How long do gut strings last?

Edited: May 1, 2021, 3:24 AM · Sorry I'm sure this has been asked and answered before, but I've searched and there are a million threads on gut strings and I can't find one that addresses this specific question.

I'm eager to try a set of gut strings, specifically something like: Oliv G&D, Passione A, and then whatever E (say Goldbrokat 0.27). I heard this combo would give you a good color transition across the strings, but if anyone has any suggestions let me know.

My main question as per the title of the thread is about longevity. I am fine with the tuning instability of gut strings, so that's not an issue for me. I'm wondering if there might be an issue with how long they last compared to synthetics, as the combination between that and tuning instability would probably break the deal for me. How long would my proposed setup last compared to, say, a set of Dominants (my usual choice)? I find Dominants start to really lose their color within 4-5 weeks for me, and if gut strings can beat that then they're a winner.

For reference, I live in a pretty temperate area in the Midwest where humidity isn't a big issue.

Replies (31)

May 1, 2021, 1:56 AM · Welcome to the wonderful world of gut! My setup is similar to what you ask about: Oliv rigid G, oliv silver D, Passione solo A and Evah platinum E so I will chip in with my experience with that combo.
Lifelength of these strings off course depend on how much you play, but that is the case for all strings. For me it differs over the year, but on average I play 1-2 hours a day. And gut strings definitely outlast synthetics - especially the modern synthetics like Evah. The G and D last the longest and there are several times where I have changed strings that were about a year old and I thought there was really not much difference in sound with the new string. I change the A more often and the E even more often (but that off course is nothing to do with gut strings so that will not be different from what you do now).
I found the E to have a great influence on the sound of the other strings so it is worth it to test out the options. Goldbrokat is a good choice which I used a lot in the past, but on my violin the new platinum E (which is ridiculously expensive) really lifts the whole instrument.
Regarding tuning stability I found that the A string I use (Passione solo) is the least stable. When I take the violin out of the case it requires most tuning and the G is very often spot on. This is in Sweden where we have very dry air inside in the winter - about 25-30% - and I try to keep the violin case at around 45-50%. During the first 15-20 minutes of practice I have to retune the A (it goes higher) and then it is good. So the passione, although it is marketed as more stable than other gut strings, has not lived up to my expectations.
The A is the string I am least satisfied with in my setup, so I plan to try out some options (regular passione, Eudoxa etc).

Edited: May 1, 2021, 3:55 AM · Thanks for the info, Bo. I'm glad to hear they outlast synthetics. Maybe in the long run they're actually a better investment? Haha

I'm also considering the setup of just going Gamut silver wound G, plain A & D, and sticking with the trusty Goldbrokat 0.27 E. I have question for people who use plain gut: do you still clean your strings after playing like one would with wound synthetic strings? That is, wiping them down with a soft/microfiber cloth. In my head, I feel like if you wipe too hard or too much it'll cause the string to breakdown, but I don't know. Typically when I wipe it can create a bit of an unpleasant sound, but never so hard that they heat up and facilitate rosin fusing.

Edited: May 1, 2021, 5:42 AM · Wound gut strings (the G-A you mentioned) last for ages. You could quite comfortably have the G on for a year without getting fussy about changing it. The E in that set up you mention is metal and will last as long as any usual E string on your violin. In terms of sound deterioration they will maintain optimum quality for longer than your dominants. Dominants are of course cheaper, so in purely economic terms it's a complicated one.

Why not Oliv A to match the G-A?

May 1, 2021, 5:58 AM · Olive G and D should last for at least half a year without any noticeable deterioration in tone quality, possibly a year or longer if your windings last.

The Passione A on the other hand uses both gut and synthetic material for its core, its lifespan will be limited by the degrading synthetic inside and will most likely only last as long as your average synthetic string. For all intents and purposes it's best to consider Passiones to be more synthetic than gut. You may wish to try a Eudoxa A, a lot of players find it compliments the brighter Olivs very well.

I consider wiping down strings after each playing session to be a crucial maintenance step regardless of string material. Dirt and sweat will pollute and damage the string windings and core, it is imperative to me that I remove as much contaminants as I can as gently as possible. You also wouldn't want rosin build up anyway.

