View Full Version : Fiddle Strings
09-12-2008, 09:05 AM
I am in my second year of reenacting as a camp musician playing fiddle, minstral banjo & parlor guitar. I own a few fiddles including a French circa 1850's and German circa 1870's. They are all set up for fiddling with chin rest, Wittner tail piece & Helicore strings. I would like to convert one of my fiddles to a period correct instrument, no chin rest, wood tail piece with no fine tuners and gut strings. I have never used gut strings and would like some advise concerning them. I have been using Aquila Nygut strings on my banjo and love them. I heard they also make a fiddle string but can not find any info on them. I have also heard good things about Pirastro Chorda and Eudoxa strings. Any advise/suggestions concerning gut or nygut fiddle strings and sources for them would be greatly appreciated.
09-12-2008, 11:27 AM
...I have been using Aquila Nygut strings on my banjo and love them. I heard they also make a fiddle string but can not find any info on them...
As you probably know, Elderly was able to obtain, package and offer special Nylgut minstrel banjo sets (heavier than the stock Nylgut 'classical banjo' set from Aquila) so perhaps they can obtain and package a Nylgut violin set as well. In any case I know Aquila makes genuine gut/silk sets for violin - get the spec from Aquila's distributor site:
With other duties in camp, for banjo I have switched back to Nylgut from the genuine gut/silk sets. On either type of set the heavy strings are wound with metal as they were back in the day, and the trebles are off-white in color so I'm good with the appearance, and I've determined that Nylgut at least produces sounds within the wider range that genuine sets would produce. Don't know if that would apply for violin. But this is not a recommendation. If I were only doing Living Histories I'd definitely stick with genuine sets.
09-12-2008, 02:58 PM
Danny, thank you for your reply. I have been able to determine that Aqula dose not make a fiddle string in nygut. Apparently it is too slick for the rosined bow to adhear to. I have found a source for American made gut strings @ Gamut Strings out of Duluth Mn. The set includes the correct silver wrapped G string. I will be checking them out. Thanks again for your information!
09-12-2008, 08:34 PM
I've been doing living history fiddle at Old Bethpage village restoration for 24 years, and have used Pirastro Chorda gut strings for most of that time. They are reasonably priced, and absolutely authentic, and beautiful sounding. Whatever quantity you purchase, get a couple of extra E strings, as they do break more often than the others, and try to keep them slightly under modern pitch. Good luck!
09-19-2008, 12:38 PM
I received the gut strings from Gamut Strings and have completed the set up changes to my 1870's German fiddle. I must say I am pleased with the sound and playability. The lack of fine tuners is going to be a challenge. I can see one side effect of the transition will be that I will become much better at tuning the instrument. ;) Having a fiddle set up in a correct 19th century mannor makes me respect the musicians of the time and appreciate the convenience we have today! Thanks to Dan & Eric for your input.
09-19-2008, 12:53 PM
So how do you have it tuned? Could you please state the pitch of each gut string. I know they are suppose to be pitched a little lower. How much lower did you pitch them?
Did you get a new bridge? When filing a bridge down on a violin to make double stops easier what exactly are you suppose to do? File the arch down so it is a little flatter?
09-19-2008, 02:45 PM
Paul, you are correct, period pitch would be lower then todays A=440Hz.
Aquila Strings recommends A=415Hz. After posing this question to the maker of the Gamut Strings that I installed, he stated that his string is capable of A=440Hz. tuning. In the interest of other players (not having to re-tune) I have left the tuning at 440Hz.
I did not have to re-shape my bridge since it was already set up for fiddling.
A typical classical set up would have the G string set 5.0mm above the end of the finger board and the E string set at 3.5mm. My set up has the G string at 3.5mm and the E string at 2.0mm.
Since classical paying does not use a lot of double stops the arch of the bridge is roughly the same as the arch of the finger board. This allows for cleaner playing of individual strings but makes it harder to play two strings at once. Fiddlers flatten the arch to accomodate the playing of double stops but it increases the chance of hitting two strings when you only want to play one. Typically the fiddlers arch will be higher on the bass (G) side and taper down toward the treble (E) side.
09-19-2008, 07:33 PM
Re-shaping the bridge is entirely unneccesary, and actually a 20th century "old timey", Appalachian custom. In the 19th century, there was not the sharp divide between fiddlers and violinists (e.g. classical players) that we find in the 20th century. There was no difference in the instruments. High arched bridges and less arched bridges were simply the preferences of the players or makers - double stops are just as easy to play on either, by adjusting the angle of the bow. Much classical music has loads of double stops and many fiddlers (especially in the northeast) employed no double stops. A well adjusted instrument allows for both techniques. In the 19th century, frequently the same players performed both types of music, on the same instruments. As far as pitch is concerned, yes - it was generally lower in the 19th century. Gradual rising pitch of the last two centuries was part of the effort to accomodate the changing tastes of the listening public, as well as to increase the volume of musical instruments in order to be more easily heard in larger concert halls. This also goes along with the metal and synthetic strings developed in the 20th century. Higher pitches can be heard more easily, and tightening the strings also increases the pressure on the belly of the instrument, increasing the volume. But there is nothing more beautiful, and mellow, than a period fiddle with gut strings, pitched 1/2 step or so lower than 20th century pitch. The composer Georg Frederic Handel's tuning fork was A 415. That was the late 18th century - By 1920, or so,. a 440 was common (but still not exclusive) I actually have an old tuning fork pitched 426. So, to sound authentic, any pitch 1/4 to 1/2 to a whole pitch lower than 20th century would be fine, (depending on accompanying players). Also, you should replace any modern "tailpieces adjusters", made from re-inforced nylon and metal, with a real gut tailgut, readily obtainable. Good luck!
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