CHAPTER 3: History to 1800 > Early Renaissance - 15th century

Early Renaissance strings

Little seems to be known as yet about the strings used on early dulcimers and psalteries, although Segerman and Abbott are currently working on the subject, (44).

Prima facie one might think that strings designed to be struck would be rather thicker.than those designed to be plucked. Consider that the force with which a hard hammer hits a strIng momentarily inGreases its tension; the resultant pitch is thus higher than plucking or bowing it would produce. The pitch drops again as the note decays, and this effect is considerably more marked when the strings are slacker. Given constant string length, for any particular pitch a thinner string will be slacker than one which is thicker, so it follows that thicker strings will better avoid the fluctuations in pitch which result from hard hammering.

This argument assumes that Renaissance players hit their strings harder than they plucked them, a point about which". there is no evidence either way.

The earliest surviving historial strings known to the author are of the 18th century salterio at Port Sunlight (45); these are very thin, so that it is possible that there was little change made when psaltery strings came to be struck. If this were the case, the words of the Spanish Monk Aegidius of Zamora would be relevant:

"Fiunt autem optimae eius chordulae de aurichalco vel etiam de argento" (Ars Musica, later 13thC),

'The best strings (of the psaltery) are made from brass or silver' (46).

Similarly, those of Jean de Gerson, in Tractatus de Canticis (1423):

"Habet insuper cordulas vel tangenteas vel ex electro quasi tinnientes leuiusque tangendas".

'It (the psaltery) has moreover small strings of silver-gold that ring, and must be lightly plucked'. (46)

According to Abbott and Segerman (1974), Tinctoris was writing about 'steel' strings as early as c.1487.