"Finest man to ever put horsehair to catgut." I once read in one of my fiddle history books, I think of Niel Gow, famous Scots fiddler of the late 18th c. It always did strike me as a fun turn of phrase.
Now anyhow, I'm nowhere NEAR that league of course, but I thought I'd try gut string... partially out of sheer historical curiosity for what fiddling was like back in the day, partly one last effort to find a setup my dear old student fiddle would like.
First.. gut strings. Really interesting. They do take a while to settle in, and are obnoxious for the first day or three, slipping out of tune every time you look at 'em it feels like. They're also a little slick under the bow at first - I'm finding I need more rosin to not go all slippy-slide on them. The neat thing though is- no need for fine tuners at all. The pegs work *great* with gut all by themselves. You'd almost think they were made for the stuff. ;)
And yet... interesting as this is, it's not enough.
See, I'm finally hitting a wall with this old fiddle - not the Tennessee one*- but rather my "good" violin, a student strad copy from the 1920's or so. It's beautiful, but...I've tried all manner of things from pestering my teacher on technique to different strings to having my luthier friend tap the soundpeg around - and none of it is helping.. I just keep hitting that point of saying "I know I can sound better than this - I do sound better than this on other violins." It's the first time I've really outgrown an instrument (kid stuff aside) and it's an interesting experience.
It's not like say a rifle, where there's this definable metric of "how close together are the holes?" Rather there's this vague uncomfortableness at this tone and that scratchiness, and never quite being able to get the sound you want... but there's that same growing sense of "I'm tired of not being able to tell what the limiting factor is - me or the tool.. and I think it's the tool." Worse, I find it actually harder to practice now, because I get frustrated easier.
So... I'll be doing the "sell and reallocate" dance again in life soon. Probably selling my nylon-strung folk harp and the strad copy to afford a really *nice* violin I can really keep growing in to. Luthier friend has some ideas there - great to have someone around you can really trust to help point you in the right direction.
In the mean time, it's fun to play with the gut, and wonder about times way back when. Sure it's not an Edinburgh sheep (or cat?) stretched over that bridge, but there is something homey about it nonetheless. And it really does help the smoothness some. Neat experience.
In other music news, the guitar is coming along okay - folk harp technique translates fairly well to finger picking I'm finding, but it looks like I'm just going to have to buckle down and learn some chord positions by rote, at least to start. It's like multiplication tables all over again! Yes Cap'n Tightpants, We work before we play. Still, I keep finding myself amazed at just how versatile the guitar is. It feels like having a whole piano on a board right there at your fingertips! No wonder it's so popular.
So yeah, stay tuned. Next week I'll be amazed at how much faster you can get places with one of those newfangled horseless carriages. Early adopter, that's me. :)
* which finally gave up the ghost- the soft spots in the upper bouts gave way and the neck collapsed. :( Sure sounded nice while it was together though. Luthier friend says it would be more work to rebuild it than even to make a new one. bother.