Historical Perspective - A. Augustine and DuPont

Choice of classical guitar strings and technical issues connected with their use.
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tateharmann
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Historical Perspective - A. Augustine and DuPont

Post by tateharmann » Sun Jul 02, 2017 8:23 pm

I've done a lot of searching here to find this topic already discussed (at least from this angle) and didn't come up with much so I thought I'd start a new topic.

Does anyone have any insight to the development of nylon strings and the general acceptance that followed in the CG community. I've read through some sources and many appear to be anecdotal in regard to the development but most of them credit both Andres Segovia and Albert Augustine (in the late 1940's.)

The general idea that I've heard is this: due to WWII gut strings were hard to come by since it was the preferred material by surgeons for sutures. Somehow, Albert gets his hands on some nylon and it's hard to find a supplier at first (again, because of the war) but he eventually tracks some down at an army surplus store. He approaches DuPont with the idea of making strings but they turn him down. Some time passes..and then he is approached by Segovia (introduced by a mutual friend) who is concertizing in New York and can't find his favorite Pirastro gut strings. Segovia tries the nylon and likes it so much that he decides to partner with Augustine in the development. After years and much cajoling (one story even mentions a blind test) DuPont decides to provide the material for the strings (only trebles at the time) and history is made.

Are there any records that document this? And, what I'm even more interested in are documents that speak to the quick acceptance of this new material. It would seem that only a few years later in the 50's that nearly everyone is using this new material. I imagine it has a lot to do with the ease/cost of production and the durability. But were there any naysayers of the sound quality of this material? I'd love to know what you all know :) haha
Last edited by tateharmann on Mon Jul 03, 2017 5:21 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Laudiesdad69
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Re: Historical Perspective - A. Augustine and nylon

Post by Laudiesdad69 » Mon Jul 03, 2017 3:57 am

This would be a good topic for Rob Mackillop ( hope I spelled that right). I am sure that he would know something about when nylon took over.

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Michael.N.
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Re: Historical Perspective - A. Augustine and DuPont

Post by Michael.N. » Mon Jul 03, 2017 9:28 pm

1939 was when Du pont came up with monofilament nylon, initially used for fishing line.
Olga Coelho was the first to use nylon strings in concert, 1944 according to this:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Albert_Augustine_Ltd.

True to say that if someone produces a material that can resemble a string someone is going to try it on a musical instrument. Gut was no doubt first used for hunting rather than a musical instrument. Iron, steel, brass, nylon, polyester and now carbon/kevlar. All developed for other uses before being made into strings for musical instruments.
Historicalguitars.

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tateharmann
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Re: Historical Perspective - A. Augustine and DuPont

Post by tateharmann » Tue Jul 04, 2017 1:16 pm

Hmm, I'll have to do some more research. I've found some interesting comments on Spanish forums regarding this topic.

Thanks Michael, I have seen Coelho's name come up in other info too.
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Re: Historical Perspective - A. Augustine and DuPont

Post by pogmoor » Wed Jul 12, 2017 3:04 pm

tateharmann wrote:
Tue Jul 04, 2017 1:16 pm
Hmm, I'll have to do some more research. I've found some interesting comments on Spanish forums regarding this topic.
The outline you give in your first post seems fairly close to Segovia's own account which is contained (in translation by Eithne Golden) in an article printed in an edition of the (sadly defunct) magazine The Guitar Review (no.17, 1955). Obviously I can't include the whole article here (which, in any case Segovia pads out a bit with anecdotes) but here are excerpts which outline his views on gut strings and how the formulation of nylon strings came about:
Those of my generation who have dedicated themselves to the guitar, whether as professionals or as amateurs, will recall, as I do, the tribulations we all used to endure when we had only gut and silk strings, despite the conscientious efforts of the directors of Pirastro or Hermann Häuser, for example, who carried their products in those days to the highest peak of perfection.

From my earliest childhood...I was handicapped by the brittleness of the strings that were then available; and as I grew in years and experience, I found myself more and more irritated by the strident sound of the prima, sometimes quite offensive to a sensitive ear, the lack of mellowness in the segunda, and the frankly harsh and somber tone of the tercera. The sound of the cuarta, quinta and sexta died almost as soon as it was struck. Do not think that I exaggerate. Go back to the first decade of this century and imagine yourself in Andalusia, the fatherland of the flamenco players, who garroted the guitar with the cejuela, or capo, more often by way of making up for broken strings than of raising the tone. The poorer guitarists were hard put to it to find the price of a complete set of strings, which seemed to be the less durable the more they cost.
......
My troubles increased when I began to give public concerts. If I came on to the stage more nervous and worried than is usually the case with a novice artist who is driven by intuition rather than by conscious purpose, it was because of my lack of confidence in the strings. They were hardly ever perfectly in tune, the gut strings became unravelled, and the basses lost their resonance; or suddenly it would seem as though some antiguitaristic little imp were breathing fire on one of them, entertaining himself by watching it break, and I would be left sitting like a fool in front of the audience, interrupted in the middle of whatever I was playing.

