Violin Strings Theory: The History of How Violin Strings Are Made

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Just like violins, strings have come a long way from the classical their original ways of being made. Their history has a lot to say about those early times and how musicians used to make music back then. From their early years, way before the violin, by the way, to nowadays.

We already know violins as we know them emerged in the 16th century in northern Italy. Although the instruments that gave origin to the violin, like the pear-shaped lira played in an upright position and bowed, and the two-stringed rabab, date as early as the 9th and 11th centuries.

If you are a violin lover, you are constantly looking for information regarding your music and the instrument and probably came across the fact that violin strings used to be made out of animals’ guts, and although it seems to be a bit shocking, we must keep in mind at that time it was the only option and the standard material, until after World War II. 

However, Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics suggest that the production of sheep gut strings goes back at least 6,000 years. Could you imagine that? But now here are some highlights and facts of this history.

Coming back to the violin strings from the 1700s

The strings for most bowed instruments—violin, harp, cello, and other bowed instruments you’ve never heard of—were once made from animal intestines. They aren’t called catgut strings because they’re made from cat intestines (although it might have been easier to find feline musculature than sheep intestines), as mentioned in the Violin String Review’s article. Rather, most catgut strings are made from the intestines of sheep.

Strings’ making involves stretching, drying, and twisting them before fitting the instrument. Once these steps are made, the gut strings create a rich, resonant and expressive tone, a smooth and warm one. String makers throughout the decades experimented with gut strings, trying to achieve the right balance of mass and flexibility. Without enough mass, strings make a weak sound; the harmonics won’t be in tune without flexibility.

Nowadays, gut core strings are still used, preferred by some professionals. This type of string is also less durable than steel or synthetic core strings. However, your string’s post-core production is more or less the same as any material you choose.

Violin Strings Evolution

G String

From the late 1600s to the 1730s, G strings were wound with silver or copper wire to produce a fuller, more resonating sound. The sound of wound G strings was clearly superior to that of the pure gut, and by the 1730s pure gut had been totally replaced by wound gut.

D String

Until the end of World War I, pure gut D strings were the standard material for guitar strings. A method called demi-filée (half-wound) was developed in 18th-century France, which applied wire to the core of the string. The result was a very thick D string, which was prone to snapping and never became widespread. In the post-war period, aluminum began to be used to wind gut D strings fully. Today nearly all D strings are made from aluminum.

A String

In 1951, the A string was the last of the four strings to transition from a pure gut to a wound gut. Pirastro developed the first wound gut A string using aluminum. It took nearly ten years before it became standard. Pure gut A strings were standard until the advent of synthetic strings in 1970.

E String

The first E strings were made from sheep gut, but steel E strings emerged in the early 1900s. Steel E strings became popular during World War I when sheep gut was hard to come by. As an alternative to the gut, silk strings were used in cases of emergency until steel strings were developed.

Most modern violin strings are made of synthetic materials and wound with metal, such as aluminum, chrome, steel, silver, or alternative metal. Wound steel strings were long-lasting and less sensitive to the climate than gut, however, most players found them undesirable for more specific reasons.