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Thread: Question about string gauge vs tension and 'soft' brands

  1. #1

    Question Question about string gauge vs tension and 'soft' brands

    Hi

    In another post, there's been some dialog about strings that are light enough for vintage bowlback mandolins. I had always thought that tension was proportional to string gauge, because I can't think of anything else that would impact tension other than tuning -- and I use standard tuning. That said, there are strings that I plan to try over the next few months:

    GHS A240 Phosphor Bronze Round Wound (09-13-20-32) -- this is the set that currently on the instrument and they are 'just okay' in my opinion -- the tension seems good and the strings are well made.

    On a recommendation, I'd like to try Dogal Calace RW92B Carbon Steel Round Wound (10-14-23-33) -- these seem like the tension might be too high? I emailed Dogal to get the gauges, they responded in mm which I converted to inches, rounding -- in mm (.25, .35, .59, .85), in inches (.0098245, .0137795, .0232283, .0334645)

    And I found these, Galli G1420 80/20 Bronze Round Wound (10-14-23-32) -- these seem like the tension also might be too high.

    For refrence, I tried Elixir Light 80/20 Bronze Coated Round Wound (10-14-24-34) and the tension was too high -- someone mentioned they might be too 'strong' and when I detuned (after a few hours), there was some ugly creaking, but nothing 'broke'.

    Other folks have mentioned putting single-strings together to get a better fit for tension and sound. I also might try this.

    I would appreciate any insights you might have on gauge vs. tension and your favorite strings for vintage instruments,
    Patrick

  2. #2
    mando-evangelist August Watters's Avatar
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    Default Re: Question about string gauge vs tension and 'soft' brands

    Quote Originally Posted by pbaumann22 View Post
    I had always thought that tension was proportional to string gauge, because I can't think of anything else that would impact tension other than tuning -- and I use standard tuning.
    String tension also depends on construction and materials. A string with thicker core (and thinner winding) can give you higher tension. The materials also matter: In the case of the Dogal Calace strings, tension is higher than you might expect by measuring the string gauges alone, because they are made from a very dense, proprietary high-carbon steel. When I visited the Dogal factory in Venice, I had a detailed conversation about this with Dogal's founder and his son, who now runs the company. I like the Dogal Calace strings very much (NFI), but not for antique bowlbacks.

    The Calace line of Dogal strings is designed and named for the modern Calace instruments, which use higher-tension strings than most other modern Italian bowlback mandolins. Those, in turn, require higher tension than most antique mandolins, because of a trend in the last century toward heavier construction and longer scale length, in search of better projection. The “dolce” RW92B are the lightest of the Calace line, but they are not low-tension strings.

    On a recommendation, I'd like to try Dogal Calace RW92B Carbon Steel Round Wound (10-14-23-33) -- these seem like the tension might be too high?
    In my experience this depends on the instrument. They’re good for some, but too heavy for others—probably not heavy enough to cause damage, but for some, heavy enough to limit the vibration of the top. Every instrument has an optimal amount of tension for freest movement.

    A more serious problem, I think, is fret wear. I used the RW92B strings for several years and liked them very much—but even on the wider frets of my modern concert bowlback, the high-carbon steel caused much wear on the frets (which are made of a softer material, nickel-silver). Most antique bowlbacks had thin frets, so with string tension concentrated on a smaller surface I would expect the frets to wear even faster.

    And I found these, Galli G1420 80/20 Bronze Round Wound (10-14-23-32) -- these seem like the tension also might be too high.
    I visited the Galli factory in Naples last summer and asked them to make a slightly lighter version of their silver-plated M158 strings, for antique bowlbacks. They made prototypes for me on the spot; I hope they’ll have a finished product for us one of these days. I have the M158s on my 1902 Calace mandolin now, and they’re working well — but this instrument has been restored, with a carbon fiber rod in the neck.

    GHS A240 Phosphor Bronze Round Wound (09-13-20-32) -- this is the set that currently on the instrument and they are 'just okay' in my opinion -- the tension seems good and the strings are well made.
    Phosphor bronze was not yet invented when our antique mandolins were built, and unfortunately the tone is different. I don’t think phosphor bronze is the best choice of materials for this purpose, but I am glad that GHS has made a set designed for old bowlbacks!

