An Introduction to Strings

Article 3


As we covered in Article 1, the three major considerations for strings are:

Length

Tension

Pitch

And these are all related and must be in balance for the string to work correctly. In this article we will consider the string parameter that is most commonly exceeded and that is length.

When the string length is too long for a given pitch some problems develop. In extreme cases, if the pitch is very much too high for the length, the string will break. Most often, though, problems develop because the string length is just a little too long for a given pitch and the result is that the string is very thin, resulting is a weak and this tone. Also, the string is fragile and breaks frequently and unexpectedly.

There is a theory that, historically, gut strings were stronger than modern strings and could be tuned higher at longer lengths. It may be that in the old days the serosa material was superior to that of today or there was some secret formula that was used to create super strings. In order for this to be true the gut would also have to have been lighter than today, or players had to have used more tension than we suspect today, as it is unlikely that the laws of physics have changed over the last three hundred years. Whatever the case may be, what we have to work with is the materials we have today and we it is incumbent upon us to make the instruments work for musicians today regardless of what may or may not have been the case historically. Therefore, for the convenience of modern musicians it is important that string lengths do not get so long that strings are fragile and break at the target pitch.

Of course, this is of most concern for the top string of the instrument. This is because this is the highest pitched string on the instrument and the most frequently used. Therefore, it is important that this string be reliable and stable so the musician may have confidence in the instrument.

Toward this end, I have compiled a table of common pitches used on top strings and the recommended lengths for string stability at that pitch. At the far right there is the longest recommended pitch and longer than that almost assures a string that will break when tuned up to pitch.

Keep in mind the quality of tone that you like in an instrument, as well. Longer strings have a tendency to sound thin and reedy and if this is a tonal aesthetic you are looking for, then you may want to favor a longer length. Shorter strings need thicker strings and consequently the tone tends toward being coarse and raspy. What we are looking for is the Goldilocks length that is neither too long nor too short and the mean of the recommended lengths in the table is just right, as the famous little girl said.

 

Pitch of String

Frequency

Recommended Length in cm

Longest recommended Length in cm

 

 

 

 

e"

659.26

31 - 33

34

d#"

622.26

33 - 34

36

d" (Soprano)

587.33

34 - 36

39

c#

554.37

36 - 38

40

c"

523.50

38 - 41

45

b'

493.88

42 - 44

46

Bb'

466.16

45 - 47

48

a' (Alto)

440

48 - 50

52

g#

415

51 - 52

56

g' (Alto / Tenor)

392

53 - 54

59

f#'

369.99

55 - 58

62

f'

349.23

62 - 64

67

e' (Bass)

329.63

65 - 67

68

d'

311.13

64 - 65

72

eb'

293.66

65 - 68

76

c#'

277.18

68 - 72

80

c"

261.63

76 - 78

82

 

 

Next month we will consider the acoustical impulse and how it makes a string vibrate.


 

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