Oiling gut strings: a necessary but often neglected maintenance?

Edited: March 27, 2021, 9:44 AM · Oh no, yet another thread about gut strings!

I have been using Eudoxa mediums (non-rigid, normal gauges) for some time now, following the advices of viola da players and treating my strings with olive oil prior to installation and continuously maintaining them. Despite the common complaints of gut strings (wound and plain) being difficult to keep their pitch, short tonal longevity and easy to break, I have encountered none of the problems. Bear in mind that I reside in Hong Kong and my local humidity can fluctuate between 50% to over 90% fairly rapidly, never mind the temperature differences which is the bane of gut string stability.

My maintenance to my strings are as follows:
-olive oil bath for 24-48 hours before first installation (letting the gut cores thoroughly soak through)
-break in period of 1-2 weeks after installation, stability is NOT expected during this period
-weekly or biweekly olive oil rub across fingered areas (to further protect the windings from oxidization, also applicable to plain gut strings to maintain their oil content)
-washed hands and trimmed nails before every playing session (everybody should be doing this, gut strings or not)
-repeat oil bath every several months, until the strings sound dead enough that even oil baths cannot rejuvenate

The theory behind oiling gut strings is that the oil will protect the gut core from moisture and humidity changes, since the oil soaked into the gut core will occupy spaces that are otherwise filled or vacated by moisture. This should in theory lessen or eliminate the effects of humidity on gut strings, with the side effect of slightly darkening the tones of the strings from the added mass.

The caveat of course, is that such maintenance routines require time and patience. Synthetic strings don't nearly require as much maintenance as gut strings, trading superior tonal qualities for ease of use and consistency which are also important qualities to a lot of players.

As far as I know, I am one of the very few gut string users in my local community who experience no gut-related problems with my instrument, sometimes even less so than synthetic string users as my strings outlive theirs by considerable margins. This got me thinking, are the usual complaints against gut strings due to neglected maintenance?

Note: the low tensions of gut strings very likely contributes to their longevity over synthetic strings, but that's more of a technical advantage over maintenance I think.

Google-fu references from a viola da gamba player:

Replies (18)

March 27, 2021, 2:58 PM · I’ve never oiled wound or plain unwound gut and I can get 2-3 months out of a set. If you’re in a very high humidity environment I’d recommend varnished gut if you use plain gut.
March 27, 2021, 4:18 PM · I also do not oil them, but of course everyone is entitled to their own opinions and experiences.

IME, the tuning "issue" is so minor, as we are always supposed to play in tune. Playing out of tune will be a player's issue, not the strings.

The Tricolore strings do stay more readily in tune than Eudoxa (the Eudoxa D tends to be temperamental, though it is very long lasting.) When I used a plain gut string, it never had tuning issues and I never oiled them.

The Eudoxa G&D last forever without oiling, in my humble opinion. Synthetics do not last as long because they just cannot compete as inorganic material. The As windings may fail before the gut string core does, but they also last well.

However, if you feel more confident oiling them, and like the sound, you are welcome to whatever works best for your music in the end.

Do not mean to be contrarian. Enjoy your strings, and happy practicing.

March 28, 2021, 8:08 AM · Thanks for the responses! I take that the Tricolores are already excellent without oiling, I'd love to try them one day were it not for the silly high shipping costs of UPS.

What about the Chorda strings? From what I hear, they are almost universally disliked nowadays because of their lack of stability and longevity, but I wonder if said issues can be remedied by proper maintenance. Does anyone here have experience with oiled Chorda to compare them to un-oiled?

Edited: March 28, 2021, 12:55 PM · I have tried many gut strings and many techniques for keeping them in good shape. Here is what I have found:

- Oiling wound strings is a bad idea.
The oil sits in the windings and gunks up the string. Imagine trying to do gymnastics in wet clothes. In the case of Eudoxa this is compounded because there is a silk underlayer which already serves this purpose, not to mention it soaks all that oil up.

- Oiling plain gut strings does preserve them a little but if your conditions are relatively dry it's not necessary. Washing your hands with soap helps, too.

- Chorda is always garbage, oiled or unoiled. The G string is ok, though.