    For reference, I tried Elixir Light 80/20 Bronze Coated Round Wound (10-14-24-34) and the tension was too high -- someone mentioned they might be too 'strong' and when I detuned (after a few hours), there was some ugly creaking, but nothing ‘broke’.
    I think a more moderate approach would be to start with lighter strings, see how they respond, and then switch out individual courses, increasing string gauge until they feel right. I like a little heavier E string, so I start with something like 10-13-21-30 and go up from there.

    I would appreciate any insights you might have on gauge vs. tension and your favorite strings for vintage instruments
    Other European manufacturers sometimes mentioned: Pyramid - Optima Lenzner - Fisoma.

    Also: I’m getting excellent results on my 1908 Vega by using two sets of La Bella Tenor Banjo silk and steel strings, 10-12-21-31. Switch out the A string to a 13.

  3. The Following 2 Users Say Thank You to August Watters For This Useful Post:


  4. #3

    Default Re: Question about string gauge vs tension and 'soft' brands

    Thanks, August. Awesome post. I had recently come to the realization that material (especially core material) makes a big difference in tension too. Thanks for the confirmation. Thanks again for the advice. I'm 'tolerating' the GHS strings for now because they work.

  5. #4
    Registered User John Bertotti's Avatar
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    Default Re: Question about string gauge vs tension and 'soft' brands

    Love Lenzner strings on my Vega! I thought they went out of business. I only have 7 sets left. What ever I replace them with must be light. I will find it interesting what you come up with!
    My avatar is of my OldWave Oval A

    Creativity is just doing something wierd and finding out others like it.

  6. #5

    Default Re: Question about string gauge vs tension and 'soft' brands

    Piggybackin on this for stringing up the old Martin cant tops..
    I too am on the GHS A240s, which are OK..will try to remember to try the La Bella S&S tenor Banjo set!
    Currently trying out a light Ernie Ball Stainless set 9-13-22-34, they sound a little thin, I prefer the 240s I think. Also Stainless vs old frets is a problem, as you pointed out.
    thanks!

  7. #6

    Default Re: Question about string gauge vs tension and 'soft' brands

    So, Lenzner may have been purchased by Optima. I'm looking into the 3050L (Flatwound Nickel) 10-13-20-30 for tensions if I can find them. They are available on stringsbymail for $30.

  8. #7

    Default Re: Question about string gauge vs tension and 'soft' brands

    Got an interesting reply from Galli when I inquired about string tension:

    Hello Patrick

    How are you? Thank you very much for having contacted us and for your interest in our strings. We are reorganizing our web site and in a while it will display clearly the tensions and weights for all our strings.

    Concerning your request of an Ultra-light set G1420, in it is in our new projects and will be available soon in our web site.

    Please stay tuned and go on following us in our web site and in all our socials!!

    With warmest regards

    Customer care

    info@gallistrings.com

  9. #8

    Default Re: Question about string gauge vs tension and 'soft' brands

    Also got a reply from Optima on the 3050L set. They say total set tension is 25kg.

  10. #9
    coprolite mandroid's Avatar
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    Default Re: Question about string gauge vs tension and 'soft' brands

    Core Wire and plain strings ,, thinner gets to pitch at a lower tension , thicker, higher..

    higher tension you can strike harder with your pick ..

    Winding wires add Mass to offer up a lower pitched note.. tight vs loose windings offer a variable..
    writing about music
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  11. #10

    Default Re: Question about string gauge vs tension and 'soft' brands

    I have a quick update. I took August Watters advice with one exception. I used the wound strings from the tenor banjo set x 2 and the plain strings from GHS ultralight. So, that gave me a resulting .031, .021, .013, .009. (The banjo sets are .012 and .010 for the plain strings.) I futzed around with D'Addario's string tension calculator, knowing the string tensions would be different for my actual application. I may go lower gauge for the plain strings next time: .012 and .0085. To me, the tone from the silver-coated steel far exceeds the phosphor-bronze -- no surprise there. In the process, I also fixed some binding that occurred at the nut. Now my mandolin doesn't 'go sharp' on me anymore. Quite happy with this. I'll play this setup until I graduate to an Eastman MD305 -- and beyond.

    Thanks for all the advice.
    Last edited by pbaumann22; Jul-29-2019 at 5:09pm.

  12. #11

    Default Re: Question about string gauge vs tension and 'soft' brands

    Obviously, the reference to a .085 above was meant to be a .0085. My apologies.

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