|Italian Violin strings... - String types|
Page 6 of 12
5. String types
The strings for the violin and the other bowed instruments from the beginning of the eighteenth century onwards can be grouped into two categories: the oiled all-gut strings with a medium-high twist for the medium-to-high registers; the overspun strings for the basses. If we compare the situation with that of the seventeenth century, we note that the plain gut strings specifically made for middle registers (Venice catlins) all but disappeared, making it more difficult to obtain a balance in timbre and dynamics between the higher all-gut higher strings and the overspun basses. This was particularly acute in the case of the bass-viol: to resolve the problem, the viol fourth ‘c‘ was a loosely overspun string (a so-called demi-filée) that ensured a smoother balance of tone between the all-gut third and the fully overspun fifth (52).
Already from the late seventeenth century (see Gabbiani painting of 1685), violin stringing in Italy (and also in the German-speaking countries, starting from mid eighteenth century) would seem to have consisted of plain gut for the first three strings and an overspun string for the fourth only (53). As regards France, only one source clearly specifies that the third also (as well as the fourth) should be overspun, though the metal wire was to be wrapped in such a manner that there was no contact between the winds; in other words, it was demi-filée (54). This, however, must not lead us to exclude categorically the potential use, in eighteenth-century France, even of an all-gut third string.
Brossard clearly specified to the reader the effect that metal overspinning has on the thickness of the string: "… Si elle est simplement de boyeau, elle doit estre du moins le double plus grosse que la 3e, mais si elle est toute filée d’argent elle n’est que tres peu plus grosse que la 3e …".
The Italian stringing method (plain gut for the first three strings plus a 4th wound string) would appear to have remained unchanged throughout the nineteenth century and the early years of the twentieth, and it was probably only in the 1920s that the third string of natural gut gradually began to be replaced by strings overspun with aluminum, which were generally used together with higher strings made out of the steel for piano strings (55).