Gut strings for baroque music

String diameter does matter

Music is mathematic and the equation to get a specific note on the instrument is based on:

  • The vibrating string length (used to be fixed regarding modern instrument manufacturing): 32cm for Violin, 36cm for Viola
  • The material (e.g.: lamb gut or beef gut) that comes with a specific tension resistance
  • The target note for string

Knowing these 3 parameters, the string diameter is decided.

But then come other considerations:

  • Musical considerations:
    • Lighter tensions tends to enrich note timbre/harmonics (my opinion)
    • Higher tensions tends to make note sound clearer and with sound volume. Strings can me more difficult to play especially for bass requiring more engagement with bow
    • Mixing different strings tensions can introduce some difference for best distance between bow hairs and instrument bridge depending on the string you will play on (higher tensions tends to increase required distance)
  • Instrument manufacturing considerations:
    • instrument cannot resist more than a given tension (e.g.: 15kg)
    • pegs can turn and automatically unwind the string due to too heavy tension if necessary tension to get the note is to heavy

So for example you can:

  • Harmonize the audio rendering of you instrument (this is not that common to get an instrument with same audio rendering for all strings). For instance my violin was slightly lacking audio volume for bass tones, so I corrected that using an heavy tension G-string.
  • Take into account the fact that you want to be able play at different tuning (e.g.: 415Hz and 440Hz), choosing a diameter that will fit both needs.

Always take care regarding the string price about the string length and so the number of strings that you will get:

  • For instance a violin string of 60cm length is for 1 string, 120cm is for 2 strings (you cut it into 2 strings). I ordered in the past 300cm gut strings from Sofracob manufacturer.
  • Also set of strings can come with not that attractive prices when you understand that you get 60cm version of strings, while you will get more strings from individual pieces...

Choose gut string diameter

Based on the two goals previously mentioned (get higher tension for bass, strings that are "good" for both 415Hz and 440Hz tunings), here is a table that helped me to decide the gut string diameter:

String diameter (mm) Violin usage
0.64 (E-string) light tension 440Hz
0.66 (E-string) medium tension 440Hz, light tension 415Hz
0.68 (E-string) heavy tension 440Hz, light-medium tension 415Hz
0.70 (E-string) medium tension 415Hz
0.73 (E-string) heavy tension 415Hz
0.82 (A-string) light tension 440Hz
0.85 (A-string) medium tension 440Hz, light tension 415Hz
0.88 (A-string) heavy tension 440Hz, medium tension 415Hz
0.91 (A-string) heavy tension 415Hz
1.08 (D-string) light tension 440Hz
1.12 (D-string) medium tension 440Hz, light tension 415Hz
1.16 (D-string) heavy tension 440Hz, medium tension 415Hz
1.24 (D-string) heavy tension 415Hz
1.55 (G-string) light tension 440Hz
1.60 (G-string) medium tension 440Hz
1.65 (G-string) heavy tension 440Hz
1.70 (G-string) light tension 415Hz
1.75 (G-string) medium tension 415Hz
1.80 (G-string) heavy tension 415Hz