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Gut strings - arco experience?

Discussion in 'Strings [DB]' started by samshreves, Oct 17, 2013.

  1. samshreves


    Dec 12, 2011
    Disclaimer: I have absolutely no experience with gut strings whatsoever. I'm a classical player and all I've ever used, seen, felt, touched, smelled, or heard are steel strings.

    Some questions/thoughts/experiences pertaining to guts:
    I recently tuned my bass to A=415 as an experiment; and I found that the bass resonated differently, though not necessarily better per se. I don't explicitly remember having to greatly alter my bow technique to compensate for the lower tension, but I do remember having to be cleaner, more careful, and generally more deliberate with all of my bow strokes, bow changes, etc. because the string responded a lot slower.

    I saw a video a while ago of Rinat Ibragimov talking about gut strings and I remember a shot of what I was the LSO bass section putting on guts in before rehearsal. This brings up the question: Currently does anyone ever use guts (wound or unwound) for orchestra work? Can gut strings even be tuned to A440 without breaking or suffering major tonal alterations?

    Anyway...overall, what is playing on gut strings like? I'm talking tone-wise, tension-wise, gauge-wise, response-time-wise. I know it's different for every bass and everything like that but I'm trying to avoid buying a new set of $300 guts for a few days of experimentation.

  2. I'm not a legit player, but I do bow a lot and play on gut fairly often. As it happens, I was bowing the Pirastro Chordas on my old German flatback last night. Not my favorite application.

    Depending on the humidity and how much play time the bass has had recently the wound strings generally play well, but bowing plain gut is a struggle and they sound and respond nothing like steel or synthetic-core strings.

    Rinat used Pirastro Eudoxa solo gauge, which are gut cores wrapped in a flat metal ribbon. He got a wonderful sound out of them, but they're hellaciously expensive (more than three times $300 US) and have been known to have longevity issues. Pirastro Oliv are another popular, arco-friendly gut string, but also expensive and sometimes fragile.

    You may wish to consider splitting the difference and trying a set of Pirastro Evah Pirazzi which are flatwound over a multi-fiber synthetic core. They're sorta in the same neighborhood as flatwound gut but much less expensive, temperamental and fragile.
  3. JeffKissell

    JeffKissell Supporting Member

    Nov 21, 2004
    Soquel, CA
    *Disclaimer* I'm not an orchestra player but I have been studying arco on plain (D & G) and silver wound (E & A) gut strings for a while now.
    A440 is not a problem at all, gut tends to be MUCH more elastic than steel or synthetic. The strings have way more excursion and they are larger in diameter. In general they tend to sound much more gritty but I've heard some beautiful singing, voice-like tones from Viennese tuned basses. Because I'm relatively new to the bow (~3years) it's all a struggle. For a more experienced player it just might be an adjustment.

    As KFS says, It really it comes down to having the bass properly set up for the gut and keeping it relatively stable as far as temperature and humidity. Those LSO clips are amazing but those basses are also in an ideal situation in terms of tuning stability. It doesn't hurt that Rinat is kind of a badass in general but especially bowing those strings with that funky old bow.*


    *this may be the biggest understatement I've ever posted on TB.
  4. Past tense. Was. He had a stroke recently and can no longer play.
  5. DC Bass

    DC Bass

    Mar 28, 2010
    Washington DC
    Guitarist Pat Martino came back from a stroke- perhaps there is hope.

  6. God, I hope so.
    Bigbassguy likes this.
  7. Phil Rowan

    Phil Rowan Supporting Member

    Mar 2, 2005
    Brooklyn, NY

    It definitely takes a specific type of bow stroke/technique to bow guts with good results. My Kay has guts and my Lang hybrid has orchestral steels, and it's always good to practice arco on the Kay because it really makes me zone in on the importance of several things.. being economical about how much bow is used (the lesser the better), making natural contact so that the bow is *pulling* one even sound, and making sure to really lighten up (and prepare) for bow changes (otherwise you get that bite or clicking sound). I kind of use it as a check in on my bow technique and bring whatever I may have done on the Kay/guts over to my classical bass (could always stand to use less bow, that's for sure). Oh, and my Kay is tuned 440 (well, when I tuned the wrapped E and A back up after they go a whole step flat when I'm not playing).
  8. DC Bass

    DC Bass

    Mar 28, 2010
    Washington DC
    I have pretty good success bowing guts. Technique is the real answer- more speed, less weight generally speaking, but black bow hair, oak rosin and help too imho.

    I use Gamuts tuned to 440- a copper wound E and Pistoy A, D and G. FWIW- I think the Pistoys sound better arco than most plain gut.

  9. ifg


    May 4, 2011
    brooklyn, ny

    Sorry to be late to this conversation: Rinat had a stroke?
  10. That's the word on the street. His chair in the LSO was filled late last year, and they shot and released a quick video introducing his replacement, whose name escapes me.
  11. The LSO website has him still listed as principal, but there is another principal named Joel Quarrington. As of now, he has been principal since August last year. I hope the LSO still has his chair open for him if he recovers.
  12. Gahlord


    Jul 20, 2014
    I was just cruising through looking for info on bowing and gut strings (I'm about to get some new strings and I'm in the mood to try something new).

    I noticed that the topic of this thread has drifted a bit from that. But wanted to note that, though it's certainly tragic to lose a player to a stroke, I am certain that Quarrington will not disappoint. He's a great player.
  13. Gahlord, if you want to come check out the guts on my bass feel free!
  14. Gahlord


    Jul 20, 2014
    Thanks Tyler! I will definitely take you up on that. Watch your email. I should've just asked you first now that I think of it!
  15. Joe Frey

    Joe Frey

    Nov 26, 2014
    So, I am new to arco. My teacher has no experience with guts, but I have plucked guts for years. I have been struggling for a year and am getting a bit frustrated. I get a great sound from a set of Chordas on my old Kay bass and then bam there is a gummy mess on the D and G strings that produce a sandpaper sound while the E and A are sounding ripping good. I like a punchy square wavey sound and I get it for a bit.
    I find that some days I play light and with a lot of bow but others its heavy and little bow. The second generally sounds good to me. But, sooner or later things get gummed up. I find if I use as little rosin as he says my bow slips across the plain gut. I am using Carlsonns and sometimes Nymans.
    I have several questions. Does anyone else get the impression that gut string oil turns the rosin on the bow to glue? Is there some other fluid to clean the string surface of rosin? How do people clean their bow if it gets really bad? Thanks.
  16. Oh, don't do that. Bowing freshly oiled plain gut is a great way to screw your stuff up fast.

    I occasionally clean my steel strings with isopropyl alcohol. Don't get it on the varnish!

    Regular gunk and rosin buildup can be cleaned from bow hair with a fine-toothed comb. What you describe might be a job for one of the low-weight industrial alcohols, which are generally nasty compounds I refuse to deal with because fire and cancer are bad things in my book.
  17. The rosin will not stick on the string when you oiled the bowed area of the string. That way you oil your bow and may need to clean the hair from the oil.
    If you want to oil the bowed area (which I would try to avoid if possible), wipe the excess oil from the string and let the oil get into the gut. After a while wipe off the surface of the string in the bowed area until you are sure there is no residue of oil. Only after that bow the string and use a bit more rosin in the beginning to let the rosin stick on the string.
    But better avoid to oil the string in the bowed area at all.

    But bowing naked gut is a bit different from bowing metal wound strings. So if you use a mixed set with naked and metal wound strings, you may need to adjust to the different ways to make the strings speak (not squeak!).

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