Questions about gut strings.

Edited: January 10, 2020, 6:29 PM · After playing my new “love” for about a year now I decided to treat myself on my first set of gut strings. Efrano medium to be precise. Plain unvarnished E A and D and wound G.

I wonder, what’s the deal with round wound G? Shifting positions is really loud and guitar like. Is that “historic” or is there a deeper reason for this.

Also my E string (which I absolutely never expected to be this glorious) started showing signs of fraying (first little hairs) after only about 5 hous of playing. Is that standard or am I pushing it too much?

Currently I have a 45% relative humidity in the house and I should have used oil on the strings before setting up the instrument. Is it to late to oil them now?

Thanx for any clues.

Replies (16)

January 10, 2020, 6:35 PM · The roundwound G is mostly a historical thing, but I think it makes the tone a little more growly as well. I like them. If shifting on the G is audible to the audience then you must be pressing too hard while you shift.
As for the E, that's exactly why I use steel Es on my violin. You could order heavy gauge varnished E strings to try and extend the playing life (or oil the plain strings with almond / walnut oil weekly like you said), but other than that, there is not much to be done.
Edited: January 10, 2020, 6:48 PM · Thanx cotton.
E string is absolutely gorgeous. And it rivals a westminster e string in volume, bit surpasses it in sound, especially in higher positions.

G string si audible recorded, but not to the audience I think. I also have very textured and hard fingertips (bass player)... sooo it’s like sandpaper against sandpaper....

I might have found a new coinsink... damn.

January 10, 2020, 11:05 PM · How long would plain gut strings last if you were to oil them once a week? And how would you go about doing so?
January 11, 2020, 12:46 AM · There are very conflicting accounts on how long gut lasts. Perhaps because the string age and storage is far more important than modern plastic or steel strings.
Some people say they last up to 1 year, some say they die within weeks.

One luthier (YT) suggests keeping strings submerged in oil before use. I am inclined to do that. After oiling the string yesterday there was a noticeable improvement in the smoothness of sound and shifting. The annoying bit is, that now I have a slightly oily fingerboard. Oh, whatever... I have very dry fingertips. It immediately helped with shifting noise on the roundwound G string.

Edited: January 11, 2020, 8:11 AM · I'm currently using an all-gut setup (Pirastro Chorda) on my 18th c violin. After years of trials with other strings I've settled that plain gut E,A,D+round-wound G gives the best tone, response and playability on that old lady. The 3 lower strings last well, up to a 12-month, but it must be said that the G, being wound and therefore more susceptible to interior wear, usually needs to be replaced a little before the D and A.

I note that Pirastro have recently brought out a non-wound gut G, presumably intended for the hard-core Baroque and Early Music players. On the Pirastro website it is listed as "G-Chordaflex 29 PM: plain and twisted gut string". The 29 PM indicates that it is about twice as fat in diameter as the wound G and would need serious luthier attention to the G peg, the notch in the nut, and modifications to the bridge before the string would be usable, and indeed the instrument to be playable. I have no intention of going down the plain gut G route!

As for the gut E, a little fraying within a couple of weeks is normal. Never pull on a fray, cut it with nail scissors - carefully of course! Fraying can be minimized by using a light touch on the string and of course having fingernails cut short. I usually find that the E needs to be replaced after about 2 months because the fraying gets to be a distraction under the fingers, even if the tone hasn't deteriorated. As an experiment a couple of years ago I kept the gut E on for as long as possible in a symphony orchestra context to see what happens. As time wen by the fraying increased, but could largely be ignored. I also found myself cheating by playing more in the higher positions on the A! After about 6 months, during a rehearsal the E frayed down its whole length in one go. I immediately let the peg down and replaced the string. I don't recommend leaving the E on for such a long time, except as an experiment, and even then I would have changed it before a concert.

I haven't really looked at oiling plain gut strings. Perhaps I'll give it a try. What oil is recommended?

Edited: January 11, 2020, 8:07 AM · I oil my strings by wetting the corner of a cloth or paper towel with almond oil, and running it along the whole length of the string, thoroughly soaking it. After 10 - 30 minutes, I wipe off all the excess and make sure to wipe the bowed area again before I practice the next day. This usually doubles the life of my strings.

I have no idea how the heck you can make Chordas last a whole year, Trevor, but you must have dry hands. For people like me whose hands are persistently wet and salty despite all attempts to dry them out, I'd say the middle strings last 6 months at the *very* most. I tend to shred my strings to the point where they are unusable in 2 to 3 months.

