Gut bass strings have always been a controversial matter, with different approaches and interpretations of historical evidences, both iconographical and documental.
Charles Besnainou, Mimmo Peruffo and Ephraim Segerman started to investigate different approaches back in the 1990s and this is still a subject to discussion.
According to Mimmo Peruffo's research work:
Concerning gut bass strings, that were employed in past times on lutes with more than six courses, there are still today many unanswered questions.
At present there are only two hypotheses as to how these strings were made: the first hypothesis is the use of rope construction (either leaving the roped appearance visible or giving the string a smooth finish);
The second assumes that the density of the gut was increased by treatment with heavy metal compounds or a very fine metal powder; so-called ‘loaded gut strings’;
Some scholars, even today, still think that ‘roped’ gut bass strings (i.e. catlines, in Segerman’s writ-ings) were introduced around the years 1565–70, when the lute was expanded in the bass register.
This thinking should be updated: a few years ago Patrizio Barbieri discovered some sources from the second half of the 15th century where it is very clear that the roped strings, on musical instruments, were already in use (‘Roman and Neapolitan gut strings 1550-1950’, Galpin Society Journal ix, May 2006)
Barbieri also demonstrated the presence of special machines called in Italian ‘orditori’ (ropewalks) a technical term for a special manual machines employed for making ropes, hemps etc) in mid 16th-century Roman stringmakers’ workshops.
There are different historical treatises and sources about "roped" strings or "Catlines", for example:
From “For Chusing of Lute-strings” by John Dowland, in Varietie of Lute Lessons, Robert Dowland, 1610
For the greater sorts or Base strings, some are made at Nurenburge, and also at Straesburge, and bound up onely in knots like other strings. These strings are excellent, if they be new, if not, they fall out starke false. The best strings of this kinde are double knots joyned together, and are made at Bologna in Lumbardie, and from thence are sent to Venice: from which place they are transported to the Martes, and therefore commonly called Venice Catlines.
From Musick’s Monument, Thomas Mace (1676), pp.65-68:
The first and chief thing is, to be carefull to get good strings, which would be of three sorts, viz. Minikins, Venice-Catlins, and Lyons, (for basses: ) There is another sort of strings, which they call Pistoy basses, which I conceive are none other than thick Venice-Catlins, which are commonly dyed, with a deep dark red colour.
Then out of your Venice-Catlins, for your 4ths, 5ths, and most of your other octaves.
The appearing of wound strings caused, starting from the end of the 17th century, the definitive abandoning of the ancient manufacturing techniques of the traditional all-gut bass strings.
A catline string is constructed of two or more twisted strings refashioned and wound together to form the roped string or Catline.
The Catline twist allows considerably larger string diammeters to vibrate easily compared with plain gut strings, thanks to their better elasticity compared to a traditional high-twist gut strings.
In the last decades of the 17th century, Catline strings and twisted gut strings were wound with brass, copper or silver wire to increase mass and tension with shorter vibrating length.
- STRING: Gut string
- COLOUR: White
- MATERIALS: Plain gut
- LENGTH: 180cm.
- GAUGES: from 1.04 to 1.60
- EQUIVALENCE: Diameters are expressed in equivalent solid gut
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