Interesting and informative post Robin. Having made HD's for many years before dropping back to my first love, MD's, I am well familiar with piano wire ( have got miles and miles of it) but have never considered its comparitive merits with 'shop bought' guitar strings ! Any chance of sharing how you 'make up strings' from it for use on a MD, as I am sure there are others here who use both instruments !
Robin Clark said:
That's a pretty accurate summary Paul of the guitar/banjo string industry.
There are a few exceptions, Newtone Strings here inthe UK being one. Malcolm Newton who runs the company (and physically makes most of the strings!) worked for a wire rope firm in the Midlands and learnt about wiredrawing, plating, winding etc from there. Malcolm is very particular about the wire he uses, and his strings are always in short supply as he won't make them if the wire is not perfect. I buy about 1200 strings from Malcolm a year for my guitar business but the wait can be frustrating!!! I doubt you'll find them in the US.
Strings do make a differnce to tone.
For my Ed Thomas replica I use German piano wire from Heckscher, who started up in 1883. It seems likely from what I have readthat steelpiano wire was available quite widelyin the US from about the time of the Civil War and it appears as a mail orderitem in the earliest Sears & Roebuck catalogues I have been able to research. I know that John Mawhee used piano wire for his dulcimers made just after the civil war (guage #8 on a 25" scale tuned right up to G,d,d) and on my Ed Thomas Imake up the strings from Gauge #8 wire for the bass (0.020") and gauge #4 for the middle and melody (0.013). Piano wire feels slightly softer than modern guitar strings and so perhaps settles to pitch at a slightly lower tension - though I don't have the ability to measure this. The tone is different - is is a little morebass and top with less mid - like a telecaster twang! A number of my most recent recordings of my Ed Thomas replicahave beenmade using piano wire strings (you can find them in varios posts in the Old Style Drone & Noter section).
Although there has been plenty written about early dulcimer design, woods and building technique unfortunately little focus has been placed on the strings used - and yet they are an element that would have had significant impact on both the tone the instrument produced and the tunings selected. I have only been able to pick up snippets of information from here and there - and I'm always on the search for more if anyone has any!
Paul Certo said:
For the record, it's the music wire that is made by only a few companies. It is used by a lot of companies to make strings, and some of these string makers make strings for other companies to package and market. I doubt if strings sold under an instrument brand name are actually made by those companies. Gibson, Fender, and Martin all sell strings, but I don't think any of them make strings.