Where Gut Violin Strings Really Come From

Getting that truly Classical, Renaissance or Baroque sound from a violin really requires the use of ‘gut’ strings. The combination of rich, deep tones and complex overtones give a unique authenticity that only good gut core strings seem to come close to.

So, you’ve heard the terms ‘gut’ or ‘catgut’ – but where do these strings really come form, how are they made and what’s behind their unique sound and feel?

Lambs

That’s right, certainly not cats, not quite sheep, but the fibres extracted from the gut of preferably less than 4 month old lambs are the raw material that constitute gut. Technically the strings are therefore made of collagen.

The Process

Once the stringy collagen fibres are removed from the lamb gut they are salted, rinsed, bleached with hydrogen peroxide, and treated with what is essentially fabric conditioner to preserve elasticity.

After a further rinsing the fibres are expertly sorted and graded to select the best likely candidates for the next part of the string making process.

Separating

A specially designed metal tool allows the small gut tubes to be pulled over and cut by a blade in the end into strips of varying thicknesses. The thinner strips will be used for violin strings, while thicker strips could be used for cello or harp strings.

Spinning and Combining

Each gut violin string is actually made by spinning several fibres together to combine them. For example 5 fibres would make up an E string while 10 fibres would be used for a D string.

As the fibres are spun and twisted together to make help them to bond, most of the excess moisture is removed. The rest of the moisture is removed by leaving the now roughly formed strings to dry for several days.

Smoothing

When the strings are dry laser-guided smoothing machine is used to smooth and trim them to a uniform width.

All that’s left is the cutting (to 60 cm length) and the packing.

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