Deterioration of plain gut strings

Edited: November 29, 2021, 10:52 AM · Hi, fellow gut string lovers :)
I am wondering what are the general signs of a gut string deterioration?

I have a (Efrano) set that I have used for a bout half a year, then stored them. I have now restrung the violin with the same set and I get (apart from a lot of scratch) an instable whine from my plain gut D. After the bow leaves the string, the pitch changes downwards and returns back to normal. The string is next to impossible to tune because of this. This unfortunate whine can be mitigated by sheer "mind over matter" mentality (and a lenient ear), but what gives?

Replies (26)

Edited: November 29, 2021, 7:17 PM · That's bizarre. But that's your sign of deterioration right there.

I think once you take gut strings on and off again they're good for the bin.

November 30, 2021, 1:32 AM · I thought I read somewhere that gut can take this... alas... obviously not this gut :)
November 30, 2021, 1:55 AM · Back in the day I don't suppose gut strings usually expired after one stringing and destringing.
November 30, 2021, 3:04 AM · My wound G always goes up nearly a quarter tone after 10mins of playing. The others are a bit better behaved.
November 30, 2021, 4:27 AM · Violinists often used to keep a second instrument around to break in gut strings, in case they needed to make a quick replacement during a concert. Perhaps that wasn't optimal, but it does show that removal and re-stringing wasn't impossible.

I wonder if an old encyclopedia, like Alberto Bachmann's, would have a paragraph on this. Not something I had thought to examine back when I could put my hands on it easily.

Edited: November 30, 2021, 4:28 AM · @Bud
I understand that is normal. The string warms up and winding keeps the temperature better. My problem is, that the (unwound, raw) D string itself whines a quarter tone lower after the bow leaves it. Every single time.

I also noticed fraying at the bow contact point, so that's it. D died. I will replace the whole set, keeping A and G in case something goes wrong with the new set.

November 30, 2021, 9:36 AM · I started with gut strings back in the late 50s. They never deteriorated except by very gradual fraying until they broke. And, if the resulting pieces were too short to be used that was the only time you put on new ones. [BTW we wouldn't cut the gut either but wrap it as much as possible around the peg so that when it broke, usually at the bridge, we could use the long end again.]

If you are having deterioration perhaps 'gut' may not always be what it used to be. Perhaps it is now treated to get a better sound or make it smoother or something...

Of course we used to get it from dead cats and roll it ourselves...
[and we walked 15 miles to school and back, uphill both ways with 3 ft snow and wolves and ...]

November 30, 2021, 9:41 AM · Varnish may be a good thing to add on-- available as an option with most boutique makers.
November 30, 2021, 11:22 AM · If you get plain unwound gut from Gamut, and add varnish, this will prolong their life and make the strings more stable. I can get 3-4 months out of a set in the winter.
November 30, 2021, 11:44 AM · I suspect the fraying might be the culprit. Costs me zero to cut it there and unwind it at the peg.

On the other hand - Efrano is quite possibly the cheapest gut string on the planet, and my first one. I have no Idea what premium gut string sounds or feels like. All I know is this brand and for all I know I might have a bad D or something...

November 30, 2021, 2:38 PM · New D, new sound. This was the weirdest string death I have witnessed. The first one being EP Golds dulling out into oblivion in 3 minutes of playing.

Thanks for all the input.

Also - has anyone played Efrano strings and compared them to other brands? I wonder how they compare to Toro, Lenzner, Gamut, La Folia or pirastro strings...

November 30, 2021, 2:38 PM · New D, new sound. This was the weirdest string death I have witnessed. The first one being EP Golds dulling out into oblivion in 3 minutes of playing.

Thanks for all the input.

Also - has anyone played Efrano strings and compared them to other brands? I wonder how they compare to Toro, Lenzner, Gamut, La Folia or pirastro strings...

Edited: November 30, 2021, 3:13 PM · Tony. In my experience it is not that simple. Testing just one string of a brand, gauge, etc on just one fiddle is not a real test.

