An introduction to gut strings on the lute



Compiled with the advice and assistance of Ivo Magherini and Mimmo Peruffo

Historically, lutes were strung with gut, which gives a very different sound and feel from today’s more frequent nylon stringing. Lutenists wishing to hear their instrument’s true voice should try gut stringing, and the following guide explains how
to do this.
Our first step should be to work out whether it is possible to string our lute in gut at the pitch at which we want to play it. All gut strings break at more or less the same pitch on any given string length, irrespective of their diameter; only the breaking tension varies. This is counter-intuitive but true, which gives us a constant factor from which to calculate a working pitch. Convert the string length of your lute, (measured between the inside faces of bridge and nut), into metres: e.g., for a 60cm g’ lute the number will be 0.6. Divide 240 by this number. The result is the frequency in Hertz of the highest note to which we can tune a gut string at that string length. With the best quality strings it is a conservative estimate, leaving a safety margin of at least a semitone. For reference, the frequencies of the commonest top string notes are: a’ above middle c’: 440. g’ sharp – 415; g’ – 392; f’ sharp – 370; f’ – 349, e’ – 329. Our 60cm lute gives us the frequency 400, or a rather sharp g’.

Lynda Sayce

An introduction to gut strings on the lute



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