|Guitar strings from the nineteenth century to the advent of Nylon - The Production Process|
THE PRODUCTION PROCESS
At first sight, the production process followed in the nineteenth century and beyond seems surprisingly similar to that of today. There are, however, a number of important differences, which suggest that the strings of that time - above all those produced in Italy (Rome, Padua, Salle and especially the famous Neapolitan strings, which were favoured by Paganini and by late nineteenth-century London) and in France (Paris and Lyon) - were superior to ours in a number of respects. The process entailed the use of lamb gut, which, having been carefully emptied and rinsed in running water for several days, was treated in various ways so as to eliminate all not-muscular membranes and fatty substances. This was done by leaving the guts to soak for several days in alkaline solutions (prepared by dissolving ashes in water), the strength of which was gradually increased to the point where the unwanted membranes and the fat that always accompany catgut could be easily removed by scraping gently with a piece of ditch reed. Several cleaned guts were then placed together (the number determining the diameter of the final string) and twisted repeatedly using a suitable winder, after fixing one end of the proto-string to a peg on one side of the drying frame. When the string had been properly twisted, its free end was fixed to the other side of the frame, putting it in traction. When the frame was full of twisted guts, it was placed inside an airtight chamber, where the guts were bleached with sulphur dioxide prepared by burning sulphur in a bowl. At the end of this process the strings were again twisted and left to dry in the air. The final stage consisted of the sanding of their surfaces by rubbing with a herb with abrasive properties, or with pumice powder. The perfectly sanded strings were then oiled with olive oil, cut off the frame and wound into circles. The tendency today is rather to twist the guts less, thereby producing strings that are too stiff, and to rectify this mechanically: although this guarantees a specific string calibre, the fibres of the string often suffer from over-correction, with the risk of reduced durability.