|Guitar strings from the nineteenth century to the advent of Nylon - Criteria for Assessing the Quality of Strings|
CRITERIA FOR ASSESSING THE QUALITY OF STRINGS
What were the criteria by which a good string was distinguished from a bad one in the nineteenth century? The first point to emphasise is that musicians of the time - including guitarists - seem to have been able to distinguish good-quality material simply by touch and by sight; Aguado in his Method wrote that 'the guitarist must be master of the strings'. The provenance of strings was in itself regarded as a good indication of quality; any musicians was able to tell an inferior string from a good one: this knowledge had probably been passed down through the centuries from master to pupil within an oral tradition that perhaps began to disintegrate around the beginning of the twentieth century, from which point it became increasingly common to rely blindly on the big string-producing firms that began to establish themselves, particularly in Germany and France, at the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth century. The age-old custom of oral transmission may well explain why so little was written about the criteria for choosing strings in the guitar manuals of the time, and why the little we know derives principally from manuals for violin - the instrument around which everything rotated - or from manuals relating to the construction of bowed string instruments in general. To summarise what is written in the bowed string instrument manuals of the time, a good string should be transparent, of a yellowish or gold colour, smooth, well twisted and elastic; in other words, not stiff to the touch.