Before nylon (Full Version)

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nhills -> Before nylon (Sep. 12 2007 21:55:22)

Gut Strings

& check out their FAQ


Stu -> RE: Before nylon (Sep. 13 2007 16:43:44)

Interesting. that FAQ is extremely lengthy and most of the entries are more UnFAQ's.


44) My instrument has a 'wolf': what can I do about it?
Try knotting the string the way the ancients did:

A wolf???

A question id like to see on that list is... Why gut? and who thought to try that???


mrMagenta -> RE: Before nylon (Sep. 13 2007 19:32:00)

heh, i was puzzled by that one too.. no clue what a wolf refers to there, perhaps a wolf-tone? it says in the faq that they also made strings from wolf-gut!

In the sound examples of the guitar it sounds very harp-like, like when you pick the guitar on the fretboard side of the soundhole only treblier. would be interesting if someone would record a bit of flamenco using those strings.. they seem very fragile though.

a_arnold -> RE: Before nylon (Sep. 13 2007 23:51:22)

There is a great account of the origin of nylon guitar strings in John Huber's book, "the development of the modern guitar"

Here's a synopsis:

Segovia had a Manuel Ramirez from 1912 to 1937, then switched to Hauser, whose guitar (with Segovia's help) was modeled on Ramirez and Torres designs. Both were gut-strung.

Then WW2 came along, and Segovia's German source of gut (guy named Pirastro) dried up. He says he went to Albert Augustine (At that time an employee of the Spanish Guitar Centre in NY (where I got my first guitar!) and Dupont came to the rescue (unclear whether it was after a request by Augustine or by Segovia). They supplied monofilament that they were making anyway for fishing line, tennis racquets, etc. Augustine hired E.O. Mari and D'Addario and worked with Dupont and Segovia until they had something Segovia could use.

Segovia credits Augustine with developing nylon strings, but Rifat Eisenbel (Concertiste in France) claims he made the first set in Turkey in 1938.

E.O. Mari struck out on his own during the war and began exporting to Venezuela, and Dupont focused on parachute production, and almost lost interest in strings, but after the war they realized that gut string manufacturers were suddenly making a bundle, so they jumped back into the market.

At this point, however, the guitar string market was still too small to justify much experimentation, so they kept on using the same materials that they used for fishing line, tennis nets/racquets, etc.

By the 50's, thanks to the endorsement by Segovia, nylon strings were established and accepted as equivalent to gut, but not perfected.

Here's where it gets interesting.

Nylon is strung at higher tensions.

This had cascading effects on guitar design.

Higher tension nylon tended to make the older (pre and early post-WW2 guitars) sound dead because the instruments weren't designed for the tension. The effect wasn't noticed at first. New players had nothing else to compare to, and the older players liked the durability and stability of the nylon.

So when everybody began restringing with nylon their guitars didn't sound so great after a while. Sometimes there was actual structural failure, but more often, the guitars just started to sound dead after a while, and a mythology got started that guitars have a finite life span -- that they are too fragile to remain healthy for the lifetime of the performer -- when in fact, it was the transition to nylon that made them sound dead. Players began describing their guitars as "played out".

At that point (late 50's) Segovia went back to Ramirez and worked with him to design a bigger, sturdier guitar that would stand the higher tension. He was enormously pleased with the result and retired his Hauser, which by then didn't sound so good. Still doesn't, according to Huber, who played it, but it was strung with nylon.

The higher tension brought more volume and projection. Segovia was at his height as a performer, and by that time had moved the guitar from the parlor and small hall venue into the large concert hall where he needed the projection. So he was really happy with the new Ramirez guitar design and power. (He also had BIG powerful hands and needed a bigger fingerboard).

That started a trend toward more and more volume, and builders began experimenting with that as their goal. Which led to longer string lengths, shifting from 65 to about 66.5 cm., which increased the tension on the bridge by another 10%. Guitar designs changed still more in response. Still based on Torres, but tweaked for nylon.

The story then shifts to the use of cedar in the Madrid school, led by Ramirez, which tended in the 60's to build with flat, often cedar tops, while spruce was generally preferred in Granada, which Huber theorizes may be easier to deform into the arch that gives more "punch" and structural integrity to a top). He seems to suggest that cedar has more inherent stiffness as a wood, but is too stiff to deform easily (although Dieter Hopf achieves pretty precise control of arching in his cedar tops), while spruce is more easily deformed into an arch, so can gain strength and stiffness from the arch geometry, so it can be thinner, lighter.

In both cases, arch or cedar, the search for strength and stiffness and greater volume ultimately was the result of the shift to nylon. . .

I'd be interested in hearing some luthiers' comments on Huber's ideas. He's not a luthier, I don't think.

Tony Arnold

nhills -> RE: Before nylon (Sep. 14 2007 0:09:17)

Any of the early recordings of Ramon Montoya will be with gut strings - or anyone else before the fifties.

Ricardo -> RE: Before nylon (Sep. 14 2007 6:11:43)

Wow, very informative a_arnold. Thanks.


