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The Overtones and Undertones of Playing with Gut Stings in an New Ensemble

Discussion in 'Strings [DB]' started by Jason Sypher, Jun 8, 2007.

  1. Jason Sypher

    Jason Sypher Supporting Member

    Jan 3, 2001
    Brooklyn, NY
    First off let me say that I play with gut strings on my G and D strings. I used to play guts years ago, abandoned them for steel, then after many attempts to get back on the guts ditched the steels again for a gut set up. One of the reasons it took me so long to get back on the guts (though I love the sound) was that I had to play them for at least a few days before my ear would get adjusted to their particular sound, intonation, overtones, percussion etc. I would put them on and decide that they sounded beautiful in some aspects but totally out of tune and then ditch them for the steels. Recently at a performance, a musician near me kept complaining that something was out of tune. I was the closest and I was fairly certain he was referring to me. He kept shaking his head perplexed in between tunes, scrambling for a tuner etc. I experimented by using lots of open strings whenever I could to see if it changed his perception but he still seemed unhappy. Later in the performance he was fine and the music was beautiful. This has happened to me every once in awhile and I just started to think about it a little more in depth. The obvious would be that I was in fact playing out of tune which we all do time to time. But this reaction, often from classical musicians, would also happen during pre-performance tuning as well, even with an electronic tuner, even using the same tuner. My theory is that it might just be that some people are just not used to the sound of the guts and find the overtones and tonal characteristics a little confusing. It doesn't happen on the two existing steels, only the guts. Has anyone experienced this before and what do you think of my theory?
  2. kontrabass


    Sep 29, 2004
    This post may be in the Bluegrass forum, but don't let that fool you. It seems that both threads are more or less discussing the same thing.

    I think your guess would be correct, but what do I know?
  3. Uncletoad


    May 6, 2003
    Columbus Ohio
    Proprietor Fifth Avenue Fret Shop. Technical Editor Bass Gear Magazine
    Yes. I think Guts respond very differently than steel. Steel tends to stay pitch stable throughout the stroke of a bow or the pluck of a pizz where I think Guts, being organic, move ever so slightly with the stretch of the material the weather etc.

    Depending on how a person perceives this drift it could be construed positively as warm, pleasing, and organic or pejoratively as out of tune, imprecise, and unstable. Metal strings could be perceived as accurate, clean and powerful in the positive or as a negative cold, metallic, and impersonal.

    I really like the sound of Gut and I struggle with my own perceptions of it along those lines. Some days the imprecision drives me nuts other days that big warm sound just kills me.

    I don't know how to respond to others that can't get around the Gut sound except to go on about this silly minutia. They'll either be interested and start an in depth discussion or go running for the hills.

    Or maybe I'm just a dork and should keep playing the steel strings most of the planet is using these days.

    I can't decide.
  4. jtlownds


    Oct 3, 2004
    LaBelle, FL
    Hi Jason, I'm the OP of the intonation perception post that kontrbass linked to. I'm not sure if were both posting about the same phenomina or not. I'm not playing gut (Obligatos). I've heard you play, and I don't really think that you're having intonation problems. In my post, I specifically asked Drurb, our resident psychoaucustician, what he might think of this, but never got a reply. Perhaps he doesn't read the bluegrass forum. It would be interesting to hear an opinion from someone with expertise in that field. In the meantime I guess I'll continue to blame it on my age, my tinitis or the banjo.
  5. Well it seems to be common knowledge that you trade some tuning stablity for tone with gut. Personally, I don't need any more help being out of tune so I use steel.
  6. Jason Sypher

    Jason Sypher Supporting Member

    Jan 3, 2001
    Brooklyn, NY
    Tuning is really not what I'm talking about. I'm talking more about overtones and other particulars of the gut sound that steel players may be unfamiliar with. I admit that when I play a bass with steel strings I do find it easier to "get away with more" but I'm not exactly sure why.
  7. Reuben


    Aug 8, 2005
    Brooklyn, NY
    Hey Jason, I know what you're talking about. It is something in the overtones, though I'd be loathe to explain it. Some months ago when I last tried gut D & G (olivs), I started with just the gut G and everything was cool, but then I put on the D and immediately noticed some fuzziness in pitch perception. It kept sounding flat to me. I checked it to tuners and it was dead on, but there was something similar to a warble that would sometimes bother me, or make me hear the pitch as being off. Anyway, I'm back on a full steel set and I'm fine...

    Ay yi yi...this stuff is so crazy...
  8. Marcus Johnson

    Marcus Johnson

    Nov 28, 2001
    Flip side... I'm actually having a hard time dialing in my intonation on my steel set now, after my brief love affair with the Olivs. I think that sometimes the big harmonic/tonal pallette of the guts helped me to get the bass in tune more with what was going on around me. And arco just makes me sad... sorry, the Spiros are fine, but the Olivs were my weekend in Provence with the nubile maiden. When that G broke, it took a little piece of my heart with it. It may be that I'm temporarily not used to the incremental pitch divisions on the Spiros, or maybe they're just tired and want to be laid to rest. Weird. All I can say is, I've got three rolls of different sized weed whacker string in the shed that are starting to look pretty tempting.:rollno:

    ps... I still haven't written off the idea of high end plain gut$$$....
  9. Jason Sypher

    Jason Sypher Supporting Member

    Jan 3, 2001
    Brooklyn, NY
    You think Olivs are odd, try raw gut. It's just a "wider" spectrum or somthing. There's a lot going on in a single note. I think it throws people sometimes. And Marcus, go for a high end plain gut, you'll never go back.
  10. Uncletoad


    May 6, 2003
    Columbus Ohio
    Proprietor Fifth Avenue Fret Shop. Technical Editor Bass Gear Magazine
  11. Marcus Johnson

    Marcus Johnson

    Nov 28, 2001
    That's a good way of putting it. The Spiros sound fine, but there just isn't as much going on inside each note.

