Musical instrument strings have been made of sheep or lamb intestine since the earliest days. Until the end of the 19th century, gut strings were the only strings available for bowed stringed instruments. On the violin, the E, A, and D strings were usually plain, unwrapped gut. The G string has taken different forms to reduce mass, using variations of twisting, braiding, and wrapping. Today, musicians specialising in early-music performance are amount the few who use plain gut strings. Most players who use gut-core strings use those that are wound with silver or aluminium.
Gut-core strings have their own unique sound, which is very full and complex with lots of overtones. Of all types, these strings have the slowest response. On many instruments there is a slight resistance, or “catch” on note or bowing changes, an effect that is more pronounced on some instruments than others. Because they are lower in tension, gut strings tend to feel softer and more pliable under the finger.
The major disadvantage, apart from price, is that they are rather unstable in response to temperature and humidity changes and thus tend to go out of tune frequently. When first installed, gut-core strings need up to a week to stretch out before they have any kind of stability. Some musicians get tired of the constant tuning. The sound of these strings, however, can be beautiful, and although the manufacturers of synthetic-core string often make claims that their strings sound just like gut, they usually can’t achieve exactly the same results.
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Eudoxa (Pirastro, Germany)
These strings have been on the market for a long time and were the standard string for many years. They have a dark, warm, and quite full sound. The response is rather slow, and they can sound dull on some (often newer) instruments, especially on the G string. Eudoxa strings seem to work best on old German and Italian violins, especially those with higher arching. Be aware that the bindings on the violin A strings are fragile, and may wear out physically long before the tone becomes dull. (Available for violin, and viola on request)
Gold (Pirastro, Germany)
This is also an old-timer, often referred to as “Gold Label”. Less expensive than Olivs and Eudoxas, the Gold Label comes in only one gauge and has a sound somewhere between those of the other labels. We rarely see the lower strings in New Zealand, but they can be specially ordered. The E string has its followers and works well with many other strings. (Available for violin, and viola on request)
Oliv (Pirastro, Germany)
Pirastro’s premiere gut-core string has been on the market for almost 50 years, and sells for a similar price to the top-end synthetic-core strings. The sound is moderately brilliant with quick response for a gut-core string. You can dig in and get lots of sound from these excellent strings. The G string uses a gold-alloy wrapping, and the E string is gold-plated steel with a beautiful, clear, pure sound which on some instruments is prone to whistling. The A string, like the Eudoxa A, often has a fairly short life span in comparison to synthetic core strings, so factor this into your budget. (Available for violin, and viola on request)
Passione (Pirastro, Germany)
This is Pirastro’s newest gut string, which they market as having greater tuning stability than their traditional gut strings, and with a shorter playing-in time. It is an elegant and warm string, available in standard and solo. It also has a powerful tone and good projection.(Available for violin, viola and cello – ring to check for stock levels)
Chorda (Pirastro, Germany)
These strings are made for early-music specialists with violins set up for Baroque performance. The E, A, and D are plain gut, while the G is wrapped with silver-plated copper wire. They are designed to be tuned to A=415, which is the “official” lower pitch generally used these days. This lower pitch makes for a more mellow, ready sound. (In comparison, modern pitch is almost universally A=440 Hertz.) Oliv or Eudoxa Gs strings will also function well with the higher strings. (Available for violin)