Bowing Gut Strings

Discussion in 'Jazz Technique [DB]' started by William Hoffman, Oct 6, 2010.

  1. the little insight there is on this topic seems to be scattered in bits and pieces all over TB. i have been bowing on steel strings for several years but also love the sound of guts. i generally stick to pizz with guts, but if i want to play guts on a gig, i have to be able to bow them as well. for me, getting guts to sound good under the bow is a real challenge. i hope there are a few of you out there who might have some tips on how to bow gut strings with a warm gut sound but minimizing the nasal scratch i invariably seem to get.

    any advice is welcome, but the following topics occurred to me as starters:

    • brand and type of rosin (soft, hard, etc)
    • amount of rosin
    • type of bow hair (black, white, salt & pepper)
    • bow hair tension
    • bowing pressure
    • bowing speed
    • location of bow on strings relative to FB and bridge
    • angle of bow hair relative to strings
    • type or brand of strings
    i am currently playing Gamut Pistoy varnished strings with white hair and Oak medium and soft rosin.

  2. Jason Sypher

    Jason Sypher Supporting Member

    Jan 3, 2001
    Brooklyn, NY
    It's entirely possible to get a scratchless sound on guts but technique becomes even more important than on steels. All the standard rules apply: nice flat hair bow stroke, bow perpendicular to the strings, etc. You have to develop a very light arm weight to not crunch the strings and squash the sound. You bowspeed will be a little faster on guts and you should use a minimum amount of rosin. Changes in bow direction should be almost "unweighted" to keep the string vibrating. Unnecessary weight will stop the string and create unwanted sounds. In my opinion you are using the best bowing strings on the market. I find the lighter guages more successful.
    AGCurry likes this.
  3. Eric Hochberg

    Eric Hochberg

    Jul 7, 2004
    I've been enjoying my 3 week old experiment with plain gut D and G. One of the many things I've noticed is that when bowing, it can be very difficult to transition back and forth from the guts to the spiro weichs I have on the bottom. The weight issue really comes into play, the guts seem to require a lighter touch. It also seems I need to play closer to the bridge on the guts, too, to get a solid, in tune sound.

    Yesterday, I took off the gut D and replaced it with an Evah Weich. The fat D just wasn't speaking for me in the upper positions. The Evah is a good transition between the gut G and spiros.
  4. Ed Fuqua

    Ed Fuqua

    Dec 13, 1999
    Columbia SC
    Chuck Sher publishes my book, WALKING BASSICS:The Fundamentals of Jazz Bass Playing.
    Wilhelm, maybe you want to make a distinction when you say "guts" as to wrapped or unwrapped? Cause I know a buncha legit players who use Olivs....
    Keith Rawlings likes this.
  5. Troy Robey

    Troy Robey

    Jun 29, 2008
    Denver, CO
    I've been working with a Gamut G again (it's been on and off a couple times) with a set of Mittels. I agree, it's tricky to cross from the spiro to the gut string. It's probably a less than ideal matched set for arco, but it's all I've got right now and I like the challenge of trying to make it work. Once I can afford it I'm going to get a gut D and I think that will be much better.

    Bowing the gut string has been great for improving my arco technique. Practicing with a mirror helps alot, as has watching YouTube clips of players bowing gut strings. Jason has a number of nice clips where he's bowing guts. Yeah, listening to good players bow guts has been helping quite a bit - you get that sound in your head and work on getting it to come out of your bass.

    Jason, you switched back to steel strings didn't you? How has that been treating you in terms of your arco playing vs when you were using guts? I thought you got a great sound bowing the guts.
  6. Troy Robey

    Troy Robey

    Jun 29, 2008
    Denver, CO
    Eric, is the Evah Weich D still on and working out for you?
  7. Eric Hochberg

    Eric Hochberg

    Jul 7, 2004
    Yes, the Evah W is still on and sounds good. I still find bowing the gut G difficult..particularly intonation. I'm tempted to get a gamut to see if it will make a difference.
  8. Don Higdon

    Don Higdon In Memoriam

    Dec 11, 1999
    Princeton Junction, NJ
    I had the same thought. While not claiming to be legit, I've used Olivs for a few RSO concerts. No special problems with the bow. I use Nyman's, not too much, and keep the bow as near to 90 degrees to the string as possible.
  9. Uncletoad


    May 6, 2003
    Columbus Ohio
    Proprietor Fifth Avenue Fret Shop. Technical Editor Bass Gear Magazine
    Oliv are fairly easy to get a great sound from with the bow. Very unlike plain gut.
  10. Jason thanks for your comments. Lighter arm, faster speed, minimum rosin, unweighted changes: good advice. It all comes down to the fact that "gut" (and I mean above all the unwound G & D) are incredibly sensitive and start almost immediately and respond to the tiniest nuance and inflection.

    Eric, sounds to me like putting your toe in the water to see if you like the temperature. :) I'm not legit (as Mr. Ed says), but you might find a full set of gut to be much more satisfying: no transitioning.

    I've heard of folks mixing guts with Spiros and Evahs (UT was trying that out a while back). But the difference would just seem to be too much, your Spiros sound and play so much differently, though I suppose Evahs would be a good transition. Technique-wise, it may prove to be too much. Be interested to hear more.

    Eduardo, I've got the Gamut wound E and A (Lyons), plain D and G Pistoys. Dan Larson says the Pistoys are better for bowing, which kinda steered me in that direction.

    The Pirastro Oliv G is a fantastic string. It is gut inside, and is much easier to bow than plain gut. I've used it with Spiros and Evahs and it actually complements those sets very nicely. But it ain't "real gut" if you know what I mean.
  11. LouisF

    LouisF Supporting Member

    Apr 21, 2003
    Los Angeles, CA
  12. AGCurry

    AGCurry Supporting Member

    Jun 29, 2005
    St. Louis
    One of my basses is strung with Gamut Pistoy D and G, a Gamut copper-wound A, and a Tempera E. I enjoy bowing this bass, although I don't yet have the courage to take it to orchestra rehearsal...

    I use the same bows (black hair) and rosin (Leatherwood 30%) as I use with my steel-strung basses. As others have said, less arm weight, faster bow speed, and yes, attention to bow placement.

    I think part of making music happily on guts (once you've learned how to avoid crushing them) is embracing their innate sound. They are more responsive to nuance than steel strings, and, in the hands of a confident and competent player, they make beautiful sounds. The wheeze is what it is (a little different voice), but the player hears more of that wheeze than the listener. It's not bad ... just different.
    Last edited: Sep 22, 2022
  13. LouisF

    LouisF Supporting Member

    Apr 21, 2003
    Los Angeles, CA
    marcox, Carl Hillman and garrett2 like this.
  14. garrett2


    May 15, 2017
    That makes we want to bow gut strings -- and I'm a vegan!
    marcox likes this.
  15. crd

    crd Supporting Member

    Feb 1, 2022
    PC's arco is my favorite sound in the world. I understand it to be a minority opinion...

    For me bowing raw gut got much easier when I stopped mixing gut D and G's with synthetic strings and just bite the bullet and went with wrapped gut for the A and E.
    Eli Brockway likes this.