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Is Gut Worth It?

Discussion in 'Strings [DB]' started by MeyerBrown, Aug 9, 2005.

  1. MeyerBrown


    Aug 9, 2005
    Hey guys. Im new here and i dont know if this topic has been brought up before, but im really interested in making the switch to gut strings. I am very interested in baroque music and am under the impression that gut strings is the best way to get the warm, emotional tone that a majority of baroque music requires.
    Alas, i also heard that gut strings are very hard to deal with. They are very weather sensitive, expensive, and wear out very quickly.
    Also, i have been told that many people string the E and A strings with gut, and leave the D and G steel, or vice versa.
    When it all comes down to it, i dont know what to think. So, i decided to ask people with some experience with gut. Please remeber that ia m interested in baroque music and am worried that im sacrificing money and frustrationg for good tone.

  2. Brent Norton

    Brent Norton

    Sep 26, 2003
    Detroit, MI
    Some of the negative hype surrounding gut is overblown. *Plain* guts need an occasional trim and an oiling (people sometimes complain about this, yet [most] of us manage to do things like shower every day, dig?), wrapped guts are virtually maintenance-free. When gut is properly cared for, it can last almost indefinitely. As for the weather, etc., yes - guts tend to be more finicky (particularly when new) - but when's the last time you started in on a gig without tuning first?

    As for the cost, all the rumors are true... Gut can get ridiculously expensive.

    If possible, treat it like buying a bass - try as many basses with gut on them as you can... If it so happens gut blows your hair back, then it's worth every red cent.

    PS: Welcome aboard :)
  3. Kevinlee


    May 15, 2001
    Phx, AZ..USA
    Is Gut Worth It

    Yes !

    Because if that's the sound your after, nothing truly sounds like gut except gut. So whatever little inconveniences I have to put up with to get that sound is well worth it to me.

  4. MeyerBrown


    Aug 9, 2005
    what does it mean to trim gut strings?
  5. Kevinlee


    May 15, 2001
    Phx, AZ..USA
    Plain gut strings will get little hairs on them from time to time from the gut fraying slightly. You just trim them with fingernail clippers, or sand them with fine sand paper and this will smooth them out. It's really not a big deal. I only do it once a month at the most. It's a good idea to apply an oil such as almond oil, olive oil, lemon oil, baby oil etc. to them occasionaly and this keeps them from drying out. I only do this once a month at the most as well. That's really about the extent of the maintenance.

  6. MeyerBrown


    Aug 9, 2005
    do you use gut for baroque purposes as i would, or is it just a preference, or what?
  7. abaguer


    Nov 27, 2001
    Milford, NJ
    It's definitely worth it if that's the sound you want. I use Labella Goldentones D and G (wrapped gut) so I don't have to deal with the maintenance and I like them very much but it is the sound I'm after for jazz/blues. I still prefer steel on A and E, however.
  8. JimmyM


    Apr 11, 2005
    Apopka, FL
    Endorsing: Ampeg Amps, EMG Pickups
    I wouldn't say they're only good for baroque. I use them for my oldies band and jazz casuals and I love them. I use a combination of Clef plain guts on D and G and wrapped Pirastro Eudoxa guts on the A and E. I would prefer to use all plain guts, but the A is a bit lacking on sustain and the E has none at all. The Eudoxas, while a bit harder on the fingers, brings back the sustain while retaining the gut thump. To me, gut is the sound of double bass, and I really don't dig the sound of steels anymore. Bear in mind, though, I'm a pizz/slap player and don't do much bowing. However, they do bow, although they're not as quick to respond as steels. I would second Brent's opinion...try before you buy. But if that's not possible, you could slap a set of Barefoot Larry's Hillbilly Slap Strings (weed whackers) on your bass for a little over $20 shipped. They don't feel like guts, but they sound almost identical to them and you can bow them, though it's not as easy as plain guts. Go to www.traditionmusic.com for more info. I keep my Hillbilly Slap strings in my bag as spares.
  9. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    Tonight, actually. Before that, about every other time I play a gig lately. Dunno if it's the bass or the strings, though, but it holds like glue.
  10. anonymous8547j7d7b

    anonymous8547j7d7b Guest

    Jul 1, 2005
    Nice when that happens, isn't it?
  11. mchildree

    mchildree Supporting Member

    Sep 4, 2000
    Question for you guys who mix steels and guts. Do you find any wierdness having the mixed tension as well? Do you have to have the heights set higher for the guts?
  12. JimmyM


    Apr 11, 2005
    Apopka, FL
    Endorsing: Ampeg Amps, EMG Pickups
    Ya, there's a little bit of weirdness going on with tensions, definitely, but the sound is worth it. I don't make the guts higher, though. As long as your neck's in good shape, I don't think you'll get any buzz. At least I don't.
  13. godoze


    Oct 21, 2002
    I had Eudoxa's on my bass for a bit. Maybe it was just me but it seemed as though i lost much of the amplitude in my sound.
  14. dfp

    dfp Supporting Member

    Sep 28, 2004
    i have to echo what DZ just said...

