Northern Renaissance Instruments
6 Needham Avenue, Chorlton-cum-Hardy, Manchester M21 8AA, U.K.
Phone & Fax. +44 (0) 161 881 8134 ; proprietor: Dr. Ephraim Segerman [USA]
e-mail: email@example.com ; on internet: http://www.nrinst.co.uk
STRINGS FOR THE LATE 18th CENTURY NEOPOPOLITAN MANDOLIN
Fouchetti's Méthode pour apprendre facilement à jouer de la mandoline à 4, et à 6 cordes (Paris c.1770-80) gives interpretable stringing information. On the 4-course mandolin, the 1st course (mi or e") strings were gut chanterelles (1st strings) for the pardessus de viole, those of the 2nd course (la or a') were of 5 gauge brass, those of the 3rd course (re or d') were two 6 gauge brass wires twisted together, the bourdon (low octave) string of the 4th course (sol or g) was wound on gut or silk (one can use a very fine violin 4th), and the octave string for the 4th course was the same as a string for a 2nd course (5 gauge brass).
The first course had to br gut because the players wanted the same string stop and string pitches as the violin, and any metal string available then would break under those conditions. Also, the fourth course bourdon was not of twisted brass because it would have had to be made with particularly high twist, which is difficult to do without breaking it, and the technology to do that was forgotten by the end of the 17th century, when the bandora fell out of fashion.
Bakeman, in The Galpin Society Journal XXVII (1974), p.98, determined that the diameter of the French 6 gauge string was 0.297 mm from Cryseul's (1780) measurements. From Cryseul's information, and measurements of wire found on a 1733 Blanchet harpsichord with gauge markings, Bakeman postulated an 18th century French gauging system, in which a 5 gauge wire had a diameter of 0.34 mm.
All the evidence we have on 17th and 18th century French stringing practices on fingerboard instruments is that each instrument tended strongly to have equal tension amongst the strings. Though this evidence is on either gut or metal stringing, and not on the mixed stringing here, we will assume it here. The ideal set of strings always needs some adjustment to account for the particular resonances of the instrument and the style with which it is played, and this is a good starting point. Assuming equal tension with the 0.34 mm a', the e" would have a diameter of 0.57 mm gut, the d' would have the brass equivalent diameter (the diameter of a simple brass wire that has the same weight per unit length as the twisted string) of 0.51 mm, the g bourdon would have the gut equivalent diameter of 1.92 mm, and the g' octave would have a diameter of 0.38 mm. With metal stringing, it is acceptable to have diameters that varied up to 12 % from what would be ideal. The d' string made of 0.30 mm brass twisted together, as well as the g octave brass string are within such limits of equal tension.
Brass strings have much more higher harmonics, and thus sound richer, than gut strings. A thinner gut string sounds richer than a thicker one. Equal tension produces balance in the fundamental and lower harmonics, but we listen for balance of richness as well. Thus thinner gut e" strings than suggested by equal tension are needed for balance with the brass a' strings. When judging balance, today's musicians consider evenness in richness more important than musicians in the baroque, as evidenced by our preference for unequal tension in violin stringing and for wound basses over all-gut basses, both of which promote this evenness. So a modern ear would prefer thinner gut e" strings than Fouchetti would.
Consequently, we offer an estimate of Fouchetti's set plus a variety of sets that have been found to be more acceptable for modern players. The latter included modern types of strings, but with the Fouchetti tension, which is about 2/3 that of modern mandolin strings. The pitch standard that was probably most conformed to was about a' = 410 Hz, but both sets will work well at the modern pitches of a' = 415 and 440 Hz.