Early Guitars and Vihuela

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Building a "common string set" for renaissance guitar, baroque guitar, and viola da mano?

Hi all!  I'm planning to buy strings (not gut, maybe nylgut or nylon or ...) for three instruments, all tuned to A=440:

  • a renaissance guitar (53 cm string length),
  • a baroque guitar (D string in octaves, 69 cm string length), and
  • a 6-course viola da mano in G (59 cm string length).

I used Niskanen Lutes' string calculator (https://www.niskanenlutes.com) and noticed that the gut, nylon, and carbon gauges of many courses were nearly the same across all three instruments.  It's tempting to buy a set for baroque guitar and just reuse them for everything but the lute's basses.  Would any of you have experience with that?  Is this viable in general, or is it best left for emergencies?

If it helps, the "renaissance guitar" is actually an 8-string tenor ukulele, whose stock strings I find too stiff (they are good for strumming but not so much for plucking).  It's more just for fun, so I wouldn't mind if it ended up with a different tuning, or if it needed some adjustment.  (However, it has many more gauges nearly in common with the baroque guitar, so I'm less worried about sharing.)

Here are the recommended gut gauges for all three instruments:

  • Renaissance guitar: 0.42, 0.51, 0.62, 0.82 / 0.4
  • Baroque guitar: 0.42, 0.53, 0.63, 0.85 / 0.41, 0.56
  • Viola da mano: 0.42, 0.51, 0.66, 0.82, 1.09, 1.43 / 0.69

Thanks all!

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Dear Mark Hoemmen,

I presume this is a serious query so will respond in kind.

It all depends on the nominal tuning of the instruments (ie of the four course guitar/ukulele as well as the others) and on the tension you require.

One could, indeed, work backwards from any set of strings to see what individual string tensions you end up with - but would these be ideal?

And anyway, what's the point - why not simply string each instrument as best and so avoid the tedious job of transferring strings!

Martyn Hodgson

Thanks for responding! I definitely meant this as a serious query.  If it doesn't belong here, I'll move along without hard feelings.

I wasn't planning on "transferring strings."  Rather, I'd like to know how many gauges of strings to keep on hand.

Dear Mark,

As suggested, simply calculate the strings required for each instrument based on the tuning, the string length and string tension you would like and order strings accordingly. Most strings will last indefinitely (except for the first which can break if close to the breaking stress and especially there's a harsh edge at the nut) so the need to replace at some time will depend on your ear (is the string becoming 'false') and any perceived deterioration in the quality of the sound - especially of the basses.

Martyn Hodgson


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