    I'd probably just put some more olivs on, but I don't think I could live with the possibilty of hearing that THWACK, waiting for it, night after night. Hard to play and tear out your hair at the same time.

    Still thinking hard about Gamuts tops, maybe with Evah Pirazzis bottom. My wallet is telling me to just try the EPs first.
  12. RShew


    Mar 11, 2004
    Los Angeles
    I have been using the EP's on the bottom now for a while (1 month). I really like them. I am still using Oliv's on the G and D. I bought a new pair a few week ago and they sound really great. I am recording a CD right now (over this week) and am very pleased with the combination. I will post raw mix sound clips in a few days.

    I am right with you on the arco as well. Oliv's really sing with the bow.
  13. Marcus Johnson

    Marcus Johnson

    Nov 28, 2001
    That's it, they sing. I haven't tried new Olivs yet (just well used ones, and they were still spectacular... thanks again 'toad). I just haven't found anything better for my style. Best pizz feel ever. They also recorded beautifully on a rather important session last month. So maybe I should give a new set a fair shot. The reliability factor still scares me. Which is why I like the idea of Gamuts, but they scare me from the arco standpoint. Around and around I go..... boring the socks offa y'all....
  14. Jake deVilliers

    Jake deVilliers Commercial User

    May 24, 2006
    Crescent Beach, BC
    Owner of The Bass Spa, String Repairman at Long & McQuade Vancouver
    Never boring Marcus - the opposite really.

    These string travelogues give others a vicarious trip to distant tonal shores without having to get shots and visas and all.

    The National Geographic of bass strings, complete with international reporters and controversial photographs.

    Keep it up fellas, while I price a set of Paparazzi. :)
  15. Uncletoad


    May 6, 2003
    Columbus Ohio
    Proprietor Fifth Avenue Fret Shop. Technical Editor Bass Gear Magazine
    I'm not saying anything.


    I'm just reading.

    I enjoy the string pathology.

    I'm sure about less now than when I started.

    One thing I do know.

    I think Linguine and Meatballs in a red sauce may be my favorite food. I've never pushed away from a plate.
  16. Marcus Johnson

    Marcus Johnson

    Nov 28, 2001
    Actually, the closeups of the Gamuts that Phil posted, and the ones on their website, are my ideal porn. They sure don't look like the bargain guts I've put my hands on (which I actually get along with very well). They look... inviting. So maybe I'm a closet gut guy, waiting to come out. I love how they sound. I sure enjoy them when I play them on other people's basses, and considering that's only been cheap guts on craptastic basses (fiberglass! Krylon-finished plywoods!:eek: ), perhaps I'm certifiably ill. :meh:

    Jason, sorry I steered this away from new music.... but really, it's new to me every night....
  17. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator Gold Supporting Member

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY

    I literally only have to tune my bass about once or twice a month. :bag:

    That said, I'd love to get my mitts on somebody else's bass with a good set of guts on it and see what all the hubbub's about. So far, my very limited experiences with gut have been unsatisfying. On other people's basses, they sound amazing solo or in quiet situations. As soon as drums start to play (or more correctly, cymbals), I can't seem to hear the pitch from gut strings anymore, and it's like the bass becomes a percussion instrument. Or, it's possible that I just haven't heard the right player and/or bass yet.
  18. M Ramsey

    M Ramsey

    Mar 12, 2005
    North Carolina
    The guts are a bit more finicky, but given a stable environment in which to play, they stablize pretty qiuckly.

    Me and The Toad have discussed this via the phone. One major difference between playing guts or steels is this. The action has to be higher to allow the larger diameter strings to ocillate. We both have also admitted to be fairly physical players when it comes to playing bass.

    We dig in. I play guts vastly different than I do steels. When I switched back to guts (and velvets on road bass) my son said "Daddy, you'll have to get used to the feel of these strings." He had to adjust, but I had been there before.

    Now I have become so accustomed to the lower tension feel, especially underneath the left hand, that steels bother me to a certain extent.

    BTW, the complexity of tones with guts is a major part of the appeal for me to play them.
  19. Adrian Cho

    Adrian Cho Supporting Member

    Sep 17, 2001
    Ottawa, Canada
    Jason, what guts are you currently using? I know I've said this hundreds of times already on TB but if you haven't tried Dan Larson's Gamut guts you should. They are the tops (although I haven't tried Damian's strings) in tone, tuning stability, and everything else. There is a huge difference between them and what I would regard as inferior guts which is most of the other stuff I see or have tried.

    On my bass, the Gamut Lyons (varnished) do have a complex tone but the fundamental is so strong that I really don't have problems with the harmonics being "out of whack."
  20. Jason Sypher

    Jason Sypher Supporting Member

    Jan 3, 2001
    Brooklyn, NY
    Yes, I use a Gamut varnished D and love it. I use a Chorda G because I like it's tension better than any I found by Gary. I think it also has to do with my bass which is very bassy (Basie?) with a big wide bottom:meh:
    I love the Gamut, very fine indeed.
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    Primary TB Assistant

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