The Use of Novel Twisted Core Kevlar Strings and Other Synthetics for Plucked String Instruments


Previously, I just announced the latest development in my working and research regarding string making, presenting the world’s first ever rope twisted core Kevlar string for the qin. However, even though I have been primarily concentrating on the development of synthetic cores strings for the qin, the same basic principles for these strings are applicable to strings for any type of stringed instrument, and there are many instruments out there that may enjoy the benefits of these types of strings. Currently, there are synthetic twisted core strings available for instruments such as the shamisen and koto, however these are limited to Tetron based materials, and not many other materials have been developed beyond this. As I am aware, I may be the only independent individual actively researching and making high filament count rope twisted core synthetic strings for stringed instruments on their own, and this style of string, developed and optimized further, can provide many more unique options for musicians to try. Below are several examples of instruments that I have explored, or will be exploring in the future, for use with these types of strings. Since all of my work and research is open source to the community (though please give credit to my work and efforts where do), these types of strings also present many opportunities for unique, high quality DIY synthetic strings. It may also be noted that the use of the rope twisted core Kevlar strings I am working on may be the first instances of their kind of use and testing of this type of novel string for these instruments, though there may be other instances that I am yet unaware of.


SHAMISEN

Alongside the qin, the shamisen is one of my all time favorite instruments. I have restored several vintage shamisen, in addition to building my own, albeit rather crude shamisen, many years ago. I am also currently in the process of designing a new, unique, very high end shamisen as well. The shamisen, like the qin, has several options available for strings. Mainly, the shamisen utilizes silk strings, which are by far the most common and popular string for this instrument (quite the opposite with the qin interestingly enough!) However, the shamisen has also enjoyed additional alternative strings as well, most notably Tetron based synthetic strings made by Marusan Hashimoto. The shamisen can also make use of smooth, monofilament nylon strings – indeed, I have also heavily used appropriate diameter monofilament nylon classical guitar strings with my own shamisen. They offer a different sound from silk, being warmer with much less mid and upper mid sharpness, and more focus on the fundamental. If you have read my previous articles, you will notice that these trends, among others, are exactly the same as established between comparing silk and monofilament nylon strings for the qin. Again, the principles of strings apply across all instruments, and carry with them their own unique response and flavor. As such, in addition to testing my experimental synthetic twisted core strings on the qin, I have also been testing and comparing them on my shamisen as well. I have found that the diameters I use for both the 7th and 6th guqin strings work perfectly for the 2nd and 1st strings of the shamisen respectively. As of now, I have already tested and compared the nylon and polyester twisted core strings with both silk shamisen strings and monofilament nylon guitar strings, all on the shamisen. I have not begun to collect data on it, but the same trends that are noted for the guqin for these types of strings also apply for the shamisen as well. In a soon, upcoming post, I will actually describe more in detail my preliminary testing and comparisons with these strings for the shamisen. For the newest addition to my strings, the Kevlar string, I am also in the process of preliminary testing this material with the shamisen as well. As far as I am aware, this may also be the first ever instance of use of twisted core Kevlar strings for the shamisen, as well as the first ever DIY twisted core synthetic strings in general to be used for the shamisen.


LYRE

The next logical jump I made for using these strings with other plucked stringed instruments falls with lyres. Lyres are a particularly unique and interesting instrument, being their own general category of stringed instruments on their own. The lyre also enjoys a very wide variety of string choices –  everything from metals such as steel, brass, bronze, and iron, to gut, silk, monofilament nylon, and monfilament flourocarbon. However, to my knowledge, I do not believe I have yet seen exploration of twisted core synthetic strings for use with lyres. These types of strings in particular could be very well suited for lyres, and open up additional timbre and response that is not currently seen with the above mentioned materials. As noted in both testing with the guqin and the shamisen, similar trends will be observed in response between natural twisted fiber strings such as gut and silk, metal strings, monofilament synthetics, and twisted core synthetics. twisted core synthetics offers a unique combination of response very similar to silks, while having its own unique flavor. For twisted core nylon and polyester, this is a much brighter tonal response and louder volume, and much more different than their monofilament synthetic counterparts. Kevlar in particular could be extremely interesting for this instrument. I unfortunately do not have a lyre at this time to further test these strings with it, but I would certainly like to propose further advancement and development of these strings for use with this class of instruments.


