A feeling in the gut...

February 7, 2020, 6:54 PM · This is one for anyone who’s had experience with or is currently using wound gut violin strings. I installed a set of Pirastro Eudoxa heavy gauge GDA with the wound steel E the day after Christmas and have been very pleased with the sound. My quandary is in regards to tuning: I have noticed that upon removing my violin from the case, the A is typically sharp, D is slightly flat as is the G. So, after tuning and warming up for about 10 minutes, the A is flat by about the same as it started out sharp, the D and G are again about as flat as before first tuning. I am wondering whether taking the violin out of the case and letting the strings adapt to the room and lights would allow the A to start out closer to pitch and eliminate the up and down tuning I experienced.

Replies (43)

February 7, 2020, 8:57 PM · It is my memory that I used gut-core strings from about 1945 to about 1970 (when synthetic core strings were first sold) and a number of times in the years beyond. Pirastro Eudoxa and also Olive strings ere the ones I used in those years. (In fact I still have one unused set of each in the string tubes in two of my violin cases.)

Gut-core strings are going to go out of tune - always have, always will, and once they are in tune chances are they will continue to go out of tune until returned to the case.

That's why I don't use them any more!

If you really want to use gut-core strings you will find the internally geared tuning pegs from Wittner or Knilling (or Pegheds) very helpful.

February 7, 2020, 9:43 PM · That's ridiculous and you've never used gut core strings since you had those plastic bullshit pegs installed, gut strings require more peg movement to tune, not less, why would you need those geared pegs which work like fine tuners, no one ever needed fine tuners for gut strings, give me a break.
February 7, 2020, 9:57 PM · Nice!
February 7, 2020, 10:08 PM · The answer to your question is "yes".
February 8, 2020, 12:25 AM · Classic.
Edited: February 8, 2020, 7:49 AM · Get your pegs adjusted so they work perfectly, and then learn to use them. Tuning is not and should not be a big deal. Regarding the tonal benefits of gut strings, a lot of players are perfectly willing to accept the tuning issue.... that's how they can still afford to make the strings.

So, attitude adjustment along with peg adjustment. I'm having great results these days using Audsley's Original Peg Drops (from Amazon). They work best on pegs that already have a lot of normal peg dope on them, then the drops perfect things. It's worth the investement, in my opinion. One drop on each bearing ring on the pegs, spin the peg in, let it dry a bit. For a few minutes the pegs will be too slipery, but they settle down quickly.

I generally don't agree with Lyndon about geared pegs, which do have their place in the world, especially for people who absolutely insist on hanging four fine tuners on a tailpiece, have a generally hard time tuning, or on cello for ergonomic reasons, but I do agree with him regarding gears and gut--they just should not be necessary.

February 8, 2020, 8:32 AM · Thanks for the responses. To be clear, my pegs work well. I was just wondering if it was solely temperature and humidity that affect the strings or if playing them leads to their loss of pitch, and Mr. Mather, thank you. Also, if playing them does have a role, does the type of piece matter, eg. a light adagio piece vs. an aggressive allegro.
February 8, 2020, 9:07 AM · It's not only the pegs that need to be lubricated, but, importantly, the notches in the nut and the bridge to allow the string to move smoothly and not stick at those points when tuning. Whenever I change a string, and sometimes when a string has been on for a long time, I always apply plenty of soft pencil lead (6B) to the notches.

I gave up on wound gut-core A and D years ago, basically for the reasons Jerry gave. Plain gut A and D give a better tone, stay in tune better and last longer. My current A and D Chordas have been happily on board for over a year with no problems. I help them along by regularly applying sweet almond oil to the full length of the string, so no fraying.

The Chorda G is wire-wound, not flat wound, and this string too has reasonable longevity, more so than synthetic core strings.

A plain gut G isn't feasible, unless you're into pre-Baroque Early Music, in which case a plain gut G, being extra thick to give it the required mass, will require surgical procedures on the violin such as altering the shape and depth of the notches, enlarging the string hole in the G peg, and possibly reshaping the profile of the bridge, all of which should be done by a luthier. Anyone who wants to try a plain gut G can find it on the Pirastro website.

Edited: February 8, 2020, 10:03 AM · Lyndon - you're back again!

