Instrument strings made from animal intestine

Instrument strings made from animal intestine

Greek folklore has it that Hermes strung the first lyre with the insides of freshly butchered cows he had taken from his sibling Apollo. Fierce, all-knowing Apollo ran to punish his sibling, however, he went quiet once he heard the lyre’s dulcet tones. Apollo was smitten by the melody so much that he relinquished his dearest herds and the animals of the forest for the musical instrument. 

The culture of using animal intestine to make musical instruments is long embedded in history. The earliest remnants of which can be traced to ancient Egypt where the melodic strings were made of animal guts.

Even today, most players value these strings for their impeccable soft and soothing sound.

Catgut (also known as gut) is a type of cord that is prepared from the natural fibre found in the walls of animal intestines. Catgut makers usually use sheep or goat intestines, but occasionally use the intestines of hogs, horses, cattle, etc. Gut strings are the only animal-derived item still regularly used in the formation of instruments. It is also used for surgical ligatures and stitches, for the strings of violins and related instruments, and for the strings of tennis rackets and toxophilite bows.

The old Egyptians and Babylonians and the later Greeks and Romans used the digestive organs of herbivorous creatures for similar purposes.

The intestinal tubes (called runners) of sheep are washed, cut in strips(ribbons), and scratched free from the mucous membrane and round muscle tissue. The ribbons are set in an alkaline bath for a few hours and afterwards extended on outlines. While still wet they are taken out, arranged by size, and wound into lines of shifting thickness. A smoothing and cleaning activity finishes the cycle. 

Italian catgut is viewed as the best for string instruments. Surgical catgut is sanitized by heat applied in progression and maintained for a few hours; it is mostly treated with an impregnating agent. And still, the market for gut strings continue to thrive.


About the Author:

Priyanka Sharma is an aspiring novelist who loves to read and write.


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