If you are judging a set of strings you have to test the whole. You can then deviate - string by string to find what improves or goes bad. The total tension of the "set" and the "balance" of the tensions have important effects

I found EP GOLD strings to be a "rather splendid" set when topped with a PI-Pt E string on all 4 of my violins. Then I moved on and tried complete sets of Warchal Timbre strings on 2 of those fiddles and they were made better than any time in their lives to that time (50 years for one of them and 20 for the other).

A third fiddle got even better with a set of Pirastro Perpetual Cadenzas. But it was completely under-whelming with a set of Timbres, and with gut-Tricolores with a Goldbrokat E. Even a set of gut-core Eudoxas, which were my favorites on it 70 to 50 years ago (and still had nice sound) lacked the powerful resonance my ancient ears can hear with the Perpetual Cadenzas and the EP GOlds.

The fourth fiddle is still wearing its EP Golds with the PI-Pt E. It's good enough that way so I'll keep those strings on as long as it is.

I'm almost embarrassed to admit that the trials described above have all been done in the past 2 years. You can only imagine how much string experimenting I have done since Dominant strings were introduced 50 years ago.

When I first moved to the Bay Area 26 years ago the luthier I linked up with (Ifshin Violins) put Dominant strings on all the fiddles they rented. But some years later I noted that they also started to use Tonica strings on some. I guess they noticed what I had some 50 years ago when I first tried Dominants on one of my violins and when back to Eudoxas immediately - until Tonicas were first available.

I have not found the "string thing" to be straight forward at all.

November 30, 2021, 5:59 PM · I have a nice new set of Cadenzas waiting for my next string change. I currently have a set of EP Golds. I think will try replacing the e-sting with a PI platinum. So many great strings out there. Do you change string brand based on seasonal changes?
November 30, 2021, 8:38 PM · I replaced the EP Gold e-string with the PI/pt. Very nice combination. Not sure if it’s my imagination but the other strings now seem to sound a bit more resonance and brilliant.
November 30, 2021, 8:51 PM · Here in northern California's Bay Area seasons do not change all that much - besides my instruments live indoors. I seem to buy new strings when interesting-sounding ones are released and I hear about them (STRINGS and STRAD magazines as well as internet ads).

Sometimes I even install the new strings shortly after they arrive - others may wait in my "string drawer" for years (e.g., Rondos).

Edited: November 30, 2021, 9:18 PM · FRESH gut can be restrung, that's true. But why would you do that? In my experience a worn gut string that's already sprouted some hairs just never sounds the same again once it's been restrung.
December 1, 2021, 7:49 PM · @Andrew Victor

I am sorry if I did not point out that I have the entire set of Efranos on my violin. I have very much experimented with strings but not with gut.
I understand the differences in the core materials of modern strings, but gut - I have no idea. Efranos are the only brand I ever tried. They are stiff and D is thick under the fingers. The sound is hard woody and open. Sort of like a soloist singer chest voice "AAAAAA" as opposed to a throaty "MMMMMM" of synthetics...

I will probbably go with Lenzner Supersolo next as they are the next resonably priced string - at least here in Europe.

@Cotton Mather
Of course, but the string never sounds the same. It evolves and dies eventualy. And yes, I found (right now) fraying on the D caused horrible consequences in sound production and pitch.

December 2, 2021, 1:12 PM · Cotton, used plain gut strings ("used" as in "not expected to last much longer") have a second life in my garden in supporting plants that need it, the supporting stick a couple of times being a VBSO stick (VBSO = violin bow-shaped object), sometimes found accompanying a VSO that has long outlived its mercifully short life.
Edited: December 2, 2021, 1:51 PM · Nate, I have found Sweet Almond Oil to be a useful alternative to varnish for coating plain gut strings. I prefer to apply it using my fingertips, and then leave it to dry/soak in overnight. When I'm using plain gut I find applying it about once a fortnight is sufficient (there writes an elderly and not overworked amateur).

Sweet Almond Oil must not be confused with other almond oil products, which could contain alcohol or other substances that are not a good idea for gut strings

December 2, 2021, 1:55 PM · Tony,
Lenzner's SuperSolos are pretty good, and good value. I found that replacing their G with something stronger made a nice difference, but their unwrapped A did a nice job.