I never write anything that I have not experienced. I thought it would not add to pertinent information that last year I tried a set of TRICOLORE (bare gut A & D and wound gut core G) strings on two of my violins that have Knilling and Peghed pegs. I stand by my statements.

I know I now live in the SF Bay Area and our moderate climate is fairly stable but I did most of my (violin and cello) growing up in "central" Maryland with its wide temperature and humidity swings and with gut-core strings on both instruments - and ebony pegs, even in good condition have their bad days - in addition to the climate effects on gut strings. AND after that I lived in the California High Desert for 33 years where I played both instruments all the time - and there are plenty of temperature/humidity issues there where I have played outdoors in 100° temperatures, one outdoor concert in Death Valley, indoors with extreme air conditioning and daily at home with evaporatve cooling ("swamp coolers") and other year-round indoor humidity control.

I have a personal "data base" with string instruments extending back to 1938, although I have to admit that my memory and cognizance of the more technical aspects of my equipment probably goes back 5 years less, to when I graduated to my first full-size violin.

Facts should beat opinions!

February 8, 2020, 12:29 PM · Yes. A couple of minutes of room adaptation will help. You will still need to tune afterwards; they will not stabilize to where they were when you put the violin away last.
February 8, 2020, 12:53 PM · Thanks to all those who responded. The tone of these strings makes the tuning issues worth the trouble.
February 8, 2020, 1:13 PM · When I was in high school I played gut on my cello. Bare A and D, wound G and C, Eudoxas. The A and D cost $3 and $3.50, wound was an extra buck. Other players would play my cello and loved the sound--they had never had the opportunity before, because everyone knows no one uses gut strings.

If the instrument will handle it (not all of them respond to gut) I agree that the sound is worth it.

February 8, 2020, 1:54 PM · Have you tried Pirastro Passiones? They may be an acceptable alternative, that is a little more stable.
February 8, 2020, 2:01 PM · $3 a string? What???

Where did you find these $3 cello strings?

February 8, 2020, 2:36 PM · Jeff, I don’t mind the adjustments, just wondering if I can make things a little more convenient. I will give the Passiones some consideration. Thanks
Edited: February 8, 2020, 3:26 PM · $3 gut strings, 1964 prices. Now $43 each. You had to be there.
Edited: February 8, 2020, 3:22 PM · I have had similar problems with gut strings. And contrary to what Michael says tuning is or at least can be a big deal. Especially when you play ensemble and can't use some open strings any more starting in the middle of a movement.

Like Jerry I noticed that the A was the least stable of the strings, G and D behave quite acceptably most of the time but the A can wander off tune quite far quite quickly. So a few years back I decided to try Passione. They sounded more brilliant than Olive (which I did not exactly want to happen) and their tone is not as easy to influence by the player (at least this player and at least on his violin). But they held their pitch better, though the A still wandered off the reservation if given enough time. I played a few years on Passione (they happen to cost a tad less than the Olivs too...) but I got tired of them. Right now I have Eudoxas on the violin and like their sound. But again the A is just too unstable for comfort.

I guess I'll have to take Trevor's advice and order a set of Chordas and buy almond oil (why almond oil and not say walnut oil or sunflower oil?)...

Another thing that is bothering me even more is this: I put on the Eudoxas about 4 months ago; then there were three months when I practically could not play (long story). So I have not played them very much and already the d is starting to unwind itself, right under the first finger in first position. I have never seen such fast work on any Pirastro string. Is this something that happens to Eudoxas?

February 8, 2020, 3:56 PM · To Jerry and Albrecht: I too have moved to plain gut heavy A and D strings because they hold in tune between practice sessions, and afternoon the initial break in they usually need one tuning per session. I tried all of the pirastro wound gut options, which all did have a unique and sweet tone, however they all usually unwound too quickly for my comfort, except for the G strings. They also all went out of tune constantly, except for the Gold Label Strings. 2-3 months was the most I could get out of the A or D strings from pirastro, usually do to early unwinding or loss of tone. I still have the Oliv G which is sublime, but now have a Gamut gimped D and tricolore A which have quicker response and better stability/durability. They just took some getting used to in regards to playing technique. I hope this helps a little bit.
February 8, 2020, 4:11 PM · Has anyone who likes the Eudoxa G and D tried the “Eudoxa - Chromcor or Aricore” A? What is your take?
February 8, 2020, 4:29 PM · With Eudoxa G and D, I like pairing it with a plain gut A. I was using Dlugolecki's plain gut (varnished) A until that became more difficult to get, but Chorda is acceptable and cheap enough to replace every two weeks.
Edited: February 8, 2020, 5:33 PM · Chromcore is just a cheap steel string that you really do not need to try unless maybe you do folk. The Aricore is a Dominant clone, more like gut but still a Dominant clone. Tonica, Sensicore, everyone makes something similar, all a bit different.
February 8, 2020, 7:05 PM · Albrecht, if that unwinding of an almost new string is a first event of its kind for you then I'd guess that you had a rare faulty Eudoxa.