Edited: May 1, 2021, 6:24 AM · About tuning stability: I have played on Oliv, Passione and Eudoxa (always the whole set as sold by Pirastro). In all of those the A is the least stable string, the Oliv A is particularly bad in that regard and can be annoying in rehearsals (I can't even count how many sets of Olivs I have used over the years; so there is significant experience behind this statement).
Edited: May 1, 2021, 6:28 AM · Hello T Y, do you have a source of more information on Passione strings' synthetic material?

There's the official Pirastro talking point that
"The combination in manufacturing of modern synthetic and traditional gut technology made it possible to retain the sound beauty of gut core strings and to increase significantly the tuning stability and the break-in-time."

But they also say that the sheep gut core is made using traditional means.

I know that Oliv and Eudoxa both have a silk layer between the core and the winding, I'm guessing that this layer is what has changed for Passione - changing to sythnetic (plastic?) material.

Incidentally, the same page states
"As a rule of thumb:
The thicker a string is, the more powerful is the sound and the higher is the tension.
A thinner string will produce a brighter sound, however this does not mean that the sound is weaker or looses power."

Which contradicts itself!

To the OP's point: I've found that all wound gut lasts a very long time! Usually the aluminum winding on all wound As is what goes first. If you have well fitting bridge slots with lubrication, a set of wound gut can last a very long time. I've found my Passione As last many months - far longer than synthetic As would. My impression - which could be wrong - is that, after the annoying initial break-in, gut strings keep their tension better than synthetics, which lose tension and become very dull within few months.

A concertmaster who uses Passiones told me he changes them once a year!

May 1, 2021, 7:12 AM · How strange! I've known for many years from luthiers (my luthier practically told me to stay away from them as they sound significantly less complex than Eudoxa and Oliv) and players that the Passiones are uses both gut and synthetic for its core/winding (hence the better stability but a more synthetic-like tone), but now that I'm searching for the source of this information I'm barely able to come up with satisfactory results!

I suppose this was once common knowledge that got lost in time. The only reputable online source regarding this I could find at the moment is a short review from Gene Wie: https://www.gwie.ca/violin-string-recommendations.html

The best absolute proof I could think of is for someone to get hold of a disused Passione string and cutting it open to examine its material layers.

Edited: May 1, 2021, 8:04 AM · I agree with most of what has been stated above.

I find that the regular Eudoxa must not be worse just because they are more affordable. Generally, although Passione are a high quality option, I do not prefer them vs the others, even though many accomplished players do like and use them. But I imagine if Pirastro promoted Eudoxa as much as they should, they would at least be more popular today, even if not as much as they once were. Each other gut option afterwards have brought about a set of cons to all their pros (mostly higher tension and a different tone and feel.)

Having said that, the Oliv are a good string, but cannot unequivocally state that they are objectively superior to Eudoxa for all players and violins, even for "soloists" (as used to be their branding some time ago.) Each of their lines have their own character (Gold Label, Eudoxa, Oliv, Passione, Passione Solo) even without mentioning the stiff versions. I prefer the Eudoxa nowadays, though understand the lure of the other options.

(Tricolore are quite good wound or plain gut, though a bit higher in tension than Eudoxa, as most strings are.)

Wound gut strings have an absurd lifespan, barring early windings deterioration, which is what often can happen with the As (and the silver D for Oliv, sometimes.) The Aluminum wound, silver-aluminum wound, gold-aluminum wound Ds seem to last "forever" for me, as do all the Gs.

If using Pirastro wound gut As, just purchase a few ahead of time as some people do with their steel Es. They do last long, do not take me wrong. Just take extra care when wiping rosin off them.

For me, Oliv As are fine and sound great, though understand they could be less stable for some. I think I prefer Eudoxa because it still sounds amazing, never dull, and I can get more girth per tension (the Oliv is slightly more tense per diameter.)

(Frankly, the tuning stability issue is nothing to worry about for experienced gut string users, and is in my opinion frequently overstated. It is just that players have been accustomed to the convenience of the steel core-like stability of most synthetic strings, and some feel "out of place" if they do not match what others are doing-no offense ever intended, so please take none!)

Edited: May 1, 2021, 9:09 AM · TL;WR: gut lasts a darn long time.

I kept a wound gut G for a year, only to move it to my spare instrument. Some brightness is lost but the core is perfectly intact.

Plain gut varies by season and physiology. I've had Chordas (never, ever, ever, EVER buy Chorda) and gut Es break in two weeks, but some other brands of plain gut have survived half a year for me. I prefer plain gut to wound treble strings, which is why I bring it up.

