his violin is a historic instrument worth half a million dollars) on ebay or amazon for under $100, and indeed the next time I came to a lesson I told him I found a million of them for anywhere from $40 to $75 but even that was too much money for me to throw away on junk and how do I know if any of them are worth anything? HELP!

So he said he has a friend who plays in another orchestra who happens to be a dealer and who happens to be coming to Connecticut next week so I said "please get me one." I stupidly assumed it would be in the same price range.

This teacher would not rip me off, he gave me great lessons for a great price and he has given me and my son free tickets to dozens of symphonies we couldn't afford, so I still trust him. One night after a symphony we hung around to thank him as we always do, and he came out and handed me the bow. I said "how much?" and he said $200, which in the classical world might be peanuts but it took me about 6 weeks to pay him for it. Always I wondered if it was just one of those $40 or $50 (or 10 for $200) "baroque" bows I saw on ebay, but in the end I figured even if it was, the dealer probably bought a lot and sorted out only the good ones and at least it was one of the good ones. And I still believe that's about what happened, and all that BS aside, I do love the bow so I am actually quite happy with it, and would rather not know how common and cheap it may or may not be.

Finally, regarding "authenticity" and the contentious debates around it, I think there were diverse and changing makers and practices and what today are contrasting understandings will all likely find some basis in that diverse past. Personally, as much as I do want to learn as much concrete history as I can, I also approach it as my modern journey of trying to catch some of the spirit and special beauty I find there even as I know I'm just dabbling and in it for the music and the personal adventure, not as a professional or scholar or even a good musician. Just a man who wants to make some music, the way we all had to be if we wanted to hear music before electricity ruined everything, ESPECIALLY music. And as an electrician, I can say that.

July 24, 2017, 6:53 PM · Let me ask you this, what percent of your problems are with the G string, not the other strings, because that part of the problem can be easily solved by buying a Stark (heavy gauge) Eudoxa G string $25-$30, its authentic, baroque musicians commonly used silver wrapped gut core G strings, and it will play pretty much like your Dominant G. Then you only have the other three strings to worry about and you are still being authentic, perhaps more authentic for baroque, because I don't think that many baroque players would have been using a plain gut G.

As to the bow, there is a solution, an expert bow repairman could heat bend correct the camber in your wrong way bow to have less inward bend so when under tension it bows flat or slightly out, I could do this for you for $50, but they might charge more like $100, unless they're one of these high priced shops, something to think about, The baroque bows from China are proportioned like proper baroque bows, with proper baroque style frogs, but the camber is wrong, the camber can be changed, probably for less money than buying a cheapo Chinese baroque bow with the proper camber. That way you won't feel like you wasted $200.

I respect your interest in the music of the baroque and renaissance, I'm a baroque musician, I play clavichord (keyboard) and used to build them professionally, if you click on my name above, and then website, then at the top of the page where it says Clavichord, you can see and hear baroque music on clavichords I have built, both with a professional recording artist, and a little bit of me playing at the bottom, cheers, I wish you good fortune on this, violins can be expensive, and I know what its like to be on a tight budget.

July 24, 2017, 9:04 PM · Thank you, Lyndon, for all the advice. I think it is so cool when people like you play instruments they built themselves! I just read the wikipedia article on clavichord, an instrument I've heard of for years but never quite knew what it was. So depressing a key doesn't just hammer the string but holds it in a particular vibrating length, wow! So is tuning confined to string tension or also to moving the blade to alter the vibrating length?

And yes, all my grief seems to be found on that G string, the other 3 strings I rather like a lot already! Still often a challenge with some crunch (or worse) before locking into the right tone, but again, this will teach me to get control of my bow and what the strings are doing. But that G string is like a baritone croop cough. I still want to work with it another week or two to see what mastery, if any, I can gain over it, but as all of this is ultimately a learning experience, its very possible I will take your advice and indeed learn next what a silver-wound gut G string is, though eventually I will also probably try a lighter gauge plain gut G. Eventually, of course, I will try EVERYTHING!

Regarding the bow, my 3 reasons for keeping it as is at this time are 1) I actually love the bow and therefore I must love it as-is, 2) I am about to be in a financial crisis (that will be worth enduring), and 3) the financial crises starts with the $300 I still owe the luthier who just repaired my violin but the crisis now deepens because I owe over $500 soon-due to another luthier who is just now putting the finishing touches on my new lira da braccio and the renaissance-style bow that will come with it!

Here is a listing showing an earlier model of the lira and bow he sold perviously:

I put down a sizable (for me) deposit some months ago to commission one for me, and in the course of our discussions as he worked I requested and he added a trefoil crucifix to the pegbox and a naked lady (Venus!) to the tailpiece, both nicely carved into the wood. So I will be paying him even more than the originally agreed price because the instrument I get will not be plain like the one illustrated.

