Calling gut string players: gut intonation

Edited: February 28, 2023, 9:39 AM · So I can't be the only one who has this problem, right? My plain strings intonate way sharper than my wound strings, even in first position. In third position if I stop a fifth the difference is almost a semitone.

I don't think my strings are false, because it happens even with new ones (though it gets worse over time). It can't be the instrument, because I've tried gut on 3 of my violins and I have the same problem between the D and G. Now that I play a 5 string it's even more confusing as the wonky intonation zone is located between the C-G and D-A pairs which work as you expect them to.

It's driving me absolutely mad and I would hate to switch back to synthetics after all these years for this one problem.

Does anyone else have this issue with gut strings? Is there a remedy I'm unaware of? According to Google, this problem does not exist or I don't know how to search for it.

Replies (23)

Edited: February 28, 2023, 10:24 AM · Hadn't noticed that, per se. Perhaps check with a luthier to see if there is something about your bridge or fingerboard that is out of whack.

More generally, I have noticed that the absence of frisson on pure gut allows me to hear pitches differently. If you're even slightly sharp with them, the support from overtones of that or other strings, or other players' instruments, just collapses.

Had I had access to a setup like that as a kid, I might have avoided some problems. I do remember spending a whole summer at Tanglewood getting shouted at for always going sharp in the Beethoven 2nd Romance.

Whether that is what you are experiencing or if you are actually sharp, I have no idea. Again, have someone look at your bridge to make sure its feet havn't drifted. That can make double stops really impossible to get right.

Edited: February 28, 2023, 11:05 AM · No, very definitively sharper on the D string than the G. Imagine: somewhere around 7th position, the discrepancy is so great that to achieve a perfect fifth, you need to finger a tritone.
February 28, 2023, 11:37 AM · I have not experienced this to quite this degree. The fact that it gets worse over time suggests that the string or moving bridge is part of the problem.

Starting by visiting a luthier is good advice.

You could try another brand of the sharp string. What is its Guage, is it varnished, is it pistoy gut (twisted)?

February 28, 2023, 11:53 AM · Yes, sounds like a geometry problem. A bunch of ways that could be intruding.
Edited: February 28, 2023, 12:09 PM · I agree it seems like it should be geometry, but I just don't see what could be causing it. For context, I built my five string... I can verify the radius of the bridge and fingerboard are 42mm, exactly standard. The string heights are correct as is the bridge placement. When I put on some old synthetic strings today, the fifths are true everywhere.
So I'm not crazy, right?
Yet when I bring this up with string manufacturers and players, nobody has any idea what I'm talking about.

I've tried Gamut and Aquila, including the braided D strings.

February 28, 2023, 12:31 PM · The height of the d string, and the scoop may be playing a role.

Gut ds are thick, less flexible. The string may need to be lower.

See what a shop has to say.

February 28, 2023, 1:49 PM · I wish a manufacturer just made a synthetic that doesn't corrode from sweat.
February 28, 2023, 2:09 PM · @ Cotton, I have Tricolores, Eudoxas, and most recently Olivs set up on 3 violins. I have noticed intonation is slightly more challenging as compared to synthetics (also more rewarding). However, I have not experienced an issue with false fifths or sharp intonation.
February 28, 2023, 2:30 PM · Perhaps the G is false? Even Gamut/Tricolore are not infallible.
Edited: March 1, 2023, 11:21 AM · Strings do not behave like the simplified models in school physics books, and their thickness will affect the precision of their overtones..
February 28, 2023, 3:44 PM · Yeesh! Not using pure gut strings certainly has advantages.
February 28, 2023, 4:18 PM · Well, the pure one might not be the one with the problem. Life gets more complicated when you start wrapping the core.
February 28, 2023, 4:45 PM · Have you tried playing natural harmonics across the strings? If you do this in "cello position" you can see what your are doing.

If these "line up" then the problem is likely due to some physical distortion when you finger the notes in the higher positions, if not then it could be the bridge or the nut or a string or ??

Edited: February 28, 2023, 7:10 PM · The harmonics are in tune, so something from the moment my finger touches the string until it reaches the fingerboard is causing the problem. My hunch is the lower flexibility / elasticity of the D string causes the pitch to rise as it's pulled towards the board. But since my action is already as low as possible, and the scoop is very modest... well, there's no way I could reduce the string draw. And anyway, nobody else seems to have this problem except me.

I think I'm going to move to Passione. Now, what to do with my stock of unused gut strings?

February 28, 2023, 9:13 PM · What brand and gauge?
Edited: February 28, 2023, 10:49 PM ·

What with my age and hearing, a tuner has become as much an attachment to my violin as my chin rest.

To describe this little gem, it has a small color screen that is easy to read. It readily responds to the four strings. (Large letters: E, A, D, G.) But, it can also read all the other notes as well. (Small print.) Being able to tell whether a note is a bit sharp or a bit flat is very intuitive. And, one can set the A to whatever frequency: 240, 241, 242, etc. Attachable tuners like mine respond only to the vibration of the instrument. They are not influenced by surrounding, competing wavelengths. I keep a spare battery in my violin case. I attach mine just to the left of my fingerboard.

In use, I tune my A string to the tuner, and then tune the D and G to ear. I finish by tuning the E to the tuner. It works great. For example, I compared this tuner to Sound Corset, which is an Android app that I have on both my phone and my Samsung tablet. The two were in spot-on agreement with each other.

Given the advantages of these tuning devices, the traditional, ritualistic tuning of an orchestra seems so pathetically, anachronistic. Really, tune one to another, to another, to another? Talk about introducing variability and inaccuracy into an ensemble! Much better that everyone tune to their own tuner, I think. It would be quicker and more accurate, and with greater precision. Just a small touch of bow to string can affirm intonation. Regrettably, orchestras that traditionally play music hundreds of years old haven't yet caught up to current technology. (I think that I may be ranting here.)

Anyway, I encourage those not familiar with some sort of electronic tuning device to give one a try. I'm sure glad I did.

February 28, 2023, 10:46 PM · Aquila .79 and 1.08.
Edited: March 1, 2023, 7:13 AM · @Neil - thanks for touting the d'Addario tuner. It is a g-dsend, particularly in an orchestral setting where you are trying to tune up and everyone else is warming up. Smartphone tuners usually pick up the ambient brass and wind playing rather than your instrument. However, I hope you don't really set yours to 240, 241, or 242 (lol).
March 1, 2023, 8:27 AM · I've been using d'Addario tuners since they first appeared on the market. I've got one in every instrument case. They even have a special clip-on for cello bridges.

March 1, 2023, 11:23 AM · Could we have a tuner that follows the woodwind as they sharpen once warm?

Edited: March 1, 2023, 2:37 PM · I have Tricolors on my violin. I tried to reproduce the phenomenon and was unable to do so. The problem is likely not the strings.

I don't think intonation is harder on plain gut than on wound strings. Rather the opposite. The resonances are so clear that the tone itself tells me if I am in tune. If you play on Pirastros you have to deal with strings going out of tune in the middle of a piece. This can be difficult. Tricolors do not seem to have that problem.

March 11, 2023, 11:13 AM · I like the expression "gut intonation"!
As in Just Intonation, or Expressive Intonation?
March 11, 2023, 2:11 PM · You listen to the gurgling in your stomach when you bow and you know you've got it when the beating stops

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