Edited: May 1, 2021, 10:11 AM · I've had Chorda which have only lasedt a few hours before they start to unravel. Never, ever buying them again.
May 1, 2021, 10:17 AM · I have a gut E on my baroque violin that has been on for about 6 months now. I think that's my record.
Edited: May 1, 2021, 5:07 PM · When I was a relatively brand-new cellist I had gut strings, bare-gut A. If I recall correctly it was red color. During one period of really intense practice (and progress) I was wearing out one of those gut A strings every week. And it really was wear because I recall how I could see the surface of the strings degrading. These days I am perfectly happy with steel cello strings and the ROSTANVO strings I have on now are the best I have ever had on all three of my cellos.

All this talk on this thread and some previous ones here at violinist.com have taken my mind back to the first 20 years with my #1 violin, when I used Eudoxa strings (happy days indeed - starting about 70 years ago). So last week I installed a set of Eudoxa back on that violin immediately after they arrived from concordmusic.com. It sure has taken a long time to reach any degree of stability, but between the relative stability of my local climate and my Pegheds it is no longer a real problem. The strings sounded gorgeous when first put on and brought to pitch, but gradually as they stretched and tightened the tone pinched a bit. However, finally after stabilizing the strings seemed to have "softened" a bit and the wonderful tone has returned. I have retained the Warchal Amber E that was on when I mounted the Eudoxas. I think I will stay with these - on this violin they seem to have as much power as the Evah Pirazzi Golds that I have had on this violin just previously.

Having 4 violins to mess around with I have learned enough not to recommend string selection to the unseen, unheard violins of others. I have owned these violins for approximately 70, 50(2) and 20 years and have been "experimenting" with different strings on them for 50 years. I am finally happy with the way they are all strung.

2 of them are the best they have ever been with full sets of Warchal Timbre strings, although on one of those I have an all-metal Warchal Avantgard A string.

The other 2 were their best with a set of Evah Pirazzi Gold topped with either a Peter Infeld Platinum E or a Warchal Amber E. Now one of these is wearing the Eudoxa set topped with an Amber E, but I may reinstall its old PI-Pt E to see how that works with the gut-core strings. I had previously found that the PI-Pt E made every set of strings I used sound better (except Tricolore, because the PI-Pt E overpowered those gut strings).

I also have 2 unused sets of Pirastro Oliv strings, but I have offered those to my granddaughter, one of whose violins, was made in Germany in 1845 by an ancestor (family members made violins there for generations) and brought to the USA in the late 1800s by a great-great-grandfather who earned his living on it as a violinist in NYC (until one of his 3 sons, my wife's father, sat on it (he was a cellist!)). But that violin was eventually beautifully repaired. Clearly that violin was made for German-made gut strings and she might want to try them.

Edited: May 2, 2021, 12:14 AM · After reading a ton of other threads, I think I will instead be going for a set of medium Gamut tricolores, still using the Goldbrokat 0.27 E. Do you guys think there might be a harsh color break between this set and the E? Again, totally inexperienced in this world!
May 1, 2021, 11:14 PM · Steel E strings are fairly cheap, if you are going for Gamut strings you might as well spend a little bit more to try different E strings and see how the interact. Goldbrokat, Hill, Westminster, Gold Label, etc... My current favorite with Eudoxa strings is the Warchal Amber E.

Are you planning on getting the Tricolore or the Academie strings from Gamut? The Tricolores generally have higher tensions gauge for gauge compared to the Academies and they will sound different from each other, not to mention your instrument's preference to higher or lower tension strings.

When in doubt, consult your luthier.

May 1, 2021, 11:39 PM · The silver-wound on gut G and D will last a very long time. The aluminum on gut D and A is a soft metal and will break or wear out quickly. Some will use a steel A with gut D and G, but that has a big contrast in tone between the D and A.
Edited: May 2, 2021, 12:51 AM · Ah I should've specified, I'm thinking of the Tricolores
May 2, 2021, 1:08 AM · Silver and Aluminum are the same hardness, Aluminum is not softer.
May 2, 2021, 1:26 AM · One of my violins spent the winter experimenting with Tricolores. First, it worked a lot better with light weight A and D. Unwrapped A was fine, but wrapped also sounded excellent. Very little decline in sound over several months. The biggest worry would be mechanical— weakening of wrapping as the gut absorbs sweat.
May 2, 2021, 5:08 AM · It's not necessarily that aluminum windings last shorter than silver windings because of the difference in hardness, but that aluminum reacts more readily with the acidity and salt in sweat. Because of this, silver windings are generally more durable than aluminum windings particularly for sweaty hands.

