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: ; on internet:


The pardessus de viole first appeared at the end of the 17th century as a viol smaller than the dessus, which was largely playing the abundant repertoire intended for the violin. It had 6 strings, and probably was developed to play as a dessus at a higher pitch standard, but later was tuned to g,c',e',a',d",g" at a lower one. Around 1725, a new 5-string tuning became popular, particularly amongst ladies. The tuning g,d’,a’,d”,g” had the high strings like the pardessus de viole and the low strings like the violin. Holding and bowing was like a viol, and frets were used. Some earlier pardessus viols were then played with the new tuning. Violins were converted by replacing the neck and pegbox. New instruments were made with either traditional viol bodies or with bodies that were various compromises between a viol and a violin. This new instrument was called either 'pardessus de viole à cinq cordes' or 'quinton'. Either name was sometimes used for any instrument with that tuning, but the pardessus name was mostly used when the body design was like a viol, and the quinton name was mostly used when the design had obvious violinistic aspects. Popularity peaked around 1750 and was waning when the French Revolution terminated it. For further information, see M. Herzog, 'Is the quinton a viol? A puzzle unravelled', Early Music (Feb. 2000), pp.8-31.

The string stops of these instruments were very similar to those of the violin, and their apparent difference in highest pitch with the violin suggests a difference in pitch standard that they played at. There were three pitch standards used for concerted music in 18th century France. The modern version of the middle one is a' = 415 Hz. The others were about a tone higher and a tone lower than the middle one. We can expect that 18th century French musicians were no more tolerant of a high rate of breakage of highest strings than musicians in Praetorius's Germany. We can then deduce that the lowest pitch standard (called 'very low French chamber pitch' by Quantz in 1752) was usually used by these instruments.

So if we tune a pardessus or quinton of up to a' = 415 Hz, some gut 1st strings (at g") will break within a day, while a few very exceptional ones will last as long as a few weeks. This represents the natural variability of gut, and we cannot sort strings out according to strength because there is no way to test their strength without breaking them.

Following are the diameters or equivalent diameters (ED's), which are the diameters of solid gut strings with the same weight as the non-solid-gut strings used, for the light, medium, and heavy sets we recommend. The string types we offer are shown in the price list. It would be more historically accurate if one used open-wound or tigerline strings, called 'half wound' strings then, instead of the catline 4th strings in the recommended list. That was the practice in 18th century France according to evidence on the stringing of violins and bass viols. They provide the smoothest transition between solid gut and metal-wound strings. It is not fashionable nowadays to use them.