To do even better in tone and durability, Tricolore's Heifetz formula is worth a look. I do without their unwrapped D and move everything to light weight instead of their recommended medium. YMMV, of course.

December 3, 2021, 4:46 AM · @Stephen Symchych
Light weight strings also brighten the instrument. I am using a violin that has an aggressive tone by itself, so darkening it with higher tension strings while giving it even more power seems like a strategy...
I am first experimenting with E string gauges to see what fits. I also like the sound of gut E, but it frays within a couple days of use...
December 3, 2021, 4:49 AM · Well, do consider response. Sometimes an interesting tone color can be too difficult to horse out of the instrument.

Interesting you're trying gut E. Those are less durable than other gut strings, I think, but don't have to be feeble or fragile if made well.

December 3, 2021, 4:52 AM · @Trevor Jennings
I have medical grade sweet almond oil (baby skin safe), and I used that. Dos wonders, but is also very thin and if you drip just a tiny bit onto the bowing section of the string... ouch.
Shea butter does wonders and it's easier to apply. Also gives a nice smokey aroma to the violin :)
Edited: December 9, 2021, 3:55 PM · My continued experience over the years of using plain gut A and D, together with a wound gut G, is that they last, and last, and last, while still retaining their tone and stability. Can't say that for the plain gut E, unfortunately. In the case of the gut E, we're probably looking at a practical playing life of 8-10 weeks before fraying becomes too much of an irritation - but I must say I've never had one break when playing or tuning. For general orchestral playing, I now use a plain steel E such as Goldbrokat - inexpensive but good.

Three years ago, as an experiment I kept a gut E on for as long as possible to see how long it would last in a regime of home practice, rehearsals and concerts. I was a little surprised at what eventually happened. The first 2 months were as expected, a little bit of fraying here and there but nothing to worry about. I would deal with a fray by very carefully cutting it from the string with fine scissors, making the cut as close to the string as possible, and applying a tiny drop of sweet almond oil to the cut area, Needless to say, I would never pull on a fray – that will only make fraying worse and would weaken the string.

As the weeks progressed the fraying got worse and needed even more careful attention. The fraying was now getting to be a nuisance under the fingers, but the tuning still remained remarkably steady. Six months after the start of the “experiment” the orchestra was having its final rehearsal a few days before the concert, and I had already decided that E was approaching its end and wasn't going to be risked for the concert in view of its condition (but still in tune and producing a just about acceptable tone, though!) and would be replaced after the rehearsal. This indeed happened, but not quite as intended. Halfway through the rehearsal the string suddenly started to fray with great rapidity along its entire length from nut to bridge in a few seconds, an amazing sight close-up, but did not break. I immediately stopped playing and replaced that E with a new one, and continued with the rehearsal.

That gut E, as with my other plain gut strings then and now, was a Pirastro Chorda. Living in the UK I've found that Chordas are immediately accessible in my violin shop, whereas other brands would less conveniently have to be ordered online, usually from the US.

December 10, 2021, 2:03 AM · @Trevor Jennings
That's very interesting. And you say you use Chordas and they last that long... Apparently Efranos do not have that longevity. Interestingly enough... I have always had problems with previous D. It was always sort of slow to start and squawked and hissed a lot. I thought - that's how things should be and I have bad bowing technique.

I put a new D from the same maker... Like night and day. It is responsive, sounds fantastic and very rarely squawks. I thought G was a bit weak before, but a new stronger D made G sing as well. The entire set of strings became louder and clearer with depth and hiss I expected from gut.

This is actually somewhat annoying (in a sweet way), because I have somehow persuaded myself that gut is a gimmick I cannot use in real life as they are not loud enough and are too demanding as far as bowing mistakes go... Now that's not true as the fiddle is roaring, giving my other fiddle with Vision Solo Titaniums a run for its ... volume I guess.

If only they were more impervious to changes in humidity... They would be phenomenal.

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