January 11, 2020, 8:15 AM · Thanks, Cotton, I'll try almond oil and your procedure. I do have dry hands.
January 11, 2020, 3:14 PM · Thank you Cotton and Trevor for all the info.
After oiling (and wiping) the strings they became unpleasantly sticky the next day. I used olive oil.
The fingerboard was unpleasant as well.
I suspect olive oil is too heavy. I will try sweet almond oil next.
January 11, 2020, 5:18 PM · Tony, I found some sweet almond oil in the house today, applied it to my gut strings as per Cotton's advice, wiped it off and it's fine. The strings now feel wonderfully smooth under my fingers, including the A and D which have virtually no fraying anyway but are now into their 2nd year of use. The Chorda E is new, so it's a good idea to start it off on the right foot with a rub of sweet almond oil.

I agree with what you found out with olive oil; it is too thick and heavy for application to gut strings. So I suggest wiping your olive oil application off the strings with a clean cloth, let the strings settle down for a couple of days or so and re-oil with the almond oil, but only a small amount to start with.

I've checked out almond oil; it's the sweet version you want, and most certainly not the essence, which is used in cookery for flavoring. Sweet almond oil is used to nourish the skin and hair, so that makes it ok for our gut strings.

Edited: January 12, 2020, 9:33 AM · I found that 500ml bottle of medicine grade sweet almond oil costs about 12 euro. I can keep my entire country’s supply of gut strings in it :)
I am going to dip my string stash (all Es and the replacement set) in it and see what happens. I will also treat existing strings and hope they don’t get sticky.

I love the power of gut E. I still can not believe gut can be this powerful on E. Gut gives my violin a wonderful dry woody sound. I wonder how well they project...

January 12, 2020, 10:45 AM · I switched to a gut E (Pirastro Chorda) late last year and found it to be loud and ringing and with a glorious singing tone when played with the right speed and bow pressure.

It is fussier about the bow than the better steel strings and, to be honest, probably a bit beyond my skill to consistently control the bow.

After a couple of months of daily play, I have not noticed any fraying.

The D and A strings sounded terrible on my violin, so I went back to the Dominants. The wound gut G is a bit growly but responsive to the bow and I find it easier to play than the synthetic core Gs I have used in the past.

January 12, 2020, 11:51 AM · I don’t oil my strings - Gamut already pre oils them. I actually like the feel of the strings being slightly scuffed up after a few days. It gives my shifts more traction. As far as longevity goes, to answer Christian’s questions, I can get about 2–3 months out of a set of Gamut Academie Sheep Gut (not beef gut) or Gamut Tricolore with varnish, something I highly recommend - it will protect them from moisture and humidity. I had a bad experience with Pirastro Chorda. Very unstable string in my opinion - I wouldn’t touch it with a 10 foot pole.
January 12, 2020, 3:07 PM · Nate, I've never had stability problems with Pirastro Chordas. I wonder if our different experiences can be explained by climatic differences between our locations. I live in the SW of England, just a few miles from the sea, and for most of the time we have warm SW moisture-laden winds blowing in from the Atlantic. So far this year, the average relative humidity where I live is 55.8, with a standard deviation of 2.3 (I've been taking daily measurements of humidity since the beginning of January, and temperature since the beginning of 2019).

I don't think Pirastro oil their plain gut strings, so a little bit of assistance from me probably won't come amiss.

Edited: January 12, 2020, 3:30 PM · Hi Trevor, all power to you if you can get Chordas to work for you! I did try them about 18 years ago, in the summertime, and found them to not work on my instrument at the time. I’m not sure if it was the climate or my hands. I’m glad we have many good choices in the gut string world now!
January 12, 2020, 4:27 PM · I did a Rossini opera on early instruments (gut D/A/E), and my stand partner broke at least one string per performance in the run. Pirastro. Although he blamed his body chemistry.
Edited: January 13, 2020, 3:06 AM · I pounded my E quite a bit yesterday and it held admirably, just developing more lint and fibers.
It’s also the instrument setup that puts strain on E (and other strings).

I never had (metal) E string break on me. I had A or D strings unravel mid performance... I have had E string die on me in a couple bow strokes, but never a breakage.
And I am a pounder and a brute. I play in noisy venues with brutally loud accordion, drums and double bass all competing to outdo me... my piano is forte and my forte is a sledge hammer level.

I will see what gut does. It might prove too fidgety, quiet, or plain too gentle... No idea. But yesterday I had to plug my ears for practice for the first time in my career.

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