|Guitar Strings - THE ADVENT OF NYLON|
THE ADVENT OF NYLON
With the appearance of polyamides - we are on the eve of the Second World War - the scenario changed drastically. It is well known that Andr√©s Segovia was a driving force behind the search for new synthetic materials that could be used as a substitute for gut at a time when, because of the war, all available gut was used in the production of surgical thread: it was quite impossible to find gut strings for musical instruments. It was against this background that the American Albert Augustine, one of Segovia's guitar makers, had the brilliant idea of trying to fit his guitars with a synthetic thread called 'nylon' recently invented by the Dupont Company, which was used for fishing, for women's tights and for the parachutes of American soldiers. The question arises whether the transition from gut to nylon affected the sound of the guitar to any significant degree: the answer is yes, but with a number of qualifications. The first consideration relates to the acoustic and mechanical properties of nylon: without wishing to go into too much technical detail, the advantages of this material are that it absorbs very little atmospheric humidity, it is inexpensive, its surface is perfectly smooth and it has a considerable resistance to abrasion. On the other hand, its specific weight is slightly less than that of natural material, and this translates into a sound that is less brilliant and spontaneous than that of gut, which, as rightly observed by Stefano Grondona, tends to be much more similar to PVDF (Polyvinil dilen -fluoride, incorrectly referred to as 'carbon') than to polyamide. The advent of nylon thus brought about a radical break with the acoustic tradition that had always been associated with gut strings. But the real revolution came in relation to the bass strings: in multifilament form, nylon has a resistance to traction that is so much greater than that of silk as to permit, for the first time in the history of this instrument, a consistent reduction in the diameter of the core in favour of a consistent increase in the thickness of the metal wire. The result was an astonishing improvement in the general acoustic characteristics of the bass strings (greater volume, richness of overtones and duration of sound), practically unknown to guitarists of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The advent of synthetic materials and of metal strings dealt a fatal blow to the glorious, principally Italian tradition of string making: many skilled string makers emigrated to America, where they set up firms whose names still testify to their country of origin, while those who stayed behind turned to the production of surgical thread. And so it was that, with the disappearance of the last of the old string makers, a tradition that had endured without interruption for centuries - passed down orally and professionally from father to son - finally came to an end. But gut continues to be studied: nowadays research is directed not only towards the reconstruction of the strings of earlier times but also towards the development of materials that possess the acoustic characteristics of gut without being marred by its defects, such as its high cost of production, its instability in the face of climatic change and its poor durability. But that's another story.
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