Mudcat Café message #1014979 The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #62745   Message #1014979
Posted By: Burke
08-Sep-03 - 05:33 PM
Thread Name: How old are steel strings?
Subject: RE: How old are steel strings?
Here are a couple of snippets from Grove Music. Keyboard instruments had them first.

Keyboard instruments mostly use wire strings. Although there is evidence of drawn gold wire as early as the 5th or 6th century bce in Persia, it seems that the draw plate was not used in medieval Europe until the 10th century, from which time iron wire was available for musical instruments. The wrought iron produced for wire drawing was probably given particular attention at all stages of its handling. Recent analyses have shown the impressive purity that could be attained. The ingots of iron or brass were forged to smaller strips, cut into rods, hammered round and finally drawn down to the sizes required by instrument makers. It is known that trade in drawn wire was highly organized at an early stage, and certain areas acquired a reputation for the quality of their products.

In regard to harpiscord strings:
In order that the strings may reach the desired frequency with a short length, the mass must be increased. It was historically the case that different types of string material were used in the bass if the treble was designed to use iron wire. Thus strings of yellow brass (about 70% copper, 30% zinc alloy) were used in the tenor of iron-scaled instruments, with red brass (about 85% copper, 15% zinc alloy) for the last few notes. The scalings in the bass were designed to match the tensile strengths of the different materials (see O'Brien, C1981 and Wraight, C1997, chap.5). Silver and gold strings were used in a similar way; because of their higher specific gravity and lower elastic modulus they offer an acoustical advantage over brass strings.

The most significant solution to the problem of density, in which metal wire is wound around a core of some material (in modern times, gut, metal or nylon), seems to have been invented in the mid-17th century, probably in Bologna. On 'overspun' ('overwound' or 'wirewound') strings density is increased considerably, thus much reducing the length of string required to produce low notes. This invention was crucial to the development of the bass member of the violin family, as it permitted the cutting down in size of the violone (or bass violin) and its conversion to a violoncello.

'String', The New Grove Dictionary of Music Online ed. L. Macy (Accessed 8 Sept. 2003),