The tone of virtually all wound strings will degenerate quicker than that of plain strings because the winding is a complex structure comprising a number of layers. With playing, the interfaces between the layers starts to break down and then the tone goes south. An unwinding of the outermost layer could have a similar cause, unless there has been external damage, which is more likely.

Edited: February 9, 2020, 3:10 PM · No one's mentioned that it's the temperature/ humidity from handling the strings, not to mention breathing on them, that's affecting the tuning far more that the ambient room conditions. So next time you take your violin out, just hold it by the strings for a few minutes, and breathe on it too, before you retune it, to see if that changes your outcome. (Or, more logically, just play it for a few minutes before tuning.)

Wind instrument players would never tune without first warming their instruments up. Perhaps with gut strings we violinists need to do that too. And if we're perfectionists, we should probably do it with all strings.

Edited: February 8, 2020, 10:37 PM · Michael D., that's "Original Peg Drops" by Ardsley, not Audsley. No wonder I couldn't find it. And it would be nice to know what's in that stuff, but I have a feeling that ain't gonna happen. Trade secrets, you know. It does say that it contains isopropyl alcohol, so their recommendation to just apply it without removing the peg first could be injurious to fine varnish. Yikes!
February 9, 2020, 7:42 AM · Ardsley, sorry. So far no threat to any varnish I have used it on and I think the alcohol content is extremely small. I suspect their statement is mostly CYA.
February 9, 2020, 8:08 AM · Do you remove the peg to put the drop on?? I find the drops work on slipping but usually makes the pegs clicky instead of smooth.
February 9, 2020, 8:36 AM · Mark, I will try both your suggestions.
Michael, thanks for that information, I won’t think about either of those strings anymore.
Edited: February 9, 2020, 10:28 AM · I pull the peg, put on a drop, run it in, wait a couple of minutes, hit the peg with hair dryer, then repeat. After the second dry, I wipe the excess off the peg, and then may add a tiny final drop. The drops do not work as a first treatment, nor on old fiber bushings. On new installations I start with a full run through with Hill compound, lots of it, as a base coat.

I was taught to float the peg in dope, and find this works best. I always have to fine tune Hill compound used alone with chalk.

February 9, 2020, 11:49 AM · Does removing the pegs to treat them with whatever they may need, and obviously removing the strings shorten the life of the strings?
February 9, 2020, 12:44 PM · Yes, no, maybe. Opinions vary.
February 9, 2020, 12:53 PM · Michael, you don't have any problem with the pegs going click, click, click instead of turning smoothly???
February 9, 2020, 1:58 PM · Not a bit. I certainly do with Hill compound alone. In fact the action I am getting with the peg drops is better than I have ever seen from anywhere. But they really do need a solid previous bed to work on, not alone.
Edited: February 9, 2020, 2:12 PM · So you're saying lots of hill compound then peg drops, nothing else?? Im using Hill or soap, rouge, and then peg drops and I'm usually getting clicking which doesn't start till I put on the peg drops.
February 9, 2020, 2:58 PM · Hill compound seems to allow for pushing the pegs into the pegbox more deeply, which makes that part of the peg not coated with the compound make contact, resulting in the clicking of peg-with-no compound making contact with the peg hole. I have found applying Hill compound a little past the shiny friction bands on the pegs, meaning toward the head of the peg on that side and toward the hole on the other end, helps with the clicking problem. Also, gently wiping off the excess dope as needed to make the peg move freely and yet hold.
February 9, 2020, 5:07 PM · I use a few different brands of gut strings, and after the first week I find they stay pretty close to in tune, not much trouble at all keeping them in tune. Chordas, Gamut, and Kurschner strings all. I keep my violins on stands in open air or under a teeshirt, easy to pick up anytime. During cooler weather, when indoor humidity would be low, I run a cool mist vaporizer in the room...continuously for 5 or 6 months a year.
February 9, 2020, 6:27 PM · Will, thanks for your reply. My practice room’s humidity is relatively static, the temperature is actually warmer in winter.
I have tried simply bowing the strings a few minutes, even before warming up, and it helped. By this I mean the strings were closer to pitch when I tuned up.
Edited: February 9, 2020, 7:15 PM · Wow. Hill compound, then peg dope, then peg drops, then "hit it with a hair dryer" -- all this back-and-forth with different chemicals and substances that are supposed to give you better grip, better slip, and avoiding "clicking" -- THIS is better than installing gear pegs, once-and-done? I'm with Andy Victor. I have gear pegs on all my instruments. The best-functioning ones are Wittner Finetune. The ones that look the best and function very very well (but not quite as brilliantly as Wittners) are the PegHeds.