- Some string brands are more resilient than others. Aquila (my favourite) lasts longer than others because the strings are whole tubes and not a composite of many fibres. Wound gut will probably outlive us all.

- Varnished strings are no good. The varnish wears away under your fingers, making the distribution of weight unequal and the string false.

I also want to mention that protecting your string windings from oxidation serves no purpose past the aesthetic.

Overall I agree that gut strings still have a lot of undeserved stigma. I love 'em and they come out to be cheaper than plastic strings, all things considered. That is, when you buy double-length plain gut. Wound gut maybe not.

April 5, 2021, 4:06 PM · When my gut strings got squeeky squawky i oiled them and I can positively say:
1. Oiling a wound string dulls it out for weeks. Never oil a wound string. I’s a terrible idea.
2. Using olive oil makes strings sticky and gunky. Can not shift smoothly afterwards.
3. Using flax seed oil is even worse than olive oil. Avoid at all cost.
4. Use almond oil
5. If you can find it, raw shea butter is easiest to handle and works miracles.
6. Get some oil on the playing area of the string ad you will screw up the bow so bad even an aclohol bath may not save it. Rehairing.

April 5, 2021, 6:21 PM · I've heard every 5,000 miles.
April 7, 2021, 1:48 PM · Seems like a lot of maintenance versus benefit... unless you're a baroque player. Why not simply use synthetics or steel? Is the sound or feel really that much more appealing? I've never played with gut strings. I'm curious.
April 7, 2021, 3:58 PM · Gosh - don't oil covered gut strings like Eudoxa or Oliv! When I buy my uncovered gut strings (E,A,D) for my baroque instrument I ask for an oiled E which does make it last considerably longer.
April 7, 2021, 5:35 PM · Tony, I use almond oil atm and it's pretty decent, but still feels strange to have that bit of oil residue on my fingers (even after wiping). Will try out shea butter though. By easiest to handle, do you mean easiest to apply, or to play on?
April 7, 2021, 6:26 PM · John Alexander
April 7, 2021, 1:48 PM:
Is the sound or feel really that much more appealing?


April 7, 2021, 6:33 PM · Mr. Alexander,

Indeed; even without any sort of oiling procedure. They are not as difficult as many would believe.

April 7, 2021, 10:19 PM · Interesting. What gut strings would you all recommend for someone like me that doesn’t want to add a bunch maintenance like oiling and such? Many thanks!
April 8, 2021, 6:50 AM · Mr. Adelberto,
I found you other thread regarding gut strings. I am thinking to try The Passione. Seems like they may be a nice transition into gut.
Edited: April 8, 2021, 10:02 AM · Mr. Alexander,

Indeed they may be a good to "forever" transition if they suit your needs. My only qualm would be the price, and that the sound is ultimately not as beautiful as with Eudoxa/Tricolore/others. They are very stable, and some if not many players do use them nowadays.

Try Passione regular first rather than Solo (though the latter is not super tight), and avoid very heavy gauges to begin with. I use heavier gauges with regular Eudoxa, but would likely not do the same with regular Passione. All of them are bound to last you longer than a synthetic set, but do not be too rough while wiping rosin off the playing area, as the windings themselves may otherwise go bad earlier than they normally do.

Best wishes. Stay safe.

April 9, 2021, 8:08 PM · Hey Guys,
I just strung up a set of Eudoxas on my violin. Wow! Totally amazing experience. They play like butter. Soft, smooth, rich and delicious. I am loving them. Thanks for the solid recommendation.
Edited: April 10, 2021, 1:44 AM · Mr. Alexander,

Let us know how it goes as they mature, or if you have any issues. Other solid suggestions were made by Mr. Kruer in the other gut string thread you replied to. I along with many others are used to them, so we'll be able to identify most possible sources of confusion or trouble.

Hope you enjoy them! Surprising you went all the way to Eudoxa vs trying Passione first. Do not worry about that. Eudoxa are not worse for being more affordable!

April 10, 2021, 10:50 AM · They are stretching quite bit and requiring constant tuning. I imagine they will stabilize once broken in. Small inconvenience for the benefit.
Edited: April 10, 2021, 11:24 AM · Welcome to the dark side! Yes they will stretch quite a bit the first few days. Gradually less and after a week or so they will have reached their final length.
And please don't oil them!

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