Gut Strings or Synthetic?

25th September 2014

I’ve just completed a limited experiment to understand, for me, whether gut or synthetic strings work best. (Another wonderful teacher I know, who plays on a Guarneri, actually did an exhaustive survey, trying all manner of strings over a year-long period. Some of the strings I tried were after she used them.)

The verdict: Gut strings give my instrument a sweeter, more tender sound, and as it has a tendency to be a bit clangy and boomy, this was a beautiful, welcome change. Among the gut strings I tried, Pirastro Oliv were the best. However, they and other gut strings just aren’t reliable enough for me in terms of staying in tune. In response to tuning, they seem to stretch on the pegs as well as wind around them, and this flexibility means they don’t hold the pitch as intended. I would have to re-tune my instrument several times during a one-hour lesson, never mind during 3-hour orchestra rehearsals.

The point where I finally threw in the towel on gut strings came when I performed the Sarabande from the Bach D-minor Partita in a church service a few weeks ago. Think of all those As and Ds, chords. I tuned just before the service, and within 20 minutes, by the time I needed to play, during which nothing untoward happened to my instrument, no knock, no change in temperature, it was out of tune again. Not massively, the performance was not a disaster, just not to the standard I require. Until I’m faced with an opportunity to play Baroque or other early music in an ensemble that uses historically accurate instruments, in which case I should probably have a different instrument, never mind just strings, I’ll stay with better quality synthetic strings (Evah Pirazzi) in the future.