At that point (late 50's) Segovia went back to Ramirez and worked with him to design a bigger, sturdier guitar that would stand the higher tension. He was enormously pleased with the result and retired his Hauser, which by then didn't sound so good. Still doesn't, according to Huber, who played it, but it was strung with nylon.

I know in Ramirez book, he said he fixed a brace, and there was the "wolf note" problem that got worse and worse. I heard that Hauser on recording and saw a video, and sorry, Ramirez never sounded that good, I don't care what strings were on it. And it took LOTS of guitars before Segovia started using Ramirez again, and even still he kept returning guitars after a while. I think that Segovia liked the fact it was LOUD since he did not use amplification and played BIG halls. My parents said even with the Ramirez, you couldn't hear him in the back. I think Hauser I and II sound better than Ramirez, but never louder. Never heard Hauser III. Likewise, i find Conde guitars not loud, but always very "flamenco" sounding. There are certainly louder flamenco guitars, but to me louder is not better. I would prefer a quiet but good flamenco guitar with a good sound system rather than the loudest flamenco guitar you can get.


Any of the early recordings of Ramon Montoya will be with gut strings - or anyone else before the fifties.

So I wonder what they did for the golpeador before nylon/plastic. In Rito y Geografia I saw one guy with a wood golpeador. Most of the flamenco players were using black trebles, so flamenco guys certainly loved nylon! My dad played classical guitar, and even in the early 80's I remember my dad explaining his strings were made of "cat gut". I was like "gross!". He did not use them often because they were much more sensative to humidity and temperature than nylon.

I think regarding "dead guitars" that players don't experiment ENOUGH with different brands and tensions, or humidity with their guitars. Also, bass strings affect the sound of the trebles I have noticed. If I only change basses, and use a different brand, it changes the tone of the guitar overall, because of overtones I assume. I have an old Hauser guitar, and when I put on new strings, it sounds ALIVE believe me!

nhills -> RE: Before nylon (Sep. 14 2007 15:36:08)


So I wonder what they did for the golpeador before nylon/plastic.

1) Wood - usually maple.

2) Celluloid - an early (1856 - yah, 150 years ago) plastic made from nitrocellulose and camphor. The old photos of men's high, stiff collars were often celluloid. Also used for fountain pen bodies (Omas still makes celluloid fountain pens.) Highly flammable and unstable.


a_arnold -> RE: Before nylon (Sep. 26 2007 23:39:48)



So I wonder what they did for the golpeador before nylon/plastic.

Tortoise shell was a common pick guard before plastics became available, too, but I've never seen it on a flamenco. I've seen a few old blancas that were, quite simply, played to death without a golpeador, though.

Norman -- I understand you have an old Chica! So do I. 1967. You might be interested to know that I worked at the Smithsonian in the musical instrument restoration lab 66-70. My boss, Scott O'dell, traveled the world looking for the best guitar luthiers to acquire instruments for their collection (what a great job to have!), and was of the opinion that Chica was, at that time, as good as anyone making in Spain (and a lot less expensive). This was when Ramirez was at it's peak reputation.

nhills -> RE: Before nylon (Sep. 27 2007 1:37:30)

Yes - I have a low end 1961 de la Chica - label is not signed; gears and mucho repaired cracks. Tom Whitely has a beautiful '63. Frederick Noad played a de la Chica as his main instrument most of his life.

Check out the current issue of "Vintage Guitar" - it has an article by Richard Brune about de la Chica.!

Don't know if you've seen the attached picture of de la Chica.

Images are resized automatically to a maximum width of 800px

a_arnold -> RE: Before nylon (Sep. 30 2007 20:21:46)

Thanks for the pic, Norman.

The last time I saw him ('73) he was a much older man. That was in his shop at Placeta de la Silleria 8 -- a tiny, tiny shop, half the size of a single-car garage. At that time he was in ill health. A career intervened after that, and by the time I returned to the scene, he had passed away. Do you know what he died of?

When I first met Chica, Bellido was just getting started in that shop below the Alhambra (Calle Ganivet, if memory serves) and Ferrer (who built Segovia's first student model guitar) was Chica's main competitor in Granada. I believe Chica started as a cabinetmaker before Marin took him on as an apprentice. I understand there was some bitter feelings between Chica and Ferrer, but I don't know the cause.

While he was in his prime, I too ordered a student model and was so pleased I immediately commissioned his very best blanca -- gave him a little extra to make it special. He found a special piece of spruce for the top -- the grain curves away from the center glue line, especially in the lower bout, almost as though the wood was grown specifically for the guitar shape. It is a very plain guitar -- plainer than his student model, but noticeably better. And light -- 2.5 lbs. I'm not sure, but I think the golpeador is celluloid(?) rather than acetate. It is clear, but harder, thinner, and less flexible than on more modern guitars, and it seems to be more difficult to keep on the top -- it keeps wanting to come off. The other guitar (a banger) I have from that era has a white golpeador (Rafael Morales). It seems like white golpeadors were more common back then. Don't know why.

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