July 24, 2017, 9:34 PM · @Will: My offer still stands as is, don;t worry, I started at 18 years, every improvement brings a smile and further motivation, so just take it one small note at a time. :)
July 25, 2017, 3:50 AM · For what it's worth I own (and play) 3 clavichords and play on gut strings with no SR or CR. My first advice to Will would be to find a group to play in - there are plenty of good reasons for this.

On bows: a betcha you can't hold the stick! That's a nightmare to sort out. I was told by a 'Baroque' teacher just hold it the modern way at the frog (as everyone does!), sheesh. But I persisted and, like you, found my own way.

Thanks Lyndon for the tip about changing the camber. I've experimented fixing the camber with cheap modern bows just for a laugh and I think I was successful. I've got two Chinese baroque bows sitting in the corner and always thought if that was possible. I now actually use a Roger Rose bow - it's a joy!

August 1, 2017, 8:19 PM · Just last night I got a new renaissance-style bow with a pop-in frog (no threaded adjustment) that makes the straight bow stick bend outward like a bow-and-arrow bow shape. And I love this bow!
August 1, 2017, 9:01 PM · Great to here. How are you liking your gut strings?
Edited: August 6, 2017, 12:23 AM · Hi Will - Sounds like you're having fun with the strings. As someone else posted above, I'd seriously consider using a silver wound G. Music written from the late 17th century puts more demands on the G string because of this. Also, .52 for E seems light compared to the heavy lower strings you are using. Equal tension is an interesting theory, people come up with interesting theories all the time, then as now. Ultimately go with what works for the particular violin.

Just as another observation, with a light baroque bow you may have trouble "driving" those heavy lower strings. Watch you don't start gripping too hard with the left hand to try to get bite.

August 6, 2017, 12:35 AM · IMHO there's no historical basis for equal tension stringing because quite simply the historical string makers would not have been able to accurately measure the string tension with their technology, correct me if I'm wrong.
Edited: August 6, 2017, 12:45 PM · I've been wondering how I would measure string tension in the absence of today's high technology. I think I'd extend the string horizontally between two support members over which it passes. The support members would obviously correspond to the nut and bridge, and the distance between them would be that of the instrument you're interested in (violin, viola, cello etc).

On the far side of one support member (the "nut") would be a screw peg to which one end of the string would be attached. On the far side of the second support member (the "bridge") I'd locate a pulley over which the string would pass, the very end of the string being attached to a hanging weight. It would be convenient to mount the nut and bridge on a sounding board.

The string maker would attach a weight to the string and tighten the peg until the string gives a desired pitch when plucked. The process would then be repeated with strings of different weights and thicknesses to get other desired frequencies, but using the same weight each time. This should ensure in due course that a set of strings (E-A-D-G) are all the same tension when tuned.

I'd imagine it would be a tedious process in the beginning until the string maker had achieved a lot of experience, or had become aware of the mathematics of a vibrating string - I don't know offhand when that particular theory was worked out.

August 6, 2017, 9:19 AM · Measuring string tension does not require any modern technology. Suspend the string between two supports at the reference distance and add weight to one end until the correct pitch is obtained. This method would have been available back then, but may not have been used.
August 6, 2017, 10:38 AM · I made a baroque viola some years ago, and the D, first position of the A string, always squeaked. I asked baroque players about that and their response was that you have to master playing in a bare gut string.
August 6, 2017, 1:00 PM · Thanks to everyone here for all the advice and insights. I'm definitely getting tired of the fat G string, which I have been increasingly able to sometimes get tone from but often still it groans. I have been using it as an exercise in getting better awareness and control of bow technique, but I look forward to trying a different G string soon. The other strings in this set I like a lot. The E is getting shredded where the bow most frequently contacts, and also up higher around the A of my pinky in 1st position. But the string still sounds good so I hope its disintegration will be slow. Eventually it will snap and I'll learn how to tie the new one I have in my case (the E and A strings were double length so I have spares).
Edited: August 6, 2017, 2:04 PM · Will, you'll know when the gut E is due for replacement long before it breaks. What happens is that fraying eventually gets to the stage where the tone starts to lose its clarity and perhaps you hear squeaks where there weren't squeaks before, but before then the fraying will become an annoyance under the fingers. I've never had a gut string snap (a couple of steel Es, yes, but I suspected manufacturing errors). The only reason I would expect a gut E to snap before its time is if the groove in the bridge (or nut) hasn't been engineered correctly and a sharp edge somewhere is rubbing into the string - that includes finger nails, btw!

In my experience, fraying in a plain gut A or D is fairly rare, and you may be looking at a string that's had over twelve months of good use before you start thinking about replacing it. This depends on circumstances of course; if, for example, you have a solo coming up, or a recording or broadcasting session, then that's when you' ll replace all the strings.

A wound gut G is likely to start losing its tone before its unwound neighbours do, for the usual reason associated with all strings with a wound core - the outer sooner or later starts to part company with the inner, and the tone starts to go south.

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