Which brings us back to the topic of wiping down strings after playing. It's bad enough that string windings slowly wear down during playing, making sure there's less sweat and dirt remaining on your strings before going back into the case will significantly lengthen their useful lifespan.

Warchal has a quite detailed explanation on how string windings degrade with continuous usage: https://warchal.com/faq/the_lifespan_of_strings.html

May 2, 2021, 9:21 AM · Mr. Quivey (and everyone else who may be interested),

I do not contend that theoretically, aluminum wound strings should be more frail, specifically for sweaty hand players. In a case where such a problem does not exist-as is my own situation-the manner in which most aluminum wound Ds are manufactured make them basically "impervious" to windings damage over long periods of time. Since they are thicker, they are not wound the same way as do the As (easy check-compare any new aluminum wound D with any new aluminum wound A-it is not just the diameter that changes, but also how each is wound.) Silver Ds may be more lasting for some synthetics, but Silver wound Oliv Ds in particular have rather frail windings, that generally won't outlast what the gut core itself could theoretically offer. They last long, but care must be taken with their windings, much as I mentioned with the Pirastro wound aluminum As. Gs are basically "eternal" windings-wise of course.

*So in short, in my frequent experience, aluminum is easier to damage with acidic hands, but is very sturdy with "normal" hands on the D string if not the A, due to different manufacturing techniques (I believe), as aluminum windings on D strings look very different than those of violin A strings.*

My Oliv Silver Ds have always "died" to windings degradation, rather than demonstrating any tonal loss. None ever did not have this "issue". They must make the windings more delicate on purpose, or perhaps the way they are manufactured due to the gut core impedes silver Ds to be as sturdy as silver wound gut Gs (string manufacturers, feel free to comment, as I know *nothing* about making strings, being only a violinist.)

I do not recall synthetic silver Ds failing often, but I have not used them in a very long while now. I do not remember Aluminum wound Ds having windings degradation at all, granted non-acidic hands. Aluminum wound gut and synthetics strings' windings for the A *do* fail over time for me, even with non sweaty hands, but usually more with gut core strings.

Take care, stay safe, and feel free to disagree, of course.

May 2, 2021, 10:24 AM · All,-- Thank you for the additional information. I was making conclusions from only my personal experience, and thinking of how easy it is to crush aluminum cans. jq
May 2, 2021, 10:37 AM · Silver cans would crush just as easily but cost 100 times as much.
Edited: May 2, 2021, 12:38 PM · Even with synthetic sets there is a harsh break between the middle strings and the steel E. We just don't notice it because the steel E sound is what we've come to expect and enjoy! The E will be much more piercing than the gut strings as a rule, but I think the average listener would not say "why's that one string sound funny?"

Also, I am no metallurgist, but from my experience I am also tempted to say aluminium is indeed more delicate than silver. Maybe the fact that it oxidizes so quickly? Or maybe that silver is often found in a harder alloy.

May 2, 2021, 2:01 PM · Without knowing the tecnical details of string making a possible explanation of differences in durability of windings depending on the core material may lie in the weight of the core. If the gut core is heavier than the synthetic core the winding needs to be thinner and thus more fragile.
The aluminium in the windings on strings is probably not pure aluminium but an alloy with different properties.
The oliv A is indeed a good match to the other oliv string - sound wise. But they are extremely fragile. I have had strings delivered with damaged windings, I have had strings break within the first few days. An I am always very careful and lubricate the bridge and nut with a 6B pencil. And the times the oliv A survived the first weeks it never became stable. The sound is superior to the passione, but it is just not a viable solution.
May 2, 2021, 4:47 PM · Pirastro Oliv can last up to 3 months for me. The plain unwound gut by Gamut can last 3-4 months as well. Synthetic strings for me, didn’t last as long.
May 2, 2021, 5:07 PM · My metal wound gut G/D strings lasted as long as any synthetic, but I used a plain gut A that would need to replaced halfway through their lifespan. I loved Dlugolecki strings, as he'd send you the equivalent of two gut A's in a single order.