    and it is worth pointing out that if you are already bowing the big fiddle with steels you'd have best success bowing "varnished" gut strings. they can be bowed more easily than plain, un-varnished gut. getting a good arco response from plain un-varnished gut demands a very careful touch, something i just don't have after years of bowing on steel!
    and i hate being the one to say it, but a couple SEARCHes for gut, guts, baroque, etc might find you some good reading...it's on the blue menu strip, top o' the page
  15. basstef

    basstef Supporting Member

    Dec 18, 2004
    Bologna, Italy
    I think if this is the sound you're after...well there's nothing like gut. A gut setup doesn't mean you have forcely to do only music from the 50's (speaking of jazz)...it's just a matter of sound, and then you can play any kind of modern stuff, with the feeling you want. Said that, I love to have steel E & A, with D & G in nylon wrapped gut. I currently have my 2 basses with Redorays d&g and Kaplan golden spiral d&g (both are nylon wrapped gut). This helps to have the warmth of gut and a little more sustain, at least from me ;)
    As for baroque or period music, I think gut is necessary if you want to get closer to the way that music should be performed. Have fun ;)
  16. I love gut. To me, olivs and eudoxas are about the nicest strings out there, although it definately depends on the bass. Plain gut is cool too; I've never had any of my own, but whenever I play them on somebody elses bass I dig it a lot. Maintenence for the wrapped gut is no problem; they don't stay in tune for a while when you first put them on, but after that it's fine. Also, it takes a few days to get used to the feel, but again... no big deal.
  17. For Baroque, it's mandatory for proper period performance. I would argue that it mandatory for period perforomance of anything written before WWII (for basses and cellos, at least). If it is your thing, the cost and maintenance are no big deal. For Baroque, don't use steel on the bottom. Go all the way. Pizz sustain is not important. I would recomend the European Gut set from Lemur Music or similar. Buy one set and you will know if you like it or not. Different brands don't differ that much IMO. Some are better than others, but it's still gut vs. steel. Don't stress, just do it. The worst thing that could happen is that you hate gut, in which case you coil up the strings in a Tupperware container and save them for another time, or sell them at a slight loss. No big deal. It's better than not knowing.
  18. Adrian Cho

    Adrian Cho Supporting Member

    Sep 17, 2001
    Ottawa, Canada
    Great thread. Of course some of us might probably think the subject should be "Is steel worth it?" :)

    Yes there is a price to pay but really they are not all that bad especially if you get GOOD QUALITY gut strings and I do think there is certainly a variation out there. The tuning is not all that bad and I don't really think they do wear out all that quickly. The one exception to that is unwound gut where you are pizz'ing all the time. The strings will definitely wear down where you pizz with your right hand.

    I use steel on A and E (Permanents right now) and the combo works well. I've been doing that for a little while now. I don't find any issue with the mixed tension and there are definitely benefits. There is a lower overall cost for a full set of strings, you get a lot of the gut sound from the top two strings which is really where most of the tone is defined, yet the steel strings on the bottom give you more definition and sustain. So the result is sort of a modern old-school sound that is pretty versatile. And with regards to tuning, you have two steel strings which are more stable so you can tune your guts to them.

    For early music, yes absolutely you must have gut and a baroque bow is helpful too. I'm doing a bunch of jazz repertory stuff nowadays and so for recreating the sound of period jazz like Ellington, Mingus, etc. gut is absolutely essential for me.

    The single place where my setup doesn't work entirely for me is when I play with other non-gut strings. It is very hard to blend with them as arco gut especially with black hair, does have a certain character to it. Lately I've been playing string quartet and string trio gigs with violins (and viola). They all play on steel although the first violinist did recently switch (back) to an Oliv for her top string (and she's loving it). It's hard for me to blend, especially when I'm often playing an octave lower than the cello would be (I'm playing cello parts). I could certainly never play in a classical (non-early music) orchestra with a bunch of steel string basses.

    The other thing to mention is that gut with a modern bow is loud as hell which is a baroque bow helps. Apart from helping to make things more articulate, the volume is lower which makes it easier to blend with the other strings.
  19. Adrian-
    Have you ever tried this? If so did people comment? I've done this a couple of times at school and I liked the feeling of dominating the section, as principal that's not such a bad thing. I wonder if the sound out front is better blended than it seems right on top of the bass. You know for many years orchestras had mixed bass sections before the Veterans all retired or eventually switched over. Even as late as the early 70's some guys still used gut for orchestra (although most people switched to steel by the early 60's I think). It seems like the consensus before the mid '60s at least was that gut sounded better. I think for anything but a pro orchestra situation you shouldn't need to be concerned about it. I'm interested in promoting gut strings as a viable alternative to steel for all types of music. Eventually peoples ears will readapt. Of course there will be no excuse for tuning issues and scratchy attacks. Nowdays no one can get away those problems since we've become accustomed to the consistancy of steel.
  20. Adrian Cho

    Adrian Cho Supporting Member

    Sep 17, 2001
    Ottawa, Canada
    No I've never actually played in a full orchestra bass section. Although I'm sure I would benefit from it greatly, I am much more into playing in smaller chamber ensembles where I am the only bass. And the rehearsal and concert schedule is just too demanding and there's too much politics (I regularly play with members of both professional and amateur orchestras and I hear all kinds of stories). Actually you are right to mention that the sound out front may not be the same as what I hear. The other day I was rehearsing with a string trio - two violins and myself, for a gig we are playing this Friday. It was interesting because I thought the bass really stuck out a lot and the gut sound was pretty coarse but they really thought it sounded very sweet from where they were sitting.

    The thing about gut is that Mozart, Beethoven, etc. was all played on gut originally so why play it on steel nowadays? The reason I am told is that modern orchestras want volume, volume, and more volume and at least for the violins, the way to get that is with steel strings. And so you're right - that's the sound that people are accustomed to now.

    Last week I had an opportunity to attend the Chamber Music Festival here in Ottawa - apparently the largest chamber music festival in the world. Very few of the string players played on gut but there was one group in particular - the Theatre of Early Music, that did and the sound was absolutely to die for. So damn sweet and the dynamics were beautiful - they could play so soft as an ensemble.