Guitar stringing in late nineteenth-century North America: the emergence of steel

Pyall, Nicholas (2014) Guitar stringing in late nineteenth-century North America: the emergence of steel. Journal of the American Musical Instrument Society, 40. pp. 29-74. ISSN 0362-3300


The circumstances are many and entwined that lead to the evolution of the steel string guitar in the late nineteenth century and its popular acceptance in the early twentieth century by amateur and professional players and their audiences.

While there is no indication of the guitar being strung with steel in Europe or America during the first half of the nineteenth century, the practice of Pasquale Vinaccia, who used steel for the first and second courses of the Neapolitan mandolin c1835, shows that it was physically possible to have done so by that date. Whereas previously guitar strings with gut trebles and copper overwound silk core basses had been imported from Europe, new evidence of the North American use of steel in their manufacture from the mid-nineteenth century is revealed in Virginia Penny’s Cyclopaedia of 1863. Her account of factory-women winding strings further supports Philip Gura’s findings from the examination of the accounts and business records of James Ashborn’s Connecticut guitar factory, which reveal increased use of mechanization and the inclusion of a string winding division in 1851.

This article examines the North American manufacture and use of guitar strings from the mid nineteenth century. It surveys the types of strings offered in North-American musical merchandise catalogues and their representation in periodicals of the Banjo-Mandolin-Guitar movement, and traces the gradual emergence of steel as a string material.

Pyall_Jamis 2014_Final_Post Proofs.pdf - Accepted Version

Download (5MB) | Preview


Downloads per month over past year

Downloads each year

View Item View Item