Sadly, my latest attempt to use gut backfired--temperature and humidity fluctuations just drove the setup nuts. Using a set of Warchal Timbre for right now, and will likely go back to Thomastik Rondo until the weather is a bit more friendly.

Edited: May 2, 2021, 8:03 PM · Gene wrote: "I loved Dlugolecki strings, as he'd send you the equivalent of two gut A's in a single order."

Gamut Académie A and E strings also are double length.

Edited: May 2, 2021, 11:53 PM · Do you guys think a thicker E string usually makes for a smoother color change from Tricolore G-A? Thinking about the Goldbrokat extra heavy 0.28
May 3, 2021, 1:05 AM · Thicker gauges aren't always better, as a general rule of thumb thicker strings lose overtones and playability at higher positions. The higher tension that usually comes with thicker gauges can sound bolder and louder (even overpowering), but it may also crush your tone and negatively affect the other 3 strings.

There's no universal consensus on whether it's better to use thicker or thinner gauges because every instrument and player will have different preferences.

Goldbrokats are a dime a dozen, try the standard medium gauge first to see whether you really need thicker gauges. If your luthier has a variety of gauges in stock, it's a good idea to simply try them all to see what works best for you.

May 3, 2021, 8:29 AM · Mr. Erdelyi,

There are all sorts of opinions and preferences regarding the transition to the E. Some prefer a thicker A to match the power of Es, others a thinner A to match the brilliance of most Es. A number of players want the E to stand out and be totally different, rather than having it mesh with the A.

I have used the Goldbrokat .28 eons ago. It sounded nice back then. It may suit many instruments well. It does have some cons: very heavy and perhaps "hard to play" for some hands, super loud on lower position transitions so you would have to be extra attentive with the bow, and for my violin it darkens the tone a bit, removing overall brilliance. This is sometimes deemed a plus, with a perceived bigger, deeper tone, but I prefer a very open, brilliant tone rather than the "dark, focused tone" that many people love. As someone recommended, just buy a .26 and a .28, make the comparison, and let us know how it went.

Many players use Jargar Forte, Westminster 27.5, Goldbrokat .28, but it may not be a good match. Very sorry I am basically telling you "you won't know until you try". Sometimes a luthier can help if he/she knows the type of result you seek.

(I find some of the weich/dolce/thin Es can be a great match to gut, as long as you do not lose too much projection on the highest registers. Brand and violin dependent as usual.)

Edited: May 3, 2021, 1:15 PM · Two or three years ago I left a gut E on my violin to see how long it would last for a season of orchestral rehearsals, concerts, and home practice. I chose to ignore the E's little frayings here and there - they're easy enough to remove using a pair of nail scissors carefully. That Chorda E lasted for several months without any significant change in tone or stability, until during a rehearsal during the 6th month it evidently decided it had had enough and frayed suddenly down its whole length, from nut to bridge. I got the message loud and clear and forthwith changed it for a steel E. I found that a steel E is peg-tunable in an emergency if the peg is good.

My experience of the lower gut strings, whether bare or covered, is that they are reliable in all respects for at least a year.

BTW, if you're a user of gut strings it is only polite to say "Thank you, ladies!" when passing by a field of sheep.


Facebook Twitter YouTube Instagram Email

Violinist.com is made possible by...

Shar Music
Shar Music

Yamaha Silent Violin
Yamaha Silent Violin

Pirastro Strings
Pirastro Strings

Find a Summer Music Program
Find a Summer Music Program

Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases
Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases

Violinist.com Business Directory
Violinist.com Business Directory

Violinist.com Guide to Online Learning
Violinist.com Guide to Online Learning

Dominant Pro Strings

Antonio Strad Violin

Bay Fine Strings Violin Shop

Bobelock Cases

Fiddlerman.com

Fiddlershop

Los Angeles Violin Shop

Nazareth Gevorkian Violins

Violin-Strings.com

Metzler Violin Shop

Leatherwood Bespoke Rosin

Warchal

Barenreiter

Johnson String Instrument and Carriage House Violins

Potter Violins

String Masters

Bein & Company

Annapolis Bows & Violins

Laurie's Books

Discover the best of Violinist.com in these collections of editor Laurie Niles' exclusive interviews.

Violinist.com Interviews Volume 1
Violinist.com Interviews Volume 1, with introduction by Hilary Hahn

Violinist.com Interviews Volume 2
Violinist.com Interviews Volume 2, with introduction by Rachel Barton Pine

Subscribe