KANTELE

This may perhaps be the most unique and unusual entry presented here, in that the kantele enjoys use of strings that are almost universally and exclusively metal. Steel is by far the most common material, but other strings have been used as well, including various bronzes, brasses, iron, and other metal. However, traditionally, there has been mention of other materials used, such as horsehair and gut based strings. The kantele is uniquely known for its very clear, glimmering, resonant bell like tone, which is quite unique compared with other plucked stringed instruments. Metal strings such as steel are used to particularly give rise to this unique tone. However, there has been some  interest in exploring alternative materials for the kantele, including some specialized and more advanced metals. Horsehair and gut give a radically different sound to the instrument, and is significantly more dull and unresponsive compared with metal. I have not heard of the use of silk for the kantele I have thought about possibly trying Kevlar in particular with the kantele after it was made, but was unsure of how well it would respond at its practicality. However, since the development of my twisted core Kevlar qin string, I have had inquiries about the use of Kevlar for the kantele, and this could present some new and interesting opportunities for the instrument. Materials such as this could give much more response to the kantele over horsehair and gut, and provide some interesting tones for kantele experimentalists and musicians. I currently have 4 of my own homemade kantele in which I will explore the use of Kevlar and other synthetics on.


UKULELE

The ukulele most notably takes advantage of modern monofilament synthetic strings nowadays. Many materials, from nylon, to fluorocarbon, to specialized synthetics such as “Nylgut” have been used with the ukulele. Of particular interest are the nylgut strings by Aquila, which are some of the best strings out there for the ukulele, which supposedly give a very similar tone and response to traditional gut with increased durability and strength. I do in fact have nylgut strings on my own ukulele, and very much enjoy them. Although twisted core strings are not generally implemented for many Western plucked instruments, due to the significantly decreased sustain, strings such as twisted core Kevlar could provide some unique tone and response for this type of instrument. As with the above mentioned instruments, I am currently not aware of any development or commercially available pure Kevlar based twisted core strings for this particular instrument. As I explore more on the use of these strings with other plucked instruments, I would also like to test and explore these strings for this instrument as well, and provide perhaps the first examples of these strings for use with the ukulele, and see the viability of these strings for this instrument. Monofilament nylon cores will undoubtedly remain the dominant string type for this instrument, but twisted cores may offer some interesting timbre for specialized styles and applications.


ACOUSTIC GUITAR

The guitar has one of the largest and most expansive markets in the world regarding strings. In addition to being an incredible and dizzying array of different guitars and styles, there are equally as many different types and styles of strings. The guitar also uses an incredible amount of materials for strings as well – all different types of metals, silk, nylons, fluorocarbons, and many various combinations. Like ukuleles described above, guitar strings, due to the inherent nature of the guitar, generally utilize monofilament cores. However, for guitars such as the classical guitar and flamenco guitar, the lower strings most notably use multi-fiber synthetic cores. These cores are specifically parallel laid fiber cores, a opposed to twisted rope cores. These parallel fibers, mostly commonly nylon, are further over-wrapped with various metal wrappings to add the proper mass to the strings. These types of guitars, unlike their steel-string counterparts, are not made to handle the tension of full steel string sets, and their style of play generally lends itself better for these types of strings. I have heard that there are ome guitar strings that supposedly use Kevlar in the strings, however as far as I am aware, none of these strings are pure Kevlar strings, and are certainly not rope-twisted core structures. Particularly for classical and flamenco guitars, these types of strings might offer some unique tones and responses that could lend themselves well to particular styles and genres of music. Although sustain is inherently less than parallel multi-filament cores or monofilament cores, twisted cores, such as twisted Kevlar, offer some unique tonal responses not available on other types of cores, and may well be suited for styles of early classical and flamenco. As I also have a classical guitar in my possession for testing, I will also be trying these strings as well to determine their potential viability for this instrument, and may possibly again represent the first such use of a pure Kevlar based rope twisted core string for this instrument.


FURTHER READING

Presenting the First Ever Twisted Core Kevlar Qin String!

Silk Strings – On the Mechanisms That Give Rise to Timbre and Response

String Making – An Introduction to Alternative Methods and Materials for Qin Strings


 

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