I do have one question though -- Lyndon said that "gut strings require more peg movement to tune." Why is that?

Oh and by the way, Andy, I've been meaning to try gut strings sometime, so if you want to get rid of the Eudoxas or Olives that are languishing in your string tube, I'll take 'em.

February 9, 2020, 7:36 PM · gut strings require more movement because gut is much more stretchable than nylon, its a big difference and steel strings stretch even less practically requiring fine tuners, gut e does not need a fine tuner like steel, it can be easily tuned by the peg
February 9, 2020, 10:44 PM · Paul,
Sorry. I've gone back to gut (probably) 6 times since I first switched out 50 years ago - so I'll keep my old ones around.
Edited: February 10, 2020, 11:36 AM · If I'm about to play/practice on my gut-strung violin what I find helpful before tuning is to warm the strings by rubbing the ball of my thumb up and down the length of the finger board a few times. This, I find, stabilises them for tuning.

Those of us who play without a shoulder rest will probably be aware that contact between the back plate of the violin and the collar bone warms the instrument. As does playing without a chin rest, but I'm not going to open that particular can of worms right now ;)

February 10, 2020, 11:50 AM · Thanks Trevor, I don’t use a shoulder rest either, and I will try your trick.
February 10, 2020, 12:52 PM · I will point out, Paul, that you don't do these things, I do, and I don't find it a burden. If you are going to be a DIYer, don't be a lazy one.
Edited: February 11, 2020, 1:46 PM · I enjoy DIY -- but not when it comes to repairing my violin. All my sets of gear pegs were installed by pros.

On the other hand, peg dope and Hill compound and peg drops and chalk and rosin -- all of these substances should be entirely limited to the world of DIY. This I know because of the continual bloviating on v.com about how friction pegs should work perfectly if only they can be made of high quality wood and if they are properly fitted by a qualified luthier. What you seem to be saying is that this "proper fitting" procedure includes a variety of dressings to ensure smooth and reliable peg function. And you're right -- that surprises me, which probably just underscores my ignorance about what goes on at the luthier's bench. (I've seen a lot of obviously homemade potions near his bench though including his magic violin-cleaning elixir, the recipe of which he would not share with me.)

It seems to me quite natural that friction pegs will eventually need some help to turn properly because the violinist is grinding away at them every day (look around while your community orchestra is tuning and you'll see what I mean), plus the pegs are under downward force from the strings, plus the both the pegs and the pegbox are made of wood, all of which conspires to effect anisotropic deformation of the materials, which will cause the pegs or the pegbox holes to come ever so slightly out of round. How quickly that happens probably depends on all of those factors, but it seems inevitable.

For my $3500 Chinese viola, it took about 3 weeks. When I first got it, I thought, "Oh man, this is what they're talking about. These pegs turn like butter." But within a month they were unbearable, and the instrument was on Patrick's bench having Wittner Finetune pegs installed. Not sure if that's because the pegs were made of jujube.

The "time tested" friction-peg design has the advantage of simplicity and the speed with which you can replace a string. All other functional advantages accrue to gear pegs.

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