I was rescued from the frequency of these mishaps by Parramon, a Catalan merchant dealing in musical items, who introduced me to the gut strings of Pirastro, known in Spain as "double diapason" strings. What an enormous relief! Just by looking at them, one could see that they were of superior quality, and they did in fact tune better and last longer, while imparting to the voice of the guitar a more youthful timbre. If Pirastro did not entirely succeed in overcoming the deficiencies inherent in the material, he did a great deal to mitigate them.
......
When the last war broke out I was living in Montevideo. The thought struck me like a thunderbolt that I might be left without strings, and I hastily wrote to Vidoudez [Segovia’s string supplier in Geneva]. My letter crossed with a package which Vidoudez had sent me at the request of Pirastro and Häuser. It contained enough gut and silk strings to supply my needs for the next two or three years.
......
I arrived in the United States at the end of 1946, and spent the Christmas holidays at the Spanish Embassy in Washington. One evening, in conversation with a group of foreign diplomats, I was deploring my acute shortage of strings....I said, "l shall very soon be obliged to put my guitar away entirely." A member of the British Embassy who was listen- ing to me, General Lindenman, spoke up and asked me, "Which are the strings you need most urgently?" "The gut strings," I replied, "and especially the prima." "Let me have a sample of each," said the General. I looked at him not so much with surprise as with sheer skepticism, and implored him, "By whatever you hold most dear, if they are still usable when you are through with them, please give them back to me!" He assented, and went on with a smile: "Where can I reach you in two or three weeks?" "Ambassador Cardenas will put us in contact with each other," I replied.

A month went by, and upon my return to New York from California I found a message from the Ambassador at the Hotel Algonquin, saying "Lindenman wants to see you. He is in New York; telephone him." The next morning we had breakfast together, and he explained to me: "I have good friends in the du Pont family, and I've put up to their experts the question of whether or not it would be possible to make the strings you need out of nylon. Here are the results. The advantages and disadvantages are clearly explained in this letter from one of their engineers. Read it carefully." I asked his permission to put the letter aside, for I was much more curious at that moment to try the strings than to read it. I fastened the prima to the bridge, put it through the tuning peg, and watched anxiously as it stretched. When it had reached its proper pitch and I heard its clear sound, although it had a faint metallic accent that distinguished it from gut, I knew at once that a fuller and happier life was to open up for my beloved guitar!

That great artist and delightful singer-guitarist Olga Coelho daringly offered to try it out the very same evening in her recital, despite the thin calibre and the excessive sharpness of the timbre, defects which were soon to be corrected by Albert Augustine. This exciting ex- periment made it possible to envisage the perfection of the new strings, and gave us grounds for looking forward to the day when we might dispense once and for all with the gut strings that had brought us so many trials and tribulations.

To make a long story short, through the unforgettable kindness of General Lindenman I tried to persuade du Pont to undertake the manufacture of guitar strings for the retail trade. Through him also, to my consternation, I received their flat refusal, but my hope was rekindled by their promise to supply the necessary plastic material to anyone who would seriously undertake the task. And this is where Albert Augustine makes his appearance.

The talented painter Vladimir Bobri [co-editor of The Guitar Review]...introduced me to the Augustines at their home. That first evening we did not mention the problem of the strings....

When they returned my visit, I put the question to them, and Albert Augustine accepted the difficult undertaking. From that moment he devoted himself to innumerable experiments and trials, enthusiastically seconded by his wife. He did not succumb to the skepticism of the du Pont experts who, in the best of faith, tried to dissuade him. Nor did he heed the criticism, at times inspired by ulterior motives, at times merely inept, of certain persons who frequented his house. He received scarcely more encouragement from the pseudo-professionals of the guitar. Overcoming every obstacle, he little by little evolved from the plastic material the strings which were to replace the gut strings with incalculable advantage in durability, calibre, sound and ease of action. From many of the cities where I stopped on my tours of this country, I would telephone him to discuss the strings. I kept urging him more and more emphatically to take up the manufacture of the lower strings. The search for adequate machinery, the difficult acquisition of experience in its operation, enormous expenses which were beyond his means - none of these considerations stopped him; and from his hands began to come the finest bass strings of our time. Constantly he weighed and measured the metal thread with which they were wound, and changed it a hundred times, using successively copper, silver, 14-carat gold, aluminum and stainless steel. His purpose was to obtain from the basses a noble sound, neither opaque nor excessively brilliant, and at the same time to minimize the squeak produced by the sliding of the fingers from one note to another. To achieve this latter purpose, he smoothed and polished the silver strings until his hands bled, but thanks to his efforts, the guitar may now be heard on phonograph records and radio broadcasts with less interference from parasite sounds and therefore with greater purity than ever before. My own gratitude reflects that of all guitarists today...
Eric from GuitarLoot
Renaissance and Baroque freak; classical guitars by Paul Fischer (1995) and Lester Backshall (2008)
Yamaha SLG 130NW silent classical guitar (2014), Ramirez Guitarra del Tiempo (2017)

beanctr
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Re: Historical Perspective - A. Augustine and DuPont

Post by beanctr » Wed Jul 12, 2017 3:39 pm

That's going to shame me into buying some Augustine strings! Great story, R
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tateharmann
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Re: Historical Perspective - A. Augustine and DuPont

Post by tateharmann » Wed Jul 12, 2017 5:36 pm

Awesome thx Eric! This is just what I was looking for :)

I've got a package of Augustine's ready to roll!
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tateharmann
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Re: Historical Perspective - A. Augustine and DuPont

Post by tateharmann » Wed Jul 12, 2017 5:45 pm

Another one of the early nylon strings were the 'Concertiste' out of France. I'm not sure they make them anymore (at least not per the original formula) but there are still unopened packs out there. I'd love to give those a shot too!
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